“ …. having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men….” 2 Tim. 3:5-9 (ESV).
This text is attached to one of Paul’s notable “catalogues of vice,” as they are sometimes called. He wanted Timothy to understand what he was facing, in his time, the final dispensation (last days). People would be lovers of self and money; guilty of pride and arrogance; abusive, disobedient to parents; ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
That those described here were profoundly committed hypocrites is simply discerned in verse 5: “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” They were godless, pagan and heartless inside, but with an interest in keeping up an opposite image. Paul wants Timothy (and us) to be aware that what we see externally may not always be one’s inner reality. And when that inner godlessness is evident, “Avoid such people.” But what else can we derive from the text, especially from verse 6-9?
Profoundly committed hypocrites “creep into households.” Well this certainly sounds creepy. But this isn’t just drama or something written for shock value. People who are unholy and treacherous can get into your family, if you let them in, and do their damage. In some unguarded moment, you can actually invite iniquity into your living room; you can, through careless, undisciplined habits, let people invade your family who have no good intention. Let me ask you – what if some creepy-looking man came to your door. You open the door and pick up his odor, see his creepy eyes and hear his voice. He says, “I want to visit with your children.” Any hesitation here? Of course not. You shut the door and call the police. But in this text, Paul is not talking about the open and obvious creeps. These are people who have “the appearance of godliness,” like the nice sounding voice on the other end of the phone or the charming and innocent looking woman in the internet video. Avoid such people.
Profoundly committed hypocrites “capture weak women.” Paul is certainly not making any assertion that all women are weak. He has singled out two strong, godly women in this letter (see 2 Tim. 1:5). But the fact is, some men and some women are weak, vulnerable, open to almost any temptation. Profoundly committed hypocrites find easy prey in women who are weak already and who are “burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.” John R. W. Stott observes: “The women chosen as victims, Paul refers to by the word gynaikaria, ‘little women,’ a term of contempt for women who were idle, silly and weak. Their weakness was double. First, they were morally weak, ‘burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses.’ Their sins were to them both a burden and a tryant, and the false teachers, worming their way into their home, played upon their feelings of guilt and infirmity. Secondly, they were intellectually weak, unstable, credulous, gullible. They were the kind of women who would ‘listen to anybody,’ while at the asme time they could ‘never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.’ Constitutionally incapable of reaching any settled convictions, they were like little boats tossed hither and thither by a storm (cf. Eph. 4:14). In such a state of mental confusion, people will listen to any teacher, however specious.” (p.#89, The Message Of 2 Timothy, by John R.W. Stott).
Profoundly committed hypocrites are learners but not knowers of truth. Learning, by itself, is neither productive of good or ill. It depends on (1) what you are learning, (2) why you are learning, and (3) what you do with the truth you’ve learned. These profoundly committed hypocrites were not impelled to learn truth, to draw near to God and actively be children of God. Thus, their learning did not lead to genuine knowing. Again, our response? Avoid such people.
Profoundly committed hypocrites are like those who opposed Moses. Paul gives to Timothy and us an example of unauthentic learners, teachers and leaders – who take advantage of the weak, who “oppose the truth” for their perceived advantages. Avoid such people.
Profoundly committed hypocrites are “disqualified regarding the faith.” As far as appearance and claims are concerned, people may associate these hypocrites with faith. But, because of their inner reality that becomes evident, they are “disqualified regarding the faith.” Avoid such people.
Profoundly committed hypocrites “will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all…” These people were certainly on the move, but not in the right direction. They themselves and others with them were moving “into more and more ungodliness,” (see 2:16). When it becomes clear people are moving in the wrong direction (no matter the mask they wear), “have nothing to do” with such people except to “do your best” to rebuke them with the Word (see 2 Tim. 2:14-23).
The lesson for us today? “Avoid such people.”
From FC Lectures By Jeff Himmel
Even after we have employed all these vital elements to correct the erring, many still will not be persuaded. What then? What if our correction does not produce repentance? Paul anticipated that very possibility. After telling Timothy to gently correct those who are in opposition, he explained that even darker days were on the horizon.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. (2 Tim. 3:1–5)
Earlier, Paul advocated correcting those who oppose the truth (2:25); now he advocates rejecting them (3:5). This might lead to some confusion about the proper response to such people. Am I supposed to gently instruct them, or am I supposed to avoid them altogether?
I believe the solution is to understand that Paul is not talking about the same people—or rather, he is not talking about people in the same state of mind. For some, there is “a flicker of hope for repentance” (Jackson 254). They have been duped by Satan, but their hearts may still be soft enough to be touched by correction and moved to change. God’s command is to patiently teach them. Others, however, show themselves to have been “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). Their hearts are callous, their character is ungodly, and their influence is destructive. Paul goes on to describe the depravity of these people.
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’ and Jambres’ folly was also. (vss. 6–9)
With regard to people like this, God’s command is, “Avoid them.”
When a Christian turns from the truth, we need to make every effort to win him back. But if he persists in opposing the gospel, heedless of correction, then he is a threat to others as well as himself. At some point we have to make the decision to turn away from him. “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Tit. 3:10–11). “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Rom. 16:17–18).
 Himmel, J. (2009). Correcting Those Who Are in Opposition. In D. W. Petty (Ed.), Guard the Trust: Studies in Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus (D. W. Petty, Ed.). Florida College Annual Lectures (200–201). Temple Terrace, FL: Florida College Bookstore.
From Expository Files 21.5; May 2014