"How To Be An Effective Heretic"
2 Timothy 3:1-9
By Paul Robison

What are the characteristics of a cult?  A preacher who wrote a book on this subject gave several answers.  First of all, a cult is a group of people who gather around a specific person's interpretation of the Bible and viewpoint on life.  Next, most cults contain major doctrines that are contrary to Christ's teachings.  Thirdly, a cult often offers unscriptural ways for people to earn their salvation.  Next, cults often give new meanings to terms taught by Jesus.  For example, we think of salvation as reconciliation with God through Christ, but one cult redefines salvation as becoming one with the universe.  Fifthly, cults teach their followers not to think for themselves but to let the leader or organization give all the answers.  Next, cults often create strong emotional and social ties between their members.  Lastly, cults strive to instill hatred towards all other religions (Martin, Enroth).  People who leave cults usually go through a great deal of struggle and are very skeptical towards Jesus' Gospel and His church.  The tactics that cults use today aren't very different from those used in the first century by the heretics in Ephesus. This sermon returns to our series in 2 Timothy, the book where Paul stresses to the preacher in Ephesus: “Be loyal!”  The heretics, who were leading members astray in 1 Timothy, are still active 4-5 years later during the writing of 2 Timothy.  In fact, Paul states clearly that Hymenaeus and Philetus have strayed from the truth and are teaching a false doctrine that the final resurrection of the judgment has already past (2:17-18).  In chapter 3, Paul gives some more information about these heretics and exhorts Timothy in verse 5: “From such men, turn away!” When you first read the opening verse of chapter 3, it sounds like Paul may be talking about wickedness in general, but it soon becomes apparent as you continue to read that Paul has the heretics in mind.  In fact, this sermon is entitled “How to Be an Effective Heretic”.  There are ten guidelines presented in these verses that could help you to be an effective leader of your own cult.  As Christians, we should be on guard against such behaviors and do the opposite in many cases.  Let's consider the text that was read this morning once again—1 Timothy 3:1-9: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!  For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith, but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”
 
Guideline One: Love yourself, money, and pleasure and teach others to do the same.  Do you see that the framework around all the other vices is talking love for God and refocusing it on self, money, and pleasure (look at verses 2 and 4 again and note the word “lovers”)?  This is not a new tactic, but one that the heretics had already been practicing.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy that those who teach a doctrine which does not produce godliness are proud (6:3-4) and that those who love money have strayed from the faith (6:10).  Never think what can benefit the group the most, but always think about your own needs and preferences!  The word for pleasure is also found in Luke 8:14 where Jesus explains that the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life can choke out God's Words, just like thorns inhibit a plant's production.  Get your followers to become lovers of the world, and they will automatically lose their love for God, Christ, and holiness. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4).  Satan will be very pleased if you get your followers’ eyes off Christ and on to more temporary matters.  Someone has observed: “Men of genius are admired; men of wealth are envied; men of power are feared; but only men of character are trusted” (McKenzie).  Don't you want to be envied more than trusted?  So if you want to be an effective heretic, exalt and focus on your self, money, and pleasure, and then teach your followers to do the same as well.
 
Guideline Two: Have an evil character.  Paul gives about 15 traits on which to concentrate.  Act like a know it all, and look down on others. Speak abusively, and don't respect anybody.  Then be unthankful, unholy, unloving, and unforgiving; all of these are exactly opposite of a Christian counterpart that should be practiced.  “Slanderers” is from the Greek word “diabolos”, from which we get our word “diabolical”.  You see, Satan loves to slander and to accuse God's people.  And a heretic acts exactly like the devil, his spiritual father, and demonstrates an evil character.  Here are some more actions you can pursue.  Do your own thing without any inhibitions or restraints.  Be forceful and hate anything that's good.  Use betrayal if necessary, be thoughtless, and be as proud a peacock filled with conceit.  Someone has rightly noted: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction” (Pascal).  If you want to be an effective heretic, then work on these 15 traits to develop an evil character, which shows many actions contrary to what Jesus taught.
 
Guideline Three: Develop practices that focus on the outward rituals and look godly.  Our text says: “Having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  We've already learned from the opening verses of 1 Timothy 4 that these heretics taught refraining from eating certain foods and from getting married.  And there are still cults and religious groups today teaching these same practices.  One cult says that its members can only eat vegetables, and another cult follows the dietary practices of the Old Testament.  Now many religious groups stress celibacy?  And numerous cults use secret signs, rituals, and symbols to promote their heresies.  In fact, one man said this about a widespread cult of which he was a part: “[This cult's] greatest bonds are forged in the secret temple ceremonies. Members who are sincere about reaching the 'celestial heaven' must go through these ceremonies, and in the course of the 'sealing' ceremonies, they take drastic oaths that they will never reveal the details of the rites” (Place).  Another young woman in a cult came to a crossroads in her life and in her marriage, and then she made this remarkable admission: “Suddenly I realized that [my cult] offered plausible theories but no power.  It supplied seemingly rational concepts of life, but no strength for everyday living” (Mainprize).  Yes, if you want to be an effective heretic, teach abstinence, develop secret signs, rituals, and symbols, and offer some really plausible scientific or psychological explanations to life's mysteries.  People will be eating out of your hand, and some will even offer financial gifts.  An effective heretic always supposes that forms of godliness are an easy means to great gain (1 Timothy 6:5).  So guideline three once again is: Develop practices that focus on the outward rituals and look godly.
 
Guideline Four: Do your false teaching in people's homes.  The NKJV has that the heretics crept into households.  The heretics usually don't do their damage at worship assemblies.  They wait until the flock has scattered, and no shepherds are around to provide protection.  A heretic loves to sit at one's kitchen table and talk because he knows he has you in a comfortable situation and can get you to consider his falsehoods.  One brother wrote a book on how to bring about change in congregations. Listen to this statement: “Efforts to change can prove dangerous without these basic principles concerning the nature, role, and power of our perceptions.  The most significant transition happens at the level of perceptions, and perceptions are vastly improved through good conversations” (Anderson).  Now a heretic will often agree with you in initial conversations to try to gain your confidence and build trust.  But little by little and visit after visit, the old paths will be torn down and demolished, and new perceptions through conversations will be promoted.  One man described his experience with a cult group in this way: “By repeated discussions, they gradually purge former beliefs and replace them with 'new truth' as they call it.  They convinced me that all they wanted to do was to have a Bible study in our home.  We agreed, and for two and half years [we were indoctrinated] in our home.  Little by little, admiration I held as a boy for the faithful ones of the church turned to suspicion and criticism.  I was taught that the church preached a host of lies” (Aiken).  Want to be an effective heretic, do your false teaching in people's homes.  Of course, teaching in people's homes is also one of the best ways to strengthen the church.  You can get right to scratching where members' itch when you have true home Bible studies.  A little visiting in members' homes can go a long way towards edifying their faith.
 
Guideline Five: Keep an eye open for weak women.  From 1 Timothy 5, we learn that young widows make an especially inviting target.  One commentator states: “Paul doubtless has concrete instances in mind, and this explains his contemptuous tone; but it remains a fact that women, with their more intuitive and receptive approach, are in all ages peculiarly susceptible to [promoters], bad as well as good” (Kelly).  The heretics were taking captive these gullible sisters in Ephesus; the word for “captive” is also the term used for a prisoner of war.  Another commentator gave this insight: “Thus the false teachers and these women feed on one another.  The women are given 'religious training'--of the worst kind, destined to feed their curiosity but not bring them to the freedom of the gospel—and they in turn undoubtedly pay the false teachers handsomely” (Fee).  To be an effective heretic, keep your eyes open for weak women who will be fascinated with the new insights of the wisdom that you offer them!
 
Guideline Six: Play on and appeal to their pride.  This is just about the oldest trick in the book, but it can still be used effectively.  Didn't Satan tell a woman: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5)?  The passage right after affirms that Eve saw the tree as desirable to make one wise.  Yes, play on and appeal to their pride.  One modern cult offers advanced astrological charts to help you plan your future, another cult teaches you how to be totally fulfilled, which is one step closer towards creating a sin-free world, one cult offers you ways by which you can become a god, and another cult claims that you can learn to become the God!  Always keep emphasizing that it's what your followers can do that counts, not what God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit can do!  Play on and appeal to people's pride in order to be an effective heretic.
 
Guideline Seven: Put your false teaching in the form of deceptive materials.  Our text says: “Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Capitalize on people's curiosity and develop some materials which can educate people in those new truths.  Every notice how so many cults offer books, tapes, videos, and DVDs about their beliefs and interpretations?  And many times the price tag on these materials is more than $19.95.  Listen to what one person, who left a cult, explained: “After a Bible class one night, I said: 'There is a terrible discrepancy between [my former cult's] teaching and what the Bible teaches.'  Result?  A whole box full of [my cult's] books and charts, including the main book, … went into the incinerator.  All evidence of [the founder's] diabolical philosophy were banished.  I didn't want my children to find them and be influenced by them” (Blackwell).  To be an effective heretic, put your false teaching in the form of deceptive materials.
 
Guideline Eight: Develop corrupt minds.  Our text affirms: “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds”.  Now Exodus does not mention Jannes and Jambres, but other Hebrew writings say that they were magicians who were in Pharaoh's court.  Could it be that the heretics of Ephesus had also mixed magical practices into their teachings?  Ephesus was a place widely known for its magical practices.  Remember how Christians there on one occasion burned about a million dollars worth of old magic books (Acts 19:19)?  Whatever the case, one commentator is on target with this observation: “Corrupt minds and counterfeit faith shows how low these false teachers had fallen” (Gutherie).  The apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:1: “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance) ...”  He says that Christians have pure minds, but heretics are no longer Christians and have developed corrupted minds.  As a heretic, you also must become like a religious sorcerer, develop a corrupt mind for yourself, and then do all that you can, by whatever means, to corrupt your followers' minds as well!
 
Guideline Nine: Oppose the truth and the faith.  The text says: “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith”.  Did you hear those expressions: “resist THE truth” and “disapproved concerning THE faith”?  In the original Greek text, the article “the” is found in both places, so a reference is being made to the specific doctrines which make up THE truth and THE faith.  Heretics must abandon THE truth and tear down THE faith in order to exalt their own lies and preach their own beliefs.  Timothy was to live in such a way that he had God's approval (2 Timothy 2:15), but these heretics at Ephesus had lived in such a way that they now had God's disapproval.  To be an effective heretic, oppose the truth and the faith.
 
Guideline Ten: Avoid confrontations with church leaders.  Notice what Paul tells Timothy in verse 5: “From such turn away!”  “Timothy, stay away from these heretics!”  As a heretic, the same principle applies in reverse: “Stay away from church leaders.”  After all, some of your followers might be persuaded by good elders to repent, to leave your heresies and to return to the Lord's church.  Don't set yourself up for such a possibility.  Remain in Satan's camp and keep your distance!  To be an effective heretic, avoid confrontations with church leaders.
 
Well, there are your ten guidelines if you want to become an effective heretic.  In light of this passage, isn't it absolutely remarkable how some people can believe that a Christian can never fall from grace or become a heretic?  These passages in 1-2 Timothy show us clearly that some in the Ephesian church did fall from grace and worked hard as heretics to persuade other members to do so as well!  There is a great warning in Hebrews 6:4-6: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”  God's desire is to have no heretics once again crucifying His Son.  Truly, every member should live to be an effective Christian.  Practice the opposite of these guidelines: love Christ above all else and have a good character, teach truth in people's homes and develop godliness in your inward being, keep your eye open for the lost and appeal to their ability to repent, teach with godly means and develop pure minds, uphold the truth and the faith and imitate good church leaders!  God's will is that you oppose heresies and cults and don't flirt with them or give them an ear!  Stay with THE truth, and it will KEEP you free!  Did you notice that all those people that were quoted as being in cults were sincere people?  Yes, they were sincerely wrong!  And it was the truth that liberated and kept them free.  To get out of the world and Satan's camp, become a Christian by putting on Christ in baptism!  To fortify your faith, confess if you've had heretical tendencies and determine to abandon them and become more like Christ.  Show your loyalty to Jesus!