The Rise of Heresy

“The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (v. 3).

- 2 Timothy 4:3–4

Verse 3 of 2 Timothy 4 begins with the word for, which tells us that the sentence in verses 3–4 is one of the reasons behind Paul’s charge to Timothy that he be ready to preach the Word of God in every season (vv. 1–2). The rise of false teachers and the prevalence of those who deny orthodoxy will make the need for faithful preaching all the more acute, so Timothy and all the preachers and teachers who follow him must not quit when people will not listen to them.

As we have noted on several occasions, the presence of false teaching in the visible church is disconcerting, and yet we should not be surprised when we find it or discover that we have believed some of it. God has told us through Paul that error will continually threaten the covenant community, so “we ought not to stand amazed as if it were a new spectacle, when we see actually accomplished that which the Holy Spirit tells us will happen” (John Calvin). The solution is not to become angry with false teachers and erroneous teaching in a way that is sinful. Instead, let us persevere in studying the truth, endeavoring to correct patiently those who have led us astray, and reserving our righteous anger for those who impenitently proclaim soul-killing doctrines (vv. 1–2; see also 1 Peter 3:15–16). Individuals are not to appoint themselves as the “orthodoxy police”; rather, we must work with other mature believers, especially church elders, to maintain both the peace and the purity of the church.

This is especially difficult to accomplish when error becomes widespread, as it appears to be at times in almost every generation, for we will be tempted to either make our own positions on every matter the standard for purity or to compromise on everything in order to maintain peace. That is why Paul includes this warning about the presence of error in a section calling for church leaders to be consistent in their teaching (2 Tim. 4:1–2, 5). Even if others seek out those who will tell them what they want to hear and will try to satisfy their insatiable appetite for speculative matters (vv. 3–4), we are to faithfully and consistently return again and again to the essential truths of biblical Christianity, proclaiming them in their fullness and loving them in their simplicity and sweetness.

Coram Deo

Those of us who do not come from a Reformed background may sometimes foster grudges against those churches that have led us astray for so long. Instead, knowing that God said error would arise in the body, let us be grateful that He has allowed us to see His grace and work to proclaim these precious truths to others with much love and patience. May we also remember that we too have not finally “arrived” at an exhaustive knowledge of God.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 25:15
2 Timothy 2:24–26

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.