In today’s reading Paul again exhorts Timothy, and by extension us, to remain faithful to sound doctrine.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Again and again Paul has made this point in various ways to Timothy. To fully understand it we must consider Paul’s present circumstances which he describes later in the chapter. He is again under arrest. This time he senses that the forces of the opposition are arraying against him and that there will be no mistake. Some of the people he has thought of as friends and disciples have abandoned him. What must he have felt like? He seems to have a sure sense that he will meet the Lord. Yet we can sense in this letter the weight of the heavy burden. He is going to be leaving the stage and Timothy is his greatest student. He will be left behind to carry the torch forward. We can see that Paul is the teacher and he is concerned about making sure his student is ready to assume the mantle of leadership. He wants Timothy to know this one last lesson well that the burden of leadership is loneliness. People will leave him but he must remain faithful to the truth.
Notice what it is that Paul says causes people to fall away. He says the time is coming when people will not “endure” sound teaching. Such a subtle but important point! People generally don’t fall away out of malice. They fall away because the truth is hard and it places burdens on us that are hard to endure. How often do we hear that today? The refrain against the heavy burden to truth underlies almost every for social change a traditional morality. Haven’t we heard a million times things like, “People can’t stay celibate before marriage it’s too hard and unrealistic to ask them to”. How about our own President, “it my daughter makes a mistake I don’t want her punished with the burden of a baby.” Truth itself is assaulted with this false logic when people posit that we should argue and debate morality, that we should insist on truth and we shouldn’t “impose our beliefs on others”. They we should just accept others beliefs and “can’t we all just get along?” after all its easier. This is not Paul’s way, truth was be fought for, it must be defended. We should take a pause here and like an aspiring Thomast we should draw a distinction. People should be accepted and treated kindly at all times but beliefs and ideas are to be debated, error is to be rejected and truth defended.
Notice what Paul says will be the result of failure to endure sound teaching, “they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”. What is this if not the Protestantism of modern America. We don’t like that woman can’t be priests, we’ll start our own denomination with woman preachers. We don’t like that we can’t get married, we’ll go over to this church over here where we can. Certainly, not every protestant is this way. Many seriously believe the doctrines of their church. Many others genuinely love the “church homes” of which they are members. However, the very idea of Protestantism is clearly unacceptable to Paul. Of course the Church is going to have doctrines you disagree with. As Jesus said to Peter, (paraphrasing), ‘you are thinking with man’s ways but God’s ways are different than man’s ways”. We are not called to fine “our truth” we are called to “the truth”. Christ founded a Church which is the pillar and bulwark of truth to protect truth and identify error so that we may endure to the end.
SPECIAL BONUS: Do you notice who is with Paul in Rome?
Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
Linus is not just some random guy who was a believer who was helping Paul in Rome. Linus is the second Pope, the one who comes immediately after Peter and he is the third pope mentioned in the Bible.