This exercise is a continuation of a series we started at Grace with our leadership while I served as interim there. For those who are not pastors or deacons, but who lead in some capacity in any arena of life, these books are a tremendous resource in Scripture. I encourage all of those who would be called leaders or who oversee to take advantage of these notes geared specifically toward leadership or roles with much responsibility.
We enter into ministry, giving our lives to the proclamation of a genuine Gospel. When it gets difficult, many of us give up. Recently, I hear of more pastors choosing suicide. It’s a tragedy. As I write this, the most recent information suggests that around 250 pastors leave the ministry altogether every month. In these three New Testament letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), we see an explicit message written primarily to church leaders addressing the many aggravations of leadership in a sinful world. The blanket truth is this: Ministry will be the most difficult, aggravating, time-consuming, and unrewarding thing you can possibly do honestly on this earth.
Why? The basic reason is that people love themselves. The other things listed in these few verses stem from that. Paul is honest that people will hold to a form of godliness, but will deny its power (the power of actual godliness). This is the thing that makes genuine, honest ministry so aggravating and unrewarding in this world. People absolutely love religiosity. So, they will do something that seems religious. Most often, the result is that people, in some way, are trying to be good enough. In Romans, Paul would refer to this simply as unrighteousness. The Gospel is clear, we can’t please God by anything that we do. We can’t be righteous or become righteous. Righteousness must be imputed (belonging to Christ but placed upon us like the clothes placed on Adam and Eve). Verse 3 clarifies that people will be irreconcilable, slanderers, and without self-control. People will love themselves, will try and be good for their own sake, but will be irreconcilable because they have been religious (holding to a form of godliness) without understanding the Gospel. Many will assume that the Gospel means that we must in some way come to Christ on our own. When we try to preach the Gospel as found in Scripture, or simply walk through the text, many will argue with what Christ has said because they are proud and demeaning.
Paul’s use of language, here, is very strong. He instructs Timothy to instruct the churches to avoid these people. Paul has gone from instructing the church to instruct enemies with gentleness and respect to now instructing that those people who hold to a form of godliness (are externally religious but do not know the power of grace) should be avoided.
So, we begin by instructing regarding genuine grace. If people prove to only hold to a form of godliness without knowing the power of God’s amazing grace, they are to be avoided. Why? As we read in 2 Timothy 2, it is God who provides understanding. We aren’t going to argue people into knowing the power of God’s grace or understanding what grace is. People who love themselves in this way won’t understand because they are incapable of understanding, even irreconcilable according to this text. We practice long-suffering. We gently and respectfully instruct concerning genuine grace. Then we avoid the fake religion of people. We are not abrasive because we trust that God, who is sovereign over all things absolutely, will grant understanding according to His good pleasure, His plan, and His purpose.
Among those who hold to a form of godliness (who are externally religious but know not true grace) are deceivers who always learn but are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. God is the one who grants understanding, remember. It is significant when Paul writes that many of those who are always learning are not able to come to a knowledge of the truth. That sort of understanding must be given. The person must first be enabled. In all of our depravity, we are unable to come to a knowledge of the truth. This has much to do with our self-righteousness and our tendency to hold to a form of godliness without actually knowing God’s amazing grace. We should not be surprised that there are many people who are religious but seem to have no idea what it means to actually, truly be saved by grace through faith.
Those who hold to a form of godliness without understanding genuine saving grace will not make further progress because their foolishness will be clear to all. God will reveal the foolishness of bad religion, of religiosity absent a genuine understanding of real, saving grace.
There is the promise again, and it does not merely apply to those in ministry but to everyone who would live a godly life by grace through faith. Persecution is promised to everyone on this earth who strive to live according to genuine faith by the grace of God. It is promised to those who reject the form of godliness and, by the knowledge of grace given by God, live true godly lives in grace (not by some degree of human works). It’s not merely those who live godly lives by grace who will be persecuted, but all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus.
The religious imposters, those who hold to a form of godliness, will become worse. They will continue deceiving and being deceived. It is guaranteed on this sinful earth. We should not be surprised. Bad religion and false teaching will always permeate human society. We act like it is a new thing. It is not. People have always failed to understand God’s grace. The Pharisees made the Mosaic Law a form of legalistic religion even though Moses was clear about God’s reason for giving the Law- a testimony against people, to, according to Paul, increase the trespass. We speak regarding the true Gospel, again, suffering for the sake of those who will come to an understanding, the elect (2 Timothy 2:10, 25).
We do this by remaining true, despite all of the assumptions that have been made, to the Scriptures. It is in the Scriptures alone that we find wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. There is no other source. It is tempting, because we want to please and impress people, to buy into a different gospel and begin preaching the form of godliness rather than a correct biblical understanding of grace. That is why the call of Scripture is endurance, not compromise on the true Gospel. Endurance also means that we endure our own tendencies along with the misrepresentations of others. Many times that means we reform our beliefs in response to Scripture, not popular religion or the misplaced criticisms of those who are unable to understand.
It is Scripture alone that prepares us, that we may be complete and equipped for every good work. For those whom God knows and who are His and who genuinely call on the name of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:19), Scripture is the primary tool God uses to sanctify us, give us understanding, and equip us for every good work. It is entirely sufficient for instruction regarding life and godliness in those who are saved by the amazing grace of God. Life experience is not sufficient for our sanctification. Neither is age or prestige or position or knowledge- for we have already been informed that many will learn and not be able to understand.
Fellow leaders, we should not be surprised at the great difficulty. Difficulty is promised. If you are unwilling to endure, please, I beg you, do not enter into pastoral or deacon ministry. God is, through this present suffering as we abide in His word, sanctifying us, making us complete, preparing us for every good work- this, I believe, includes preparation for life in the resurrection.
*Please take time to pray for the families of the rising number of pastors who have committed suicide due to ministerial depression. The enemy is at work, and he is at work especially against those who do genuine, Gospel-centered ministry. Rekindle.
*please note, if you experience depression because of a mental illness or because of a chemical imbalance, please seek medical help. If depression is constant, please seek the help of a good psychologist. Circumstantial depression (which I am addressing here) is not the same as clinical depression.