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2 Timothy 2:14-21

I don’t often refer to the words of Paul because they aren’t the Gospel. It is like watching the movie instead of reading the book. I’d rather go to the source than get a translation. But today’s reading had a lot of useful stuff in it, so here we go.

The words of Paul are letters written to churches far away. He writes to them to encourage them sometimes and to chastise them other times. Here he’s doing a bit of both.

2 Timothy 2:14-21 (NRSV)
14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” 20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

Now, let’s look at it more carefully.

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

This is the same idea as the Jewish concept of “lashon hora” – don’t speak ill of people. It is also the same as the Buddhist concept of “right speech”. It is important to not lie about people, but it is also important to not spread truths that are harmful and unnecessary. For example, if a lady you know is going to go play golf with a man who has been divorced four times, you don’t need to tell her that. But if she is going to go on a date with him that might lead to marriage, she might need to know that. Just because it is true doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

This applies to everyone. Here, Paul is making no distinctions (as we too should make no distinctions) between lay and ordained. We are all called to present ourselves as one approved by God, because we are. The fact that we are called by God means we are approved by God.

16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety,

This is totally true, and just as relevant today. Have you ever noticed that if you agree with someone’s gossip, they’ll just give you more? If you share some, then they’ll think that is all you want to hear. However, if you hold yourself to a higher standard then they will come to talk differently around you. If you go for the lowest common denominator in conversation, that is all you will get.

17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,

I feel like Paul is being really rude here. So much for talking kindly about others. His own rule was that if someone was out of line, you should talk to them in private first to try to resolve it. This is a good rule for life. Calling someone out in public will only put them on the defensive. These letters of Paul’s were meant to be read out loud in the midst of the church members, as if he himself were talking to them. To call these two out is really weird and goes against the first line here.

18… who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Plenty of the disciples “swerved from the faith” of the Jews by claiming that the Messiah had come. They got in trouble for it. Is the Christian faith entirely dependent on waiting for the Messiah to come again? Will it crumble and fall when that happens? How are they upsetting everyone? Perhaps they know something that the others don’t.

What if the “second coming” isn’t going to happen as everyone expects, just like the first coming didn’t happen the way anyone expected? Even though it was prophesied, it happened quietly and surprisingly.

19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”

This reminds me of the story from the Gospels about how sometimes the seed is sown on rocks, sometimes in sand, and sometimes in good soil. Only the seed that is in good soil will grow well. Likewise, it reminds me of the idea that not everybody is called. If you are, act like it.

20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

This is a great image. It isn’t quite as useful as Paul’s image of the body parts and the Body of Christ. We are all different, and all useful in the Body metaphor. In this, only some are useful. Still though, in this metaphor, it isn’t the called that are useful, but those who make themselves spiritually clean. There is a way to become a “special utensil” and it is open to everybody.

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