“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” – 2 Timothy 2:11-18
With blogs, websites and social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) so prevalent, one can easily get engulfed in meaningless conversation or even what appears to be “critical thinking” and worthwhile “ponderings,” especially when it comes to so-called Christian examinations of life’s happenings/dilemmas/etc. There’s begun to be this seemingly prevalent theme of “relationships,” singleness vs. marriage, men vs. women, and who can outshine and “one-up” each other when it comes to our knowledge of Scripture. We talk, and talk, and talk some more. I do want to point out, and don’t miss this, that building each other up with our words filtered through His words and through the lens of Scripture is a godly thing. But like everything beautiful in this fallen world, there’s a dark, dangerous side to it. We’re in danger of becoming all about sounding intellectual and philosophical, building our white castles, and in danger of forgetting the One who gave us that intellect, who has enlightened our eyes to His truths. We can forget He is the main point and not our own image and intellect.
This all reminds me of a passage from John Bunyan‘s, The Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian enters the house of Interpreter and is shown analogies of a pilgrim’s life as a way of warning and edification:
Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the names of them that should enter therein; he saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter, what hurt and mischief they could. Christian observed two men jousting, practicing to storm through the armed men. One spoke to the other, “Age before beauty you know.” To which the other replied, “On the contrary, tis fools rush in!” Now was Christian somewhat in amaze and despaired that none would go in. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, “Set down my name, sir;” the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet on his head, and rush towards the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, Matt. 11:12; Acts 14:22; he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying,
“Come in, come in, Eternal glory thou shalt win.”
I fear much of the church is in grave danger of becoming like the two pilgrims debating and talking about “high-minded” spiritual things while jousting with each other, but never taking the castle by force. Those two pilgrims “appear” to be serious about entering into glory, but they’re hiding behind their pride, fears, and intellect.
In the passage from 2 Timothy I posted at the top of this post, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy in verse 14 to remind his people of the message of verses 11 – 13 AND to charge them not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearer. Then, he says that Timothy should be diligent about rightly dividing the word of God, etc. Notice the connection – sandwiched in between his instructions concerning the correct handling of the word of God is a warning that both Timothy and his hearers should avoid useless arguments about words or phrases, which Paul says are not profitable and are ruinous to those listening in on such useless wranglings. The main point in the warning seems to be that there is a way of hearing and handling the word of God that misses the central message of the glory of God in the gospel and leads people into irrelevancies, endless disputings and ultimately ruinous beliefs and practices.
Some people seem to endlessly debate for no real purpose, making judgement calls, asking certain questions in such a way that “stirs the pot.” Sometimes they use all this “chatter” as a way of holding onto doubts, unbelief, or to make themselves feel secure in their own knowledge. At times it is a form of gossip, to “stir up the pot”, I suppose, since they have no direct responsibility or impact in this area. Oftentimes it fits in the category of useless wrangling over words. I would caution you and myself to avoid these discussions with these sorts of people, as it presents a risk to you in accordance with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Engage in edifying, purposeful, biblical discussions whose end is to bring glory to God in the gospel. Like I said it’s a fine line, which I’ve seen being crossed more and more. A cynical person will never stop arguing and will never seem able to come to the knowledge of the truth. These speculative debates are no more than an opportunity to display one’s intellectual pride or arrogance. Plus, such arguments embroil a person in controversy and stir up passions unnecessarily. Life is hard enough without making it more so.
Concerning “handling” of God’s word. Again, Paul is writing to Timothy to instruct him how to deal with with men who are teaching “strange doctrines.” Paul then tells Timothy what the purpose and goal of his own teaching/preaching ministry is: “…the goal of our [the apostles’] instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is what Paul aimed at in the lives of people when he taught them. This is what he aimed at in his own study of God’s word. This is what we should aim at in our own study of God’s word. And, when we venture to teach another, formally or informally, this should be our goal: to promote in them through God’s word “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” The goal of teaching, preaching, study, is love. Divine love flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. There is then a practical emphasis on godliness, not a speculative, intellectual emphasis in our handling of God’s word. You see how mere intellectual debate that is a forum for doubt or cynicism or pride is antithetical to the purpose and goal of biblical instruction. The goal is transformation and conformity to the image of Christ, not cleverness, word-craft or erudition.
There is so much more to say. But this is long enough. Strive to live a quiet and peaceable life in Christ. There is much joy in it.
(Note: A special dedication and thanks to a wise, godly man in my life who is both my counselor and father, for his contributions/insights for this post. I love you, Daddy.)
Rachel B. Duke