By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
When Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy, he first gave positive instruction to Christians, encouraging them to be peaceable and kind. In 2 Timothy, chapter 3, Paul’s tone changed to confronting evil in the church.
Paul foresaw a time when church leaders would be externally religious but internally corrupt and warned Timothy, “They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith” (2 Timothy 3:8). He warned that the organization meant to be the Body of Christ and heal the hurts of others was capable of hurting people. Religion is a powerful force.
For many of us, it’s hard to think there could be such a thing as evildoers in our congregations, but through history they’ve been present. Folks outside the church are quick to cite events such as the Crusades and to point out present-day immorality and scandals within organized Christian religion.
We could also mention that the church isn’t the only place where those are found, which is why Christ came.
In the second letter to Timothy, Paul went on to list 19 grievances against those within the church: lovers of self and money (verse 2), lovers of pleasure (verse 4); “boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited” (verses 2-4).
Some notes on the terms indicate that boastfulness negates anything Jesus may have done to make our lives better. Those who are abusive use put-downs and smart-aleck language. Sometimes entire congregations try to get ahead by saying derogatory things about another church. “Those who are unholy” doesn’t denote just someone who’s neglected to read the Bible, but rather people involved in indecent, immoral practices.
The word “love” keeps cropping up in the verses. What motivates us as a church should be love of Jesus, with a willingness to step out of the way and let Him work.
Paul then confronted legalism and ritual: those “holding on to a form of godliness although they have denied its power” (verse 5). And, “They act religious, but reject the power that could make them godly” (see 1 Timothy 4:1-3). No transformation has taken place on the inside of such a person yet he or she pretends to be okay. If we see any of the 19 characteristics, we need to separate ourselves from the group or confront and warn those involved.
There are at least two cures for toxic faith. First, learn from healthy people such as Paul. “You ... know all about my teaching, my way of life,” he said (verse 10). Also, we need to immerse ourselves and learn from the Holy Scriptures (verse 15).
Earlier Jesus had cautioned against false prophets. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-16). In contrast, the fruits of the Spirit are spelled out in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
The bottom line – only a life transformed by God’s love and focused on God’s Word will prevent a faith that’s counterfeit.