Preying on the Weak

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.  2 Timothy 3:6-9 ESV

After assuring Timothy that the spiritual condition of the world was going to get worse before it got better and providing him with a detailed description of the moral state of its inhabitants, Paul warned him, “Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 2:5 NLT). They may appear to be religious. They may even claim to be followers of Christ and faithful members of the local church, but everything about their behavior will reveal that they actually love pleasure more than God. They will be worldly, controlled by their sin natures, and driven by their passions, rather than living under the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the believers in Galatian, Paul provided yet another list of characteristics that would mark such people.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

While Paul’s words apply to any church in any age, he had someone specific in mind when writing to Timothy. There was a group of false teachers exhibiting the characteristics found in verses 2-5 who were having a negative influence on the church in Ephesus. These self-loving, pleasure-seeking, ego-driven individuals were preying on the weak and vulnerable in the church.

They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires. – 2 Timothy 3:6 NLT

What Paul describes is a predatory mindset that seeks out the spiritually and emotionally immature. These godly-sounding individuals were actually self-proclaimed purveyors of doctrinal error who purposefully targeted the weaker brothers and sisters in the congregation. And Paul emphasizes their particular emphasis on “weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” (2 Timothy 3:6 ESV).

It is important to remember that the early church was made up of converts from all walks of life, including men, women, slaves, freemen, Gentiles, and Jews. The church was a melting pot containing the rich and the poor, ad the educated as well as the illiterate. There were people coming to faith in Christ whose spouses remained unsaved. Paul makes that point clear in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. – 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 NLT

Just a few verses earlier in the same letter, Paul had commanded anyone who had become a believer to remain married to their unbelieving spouse.

But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband…And the husband must not leave his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:11, 12 NLT

For believing women who had lost husbands, they were particularly vulnerable. They lacked a spiritual partner in their quest for godliness. They could not expect their husband to provide any spiritual leadership or support. And due to the prevailing cultural constraints of that day, many of these women would have been uneducated and ill-equipped to see through the doctrinal error being promoted by these false teachers.

Paul uses an interesting Greek word to describe these women: gynaikarion. It is used no other place in the New Testament and it a non-flattering term that actually means “little women.” Various Bible translations use different English words to convey the original meaning of the term: Vulnerable, weak, gullible, silly, foolish, and idle.

But it seems that Paul viewed these women as spiritually immature and still “burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (2 Timothy 3:6 NLT). These false teachers were taking advantage of the situation, targeting the less spiritually informed among the congregation, in order to sway opinion and recruit converts to their way of thinking.

Paul is essentially describing these women as “little” or childish in their faith. They are immature and lack the wisdom to see through the deception of the false teachers. In Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth, he warned them about unknowingly doing damage to the weaker brothers and sisters among them. In their case, the situation involved the eating of meat which had been sacrificed to idols. The more mature believers understood that the meat, available for purchase at the local market, was of high quality and completely harmless. But the less mature believers, most of whom had been idol worshipers before coming to faith in Christ, viewed the meat as tainted and unholy. So, when the saw their fellow believers eating or serving this meat at their meals, they were appalled and confused. Which led Paul to write: “take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9 NLT).

The weaker or less mature believer will always be more susceptible to false teaching. They lack biblical knowledge to help them discern the difference between falsehood and truth. Their understanding of basic Bible doctrine is formative and easily manipulated by others. Paul describes these women as being spiritually hungry but lacking in discernment.

Such women are forever following new teachings, but they are never able to understand the truth. (2 Timothy 3:7 NLT).

What Paul describes is a timeless problem that was not relegated to the first century. A new believer’s hunger for spiritual truth is a good thing but it can become dangerous when there is no one to provide wisdom and discernment. A young child will satisfy their physical hunger with whatever appeals to them, with no regard for any nutritional value it may offer. In the same way, immature Christians can find themselves feeding their spiritual appetite with sermons, books, podcasts, and teachings that do more harm than good. They can fill up on spiritual “junk food” that appeals to their senses but leaves them in a weakened state because it is devoid of truth.

And Paul accuses the false teachers of feeding these child-like women a steady diet of falsehood that was leaving them spiritually malnourished and starving. Paul compares these false teachers to the Egyptian magicians who tried to counter the miraculous plagues of Moses with their own brand of supernatural conjuring. Paul uses the names of two individuals who are not mentioned in the Old Testament but were preserved through the oral traditions of the Jews. Jannes means “the rebel” while Jambres means “the opponent.” Like the court magicians who stood opposed to the efforts of Moses, the false teachers were conjuring up their own spin on the truth. But Paul pulls no punches in exposing them for what they really were: “corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8 ESV).

The Egyptian magicians could only produce counterfeit miracles that simulated the work of God. And the false teachers could only offer up spiritual-sounding platitudes that lacked substance and led to spiritual starvation. Eventually, their deception will be exposed and the error of their teaching will lose its grip on the weak and vulnerable.

But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are, just as with Jannes and Jambres. – 2 Timothy 3:9 NLT

A steady diet of junk food may sound appealing, but it will eventually lead to poor health. And the immature believer who fills their spiritual tank with the latest faith-fad and quick-fix religious trend will find themselves suffering from malnutrition and in need of something of substance. The weak and immature are to grow up. The spiritual infant is expected to make steady progress toward maturity. Spiritual growth is a normal part of the Christian life, a point made clear by Paul and the author of the book of Hebrews.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. – Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

One thought on “Preying on the Weak

  1. Thank you for sharing and helping God convict me of my habitual sin and wondering. Even though I know better I allow my sin to control me and find it difficult to put aside and have victory over. It’s pathetic I know and yet I know I have victory over it in Christ but allow it to come a go like the wind.

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