Children of the Devil

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.” John 8:42-50 ESV

Jesus has proclaimed Himself to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and, as we see in this section of John’s Gospel, His very presence is exposing the darkness around Him. His words have the same impact as a bright light being turned on in a darkened room, revealing what has always been present but hidden from view. The true nature of His critics is being put on display for everyone to see. And Jesus, functioning as the bright light of God’s truth, is contrasting His claim to godly Sonship with theirs. He has repeatedly professed to be the Son of God. He has boldly proclaimed God to be His Father. And now, He is blaming the Jewish leader’s hatred for Him on the fact that God is not their Father.

“If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me!” – John 8:42-43 NLT

It seems fairly obvious that Jesus wasn’t out to win over His critics. He wasn’t using persuasive words and flattering rhetoric in the hopes of defusing their anger and bringing them over to His side. The Light of the World is exposing the darkness of their hearts and revealing the true nature of their problem. They lack a relationship with God. And their unwillingness to accept Jesus as the Son of God is because they don’t know the one who sent Him.

This entire conversation has been focused on the topic of sonship. Back in verse 16, John records Jesus’ claim to have been sent by the Father. To this, the Jews asked, “Where is your father?” And Jesus responded, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father” (John 8:19 NLT).

Jesus continued to proclaim His divine pedigree and to defend His authority to speak on behalf of God.

For I say only what I have heard from the one who sent me, and he is completely truthful.” – John 8:26 NLT

But John made it clear that the Jews “still didn’t understand that he was talking about his Father” (John 8:27 NLT). Now, Jesus makes the bold accusation that His critics don’t know the Son because they don’t know the Father. And, as if that was not harsh enough, Jesus adds another politically incorrect point to His argument.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

One can only imagine the look on the disciples’ faces as they listened to what Jesus said. They would have been shocked by the divisive nature of His words and questioned the wisdom of making such an offensive statement to the religious leaders of Israel. What was He thinking? How could He possibly hope to win over His enemies if He was going to publicly humiliate them?

But Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was only interested in exposing lies and revealing the truth. With this bold accusation, Jesus clearly and succinctly described the nature of mankind’s dilemma. The entire world was under the influence and power of the enemy. Even the Jews, the chosen people of God, were guilty of living in rebellion to God and in league with Satan. While the people of Israel could claim to be the descendants of Abraham and the children of God, their behavior revealed a different reality. Their actions toward Jesus reflected a disregard for the truth as revealed in God’s Word. The prophets had declared the coming of the Messiah but, when He showed up, the people had rejected Him.

Jesus describes Satan as a murderer and a liar, who stood opposed to the truth of God. There was a source for the intense hatred of Jesus that the religious leaders harbored in their hearts. There was a reason they could not bring themselves to accept the truth of what He said. And it was Satan himself.

Jesus came to bring life, but Satan had a long track record of destroying life. In fact, Jesus will later state that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). And because Satan’s only desire is to steal, kill, and destroy, his “children” will follow his example, eventually demanding the death of the Son of God. Their shouts of “crucify Him, crucify Him!” will echo through the streets of Jerusalem as they demand the extinguishing of the Light of the World.

Because Satan is the father of lies, his children inherit his love for deception and falsehood. Their ears are tuned to hear and accept lies rather than the truth, which is why the words of Jesus make no sense to them.  It is the true nature of their paternity that explains their glaring obstinancy. And it led Jesus to say of them, “when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me!” (John 8:45 NLT).

Their actions are a reflection of their paternity. Jesus is saying that they behave just like their father, Satan. Like him, they prefer death to life, darkness to light, and lies to truth. Jesus came to shine the light of God’s glory into the darkness of the world, “but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil” (John 3:19 NLT). Jesus came to give life to the spiritually dead, but many would choose to remain in slavery to sin rather than accept the freedom offered by the Son of God. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life – the only means of access to the Father, but the majority of His listeners would reject His offer and listen to the lies of the enemy.

John opened up his Gospel with the radical pronouncement regarding the invasion of the darkness of this world by the light of life.

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

Jesus came to offer life to the spiritually dead, to illuminate the darkness of a sin-cloaked world, and to declare the truth of God’s grace and mercy that would be made available through His own death and resurrection. But, as John makes painfully clear, the Jews who heard Jesus speak that day in the temple treasury couldn’t accept what He had to say. Rather than embracing the truth, walking into the light, and rejoicing in His offer of life, the Jews angrily proclaimed, “You Samaritan devil! Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?” (John 8:48 NLT).

They declared “the truth” to be a liar. They accused the holy one, sent from God, to be a half-breed and an outcast from the family of Israel. And they labeled Jesus, who was filled with the glory of God, to be possessed of a demon. But Jesus was willing to leave the results up to God. He would be the final judge as to who was right. Jesus didn’t need their acceptance or require that they agree with Him. He simply wanted to accomplish His Father’s will by faithfully completing the assignment He had been given. Jesus would continue to be the light, the life, and the truth – all the way to the end. And all to the glory of God the Father.

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

God Is True

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:31-36 ESV

These closing verses of chapter 3 act as a kind of closing statement that summarizes all that has taken place since the initial encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. It appears that the apostle John is the one providing this summary, in an attempt to reinforce his overarching theme of Jesus’ divine nature. John takes various aspects of the chapter 3 chronology and uses them to support his premise that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel.

John the Baptist had clearly stated, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him” (John 3:28 ESV). He knew his role as the precursor to the coming Messiah. And with the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist knew that his role would naturally diminish.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30 ESV

He would be little more than a friend of the bridegroom, a spectator watching as his friend took center stage. And John the Baptist found great joy in accepting his diminished importance because the one for whom the nation had long waited had finally appeared.

And John points out that the appearance of the Messiah was not an everyday occurrence. He had come “from above.” The Greek word John used is anōthen, and it is the very same word Jesus used when speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

Jesus had been trying to let Nicodemus know that entrance into the kingdom of God would require something other than physical birth into the family of Israel. It would require a spiritual birth – from above. That’s why Jesus informed Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Entrance into God’s eternal kingdom was going to require that all men be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 ESV), and Jesus had come to make that possible.

John goes on to emphasize Jesus’ divine nature by dispelling the long-held belief among the Jews that the Messiah would simply be a man, after the likeness of King David. Their expectation was like that of their ancient ancestors, who had demanded of the prophet Samuel, “Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5 NLT).

Even after centuries of lousy leadership under a long line of human kings, the Israelites were still hoping for someone to show up who would follow in the footsteps of David. But John is emphasizing that Jesus, the Messiah, was from above and not of the earth. He had not only been sent by God, but He was actually God in human flesh. This further supports the opening statement of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV).

Two times in verse 31, John asserts that “He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31 ESV). In other words, Jesus, because of His divinity, is superior to anything and everyone that is of this earth. He is the Word of God. He speaks on behalf of God and as God, and “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (John 3:32 ESV). Jesus was revealing divine truth, received directly from the throne room of God in heaven. He was not a mere mortal speaking man-made words, but He was the Son of God speaking the words of God. He would later claim: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10 ESV).  And Jesus would later expand on His divine authority to speak His Father’s words.

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” – John 12:49-50 ESV

And yet, John sadly notes that “no one receives his testimony” (John 3:32 ESV). Jesus was the incarnate Word of God, speaking on behalf of His Heavenly Father. And the gist of His message was the gracious offer of eternal life that would be made available through His death and resurrection. But the people did not believe His testimony. They refused to accept that He spoke for God.

But John counted himself among the few who had chosen to believe the testimony of Jesus. And, writing long after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and having experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John’s early belief in Jesus had been fully justified and proven well-founded. That is why he was able to say, “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33 ESV).

Verse 34 seems to be John’s personal testimony that his belief in Jesus had resulted in his anointing by the Holy Spirit.

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. – John 3:34 ESV

The indwelling presence of the Spirit was all the proof John needed to believe that Jesus had been sent by God and had spoken on His behalf. John remembered the promise that Jesus had made to His disciples.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” – John 14:12 NLT

Jesus rather obliquely refers to His ascension, indicating that His departure would be necessary in order for the Spirit of God to come. And just a few verses later, John records the further promise of Jesus that would be the key to accomplishing greater works than He had done.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” – John 14:16 NLT

For John, this was all about authority. Jesus had been sent by God. He spoke on behalf of God. And all that He said was the truth of God. John is trying to get his readers to understand that Jesus was divine, which is why he states, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35 ESV). Jesus possessed divine authority over the wind, waves, disease, and demons. His word was greater than that of kings, religious councils, or political parties. God loved Jesus so much that He imbued Him with all His divine authority. And Jesus would later tell His followers that they would experience that same love of God and have access to the full authority of God.

“When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” – John 14:20-21 NLT

Having received the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, John was fully convinced that Jesus was exactly who He had claimed to be. John knew the full extent of God’s love because He had been filled with God’s Spirit, just as Jesus had promised. God the Father and God the Son had taken up permanent residence in John’s life in the form of indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:23). And it had all begun when John had believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God sent from above. So, he reminds his readers that it all begins with belief.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36 ESV

His emphasis is on eternal life, which will be experienced within the coming kingdom of God. Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. He had not come to sit on a throne but to die on a cross. He had come “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). And John had witnessed that selfless, sacrificial act with his own eyes. He had seen Jesus crucified and buried. But he had also seen Him in His resurrected state and had stood by as Jesus ascended back into heaven where He was restored to His rightful place at His Father’s side.

John wants his readers to believe. He wants them to have the same remarkable experience he has had. And he warns them that, if they refuse to believe, they will remain under the righteous wrath of God. There was only one way to escape God’s pending judgment and that was through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

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

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

The Set-Apart Life

20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:20-26 ESV

Quarrelsome words. Irreverent babble. Gangrenous talk.

Paul pulled no punches when describing the erroneous teaching that was influencing and infecting the church in Ephesus. As far as Paul was concerned, it was all like a deadly disease slowly spreading its way through the congregation, upsetting the faith of some by raising doubts about their true spiritual condition. The doctrinal errors being propagated by individuals like Hymenaeus and Philetus were contrary to the message Paul had preached concerning the truth of the gospel. And Timothy had the unenviable, but necessary responsibility of addressing this problem by “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).

Paul encouraged Timothy to do his job with an eye towards seeking the approval of God and not men.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. – 2 Timothy 2:15 NLT

Telling people what they want to hear might help Timothy win over some of the dissenters in the congregation, but it would not score him any points with God. As a minister of the gospel, Timothy had a responsibility to teach the truth, regardless of how his audience responded. He answered to God. And Paul reminded Timothy that “God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and ‘All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil’” (2 Timothy 2:19 NLT).

There was confusion within the congregation in Ephesus. With men like Hymenaeus and Philetus teaching contrary doctrine and sowing seeds of doubt and dissent, it had become difficult to tell who was telling the truth. But Paul emphasized that God knew. The Shepherds knows His sheep. And all those who belong to the flock of God were expected to “turn away from evil.” As in any congregation, the fellowship in Ephesus was going to be comprised of both the faithful and the unfaithful. There would be those who adhered to the truth of God and sought to abstain from evil, and there would be those who “swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18 ESV) and, in doing so, embraced wickedness.

This fact led Paul to use yet another illustration to help Timothy understand what he was facing in Ephesus.

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. – 2 Timothy 2:20 ESV

This simple analogy was intended to expose the diverse composition of any local congregation. Within any church, as with a fine home, it would be only natural to find both honorable and dishonorable vessels. This is not a reference to those who are saved and those who are lost. Paul’s point has to do with honor, a word which in the Greek language refers to value or esteem.

Paul’s point seems to be that those who rightly divide the word of truth are deemed as honorable by God. They meet His approval. But those who twist and distort the truth, while still HIs vessels, are viewed as dishonorable or unworthy. A wealthy homeowner would not use clay dishes to serve his dinner guests. To do so would dishonor himself and his guests as well. And God will not use those individuals who distort the truth of the gospel because to do so would bring dishonor to His name.

The primary issue here is that of holiness or the state of being set apart. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have been set apart by God for His use. Having been saved by God through the sacrificial death of His Son, they now belonged to Him.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

Those who belong to God are expected to honor Him. But when a believer embraces teaching that is contrary to God’s truth or commits sins that are unacceptable for God’s children, he renders himself unfit for service. Paul is not teaching that a believer can lose his salvation. He is simply stating the very real fact that even a Christian can fail to live a set-apart life by choosing to follow the desires of their sinful nature. And when they do, they disqualify themselves from service to God. But don’t miss the point that disqualification can also result from believing or teaching false doctrine. Paul insists that this “irreverent babble…will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:16 ESV).

The word “irreverent” is actually the Greek word bebēlos, which refers to something that is “common” or “unholy.” It stands in direct opposition to the idea of being set apart by God for His honor and glory. In veering from the truth of God and encouraging others to follow suit, a believer renders themself unfit for service. They become common rather than holy. They become a vessel for dishonor rather than honor.

And just to ensure that Timothy doesn’t miss his point, Paul puts his warning in practical, everyday terms that his young disciple can understand.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

Paul is essentially challenging Timothy to live a set-apart life. He needed to live in a way that reflected his status as a new creation in Christ. And he was to seek the company of those who shared his desire to live a holy life.

But Paul wasn’t telling Timothy to form a “holy huddle,” an elite group of super-serious Christians who chose to sequester themselves away from the less honorable members of the congregation. Paul wanted Timothy to teach and train up a group of believers who would positively influence the rest of the church body through their words and actions. Rather than pick a fight with those who disagreed with them, they were to “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT). The goal was to provide loving instruction with an eye toward reconciliation.

Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. – 2 Timothy 2:25-26 NLT

In Paul’s mind, the “dishonorable” vessel was not doomed to remain that way. He could be renewed and restored. And it was the responsibility of every believer to compassionately care for their wayward brother or sister in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. – Galatians 6:1 NLT

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NLT

Paul greatly desired that the church be marked by a spirit of unity and solidarity. But he knew that the sin natures of those who made up the church would make that difficult at times. But he also knew that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer provided an ample source of power to overcome sin and resist the lies of the enemy. But Timothy, as a minister of the gospel, was going to have to set the example, modeling the life of an honorable vessel, “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).

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

Standing on the Promises

14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2:14-19 ESV

Paul wasn’t afraid to name names and call out individuals for their unfaithfulness or failure to remain committed to the cause of Christ. First, he brought up Phygelus and Hermogenes, two individuals who had abandoned him in Asia. Now he brings up another pair, Hymenaeus and Philetus, whom he accuses of “swerving from the truth.” This particular couple had been teaching that the resurrection had already taken place, a bit of information that had resulted in confusion and doubt among the faithful.

Paul’s mention of Hymenaeus and Philetus was intended to provide Timothy a concrete example of what he meant by “irreverent babble” or quarreling about words. Paul had just instructed Timothy to take what he had been taught and “teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2 NLT).

One of Timothy’s primary responsibilities as a minister of the gospel was to provide those under his care with sound instruction and a Christ-like model to follow. Because the body of Christ was still in its infancy, it suffered from a serious leadership void and there was a great deal of ignorance regarding spiritual matters. Those who had come to faith in Christ knew little beyond their original understanding of the gospel message. They had eagerly embraced Paul’s message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but beyond that, they had little knowledge of what living out their faith in Christ was to look like in daily life. Many had expected their salvation experience to result in a trouble-free, blessing-filled life, due to their newfound relationship with Yahweh. Yet, instead, they found themselves suffering persecution, facing difficulties of all kinds, and discovering that the Christian life was not a walk in the park.

And to make matters worse, there were those who had taken it upon themselves to serve as teachers, providing “instruction” in spiritual matters that had left their students more confused than ever. Conflicting messages and competing opinions were causing discord in the church, with people “fighting over words” (2 Timothy 2:14 NLT). And Paul deemed these arguments as useless because they produced nothing of value.

In the midst of all the confusion and competing agendas, Timothy was to be a source of sound teaching, “rightly handling the word of truth” and providing those under his care with accurate information regarding spiritual matters. That meant Timothy had to stick to the script. He was not free to adlib or add to the teaching he had received from Paul. There was no place for conjecture or personal opinion when it came to the gospel. And for Paul, the gospel was about far more than the message of salvation. It included the whole divine process of redemption, from salvation to sanctification, and ended with the believer’s glorification.

…those whom He predestined, these also He called; and whom He called, these also He justified; and whom He justified, these also He glorified. – Romans 8:30 BSB

I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 NLT

Like the apostle Peter, Paul expected every believer to “grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). He told the believers in Ephesus “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). Salvation was to result in sanctification or ongoing spiritual maturity, which will ultimately culminate in the believer’s glorification or final transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Paul expected Timothy to reach these truths faithfully and accurately. And if he did, Timothy would have no reason to be ashamed. Time would vindicate the veracity of his message. But those who “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT), will be eventually be exposed as fakes and frauds, guilty of “worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior” (2 Timothy 2:16 NLT).

Paul describes this false, man-made teaching, as a disease that can spread throughout the body of Christ with deadly consequences. And he uses Hymenaeus and Philetus as examples of those who propagate such lies. Out of ignorance, these two men had drawn erroneous conclusions regarding Paul’s teaching of the resurrection of the dead. They were claiming that this future event had already taken place. Not understanding the true nature of the resurrection, they had over-simplified and spiritualized it, falsely assuming that they were already experiencing it. After all, Paul had taught the Romans:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his….Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. – Romans 6:4-5, 8 ESV

And hadn’t Paul just told Timothy that “If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11 ESV)? So, these men had simply assumed that the resurrected life was referring to this life. It was the modern-day version of “Your Best Life Now.” This teaching was leaving believers with the false impression that all the promises associated with the resurrection of the dead were to be expected in his life, not the one to come. And you can understand how this claim had left the suffering and persecuted believers in Ephesus confused and concerned.

All of this is why Paul told Timothy, “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12 NLT). He called this a trustworthy statement, a promise supported by the full weight of God’s glory and goodness. To support his claim that God can be trusted to complete what He has begun and to fulfill all that He has promised, Paul reached into the Hebrew Scriptures, citing two Old Testament passages.

God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.” – 2 Timothy 2:19 NLT

By paraphrasing Numbers 16:6 and Numbers 16:26, Paul illustrates the timeless nature of God’s promises. He always does what He says He will do. His words have an eternal quality to them, spanning the centuries and assuring all those who hear and obey them that their God is trustworthy and true.

Despite the teaching of men like Hymenaeus and Philetus, the believers in Ephesus had no reason to doubt their salvation. Just because things did not appear to be turning out like they expected, they had no cause for fear or doubt. The Lord knows those who are His. They could rest in the promise that they would remain firmly held in the loving grasp of God – all the way to the end. Their only responsibility was to turn away from evil. They didn’t have to strive to remain saved. They weren’t under some obligation to continually earn their right standing with God through additional good works. They simply needed to live out their salvation in daily life, allowing the Spirit of God to produce fruit in their lives through His power, not their own.

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

The Power to Stay Persistent

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. Micah 3:5-8 ESV

Micah now turns his attention to his nemesis, the false prophets, who were constantly contradicting his message and delivering their own version of the “truth.” These men were particularly irritating to Micah because they only made his already difficult job that much harder to do. Their messages filled with optimism were popular among the people but they were not speaking on behalf of God. The book of Lamentation contains a similar indictment against these purveyors of false hope.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah found himself facing a similar challenge, having to deal with his own set of self-proclaimed prophets decimating lies disguised as truth.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions?
    Not at all—they don’t even know how to blush! – Jeremiah 6:13-15 NLT

Jeremiah compares the actions of these men to someone putting a bandaid on a life-threatening wound. Their treatment protocol for what ailed the nation of Judah was superficial at best, causing the people to have a false sense of hope and encouraging them to remain stubbornly unresponsive to God’s calls to repentance.

Micah accuses these pseudo-prophets of selling their services for personal gain. In exchange for food, these men would issue positive proclamations of “peace.” In other words, if you treated the prophet well, he told you what you wanted to hear. He used his words, supposedly spoken on behalf of God, as a bartering tool to get what he wanted. And if anyone refused to play along with these false prophets, they would find themselves on the receiving end of a curse. Their power to prophesy would be used as a weapon to issue threats and manipulate behavior.

But while the people were easily influenced by these charlatans, God was not going to tolerate their behavior. They were claiming to speak on His behalf, but the words coming out of their mouths were in direct contradiction to His divine will. So, Micah warns them that their 15-minutes of fame is about to come to an end.

Now the night will close around you,
    cutting off all your visions.
Darkness will cover you,
    putting an end to your predictions.
The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end. – Micah 3:6 NLT

Micah uses the image of a pitch-black night to convey the future state of these individuals. Darkness is the absence of light. Light is a symbol of God’s divine revelation. Having prophesied falsely, they were going to find themselves “in the dark” when it came to any future revelations from God. Their status as prophets of God would be irrevocably terminated.

This temptation to speak on behalf of God , using the authority of His name for self-aggrandizement, is real and ever-present. And every generation of God’s people has found itself the recipients of false messages from self-appointed spokesmen for God. And, just as in Micah’s day, these individuals stand condemned by God for their audacity to use His name for personal gain.

“Few men are as pitiable as those who claim to have a call from God yet tailor their sermons to please others. Their first rule is ‘Don’t rock the boat’; their second is ‘Give people what they want.’“ – Warren Wiersbe, “Micah.” In The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets

For Micah, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that his arch enemies were going to get their just desserts. Their days of deceiving the people were going to come to an end.

“Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God.” Micah 3:7 NLT

Having claimed to have been God’s messengers, they were going to find that their communication lines to God were completely cut off. They would call out from their darkness and get no response from heaven. No visions. No prophecies. No answers.

But Micah boldly claimed that he was in the right. He had been a faithful messenger for God, delivering His warnings of coming judgment in the face of constant rejection, ridicule, and hostility.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

He found comfort in the fact that he had been true to his calling. He had not shirked his God-given responsibility to proclaim the truth. Micah wasn’t in it for money. He didn’t tailor his message to tickle the ears of his audience. He hadn’t offered pleasant-sounding platitudes in exchange for personal perks. He had remained faithful to his God-ordained calling and knew that as long as He spoke God’s word he would have the power of God’s Spirit guiding and protecting him.

Those who have been called by God to serve as His messengers have always faced the very real temptation to alter their message to accommodate the whims of their audience. And there will always be those who sell out their calling in order to cash in on their God-ordained influence. But ministers of God must remain faithful to the One who sent them. Even in the face of ridicule and rejection, they must refuse to dilute their message or to diminish the integrity of their calling.

Their outlook regarding their divine assignment must be the same as that of the apostle Paul.

You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 NLT

God’s messengers must remain committed to God’s message. They speak for Him. And, one day, they will answer to Him. But as long as they remain faithful to His calling, they will experience the power of His Holy Spirit and enjoy the assurance that their words are filled with justice and strength.

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

Avoiding the Truth Won’t Void the Consequences

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
    Has the Lord grown impatient?
    Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
    to him who walks uprightly?
But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
    with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
    from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
    my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
    for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
    with a grievous destruction.
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
    saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
    he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:6-11 ESV

Micah, like the rest of God’s prophets, had a very unpopular message to deliver. His words concerning God’s pending judgment were not received well by the people. No one liked hearing that they were guilty of grievous sins against God and stood justly condemned to bear His divine punishment.

The people begged Micah and the other prophets to shut up. They thought that if they could silence the doom and gloom messages of these men, all their problems would go away. The people to whom Isaiah prophesied begged him to simply change the tone of his message.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:10-11 NLT

They didn’t want to hear the truth, even if it came directly from the lips of God Almighty. Amos, another prophet of God, was told by his contemporaries, “Don’t prophesy against Israel. Stop preaching against my people” (Amos 7:16 NLT). Again, they thought they could change the outcome simply by changing the content of the message. This mindset led to the rise of a virtual cottage industry of false prophets, who gladly told the people what they wanted to hear. They told them nice things. They lied to them. These false prophets took it upon themselves to deliver contradictory yet much-more tolerable messages to the people.

And Micah refers to these naysayers who were demanding that he stop preaching his message of judgment.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They were prophesying that Micah should stop prophesying. They were claiming his message to be wrong and theirs to be right. And you can imagine how the people responded to these two competing visions of the truth. They sided with the false prophets. They gladly accepted the lie because it was exactly what they wanted to hear. And because these false prophets claimed to be speaking for God, the people soaked up their message eagerly and without discernment.

Generations later, the apostle Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, about this natural propensity on the part of God’s people to reject the truth for a lie.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

That is exactly what Micah was facing. His audience would prefer to hear him lie than have him speak the truth of God. Micah’s competition was practicing an early form of positive motivational thinking. They were presenting nothing but good news, preferring to focus on what they believed to be their unique position as God’s chosen people. They were counting on the fact that they had a covenant relationship with God Almighty and He was not going to abandon them. It is likely that they turned to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and cherry-picked passages that would support their more positive point of view.

“Today the Lord your God has commanded you to obey all these decrees and regulations. So be careful to obey them wholeheartedly. You have declared today that the Lord is your God. And you have promised to walk in his ways, and to obey his decrees, commands, and regulations, and to do everything he tells you. The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised.” – Deuteronomy 26:16-19 NLT

But they conveniently avoided any passage that might paint a more negative outcome.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you…The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:15, 36-37 NLT

Micah argued with the people, demanding that they not kill the messenger. He was simply telling them the truth and rearticulating the very message that God had conveyed to Moses hundreds of years earlier. This outcome had always been a distinct possibility. In fact, it had been guaranteed by God. If they obeyed His commands, they would enjoy His blessings. But if they chose to disobey, they would suffer His curses. Obedience was optional, but God’s judgment was not.

The people were counting on God’s continuing patience. After all, He had tolerated their sinful behavior for generations, so why not now? But Micah warned that there was a limit to God’s patience. And they had nothing to fear from Micah’s message – if they lived uprightly. But the sad reality was that no one was honoring God with their lives. As a nation, they had turned their backs on God and were guilty of practicing all kinds of egregious sins that were far worse than the pagan nations around them.

And once again, Micah is forced to point out their sins with painstaking clarity.

Yet to this very hour
    my people rise against me like an enemy!
You steal the shirts right off the backs
    of those who trusted you,
making them as ragged as men
    returning from battle. – Micah 2:8 NLT

They treated God’s prophet like an enemy. They mistreated their fellow Judahites, practicing every form of injustice and ignoring God’s calls for mercy, love, and compassion.

You have evicted women from their pleasant homes
    and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them. – Micah 2:9 NLT

Notice that Micah’s indictments have to do with their treatment with one another. He is not just listing their idolatry and their practice of religious pluralism. This wasn’t just about worshiping false gods. It was their rejection of the one true God that led to behavior that was out of step with His divine will. Again, the apostle Paul warned Timothy about a coming day when people would display these same ungodly characteristics.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

When people reject the one true God, they end up displaying behavior that is contrary to His divine will. Idolatry is not just the worship of a false god, it is the embracing of a lifestyle of ungodliness and unholiness. And Paul described what happens when men reject the truth of God and embrace the lie.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

This was the atmosphere in Judah during the days of Micah. The people had fully embraced the lie and had rejected the truth of God’s Word. They knew better. And they surrounded themselves with prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And Micah called them out for their unapologetic search for positive motivational prophets.

Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you,
    “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”
That’s just the kind of prophet you would like! – Micah 2:11 NLT

The truth had become relative. And a prophet was anyone who told you what you wanted to hear. But Micah had more bad news for these easily deceived and highly delusional people.

Up! Begone!
    This is no longer your land and home,
for you have filled it with sin
    and ruined it completely. – Micah 2:10 NLT

No amount of false prophets were going to change the truth concerning God’s judgment. Rejection of God’s divine will was possible, but escape from His wrath was not. They could continue to live under the delusion that all would be well, but reality would eventually set in and their fate would turn out just as God had warned. They could choose to ignore the truth, but they could never avoid the consequences.

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

No Greater Joy

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:1-4 ESV

Of the three letters that John penned, this one appears to be the most personal in nature. It is addressed to someone called Gaius, an individual for whom John held strong affection. He refers to him as “beloved” Gaius. The Greek word John used is agapētos and it means “well-loved.” We know nothing about the relationship between these two men, but Gaius was obviously someone whom John loved dearly.

During the 1st-Century, Gaius was a common Greek name, and there are a number of men mentioned in the New Testament who share that appellation. But we have no way of knowing who this particular individual was or the nature of his relationship to John. It is likely that he lived somewhere in Asia Minor and had a connection to the local congregation to whom John wrote in his second letter.

In his salutation to Gaius, John utilizes the same wording he used in his second letter to address “the elect lady and her children.” He describes Gaius as someone “whom I love in truth” (3 John 1:1 ESV). Four times in four verses, John will bring up the topic of truth, something he addressed in his second letter as well. John is not simply saying, “I love you, and that’s the truth!” He is making a theological statement. In his second letter, he qualified his greeting to the local congregation to whom he wrote by adding, “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:1 ESV).

It was God’s love for sinful humanity, as displayed in the gracious gift of His Son, that made it possible for John to love others. He was able to love because God had first loved him (1 John 4:19). God had showered John with His unconditional love and poured out His Spirit upon him, providing him with the capacity to share that love with others. And John’s love for Gaius went well beyond mere brotherly love. It was the love of one redeemed and forgiven sinner for another. They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ and had been adopted into the same family by God the Father. Paul describes this unique, shared relationship this way:

…you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:15-17 NLT

So, John wanted Gaius to know that their mutual love for one another was based on the truth of God’s love for them. God had loved them enough to send His Son to die for them. And John’s love for Gaius extended to his desire that his brother and friend experience health and wholeness, both physically and spiritually.

I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul – 3 John 1:2 ESV

For John, spiritual well-being superseded physical health and prosperity. He knew that growth in godliness was not a guarantee of physical comfort and ease. A life of Christlikeness was sometimes accompanied by pain and suffering. John had heard Jesus Himself declare the reality of hardship for those who place their faith in Christ.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 NLT

And he was probably familiar with the words of Paul and Barnabas, spoken to the saints in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia. As these two men had traveled through these regions, visiting the local church, “they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT).

John knew that suffering and sorrow were a common feature of the walk of faith. But he let Gaius know that he was praying for his health. He had no wish to see his friend suffer hardship. So, he made it a habit to ask God to protect and prosper Gaius physically and spiritually.

But John was especially grateful to hear of Gaius’ spiritual growth. He had rejoiced greatly upon receiving news that Gaius was “walking in the truth” (3 John 1:3 ESV). This young man’s life was marked by a commitment to the truth of the Gospel. It permeated every area of his life. His faith in Christ, marked by his belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, was all-encompassing. His behavior was consistent with his professed belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

And John let Gaius know just how much this pleased him.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:4 ESV

Paul expressed a similar sentiment to the believers in Philippi:

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:2-4 ESV

Gaius was living out his faith in tangible ways that others could see. His belief in Christ was radically altering his behavior. And this brought great joy to his friend and shepherd. As an apostle of Jesus Christ and an elder who had oversight for the body of Christ, John found great satisfaction when he witnessed believers living out their faith in daily life. He expressed this sentiment to the local congregation to whom he wrote his second letter.

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded. – 2 John 1:4 NLT

While John could not guarantee Gaius a life free from trouble and marked by physical health and prosperity, he could encourage his friend to continue in the faith, allowing the truth of the Gospel to saturate and sanctify his every thought and deed.

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

Cause to Rejoice

I rejoiced greatly because I have found some of your children living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4 ESV

During the three-plus years that John had spent as a disciple of Jesus, he had heard His Lord and Savior say a lot about the topic of truth. He had heard Jesus issue the bold statement:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). And Jesus wasn’t simply claiming to have a knowledge of the truth. He was declaring Himself to be truth itself. And John would have recalled the words Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well.

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”. – John 4:23-24 NLT

Jesus had contrasted the worship of the Samaritan woman and her people with the future form of worship that God would deem acceptable and truthful.  But what does it mean to worship the Father in spirit and in truth? Thomas L. Constable provides us with an answer to that very important question. He begins by rewording the phrase, “worship in spirit and in truth” as “truly spiritual” worship. Then he provides a definition.

It is, first, worship that is spiritual in every respect: in its source, mediator, object, subject, basis, and method. It rises from the spirit of the worshipper, not just his or her mouth; it is heartfelt. Moreover it proceeds from a person who has spiritual life because of the new birth that the Holy Spirit has affected. It passes from believers to God through a spiritual mediator, namely, Jesus Christ. Its object is spiritual, namely, God who is spirit. Its subject is spiritual matters. This worship can include physical matters, such as singing and studying, but it comprehends the spiritual realm as well as the physical. Its basis is the spiritual work that Jesus Christ did in His incarnation and atonement. Its method is spiritual as contrasted with physical; it does not consist of merely physical actions but involves the interaction of the human spirit with the divine spirit. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on John, 2008 Edition

So much of what masquerades as worship today is purely physical in nature. It’s all about where and how we worship, rather than the why that motivates our worship. It can become all about form and function, with little emphasis on the focus of our worship: God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son.

We place a high priority on style and substance, forgetting that God looks on the heart. And John would have recalled the words that Jesus used to slam the hypocritical condition of the worship of His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

The Jewish people were busy going through the motions of worship, yet all the while they were rejecting “the truth” of God as revealed in the Son of God. Here was the Incarnate Word standing in their midst and they refused to accept Him. But there were some Jews who accepted Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. And, in his gospel, John records Jesus’ remarks to this faithful remnant.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 NLT

So, here in the second installment of his 3-letter address to a local congregation, John rejoices for their belief in and adherence to the truth. He uses the Greek word peripateō, which can literally mean “to make one’s way.” It could be used to describe the physical task of walking from one place to another, but could also refer to someone going about the daily activity of living their life.

John is ecstatic because he has received news that some within the local congregation are “living according to the truth.” That does not automatically infer that others are not living according to the truth. He is simply stating what he knows to be a fact. Some within the local fellowship are resting in and relying upon the truth of Jesus Christ. That truth resides in them and is flowing out from them and, for this, John is extremely grateful and glad. John “has merely stated that he knows of some Christians in the church addressed who are ‘walking in the truth.’ He does not know for certain that all of them are, and concern over this is probably part of the motivation for writing the letter” (NET Bible Study Notes).

As John penned the words of this letter, he could not help but recall the many times he had heard Jesus speak about the truth. Now, years later and long after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John was witnessing the fulfillment of the promise his Messiah and friend had made before He left this earth.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” – 14:15-17 NLT

John knew that the indwelling Holy Spirit was the reason this faithful remnant were living according to the truth. They were not manufacturing their faith on their own. It was the work of the Spirit of God, who leads into all truth. And John would have well-remember the words he recorded, spoken from the lips of Jesus Himself.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” – John 16:13-15 NLT

What a comfort it must have been to John to see the outworkings of this promise in the lives of those to whom he ministered. Every time he visited a local congregation, he got a chance to see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise lived out in human lives by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. And it caused him to rejoice.

All of this was in answer to the selfless prayer offered up by Jesus to His Heavenly Father that night in the garden.

“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17-19 NLT

The truth. It’s far from relative. And it’s certainly not subjective. It emanates from the very throne of God in the form of the Son of God and is verified to be true by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. John was seeing life change take place in the lives of those to whom he was writing. And it was because of their belief in and reliance upon the truth of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. And that was cause for John to rejoice.

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

In Truth and Love

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. – 2 John 1:1-3 ESV

This letter, written by John the apostle is, as its title indicates, the second in his trilogy of epistles written sometime between A.D. 90-95. It is believed that all three of these letters were written by John while he was living in Ephesus. Much shorter in length than his previous letter and marked by a more personal and intimate tone, some scholars have concluded that this letter was written to an individual. They cite his use of the term “elect lady” in the salutation of the letter. But it seems more likely that John is simply using the feminine designation to refer to the church because she is the bride of Christ.

For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. – Ephesians 5:23 NLT

For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. – 2 Corinthians 11:2 NLT

Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself. – Revelation 19:7 NLT

John is writing to a local congregation, which he refers to as the “children” of the “elect lady.” John reminds this local fellowship that they make up the elect of God. He uses the Greek word eklektos, which means, “picked out or chosen.” He wants them to know that each of them have been placed in the body of Christ by God the Father. They were chosen in advance by God and their presence in the body of Christ was according to His divine will.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29 ESV

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:5 NLT

…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. – Ephesians 1:11 NLT

John, in just a few short words, is picking up on Paul’s description of the body of Christ as an organism, not an organization. The church is a melting pot, created by God and consisting of people from all walks of life and every imaginable background.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT

John opens his letter by referring to himself as “the elder.” This stands in stark contrast to the manner in which Paul typically referred to himself in his epistles. Take his letter to the Ephesian church.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – Ephesians 1:1 ESV

John was also an apostle of Christ Jesus and would have been perfectly justified if he had chosen to use that title. But he chose to refer to himself as an elder. Why? The Greek term he used is presbyteros and throughout the New Testament, it is translated as elder, bishop, and presbyter. This was the title used to refer to those men whose job it was to provide spiritual oversight and leadership for the church. John was letting his audience know that he was writing as a caregiver. This letter was written with a pastor’s heart. He makes this clear by describing them as those “whom I love in truth” (2 John 1:1 ESV).

John was writing this letter out of love. It may be that he kept his introduction rather cryptic because he was attempting to protect the identity of those to whom he wrote. This letter was likely written toward the close of the First Century, a time when the church was beginning to face increasing persecution. And since John’s main area of ministry was Asia Minor, it makes sense to conclude that the church to whom he was writing was located in a Roman province. It’s quite probable that this small congregation of believers was experiencing growing pressure to compromise their faith. But John reminds them that his love for them is based on “the truth.”

This simple phrase was a favorite of John’s and can be found throughout his gospel. And you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine how John came up with it.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 NLT

The truth was the good news of Jesus Christ. It was the message of the Gospel as proclaimed by John the Baptist and lived out in real life by Jesus Himself. John opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus was the embodiment of the truth.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

He went on to stress that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And John would quote Jesus as saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

The incarnation of Jesus was the penultimate expression of God’s love.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

And it was the truth of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection that made John’s love for this local congregation possible. John pointed that out in his first letter.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

And John lets this fledgling congregation know that they are loved, not just by him, but by “all who know the truth” (2 John 1:1 ESV). They can rest assured that the global body of Christ cares for them just as much as John does. They are not alone. And John lets them know that this bond they share with all the other churches scattered throughout Asia Minor and the rest of the world is “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:2 ESV).

The truth regarding Jesus Christ and His message of redemption is what holds the body of Christ together. If this local congregation of believers was to take its eyes off of Jesus, they would lose sight of the hope found in His resurrection and promised return. They shared a common commitment to the eternality of the Gospel message. The truth of Jesus Christ was not just a temporary salve for life’s difficulties, but a permanent hope based on the promise of eternal life. The truth will be with us forever. This means we must not judge the veracity of God’s promise based on current circumstances. Whatever this local fellowship was experiencing was not to be the determiner of the truth. The truth, displayed in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and centered on His promised return, has a permanence to it that should bring hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the face of sorrow, and a sense of peace even when faced with difficulty.

And John reminds his audience, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us…” (2 John 1:3 ESV). These divine gifts will never cease, no matter what happens to us or around us. The grace, mercy, and peace of God will never run out because our God is faithful. His unmerited favor and compassion will never diminish. So, we can experience the inner tranquility that comes from knowing He is with us no matter what is taking place around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We are loved – permanently, perfectly, and eternally. As Paul so aptly and eloquently put it:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. – Romans 8:38 NLT

John wraps up his greeting by assuring his readers that grace, mercy, and peace come “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son” (2 John 1:3 ESV). They are gifts from the Father and the Son and they appear in the form of truth and love. He wants them to never stop believing the truth because it is the basis for understanding God’s love for them. And when they are able to comprehend just how much God loves them, they will be able to love others more effectively and selflessly.

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