A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 10/11/1992
We saw last week that Second Timothy centers on the Gospel; that while it is not organized in a linear and logical plan, it does have nine themes that are related in a logical structure: Because of the content of the Gospel, there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel. We saw that the content of the Gospel is focused on grace, the unmerited favor of God. Salvation is God's work done for God's glory, period, and therefore the good works of sinful men not only do not but cannot contribute anything to it. And we saw that this is not a message that sinful human beings want to hear, so that therefore opposition to the Gospel is to be expected.
This week then we will look at what Paul has to say about Opposition to the Gospel. He touches on three types of it. We may call them Desertion, Deviation, and Derision.I. DESERTION
We are all familiar with the phenomenon of people who seem to follow Christ for a while but have no steadfastness, no perseverance. When persecution or hard times or even mild frustrations come, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all, they drop out, fade away, or disappear into the woodwork. Few things are more discouraging to ministers of the Gospel than the seeming inexhaustible supply of such people flowing in and out of the Church.
Well, Paul experienced the same thing, and it is evident that it hurt him deeply. "You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me" (1:15). "Demas, having loved this present world, has forsaken me" (4:10). "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me" (4:16). But it wasn't just Paul: our Lord experienced the same sorrow in his earthly ministry. "As a result of this [his hard teachings] many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him any more" (Jn. 6:66). And this is followed by what may be the most poignant verse in the Gospels: "Jesus said therefore to the Twelve, 'You do not want to go away also, do you?'" No, they didn't. Nevertheless, all but one of them would desert him in his hour of deepest need, and one of these his closest friends would betray him. It is no wonder then that this theme shows up not only in his experience but also in his teaching. "And the one on whom seed was sown in the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately he falls away" (Mat. 13:20-21). "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk. 9:62).
Sometimes one is tempted to believe that we are in the "difficult times" that Paul predicted (2 Tim. 3:1). In the Evangelical churches today people seem to want their ears tickled more so than in any time I can remember. If you preach forthrightly the doctrines of God's sovereignty and Christ's lordship; if you preach against sin; if you call people to a deeper and more serious pursuit of sanctification, you will likely hear complaints that "we just need to be encouraged!" If you preach on doctrine at all rather than just telling entertaining stories, there is a certain element that will be heading for the spiritual junk food down the road faster than you can say "superficiality." As one lady actually said to me once, "I work hard all week. I don't want to come to church and have to think!" It remains true that Christianettes want sermonettes. If the church goes through any kind of struggle, there will be a mass disappearance into the woodwork. Let there be a change of pastor, let some kind of controversy arise, let there be a need for a building program: will people stick it out and see the problem through for the good of the church and the sake of the cause of Christ? No. Into the woodwork they go. There are congregations that are exceptions of course--but they are exceptions. That is the point. And there are times when one needs to leave a church, when it has refused to stand clearly for the Gospel and for Christ. A little personal inconvenience or awkwardness does not constitute such a time! To leave only for that is Desertion plain and simple.
Now, the point that Paul is making in Second Timothy is the same one the Lord made Himself in different words: Desertion in the line of spiritual duty is not just a failure to support the Gospel; it is a real (if passive) form of opposition to the Gospel! As our Lord put it, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Mat. 12:30). As far as Christ is concerned, there is no such thing as spiritual neutrality. He counts desertion as a form of opposition to the Gospel. And it is: it does not just deprive the church of resources it might have had; it positively discourages the faithful and saps their energy. It grieves the Lord's ministers, like Paul; and it pains the Lord Himself. It is opposition to the Gospel, and not an insignificant form of it either.II. DEVIATION
A second form of what is in effect opposition to the Gospel is Deviation from the Gospel. This can be active or passive. Paul says, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate teachers for themselves in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Not attending to sound teaching is Desertion; but actually seeking out false teaching goes farther, to Deviation. The hearers can be said to be guilty of passive Deviation, the teachers of active. They are both evil, both forms of opposition to the Gospel, because they oppose the true teaching as well as diluting it and forming a distraction from it. And both groups, the hearers and the teachers, feed off of one another.
This deviation can be teaching that is merely fruitless, or it can proceed to be nothing less than Heresy. Paul tells Timothy to "solemnly charge" his people "in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers." Rather, they are to be diligent to present themselves to God as workmen that do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth. They must avoid "empty chatter," for it can spread like gangrene and cause people to deny the truth (2:14-18). Note the relative innocence of how this teaching began. It did not start out as heresy, just as a contentious and unteachable spirit. But that is not where it ended. It is a dangerous thing to read the Bible to support yourself in an argument (v. 14) or from idle curiosity (v. 16). It is the Word of God, and not to be trifled with! If we do not read it to bow, and to worship, and to obey, it can actually harden our hearts and do us harm.
But there is another form of Deviation, a form of opposition to the Gospel more deadly even than Heresy: it is Dead Orthodoxy. Here we deviate not from the outward form of the content of the Gospel but from its lively and fervent practice. This is the form Paul speaks of in chapter 3:1-9. The prophesied "difficult times" come not from heresy but from dead orthodoxy. They come from within the Church, not without. For these people still hold to the form of godliness; what they have denied is its power (3:5). The word "form" in v. 5 is the same word we find in Phil. 2:6, where Christ existed in the "form of God." It means the true form, the real essence. That is why it is so serious to hold to the truths of the Gospel only outwardly, only with lip service, and not to allow them to sink down into the heart and transform the mind and motivate the will. Dead Orthodoxy is a much more powerful hindrance to the cause of Christ than heresy or even than honest unbelief. People can have all the horrible qualities listed in vv. 2-4 and be perfectly orthodox. That is what makes dead orthodoxy so dangerous: it is a convincing case against the truth as well as the meaningfulness of the doctrines thus caricatured in our behavior. It engenders disillusionment and bitterness. Dead orthodoxy is the great breeding ground of atheism and unbelief. It is the single greatest force in opposition to the Gospel at work today.III. DERISION
The third form of opposition to the Gospel is the one that is most obvious, though actually least deadly: direct, overt hostility. "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm . . . he vigorously opposed our teaching" (4:14-15). The form in which we usually encounter this kind of opposition is ridicule. But Paul knew it in much more severe forms. He was scourged, jailed, stoned and beaten, and left for dead. Other Christians have been thrown to the lions or burned at the stake. But, though Paul dealt with the more severe forms of direct opposition, he shows that he was concerned with ridicule too, when he exhorts Timothy not to be "ashamed" (1:8, 12). Now, of course we should be ready to give our lives for the Gospel, or even to be tortured for Christ. And there are believers in our world today who face such opposition. But we will be given grace to face such intense forms of persecution when we are called to face them. For us right now, it is more challenging to respond to subtle forms of peer pressure and ridicule. Do we fall silent when we are subject to such derision? Do we try to ride the fence? Paul says that anyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (3:12). Therefore, if you have never had to take any kidding for your Christian convictions, it is because you don't have any! If you claim to have them and they never come to expression, that is the same as not having them. A mere opinion counts for nothing; a conviction is something that has to be acted on.
And what do we do when someone else is teased for the horrible social crime of being a virgin or having an unpopular opinion or not participating in some questionable activity? Do we come to the defense of such a person, or do we fade into the background and try to remain "neutral"? But we have already seen that with Christ there is no such thing as neutrality. We are either for Him or we are against Him; we either stand with his people or we stand against them. As far as He is concerned, neutrality is opposition.
Now, do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about a holier-than-thou attitude, a self-righteous approach, a tendency to go out of our way to be obnoxious. I am talking about the question of whether we are going to stand for Jesus Christ--speaking His truth in love--or in opposition to Him. For in all this vast universe, those are the only two places there are to stand.CONCLUSION
How then do we keep from being ashamed of Christ? We must keep our eyes on Him instead of on the world; we must actually care more about His view of us than we do about the opinions of men. Paul put it this way: "For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed." Why not? "For I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed unto Him against that day" (1:12). May He work such persuasion and such belief in us, so that we may live for Him and for the Gospel rather than in opposition to them! Amen.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams