GETTING THE MESSAGE/Paul directs us to Christ
The famous golfer Jack Nicklaus said that at the beginning of each year he would get his coach to go over the fundamentals of the game. His coach would treat him as if he had never played. He explained how to hold a golf club, how to line up, the basics of the swing, and so on. Nicklaus said the repetition of the basics gave him the proper foundation to keep playing well.
Some things need to be constantly said to us. Paul instructs Timothy in 2nd Timothy 2:14 to “Remind them of these things.” Paul is referring to the basics of the Christian faith that he has just reminded Timothy of in the previous verses. The gospel is about the grace of God in Christ Jesus. How often we need to be strengthened by the simple truths of the gospel!
It is faith to believe the gospel truth, which is “that Christ is able to save to the utmost all that come to him” (Hebrews 7:25). As someone once said, sin doesn’t control the door to heaven: grace keeps the keys. Sin may object to my coming to God because I am undeserving, but none can object to Christ’s rich deserving. The gospel directs me to look away from my deserving to Christ and what he has done on my behalf. Salvation in Christ has eternal glory (2nd Timothy 2:10).
The grace that is in Christ is the foundation of us walking as holy, godly servants of our Lord. No gospel precept is available without grace. Therefore, Paul directs Timothy to warn Christians about arguments over words or the law and ungodly chatter (verses 14, 16-17). In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul warned Timothy away from those who had unhealthy cravings for controversy and caused dissension in the church.
It is grace that enables us to live by the Holy Spirit and be godly. We can understand this by thinking of the warnings in this passage and others about the tongue or our speech. Our speech reveals to us what sinners we are. Yes, we all have made uncharitable remarks or indulged in godless chatter. But God also sees the sin in our thoughts. I have never prayed a sinless prayer or performed a sinless good deed, according to that standard.
Christ alone was sinless. He fulfilled all righteousness. He took upon Himself all the sins of my tongue and in my heart that deserved condemnation. What is it that I can find to boast about? It is in Christ alone. When I consider this, and believe it, it produces thanksgiving, humility, and love toward my Lord Jesus. Then I have strength to serve and honor Him, though I must struggle with sin all my days.
Christians live by grace. We return to Christ this way again and again. Paul mentions two men who produced ungodliness by their teaching in verses 17-18 to warn us how easy it is for us to catch a bad spirit from false teaching, which will always foster pride in its hearers in some way or the other.
The opposition and success of false teachers can disturb the church, so Paul reminds us in verse 19 that, “The Lord knows who are his,” and “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” The Lord knows who truly has faith and do depart from the boasting that is endemic in the sinful souls of men.
In verses 20-21, Paul describes a house with vessels of honorable use (gold, silver) and those of dishonorable use (wood, clay). He is speaking of the church. The wood and clay vessels need reformation or cleansing. The gold and silver vessels have been made fit for the temple of the Lord.
We may oftentimes feel like wood and clay vessels. The imagery of being a gold vessel to honor the Lord helps us to “flee youthful passions” and “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (verse 22). If we know the Lord, let us seek to honor the Lord. We are a work in progress, so we stumble and fall, but since we begin by grace, let us seek to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ.
We shouldn’t forget the warning in the passage. Of all fools, the conceited fool is the worst. A proud heart is not one who learns of Christ. Ungodliness does not proceed from the spring of Christ but from a root of bitterness. A man cannot be full of self-confidence and self-abasement together. Paul directs us to Christ who dwells in us by faith. The growth of grace is the best evidence of the truth of it.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.