Having urged Timothy to be a good workman of Scripture, Paul provides negative and positive examples. The false teachers were not good workmen of Scripture. They were lazy and engaged in “godless chatter” (v.16). They demonstrated the saying that “empty vessels make the most noise”. Paul singles out two such false teachers, Hymenaeus and Philetus (v.17). Hymenaeus is also mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:19–20 as one who had shipwrecked his faith. Not much else is known of Philetus. Both had “wandered away from the truth” (v.18).
Their heresy centred on their claim that the resurrection had already taken place (v.18). How they managed to convince their gullible listeners is not clear. Scholars think that while Paul had taught that the giving of the Holy Spirit was a down payment for the future resurrection (Ephesians 1:13–14), these false teachers may have misled people into thinking that the reception of the Holy Spirit completed salvation and was a sign of spiritual resurrection, and that there was no further resurrection.
Such teaching must have caused much confusion among believers and produced unhelpful and even harmful reactions in those who believed this heresy. The need for a bodily resurrection was dismissed. False confidence that they were saved and didn’t need to care about holiness any more (licentiousness) was another reaction. They may have stopped praying. They imagined they did not have to suffer, as they connected the reception of the Spirit with a life that was free from suffering. Modern health and wealth gospels are echoes of that ancient heresy.
In short, their faith was destroyed (v.18). The heresy spread like gangrene (v.17), and those who were influenced became increasingly ungodly (v.16).
Paul, in contrast, was a good workman of Scripture. He demonstrates this in verse 19. Unlike the spreading heresy, God’s truth was a solid foundation sealed with an inscription that says two things. “The Lord knows those who are his” points to the all-powerful and all-knowing God. “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” refers to the human response to divine grace. Our security in Christ and our responsibility to pursue holiness are both emphasised. If one is held without the other, misunderstanding and even heresy will arise. It is so important to be a good workman of Scripture.
Can you think of some examples of godless chatter? Why does such godless chatter lead to apostasy and ungodliness?
Why do you think Paul included both statements (v.19) as foundational for the Christian life? What would happen if one is emphasised without the other? Reflect on false security and spiritual restlessness.