The Importance of Being on your guard – 2 Timothy 4:3-4

These two verses (all one sentence in the Greek text) begin with “for,” a word which here demonstrates that this statement is to provide an explanation for what Paul has said in the preceding verses.

Paul mentions “time” once again. This does not come through as clearly in English translation, but the two words translated “in season” and “out of season” in 4:2 are forms of the word for “time” in 4:3. Paul is warning Timothy of what will come to pass “so that he is not caught off guard or disillusioned” (Knight, p. 455).

The time will come when the hearers of the word will not longer “endure” (or “tolerate” or “put up with,” that is, they will not listen willingly to) “sound doctrine.” In 1 Tim. 1:10-11 this phrase is linked with the gospel and its inclusion here links it with “the word” of God.

Instead (the “but” here is a strong adversative signaling contrast), they will seek after and “accumulate” teachers who have been “handpicked” (the purpose of “themselves” is to demonstrate that these teachers are the ones they have chosen and that their teaching differs from that of the apostolic tradition) to teach things that are in accordance with their own “desires.” They have made themselves the measure of what is to be taught and have called teachers who will measure up to their standard. These teachers have loyalty, not to God’s Word or to the gospel message, but to those who have called them.

While the word translated “lusts” is itself a neutral term, it is used in the Pastorals in a way that emphasizes desire for something that should not be desired, hence the translation, “lusts.” This is spelled out in the last phrase of 4:3, “having itching ears,” a figure of speech for having a curiosity that must be satisfied and which is satisfied by the teaching of the new teachers.

These people have chosen sides: they have turned away from “the truth,” the message of God’s Word which comes from God and which speaks of what is ultimate reality, and they have “turned aside to fables,” the literal word is “myths,” that which lacks reality and which is unreliable. (The word is used in 1 Tim. 1:4 in such a way that may yield a clue to its significance).

Possible Applications:

  1. Be careful that you don’t think “This can’t happen to me,” or “This couldn’t happen in my church.” If it was a danger in the churches that Paul planted, it is a danger in your church, my church, or any other, and plenty of churches who once said the same have now departed from the biblical faith. If it was a danger to those who saw the risen Lord and the heard the words of the apostles, it is a danger to you.

  2. We don’t always know what we need but God does, and he has given us in his Word what we need to grow. He preacher must be faithful to preach the Word because it contains what is necessary for our health and growth in the gospel.

About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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