2 Timothy 2:14–26
Think with me for a moment about Paul, who made tents to help support himself in his church planting ministry (Acts 18:1–3). We can imagine him as he receives an order for a tent. He lays out the rough camel-hair cloth, with which tents were then made, and places a pattern over it, or else carefully marks out the lines to be cut for the various pieces of the tent. He must be careful to cut the material straight. If the pieces are not properly cut, they will leave gaps and potential leaks in the tent. They will not fit together properly when sewn.
Paul applies the importance of cutting straight seams in tent cloth as he writes to Timothy about his handling of the Scriptures. Incipient Gnosticism is appearing in Asia, and the Scriptures are being distorted by false teachers. Some are denying the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection and thus bringing a catastrophe to the faith of believers. Paul commands Timothy to be diligent as God’s laborer. He says: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Timothy must “rightly divide” or “cut straight” with the Word of God so he will not be ashamed before God. To cut straight with the Word of Truth is to teach it rightly, expound it soundly, and preach it fearlessly.
This letter, being Paul’s last before his imminent death (2 Tim. 4:6), conveys a sense of intensity and urgency. This passage of Scripture is particularly intense. The aged preacher, who has faithfully served as a mentor to his young protégé, instructs him concerning the Lord’s work. Paul’s instructions take the form of seven imperative commands. He says:
- “Put them in remembrance” (v. 14).
- “Study” or “give diligence” (v. 15).
- “Shun” or “avoid” (v. 16).
- “Depart” (v. 19).
- “Flee” (v. 22).
- “Follow” (v. 22).
- “Avoid” (v. 23).
This is a more important passage of Scripture than we often realize. Verses 24–26 stand with 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:7–9 as passages that describe what a preacher “must” be in his life and conduct. These are absolute, nonnegotiable requirements for one who serves in the ministry. The preacher of God’s Word is to diligently “cut straight” with the Word of Truth in his ministry and life so that he receives God’s approval.
Cutting Straight in Separation (2 Timothy 2:14–19)
The Commands to Separation
Five of the seven imperatives in this urgent passage relate directly to separation from bad doctrine and/or sin. Paul says: remind them not to strive about profitless words (v. 14); avoid profane chatter (v. 16); depart from iniquity (v. 19); flee youthful lusts (v. 22), and shun foolish and ignorant questions (v. 23).
The Objects of Separation
Scripture not only commands us to separation, but it identifies those from whom we are to separate. Paul lists teachers of false doctrine (v. 17); false doctrine itself (v. 18); and youthful lusts, or personal sins (v. 22). Note that the false doctrine Paul names in this passage concerns the resurrection (v. 18). It is important to note that immediately after he names false doctrine and before he names youthful lusts, he commands “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (v. 19). We can only conclude that the false doctrine is as evil as the personal sin.
The Reason for Separation
Through the apostle, the Holy Spirit lists four reasons for separation from the iniquity of false doctrine and sinful lusts. Those reasons are:
False doctrine subverts those who hear it (v. 14). This is a strong word. It is the Greek word from which our English word “catastrophe” comes. Erroneous doctrine can destroy God’s people.
False doctrine increases ungodliness (v. 16). It promotes that which is in rebellion to God.
False doctrine spreads as a disease (literally, gangrene) if not opposed (v. 17).
False doctrine produces strife (v. 23).
We have seen false doctrine do its deadly work in our world today. The list is too long to name here, but think of the divisiveness and harm to Christians caused by the false teaching of the Charismatic movement. Various New Evangelicals have caused great confusion and division with the teachings on the bodily resurrection of Christ, the “Openness of God” theology, questions about the Biblical doctrine of hell, and even the way of salvation. When the doctrine is contrary to Scripture, we, like Timothy, must separate from it and avoid it. We must protect the people we serve and to whom we minister.
Cutting Straight in Service (2 Timothy 2:20, 21)
Paul begins this part of his discussion with an illustration. All sorts of utensils are required to operate a large household. He contrasts the value and preciousness of these vessels. Some were made of silver or gold. Others were made of wood and earth. The precious vessels were carefully kept and preserved. The other vessels could be used and discarded when worn out. My mother had some beautiful china that my father gave her when they were married. She kept it in a lovely oak cabinet with glass doors. We rarely used that china, and mother handled it with the utmost care when she used it. In our home we also had several plastic wastebaskets of differing sizes. They were used without much regard for preserving them. When they were damaged, we simply replaced them. Paul says, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (v. 21). We should seek to be vessels of honor so our Master can use us.
The Master of Our Service
The word “master” is the word despotes. From it we get our English word “despot.” It originally meant “owner,” or “possessor,” and was used first in the sphere of domestic rule. The master of a household ruled unconditionally in the household, much as Joseph must have ruled in Potiphar’s house. The word came to be used of Macedonian kings and then of the Roman emperor. In Roman history the Jews would rather suffer death than confess the emperor as their “master.” The word was eventually used in the pejorative when used of kings, as the word is used today. In the New Testament the word is used of a slave owner (1 Tim. 6:1); of God as the “master of the house” (2 Tim. 2:21); of God as the prophet’s master in control of his life span (Luke 2:29); and of Jesus as the Lord whom the apostates deny (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4).
The Meaning of Our Service
As those who handle the Word of Truth, we are not our own captains, but rather slaves of the Savior who is our absolute Master. We must confess with Simeon that the God whose Word we minister is Master of everything about us, even our days on earth! Jesus is our Master. We belong to Him because He bought us, and we must recognize Him as complete Master of our lives. The ministry is not ours. God has given us the privilege and grace of ministry (2 Cor. 5:18; Eph. 3:8). Jesus bought the churches we serve with His blood (Acts 20:28). We who preach must always labor with the awareness that we are servants of the One who is absolute Master. We gladly submit to His lordship and serve as His servants. This submission to Christ distinguishes us from the apostates who hate and deny His lordship. Jesus must be Lord of the preacher’s life! If we will obey Him by departing from iniquity, He will use us as vessels in His hand.
Cutting Straight in Spirit (2 Timothy 2:24–26)
A Forbidden Spirit
Even though servants of the Lord must expose and avoid false doctrine, even naming those who propound it (2 Tim. 2:17), they “must not strive” (v. 24). Those who cut straight with the Word of Truth will practice Biblical separation without any rancor or bitterness.
A Required Spirit
Paul describes a spiritual temper that is absolutely necessary in the servant of the Lord who cuts straight with the Word. He must be:
Gentle—with a sense of equity and fairness. Apt to teach—able to instruct men in the truth, even those in error.
Patient—with evil. The word is used only here in the New Testament. He does not condone evil, but is patient in opposing it as distinct from the striving and bitterness forbidden in verse 24.
Meek—submitted to God, revealing a total lack of occupation with himself.
A Focused Spirit
The servant of the Lord exhibits a godly, Biblical spirit because he is focused on a clear purpose. This is a separatist passage, but the Lord’s servant seeks first to instruct those who have fallen into false doctrine and oppose themselves. His hope is for the God-given repentance and recovery of those who have fallen into the snare of the devil (vv. 25, 26).
Scripture demands our separation from false teachers and false doctrine in obedience to God. Scripture also demands a proper spirit from the servants of the Lord in our obedient separation. It is possible for us to be obedient in our separation and disobedient in our spirit. May God convict us and correct us if that is so.
As preachers of the Word we must be diligent to “cut straight” with the Word of Truth in our ministries and lives so as to have God’s approval. This means we must “cut straight” or rightly divide the Word of Truth in our separation, our service, and our spirit. Christ must be the master of our lives and ministries.
Fred Moritz serves as a Professor at Maranatha Baptist Seminary and is the Executive Director Emeritus, Baptist World Mission
(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2001. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)