The Faithful Men and Other Members
2 Timothy 2:20-26
By Paul Robison

Do you remember Aesop?  Yes, he's that Greek slave who wr+ote fables from nature about 600 years before Jesus was born.  Those fables usually had a nice moral.  Well, here's one that involved a peacock and a crane.  “They happened to meet one day, and the peacock spread his beautiful tail, and pranced around and looked with contempt at the crane, as though it were just an ordinary creature and not worthy of his proud notice.  The crane didn't like this haughty and arrogant behavior, so he said just loudly enough for the peacock to hear him: 'Peacocks would be fine birds if fine feathers could make them so, but it must be terrible not to be noble enough to fly up to the clouds.'  Then the crane flapped his large, strong wings and sailed away, leaving the peacock below not so half pleased with himself as he had been before.  Moral: It's foolish to insult members in the church when they are not like us.  In many ways, they may be much better than we are” (Hinkle and Woodruff).  We've been studying in the book of 2 Timothy.  In our last sermon, we saw how Paul was giving instructions to Timothy and to the faithful men who would be evangelizing others after Timothy had left to go to Rome.  We saw Paul's instructions to them with regards to false teachers who were still trying to confuse members and to lead them astray.  Paul tells them to avoid getting involved in arguments about foolish matters and to shun confrontations with them over idle discussions that will only lead others to more ungodliness (2:14-17).  They are to preach the good news about Jesus to others.  Well, this raises another question: what are the faithful men to do with wayward members?  This is what Paul is addressing in verses 20-26.  Let's take a closer look at this text and see what instructions Paul gives to help with this situation.  This interpretation is a little different than what many commentaries give.  If you don't agree with this position, then please feel free to share with me your interpretation of these verses.  Let's all work together to see if we can discover the truth as to what was happening in the congregation at Ephesus when Paul wrote this letter.
Let's begin with verses 20-21: “But in a great house, there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.  Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”  Here's the first instruction: help those members who are breaking away from the heretics!  “In a great house” is a metaphor for the church.  Paul uses this same metaphor in 1 Timothy 3:15 where he writes: “... I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”  Now, are the false teachers in the church, are they a part of the household?  No, they are no longer in the church but have left the church.  Paul says that he has disfellowshiped such false teachers as Hymenaeus by delivering them to Satan (1 Timothy 1:20).  They are now members of Satan's kingdom and no longer a part of God's kingdom or household.  Help those members who are breaking away from the heretics!  There are honorable and dishonorable vessels means that there are members who are strong spiritually and members who are weak.  “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from these” is the literal reading.  When a weak member purifies himself or herself from these false teachings, they are doing a good thing and should be encouraged.  One commentator noted: “... Paul's exhortation is therefore for godly believers to separate themselves from the fellowship of [the heretics], who are not clean, not obedient, not submissive to the Lord, and not eager to serve”.  They are becoming honorable, holy, and useful vessels again by breaking with the false teachers and their groups.  One commentator observed: “As the believer turns away from the teachings of the false teachers (1:16-19), he 'cleanses himself' from corruption and sin and thereby equips himself to be 'an instrument for noble purposes'. ... Turning from false teaching is crucial if one is to be useful and prepared” (Knight III).  Help those members who are breaking away from the heretics!  To be holy means that Christians not only set themselves apart from sin but also they set themselves apart to obey God's will.  To be a useful vessel means that a Christian is fulfilling a task in the household that Jesus desires.  Paul stated one of his goals as a preacher with these words in Colossians 1:28-29: “Christ we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [or mature] in Christ Jesus.  To this end [or this purpose], I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”  Paul wanted each of his converts to be mature Christians, so he diligently warned and taught them.  Shouldn't each of us be following Paul's example as well?  Shouldn't we want every Christian in this congregation to be a mature disciple who follows Christ's teachings and stays away from any form of false and ungodly teaching?  We should all be striving to put Jesus' teachings into practice so that we can all be honorable, holy, and useful vessels.  The theme of this letter is “Be loyal!”  And we all should keep on being loyal to the Master of the house!  One commentator noted: “Those who depart from such errors and avoid impurity in their lives prepare themselves to be of use to the master, and [they are] ready for every good work.  This is a promise of blessing in the pursuit of holiness” (Neste).  Help those members who are breaking away from the heretics! 
Now the next instructions are made specifically to Timothy, but they can be practiced by all members in the congregation at Ephesus as well as by all Christians today.  Let's read verse 22: Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  One preacher gives this explanation: “The first attribute of a pure heart is negative, expressed here in the command to flee youthful lusts.  Flee is from phuego, from which 'fugitive' is derived.  The Greek verb is a present imperative command, indicating that fleeing is not optional but is to be persistent.  The meaning is reflected in the term 'fugitive,' which refers to a person who is continually on the run in order to escape capture.  The faithful Christian is continually on the run, as it were, from the sinful [desires] that started when we were young” (MacAuthur).  So the next instruction is: Flee youthful desires and pursue mature attributes!  Timothy was some 30 years younger than Paul when this letter was written.  He therefore was relatively youthful and was still tempted by many sinful [desires] that are characteristic of young people.  These [desires] involve much more than [only] sinful sexual desire.  They also include pride, craving for wealth and power, inordinate ambition, jealousy, envy, [and] an argumentative and self-assertive spirit ... Losing the battle to youthful [desires] would not help [Timothy nor the faithful men to help effectively the members who were breaking from error].  As with flee, the Greek verb translated pursue is an imperative.  Paul is not making a suggestion” (MacAuthur).  A Christian needs to keep running or chasing after righteousness, faith, love, and peace, which are the exactly opposite side of those youthful desires.  Flee youthful desires and pursue mature attributes!   This verse is almost a repeat of what Paul told Timothy in his previous letter in 6:11: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”  Someone has observed: “In youth, we often run into difficulties.  In old age, difficulties often run into us.”  Someone else added: “In youth, we have the grip, but don't know the game; in old age, we know the game, but have lost the grip” (both from McKenzie).  When Timothy and the faithful men will “put away childish things” and will keep pursuing these attributes of mature Christians, they will be setting a good example for those members who have broken with the heretics.  They will be helping them to get back on the narrow road once again.  Flee youthful desires and pursue mature attributes!
Now let's notice verse 23: “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.”  Knowing Judaism as Paul did, he realized that disputes and discussions about Jewish fables, genealogies, and which foods to eat were only going to produce negative results.  Someone has observed: “Here, he describes the arguments as 'foolish' and ['ignorant'].  They are [foolish] in that they lead nowhere [spiritually speaking], and [they are] ignorant because those arguing are really uninformed” (Ngewa).  So here's another instruction: Avoid senseless discussions!  Paul and the faithful men should be setting good examples for those church members breaking ties with the heretics.  Their silence towards these heretics would help to keep peace in the congregation.  Notice that Paul's reason for this instruction is that foolish arguments produce quarrels.  Someone observed: “Such arguments are not driven by a search for the truth.  All that happens is that each participant constantly reasserts his or her [own] point without listening to anything that the other party has to say.  When such debates break out in the church, they destroy fellowship and any expressions of genuine Christian unity.  The result is that [the heretics] rejoice in a verbal victory, and the angels weep at the damage done to the witness of the church'” (Negwa).  Notice how this passage sounds much like 1 Timothy 6:3-5: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.  From such withdraw yourself.”  Avoid senseless discussions!  Now this does not mean that we are to avoid ALL disputes.  We have to use wisdom and prayer to discern what are foolish and ignorant disputes and what are helpful and enlightening discussions.  Paul himself on one occasion had a dispute with the apostle Peter and opposed him to his face, and he told him in no uncertain terms that he was acting as a hypocrite, as one whose behavior was not in agreement with the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-16).  We read in Acts 15 about a helpful and healthy dispute among the church leaders that brought about a great blessing to the Gentile Christians!  We are to avoid senseless discussions!
Now let's read verse 24: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition ...”  This verse has many instructions.  The next is: Don't quarrel but be gentle.  “Literally this could be translated 'a slave of the Lord ought not to fight.'  ... [A slave] must be under the Lord's full control, and, therefore, must be like the Lord Himself.  But wasn't Timothy told to fight the good fight in 1 Tim. 6:12 and to be a good soldier in 2 Tim. 2:3?  How can he be a good soldier and not fight?  The answer is that Timothy is to fight evil, not people [in God's household].  His enemies ... are 'spiritual powers of evil and [the heretics], not his brothers in the family of Christ'” (Ngewa).  Timothy and the faithful men are to deal with all the members gently in this situation.  Other situations may call for more drastic action.  For example, Jude advises us in verse 22: “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Jesus Himself spoke very firmly to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, and He actually drove out the animals and moneychangers in John 2.  So, we see that different situations call for different approaches, and again we need wisdom and prayers to help us know best how to act.  Don't quarrel but be gentile!  The next instructions are: Be able to teach and be patient!  One commentator puts it this way: “... be equipped to give an answer and able to do so ('able to teach'), and be one who is patient.  With such positive attitudes displayed towards [opposing members], he can now gently 'instruct' (or 'correct') them.”  Another commentator added: “Even when the teacher makes a kindly approach, he may meet with no response and no answering warmth.  On the contrary, his hearers may be [hostile], rude, and critical.  When this happens, he has to be forbearing.  This means that he puts up with the wrongs done to him and the pain occasioned and does so without resentment. ... This may seem like stupidity [to some people], but its goal is to win the souls of men and women [back] to Christ rather than responding to them on the same level as they are responding to us” (Ibid.).  Be able to teach and be patient!  There was a member in an Italian congregation who hadn't attended for  a long time.  I was wondering if some type of discipline ought to be initiated, but the members told me just to be patient.  It so happened that an elder from another city came to our town.  He said that he'd like to talk with the brother who'd been absent.  We were greeted cordially at this brothers house and offered the customary Italian expresso coffee.  The elder began talking about the Italian soccer team's chances for winning the World Cup that year.  The brother entered into the conversation easily.  After talking some more about the team's strengths, weaknesses, and players, the brother said: “Oh yes, that player is really good, but one man isn't a team.  It takes everybody working together.”  The elder then smiled, nodded, and said, “And brother, that's exactly the way it works in the church as well.”  The wayward brother grinned and said, “Man, I knew you'd talk about religion at some point, but I didn't thing I'd hang myself with my own words this quickly!”  That brother was began worshiping regularly again in about 3 weeks.  I saw why God wanted there to be elders.  Be able to teach and be patient!  The last part of the verse says: “In humility correcting those who are in opposition ...”  The next instruction is: Make corrections humbly!  This passage sounds much like Paul's advice also in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”  In 2 Timothy 2:26, we read about a snare or a trap that the devil has set through these heretics to entice members to join his ranks.  What we always need to keep in mind is that Satan can have each one of us into one of his traps before we realize it!  That's why we need to have a gentle and humble attitude.  If we want peace and reconciliation as the fruit, we must sow in peace and gentleness.  It's like James' advice: “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18).  Make corrections humbly!  There's a country proverb that states: “Always hold your head up, but be careful to keep your nose at a friendly level” (McKenzie).  Someone else said it this way: “Meekness is the manifestation or the evidence of love.  A deep down determination, a decision to love others as Christ has loved us” (Elliot).  Make corrections humbly!  Let's review the instructions from this verse one more time: Don't quarrel but be gentile! Be able to teach and be patient!  Make corrections humbly!
Now let's read the rest of verse 25 and 26: “.. if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”  The next instruction is this: Let God have time to work!  Isn't it interesting how Paul says that God helps in the process of repentance?  Someone made this confession: “I don't know whether Timothy's temptations were anything like mine, but my temptation is to straighten people out, and I mean real fast.  Well, I need to learn to let God do His hidden quiet work.  It takes meekness for me to do that” (Elliot).  Let God have time to work!  The next instruction is this: Teach the truth!  The truth of God's word is our greatest weapon.  Truth comes from that sword of the Spirit which pierces our souls and spirits and pricks the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).  When members know Jesus' truth, they can escape from the devil's trap and be set free from his captivity!  One commentator observed: “... Paul is focusing on the constructive re-education of those who are misguided. … There are [members] who profess to have knowledge of the truth; it is to be hoped that they repent and so gain real knowledge [once again]” (Nwega).  Teach the truth!
Let's review all these instructions now from this passage: Help those members who are breaking away from the heretics!  Flee youthful desires and pursue mature attributes!  Avoid senseless discussions!  Don't quarrel but be gentile!  Be able to teach and be patient!  Make corrections humbly!  Let God have time to work!  Teach the truth!  The same God who made peacocks and cranes has also made Pauls, Peters, Philips, and Timothys, Eunices, Loises, Priscillas, and Dorcuses.  With Jesus' love to guide us, we can help each other to be both beautiful disciples as well as soaring disciples!  We can lift each other up by lifting Jesus up!