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A Workman Approved by God September 19, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Timothy 2:14-26.

Summary: Paul begins by stating that Timothy should never grow weary of dealing with the Gospel message and the exhortations that he has added to it; he should:

  • make believers sit up in awe before God
  • keep believers from earnestly engaging in contentious disputes, as they are fruitless and upset people with weak faith.

Timothy should keep his eyes fixed on God; instead of being lazy, he should judiciously dispense the Word to everyone. This stems from the fact that there is no escape from profane and noisy speech. Indeed, false teachers will spread until they have destroyed the church; in particular, everyone should be on their guard against Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have invented some kind of allegorical resurrection. Yet believers can be consoled by the fact that God’s election endures, as He has privately kept the salvation of the elect. To keep believers from growing complacent in light of this fact, Paul then warns them that anyone who professes to belong to God’s people must be far from all ungodliness.

Paul then notes that in the church, it is not strange to find bad people mixed with good. Yet the good people in the church make themselves suitable for honorable and higher uses; they serve God by living holy lives.

Now Paul exhorts Timothy to shun the impetuous feelings and impulses that arise from the excessive passion of youth; instead, he should concentrate on a right way of living – consisting of faith and love – and cultivate peaceful relations with all believers. He should not engage in arguments that 1) do not instruct people and 2) only give rise to conflicts. Indeed, a servant of Christ should not fight over superfluous questions; instead, he should:

  • be kind
  • teach with moderation
  • be slow to become irritated.

He should show gentleness to those who least deserve it, as repentance is God’s gift and work – where He illuminates the minds of men. Paul concludes by noting that those who least deserve gentleness are currently acting on Satan’s command.

Thoughts: In verses 17 and 18, Paul warns Timothy about Hymenaeus and Philetus, who teach that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

Paul singles out these pests so that everyone may be on their guard against them, for if we allow people who are contriving to ruin the whole church to remain concealed, we only give them an opportunity to do real damage…Paul meant this teaching to be not just for Timothy, but as a witness to all nations in all ages about the ungodliness of these two men, in order to shut the door against their depraved and deadly teaching.

Now we see that Paul has already punished Hymenaeus, as noted in 1 Timothy 1:12-20. Of course, this raises the following questions: did Hymenaeus have the opportunity to read 1 Timothy, and if so, how did he respond to Paul’s statement that he was a blasphemer? It is fair to say that Hymenaeus had hardened his heart, as he refused to stop teaching erroneous doctrines after his excommunication. Did Hymenaeus convince Philetus to join him in his blasphemy? Did they have the opportunity to read this letter, and if so, how did they respond to it? How did they infer that the resurrection of the dead had already occurred?

In verse 19, Paul notes that believers should not be alarmed when some in their midst commit apostasy. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

All this confirms the certainty of our salvation, provided that we belong to God’s elect. It is like saying, “God’s elect do not depend on changing events but rest on a solid and immovable foundation, for their salvation is in God’s hand”…as we are sure that the church is safe, we can, without being dismayed, allow the reprobate to leave for the fate for which they are destined, for the number of the elect that God has chosen remains untouched.

One of the major themes of Calvin’s commentaries – which includes his withering criticism of the Catholic Church – is his passionate defense of predestination. Whenever he encounters a passage that can be used to support predestination, he usually includes some thoughts on that doctrine in the accompanying commentary. Whenever he encounters a passage that can be used to support free will, he will invariably mount a defense of predestination in the accompanying commentary. On a related note, it is fair to assume that Calvin would assert that Hymenaeus and Philetus were not part of God’s elect; I am curious as to whether other commentators would assert that Hymenaeus and Philetus actually lost their salvation.

In verse 21, Paul states that believers should desire to be set apart for God’s glory. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Nobody questions that we are called to be holy, but the question about a Christian’s duty and vocation is different from the question about his ability or power to fulfill it. We do not deny that believers are required to purify themselves. But the Lord also declares that this is his own work…So we should plead with the Lord to cleanse us, instead of vainly exercising our own strength to do it without his help.

Over time I have come to occupy a middle ground of sorts in the predestination-free will debate, as I believe that both of these doctrines are correct to some extent. Thus, my take on Calvin’s interpretation of this verse is that we exercise free will when we “plead with the Lord to cleanse us.” Also, since “the Lord also declares that this is his own work,” I can infer that we do not work toward our holiness. In that case, we are only required to desire that the Lord work in us – while desire is not considered as “work,” we still need to exercise this desire. This interpretation may appear to be overly lenient towards believers, yet I find it to be pragmatic in that we simply cannot earn holiness. I would not be surprised to learn that other believers share my thoughts on this point; comments are welcome.

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