Paul returns to the issues he raised at the beginning of the letter. He reiterates the danger of false teachers because of the harm they do in church.
False teachers teach things that are not in line with “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching” (v.3). Their heretical teachings do not flow from the Lord’s teachings and are in opposition to the apostles’ teachings. We can determine this by checking what they say against Scripture (Acts 17:11).
The knowledge of false teachers is seriously deficient. They “understand nothing” (v.4). Like blind guides, they will lead people astray—and this is dangerous if you are trying to avoid the way of death and find the way of life.
The character of false teachers is corrupt. They are greedy, thinking “that godliness is a means to financial gain” (v.5). They turn their ministry into a business and mislead people into thinking that it pays materially to be godly. Modern versions of the “health and wealth gospel” exemplify such distorted teaching. Because heresy can be attractive, heretics can find it to be a lucrative business opportunity when misled people happily support them.
The focus of false teachers is unhelpful and harmful. “He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words” (v.4). Their main intention is not to lead people to God by teaching life-giving words, but to show how clever they are. Being attention seekers, they become adept at religious showmanship, using debating skills and oratory to bring glory to themselves. They are like “quack” doctors, who instead of giving patients the right medicine for their potentially fatal illnesses, give lectures on the merits of eating apples rather than oranges!
The fruit of false teachers’ ministry will speak for itself. They will damage the church by causing “envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction” (vv.4–5). The false teachers will produce more ungodliness, create strong divisions, and allow sin to reign in the church. “Robbed of the truth” (v.5), they will rob the church of its harmony and godliness. The church must beware of false teachers.
Why do you think heresy can look exciting and attractive? Consider the latest trends in academia and popular culture towards ancient heresies (e.g. The Da Vinci Code).
What do you think would characterise “sound instruction” (v.3)? Who are models of such teaching (authors, preachers, and teachers in church)? How can you encourage them?