Dealing with False Teachers | 2 Timothy 2:14-19

The Last Word

David LeventhalMar 21, 2021


How should believers approach false teaching in the church? In this week’s installment of The Last Word, David Leventhal introduces us to false teaching in the early church and shows us how to be an approved worker who can rightly handle the word of truth.

Key Takeaways

  • Paul is telling Timothy to go to war with people inside the church. This passage is for the church, about protecting the church, and it’s a big deal.
  • When we move away from God, we are moving toward destruction.
  • Church leaders are to take great pains to present themselves before God as those whose teaching and lives have been tested by God and found to be genuine.
  • Gangrene in the church today might include beliefs about the Holy Spirit, prosperity, and growing moral relativism, among other issues.
  • God is not confused as to who is His; which of His follower is a sheep and which is a goat. God knows His sheep, and those who are His do not live in ungodliness.
  • There will always be false teachers in the church, but the disease of false teaching is cured by the diligent application of sound doctrine.
  • God won’t love us more if we strive to become approved workers, but we will learn to love God more as we grow in our understanding of His holiness, justice, goodness, kindness, and love.
  • Every believer is expected to be an approved worker, no matter how long they have been following Christ.
  • Approved workers are proactive, purposeful, and persevering.
  • Approved workers are always needed and, unfortunately, in short supply.
  • It is time to stiffen our spines and repent of our laziness, our inattentiveness, our misplaced priorities, and our distractions.
  • There are four characteristics of an approved worker: They make much of God; They teach the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation; They teach the historical, orthodox, unchanging gospel as defined in Scripture; They teach that God’s people should live lives marked by love, holiness, and good works.

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • If you came across false teaching, would you be able to recognize it?
  • What has hindered you from becoming an approved worker who knows how to rightly handle God’s Word?
  • Suggested Scripture study: 2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Timothy 6:4-5, 2 Timothy 2:23, Ephesians 4:1, James 3:1, 1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:12-58, Philippians 3:10-12, Romans 6, Colossians 2, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:8, Ephesians 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:18-20, Acts 14:21-22, Romans 8:22-25, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, 2 Timothy 2:3, Matthew 9:36, John 14:6-7, Hebrews 4:12-13, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 15:4, 1 Peter 1:20-21, Psalm 19:7-11, Romans 15:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-12, Ephesians 2:20, Numbers 16, 1 Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-14, Mark 4:18, John 10:10, Proverbs 16:18, John 6:68, Ephesians 4:11-14, Galatians 1:6-9, James 2:14-26, 2 Timothy 2:22
  • Sermon: The Words and Ways of the False Teacher and What to Do About It
  • Equipping Resources: Join the Journey, Watermark’s Equipping Ministry

How are we doing, Watermark Community Church? It is great to be together this morning. I am so excited about what we're going to be getting to talk about today. For those who are joining us online and other spots on the campus, welcome. We're glad you guys are here. We have been marching through this amazing little letter Paul wrote to Timothy. When I kicked off this series, I told you we were going to spend six weeks in this little letter and then we were going to move on.

We got a couple of weeks into this letter, and we were talking as a leadership team, and we said, "Man, this letter is so applicable. We have to spend more time." So, you may have noticed we have slowed the pace down. We're not going to spend six weeks; we're going to spend a lot more weeks unpacking this in smaller segments. That's why we're still talking about this, and we're going to get to keep talking about this letter for weeks to come. I'm excited.

We have been journeying through the first chapter and a half of 2 Timothy. These are the apostle Paul's final words. It has been a chapter and a half so far of Paul kind of like a coach to Timothy. "Hey, buddy. I want you to remember who you are. I want you to remember whose you are. I want you to look at the men and the women God has put into your life and how they have suffered and how they have persevered and how they have not been ashamed, and I want you, Timothy, to be willing to suffer. I want you, Timothy, to not be ashamed. I want you to be ready, Timothy."

He has been pumping him up like a coach would an athlete or maybe a commanding officer would his recruit. Paul is going to hit the clutch this morning, and he's going to start a new section in this letter. Paul is going to change directions from "Hey, you have to get ready to go to war" to "We are going to war." Paul has used some ministry metaphors we've talked about of a good soldier, of an athlete, and a farmer.

In this next section, which extends (we're going to go over the next couple of weeks) to the end of chapter 2, you're going to see three more ministry metaphors. You're going to see a metaphor of an approved worker, which we're going to talk about this morning. Next week, you're going to learn about an honorable vessel, and then you're going to learn about how the Lord's guy is to be a servant.

This morning, we're going to be looking at verses 14-19 in chapter 2. Paul is saying, "Hey, it's time to go to war," but you need to understand this war Paul is talking about is not being waged outside of the church walls. What Paul is going to talk about, what we're going to unpack this morning is "There's a war going on that you have to be ready for, Timothy, but it's a war within the walls of the church."

So, I want to remind us of three things as we get going this morning. First, this is a family message. This is a message for the church. There was plenty of nonsense going on in Ephesus when Paul wrote this letter outside the walls of the church, and he's going to jump into some of that in chapter 3. There's plenty of nonsense going on around Dallas/Fort Worth today, but right now, this morning, we're talking about a church conversation.

This is about protecting the church, because the church is supposed to be a safe place where men and women can come and be taught the Word of God, can grow up into maturity. It's to be a place that upholds the clear, sound, orthodox teachings of Scripture. It's not to be a place where there's a free-for-all and anybody with a novel idea gets to grab the mic and share their perspective. That is not what the church is to be. This is about protecting the church from within.

Thirdly, it's a big deal. Paul is going to tell Timothy, "Hey, buddy, there are men and women, boys and girls, young adults in your body, and the souls of those within your flock are at stake. So, Timothy, you'd better pay attention. You'd better take this seriously." That's what we want to do this morning. We want to take these words very, very seriously because there's a lot at stake within the walls of the church. Amen?

Father, as we unpack the truths of this Scripture in the next little bit, would you give us ears to hear? Would you give us hearts that are ready to learn and to be transformed? I pray that I might do what you have charged Timothy with doing, which is to accurately handle the Word of truth. Father, use these words you have preserved for thousands of years that have transformed believers for centuries. Would you use them this morning to transform us? In Jesus' name, amen.

If you have your Bible, crack that bad boy open to 2 Timothy, chapter 2, starting in verse 14. I'm going to read the whole passage, and then we will get going.

"Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 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. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.

Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 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.'"

What I want to do this morning is I want to walk us through all six verses, and then we're going to double click back and spend some extended time on verse 15. In verse 14, Paul is going to start by saying, "Hey, I don't want you to do this. Don't do this, Timothy." He's going to say, "Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers."

"Remind them." In the Greek, this verb is a present active imperative, which means Timothy was to continually do this. It's like Paul is saying, "Keep on reminding them and continue to remind them. This is not something you do once a month or once a year. You continue to remind them." You should be asking yourself, "Who is the 'them' and what are the 'these things' Timothy is supposed to remind them?"

The "them" in this section are the believers at Ephesus. Paul probably has in mind those folks mentioned in verse 2: those faithful men who will also be able to teach others. Paul says, "Remind them of these things." The "these things" are the things Paul has been teaching. Probably, most specifically, the immediate context of verses 8-13, where Paul says, "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel…"

"Timothy, you are to remind them, and you are to keep reminding them to keep the main thing the main thing." The main thing, guys, is that Jesus Christ is a real guy who came to earth, who lived a perfect life. He was a descendant of David. He was betrayed. He willingly went to a cross, he was dead in a tomb, and three days later God raised him from the dead. You're to remind them of these things.

"Charge them before God." This is a serious, solemn charge. If you're familiar with A Christmas Story, this is 9-year-old Schwartz invoking the triple dog dare on Flick. Do you remember that scene? They're trying to show how serious he is, and he says, "Hey, Flick, I triple dog dare you to stick your tongue on that frozen pole." He did, and little Flick got his tongue stuck. Paul says to Timothy, "You charge them before God. This is not just a task. You charge them before God. They are going to be held accountable for what they learn."

What is he supposed to charge them? "…not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers." Literally, in the Greek, this is a war with words. This is word wrangling. This is what the false teachers in Ephesus were doing. They were loving to hear their own voices as they talked and squabbled and debated incessantly on theological, biblical details rather than being who God called them to be.

If you read back into 1 Timothy, which we taught from the stage last year, and in 2 Timothy, you see that Paul hammers this point home to Timothy repeatedly, this idea of wrangling with words. He says in 1 Timothy 1:4, "Hey, Timothy, I left you in Macedonia to charge people not to teach certain doctrines, nor to devote themselves to myths or endless genealogies." Why? "Because they promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith."

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul is talking about those who teach different doctrines. He says, "[They have] an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction…" In 1 Timothy 2:16, we're going to see in just a moment, Timothy was to avoid irreverent babble. Why? Because it leads people into more and more ungodliness. In 2 Timothy 2:23: "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels."

Every time Paul talks about these false teachers, he shows Timothy, "This is what they're doing, and it doesn't produce anything helpful. It ruins the hearers." That word ruin is the Greek word katastrophe, which we get the word catastrophe from. When you listen to false teaching, it's a catastrophe to your faith. These false teachers were getting caught up in arguing and debating, and they were taking people away from that which was of first importance: remembering Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in Paul's gospel.

Listen. They're not asking genuine questions. We are patient as long as the day is for folks who have questions and who are confused and want to learn, but that's not what these guys were doing. They were creating controversies, so Paul's solution to Timothy was, "Hey, buddy, you are not to give them a platform or a microphone to confuse and lead the flock astray." To use a phrase I am sure we are all whipped with hearing, they were to be quarantined.

In contrast to the false teachers in verse 14, Paul says in verse 15, "Hey, don't do this. Don't be like these guys. Here's what I want you to be like, Timothy." "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." As I mentioned, I'm going to come back to this verse. We're going to spend some extended time here, but let me just run us through what Paul is saying here.

My translation says, "Do your best." Yours might read "Be diligent" or "Make every effort" or "Work hard." The point is Timothy was to take great pains in his study and his ability to open up God's Word, because he's going to be tested, and he wants to be found genuine, as a worker who has no need to be ashamed. There's that word ashamed again. We heard that word a lot in chapter 1. Paul wasn't ashamed. We had a guy named Onesiphorus who wasn't ashamed.

"Timothy, you shouldn't be ashamed, and the way you won't be ashamed is to make sure you pay careful attention to your teaching." How was he to make sure his work would not lead to shame? He was to rightly handle the Word of truth. Rightly handling literally means to cut straight. Paul tells Timothy, "Hey, buddy, you are not to twist or manipulate Scripture. You're not to make something up that's not there. You're to do your homework to make sure that when you open up God's Word, you are accurately teaching God's Word in accordance with the intention of the author."

I want to remind you our context this morning is about teaching. Paul is going to talk (he talks all over the New Testament; we're going to get to it later in this chapter on a different Sunday) about our behavior (What does it look like to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we've been called?) and about the moral component, how our holiness should be informed, but right here, he is specifically talking about how Timothy was to teach God's Word.

He says, "Timothy, you'd better hit the nail on the head. We are in a war, and you will be held accountable," which is why Jesus' half-brother James would say later in James 3, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." "Timothy, you are to cut straight the apostolic message. You're to make sure it's clear. You will be held accountable before God in a way that is different from folks who don't get up and say, 'Thus saith the Lord.'"

In the church in Ephesus, false teachers were ruining their hearers, they were leading folks into ungodliness, and they were drawing some away from the faith. Paul is going to say the disease of false teaching is cured by the diligent application of sound doctrine. So, Paul is now going to shift back in verses 16 and following to "Here's what I don't want you to do." He started with "Don't be like these guys. Don't let this happen. Here's what you should be." Now he's going to come back to "Don't do this."

"But avoid irreverent babble…" Your translations may say unholy or godless. It's the idea that whatever they're teaching is able to be trodden upon. It's worthless. "…for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some."

Paul sets up this contrast between those who rightly handle the Word of truth, which leads to more and more godliness, and those who have swerved from the truth, leading to more and more ungodliness. Paul tells Timothy, "You need to avoid getting sucked into these disputes, because their involvement always leads progressively to more and more ungodliness and farther and farther away from God."

The content of their discussion was godless in nature. It didn't align with Jesus' teaching or Paul's teaching, and it produced no moral fruit. When we move away from God, we are always moving toward destruction. Mark it. Paul says, "Their teaching spreads like gangrene." Gangrene is a disease that enters your body, and it restricts oxygen to parts of the body, and because there's no oxygen there to bring the life-giving blood it needs, those parts of your body, those extremities, begin to die. If you don't take care of it, it'll kill you.

Paul says their teaching is like this gangrene, and gangrene always spreads. You don't have to help it along. It's just what it does. It spreads. He says, "Their teaching is like an infection that's going to eat away at the health of the church, and you'd better deal with it." There are several ways you can treat gangrene. You can go in there with a knife and cut that bad tissue out and hope you get it all so it doesn't continue to spread. If it's too bad, you have to amputate that limb, that finger, that foot, that arm.

There's a treatment called larval debridement, or medical maggots, where they take maggots and put those maggots into the wound, and those maggots eat the dead, necrotic flesh, and they leave the good flesh alone. I got into a Google wormhole on this. Boy howdy! I read a medical article on this. I watched a video, which I'm going to show you right now. No, I'm just kidding. I'm not going to share a video. Let me just tell you something: it's gross. But those maggots get in there and eat that dead, necrotic flesh, and they get rid of all of it in a way that brings life and healing. Paul tells Timothy, "You have to deal with this gangrene or it's going to kill the church."

"Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus…" If you've been reading 2 Timothy, have you noticed that in every chapter of this letter Paul mentions by name two people as a contrast to what he's calling Timothy and the church in Ephesus to? In chapter 1, Paul mentioned Phygelus and Hermogenes. He's mentioning Hymenaeus and Philetus here. In chapter 3, he's going to mention Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses. In chapter 4, he's going to mention Demas and Alexander. Paul puts names. These are the men in Scripture who are causing problems.

Paul mentioned Hymenaeus in 1 Timothy 1:20. Paul said he had given him over to Satan. He'd put him out of the church, yet somehow this guy was still creating problems for the church in Ephesus. This is the only time Philetus is mentioned in Scripture, and it's not a great look for Philetus. How would you like to be recorded in eternity for your false teaching in a church? Mmm! Paul says, "They have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened." They have missed the mark, and it was profoundly dangerous.

There were resurrection controversies all in the New Testament. Paul addresses these controversies. He talks about resurrection controversies in 2 Thessalonians 2, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 3, and here it's in the church in Ephesus as well. What was going on here was that these guys, Hymenaeus and Philetus, were teaching that the resurrection had already happened. Look. If you want to pick and choose Scripture, you can say, "Hey, listen. Paul says…"

If you read in Romans 6 and Colossians 2, Paul talks about how we have died with Christ and we have been raised in newness of life with Christ and spiritually we have been resurrected. That's true, but that's not the whole truth. That's just part of the truth. These guys were spiritualizing… They were denying the future physical, bodily resurrection of believers, and it was causing great damage to the church.

They were saying, "It's all spiritual. You've been resurrected spiritually with Jesus, and that's all there is, so you can have your best life now as you pursue Jesus, but there's no future hope of the resurrection. There's no restoration of our bodies or of this earth." You can see how that would pull people offsides for the average believer, because it's not the full teaching. Yes, we have been raised spiritually, but the full teaching of Scripture says this: if the Lord Jesus tarries and doesn't come in our lifetime…

I pray more fervently today than I ever have that Jesus would return, but if he doesn't, here's what's going to happen. You and I are going to die, and there's going to be some sort of a memorial service, probably. They're going to put us in a casket. They're going to bury us. Our spirit will be with the Lord immediately. We will be in paradise with Jesus. We close our eyes on this earth; we open our eyes in paradise with the Son.

Our body, this flesh, will be put into the ground, and it will begin to decay. Paul tells the church in Thessalonica… He unpacks for them how this is going to work. He says in 1 Thessalonians 4, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ [those of us who are in the ground decaying] will rise first." We will be physically, bodily resurrected.

"Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…" Our physical bodies will meet the physical bodies of those who are on the earth when Jesus returns. "…and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words." These guys were not teaching the full truth about the resurrection, and it was causing great harm.

Now listen. I don't hear much about resurrection controversies in the church today, but I'll tell you what. We have some gangrene in the church today. We have some stuff that comes across our plates regularly, both in this local congregation and then in the "big C" church. There is mass confusion about the Holy Spirit, and some within the church have swerved from the truth, saying you can't experience all God has for you unless you receive some second filling after conversion, or unless you speak in tongues or manifest the Spirit in some way, you aren't really a varsity Christian.

Paul says in Ephesians 1 the moment you have trusted Christ, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he's going to come back and get you. There is no second blessing necessary. You have everything you need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus the moment you come to trust Christ. I could also go to Romans 8, Ephesians 4, and 2 Corinthians 1.

There is confusion in the church as some have swerved from the truth, and they say that God's plan for your life, God's will for your life, always includes physical health and financial prosperity, this dangerous prosperity gospel. It does no good and ruins those who hear it. Listen. Suffering is normative for the believer. Self-denial is normative for the believer.

I could go to 2 Timothy 3 where Paul says, "Listen really clearly. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will have fat pocketbooks." No! _ "…all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…" _ I could go to John 15, Acts 14, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 1, 2 Timothy 2, and on and on.

Within the church, some have swerved from the truth, saying that God, as made known through the Scriptures, is no longer relevant and man has what man needs inside himself to determine what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. This moral relativism is seeping like gangrene throughout the body. It has led to chaos in our views within the church about sexuality, both hetero- and homosexuality. It has led to chaos about our view of the sanctity of life.

It has led to confusion about the nature and the authority of Scripture, and it has led to a cowering to the culture by pastors who want to be "liked" and followed on social media more than they want to lead and rightly divide the Word of truth. It has shipwrecked the faith of some, and it has left God's people to walk around harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, Jesus says in Matthew 9. I could go to John 14, Hebrews 4, 2 Timothy 3, Romans 15, 1 Peter 1, Psalm 19, and on and on and on.

Folks, we have gangrene in the church, and we have to do our best to insert the God-given maggot truth to eat out that gangrene. If you're Timothy… Maybe you're here today and you're thinking, "Man, these false teachers are everywhere, and they just keep coming. How is the church supposed to survive?" Paul says, "I'm glad you asked." Verse 19: "But [however, nevertheless, in spite of that] _ 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.'"

Despite what these false teachers are doing and despite their necrotic influence in the church, God's firm foundation stands. God's firm foundation is the church. Paul uses this analogy in Romans 15, in 1 Corinthians 3, and in Ephesians 2. The firm foundation is the church, and on this firm foundation there's a seal, and that seal says two things: "God knows those who are his" and "Everyone who names the name of the Lord will depart from iniquity." That's a quote from the book of Numbers in your Bible.

In Numbers, chapter 16, we have a recorded rebellion against Moses and Aaron. There was a guy named Korah. Korah gets about 250 of his buddies, and they decide they don't like much how Moses and Aaron are leading and how God has given them the task of leading the nation. Korah and his guys decide, "We think we should be able to lead the way Moses and Aaron, God's appointed representatives, have led."

Moses says, "Hey, guys, let me just remind you. God has carefully examined and knows those who are his and those who are holy, and he led them to himself. Those he chose for himself he led to himself." Moses is telling Korah, "Hey, guys, you might want to slow your roll, because the Lord knows who are his. God knows who his appointed men are, which means he knows who the appointed men are not."

So, Moses sets up a challenge between Korah and these guys and Moses and Aaron, but before that challenge goes down, we read that the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Instruct the congregation to withdraw from around the gathering of Korah," which is another way of saying, "You'd better pick your side," or as Paul might say it, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."

How do you think it went for Korah and his buddies? Not great. They all died. The parallels are obvious. You have God's men, Moses and Aaron in Numbers and Timothy and Paul, and you have rebels. You have Hymenaeus and Philetus in Ephesus, and you have Korah in Numbers. God is not confused about whose side each guy is on. God says, "If you're on my team, you will depart from iniquity."

Church, let me remind us of two things. First, it does not matter who our opposition is, whether it's Hymenaeus or Philetus, Phygelus, Hermogenes, Jannes, Jambres, Demas, or Alexander. God's plan for his bride, for his firm foundation, for his church, has been established, and Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Church, if we name the name of the Lord, we'd better depart from iniquity. We're going to find out next week that involves cleansing ourselves from dishonorable vessels, and it involves fleeing youthful passions.

So, that's our passage, six verses of gold. Now let's turn the wagons around. Let's go back to verse 15 and camp out there for a bit. "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." There are always going to be false teachers in the church. Just like they teach guys who spot counterfeit money… You study the real dollar bill. Don't worry about all of the deviations of dollar bills. If you know the real dollar bill, then you will be able to spot the false ones.

What I want us to do is focus in on what God is calling us to do, who God is calling us to be. That way, when we hear some deviation, some gangrenous teaching, we'll know, "Hey, that doesn't sound like what I've read in my Bible." So, we're going to focus on what we should be doing, who we should be. Remember the context. This is about Paul exhorting Timothy in his handling of the Word of God.

Approved workers. Let me give you three things for approved workers. I'll give you a preview, and then we'll walk back through them. Every believer is expected to be an approved worker; approved workers are proactive, purposeful, and persevering; and approved workers are always needed and, unfortunately, in short supply. Let's look at those one at a time.

Every believer is expected to be an approved worker. Whether you've been walking with Jesus for one day or for 50 years, it doesn't matter. I can be doing things today to make myself more of an approved worker who rightly handles the Word of truth. If you are a new believer, let me just let you know we are excited. If you met Jesus a day ago, nobody expects you to understand all of the theological components in the Scriptures, because you're a baby believer. You need milk.
As Peter would say in 1 Peter 2, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted…" We want to help you learn your Scripture. We want to teach you how to accurately divide the Word of truth. I'll give you some handholds in a second. We want you to know it's okay to say, "I'm a baby. I'm not sure I even know which way true north is, but I do know 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'" If you know that, you have all you need to get going.

Now, I want to be gentle, and I want to be clear. We have some folks in this body who have been walking with Jesus for a long time, and at this point, you should be teaching and leading others, but you're still drinking out of a bottle. I believe the Lord is calling you to take stock. Some of you have been around this place a long time and you're stagnated. You're not growing. You're spiritually immature. You come in weekly, and you want to plug your spiritual umbilical cord in and just have stuff pushed to you. You don't want to do any of the hard work to become an approved workman.

The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 5… He's unpacking some really deep theological truths. He's talking about Jesus and some guy named Melchizedek, who was a prophet, priest, and king, and you're treading out into deeper theological waters. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says to these believers. "About this [these theological topics] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing." "You're lazy. You're slow to learn. You don't seem to be listening."

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."

Some of us are dull and lazy and not wanting to do the work. Every believer is expected to be an approved worker, and we become one as we are trained by constant practice, which leads to my next point.

Approved workers are proactive, purposeful, and persevering. Learning the Bible is hard work. It takes time, effort, and energy. It doesn't happen by accident, and it doesn't happen overnight. I was with some young folks last week, some high school and college students, and it was really weird. I noticed three or four of them walked in in these retro AC/DC tee shirts. I'm like, "Hey, those are my waters. I know about 80s heavy metal. That's where I swam."
I said, "Hey, tell me your favorite AC/DC song." "We don't know any of their music." A girl walked in the next day…I kid you not…with a Van Halen 1984 tour shirt. I'm like, Hey, I've got that. "What's your favorite song from that album?" "Nothing." They ought to be glad they didn't walk in with an Iron Maiden shirt, because that was where I really excelled. My point is they wanted to wear the tee shirt, but they didn't want to listen to the music.

They didn't want to do the work to figure out "What is this band about?" I'm afraid we have folks in this church who want to wear the tee shirt… They have "Team Jesus" tee shirts on, but they're not wanting to do the work. You can't flip through your Bible 10 minutes a day, like, "All right, Lord. What do you want me to read? Okay, here." You can't do that and expect to grow in the deep theological waters. You have to get after it, and it is hard work.

So, what you do is you open your Bible, you turn off your phone, you lock your computer workstation, you get a pen, you get a piece of paper, and you read, and you reread, and you take notes, and you ponder, and you ask questions, and you think about it, and you pray over it, and then you reread some more, and you do that day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. That is the hard work. There are no shortcuts, guys.

If you want to be somebody who rightly handles the Word of truth, you have to be in the Word of truth regularly, daily, for extended time. It takes patience and perseverance. Listen. God is not going to love you more if you read your Bible. God has demonstrated his love for you already in that while you were a sinner… While I was a rebel who had no concern for God, he sent Jesus to die for me.

God has already shown that he loves me to the fullest of his capacity, so reading my Bible is not going to make God love me more, but I will tell you what. As I spend time in God's Word and I see the holiness and the justice of God and what that demands and I realize, "Holy smokes! He became a man and sent his Son to die for me," I find my heart and my affections are stirred toward him. So, he doesn't love me more, but I sure begin to love him more.

So, let me ask you: What has hindered you from becoming an approved worker who knows how to rightly handle God's Word? Are you overloaded with the cares of this world? If so, Jesus would ask you, "Why are you so embedded with the world?" In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is teaching about how some individuals respond to the Word of God. In Mark 4:19, he says, "[For some,] the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." Why are you so in bed with the world?

Are you indulging in some secret, unconfessed sin? If so, Jesus would ask you: Why are you hiding the very thing he died for to bring into the light and set you free? Jesus said he came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Are you convinced, maybe from pride that still grows like gangrene in your heart, that you have what it takes, you don't need God's Word; that some measure of worldly success has made you think you can figure this out on your own or you're going to go troll the New York Times Best Sellers Nonfiction list to get wisdom of this world?

Jesus would ask you, "Where are you going to go for the words of life?" Are you going to go to Oprah? Who are you going to go to? As Peter would say, "Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of life." Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? Where are you going to go for the words of life if not in this book?

Are you neglecting God's Word because you view it as some sort of a dusty, dry rule book rather than the incredible, life-giving love letter that it is? If so, Jesus would ask you, "Where are you going to go?" Church, it's time to stiffen our spines. It's time for some of us to repent of our laziness, of our inattentiveness, of our misplaced priorities and distractions.

Approved workers are always needed, and they're in short supply. Because there will always be false teachers in the church, there's always a need for men and women who can gather folks around them, open God's Word, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." I fear we have a lot of folks wearing the Jesus tee shirt, but they don't know the Jesus they serve. Approved workers are always needed.
So, whether you're a day-one or a year-50 believer, we want to help you. Paul told the church in Ephesus, "God has given people in the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry." We want to help you grow into mature manhood. We want to help you no longer be children who are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

Some of you may not know where to start, and that's okay. We want to help you. Maybe go to, which is our family Bible reading program. You'll be sent a section of Scripture each day. You can read it and meditate on it. You can read somebody else's thoughts on it. You can get after it. You can go to, and there are countless opportunities for you to take online Equipping classes, to learn about the Bible, to learn about Jesus, to learn about all manner of the truth.

There's Women's Bible Study. There's men's Summit. There's Equipped Disciple. If you have questions about the faith and you don't know where to go, every Monday night we have a ministry called Great Questions. You can come ask any question you want. There is no question off limits. You will be met in love by men and women who know how to accurately and rightly divide the Word of truth, and they will help you walk through your questions.

We are without excuse. If you know Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God lives in you and dwells in you, then you have everything you need for life and godliness, and we, especially we with all of the resources at our disposal, are without excuse. So, let me help you. I want to equip you in one more area as we begin to try to land the plane here. I know some of you are visiting. We have folks who are streaming online, and you may be members at other churches or attending other local churches. Some of you may move here.

I want you to know how you know if the guy you're listening to is accurately dividing the Word of truth. How do you know I am accurately dividing the Word of truth? Here's the deal. We are not passive observers here. You are to do your homework to figure out if I am accurately dividing the Word of truth or not. You need to be like the Bereans in Acts who took Paul's words and bounced them up against the Scripture to see if what he said was true. Let me give you four characteristics of someone who's rightly dividing the Word of truth.

They make much of God…Father, Son, and Spirit. They focus on the greatness and the grandeur and the glory of God and not any kind of an unhealthy obsession about how great man is. The only thing we've contributed in Scripture is our sin. God has done everything else. So, when you go to listen to a guy teach, if he's telling you, "Here are seven tips for a better you" or "You can have your best life now," it's time to turn and head out the door.

They teach the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation. Second Timothy 3, which we'll get to in a couple of weeks: "All Scripture is breathed out by God…" All Scripture, every book of your Bible, every page, from Genesis to Leviticus to Lamentations, is all breathed out by God. "…and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

They don't pick and choose. They understand that every book of the Bible is useful for changing the lives and hearts of men. They're as comfortable in Matthew as they are in Malachi, in the book of Hebrews as they are in Haggai, in Lamentations and in Luke, in 2 Timothy and in 2 Chronicles.

They teach the historical, orthodox, unchanging gospel as defined by Scripture. They start with the fact that God is holy and just and cannot be around sin. They will tell you about the depravity of man, that since Genesis 3, man is not inherently good. We are broken. We will go our own way. None of us seek God, not one. Your contribution, as I said, is your sin, and that's it.

They will talk about Jesus and how God became man and dwelt among men, that that man lived a sinless life, that he voluntarily went to a cross and laid down his life, that he was dead, dead, dead in a tomb, and three days later God raised him from the dead and he ascended into heaven. They will talk to you about the fact that you can know this God. You can be reconciled by grace through faith, not as a result of anything you will do or have ever done. Not by your works.

Salvation is a free gift of God. Your résumé is worthless before a holy God. If Jesus Christ hadn't come and substituted himself for us, we would be damned to hell for all eternity. Paul says to the church in Galatia if anyone teaches a gospel different than the gospel Paul taught, they are to be accursed. So, if you go to a church and they are teaching a different gospel, you need to run from that church.

They teach that God's people should live lives marked by love, by holiness, and by good works. There is no place in your Bible that says you can come to know Jesus and live like a hellion. That category does not exist in your Scriptures. Jesus says, "Those who hear my voice are my sheep, and my sheep obey." James, Jesus' half-brother, would say, "Faith without works is dead." Let me say again: You are not saved by your works. It's a free gift.
But if you know Jesus and the Spirit of God has come to live in you, then you will begin to live lives that look different from the world, which is why Paul would tell Timothy, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." It's why we're going to read next week that we're to flee youthful passions and we're to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

There is no category for somebody who wears a Jesus tee shirt but doesn't know the songs. That category is not in your Bible. So, if you look at your life and there is no fruit… As the Scripture says, "You will know them by their fruit." "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience," and on and on and on. If you say, "There is not a shred of fruit in my life," you ought to be concerned.

So, that's how you can tell… Those are four characteristics for you to understand "Is the guy teaching God's Word rightly dividing the Word of truth?" If he's not doing those four things, find a new church where they are doing those four things. Guys, there is a lot at stake within the church. We'll get to outside the walls about the Ephesuses of our day, but before we get there, Paul wants us to focus on how we are doing inside the walls.

Are we letting the gangrene of false teaching grow in our midst, in our Community Groups, or are we rightly dividing the Word of truth? Are we growing in our ability to rightly divide the Word of truth? It takes time. It's a lifelong journey. None of us ever arrive, guys. We will be on this journey until we close our eyes on this earth and open them with Jesus. Until then, we effort, we labor with great patience and careful instruction to be men and women who are not ashamed, who rightly handle the Word of truth.

Father, thank you for this passage you have preserved for us for 2,000 years. Thank you that it is as relevant to us today in Dallas as it was to Timothy in Ephesus. Thank you that your Word is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, and it's able to divide and pierce and transform our lives. Father, I pray that if there are any in this room who need to take stock and maybe need to repent of their inattentiveness to your Word, today might be the day where they confess, they forsake, and they begin to take seriously your call to be an approved worker.

I pray that the gangrene I know exists in pockets in this body would be weeded out, would be cut out, so we might be healthy and whole, that we might be the life-giving community your firm foundation has always been meant to be. Thank you that you have come and you have spoken clearly. We are not left to wonder why we're here or what we're to do or how we can know you or our purpose. You have made all of that so abundantly clear. Help us to walk in that truth. In Jesus' name, amen.