All my life I’ve read 2 Timothy 4:3 as referring to people outside the church. Those looking to find joy in their own desires rather than in God. At the very least I thought it would be people that didn’t call themselves believers. In recent times, I’ve noticed though that the people most likely to post on social media an info-graphic or meme that supports their position through spotty science, bad reasoning, and neglected doctrine are Christians. We appear to be the most gullible, ready to accept any fancy teaching so long as it fits our preconceived notions. We are not discerning like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
As I’ve been mulling this over, it struck me that maybe my interpretation of who would be seeking to have their ears tickled with false doctrines was actually believers. So I looked it back up and here’s what I found:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…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 [tickling] 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. 2 Timothy 4:1-4
Timothy is told to preach the Word because his people will turn away from sound teaching. That is professing believers will turn away and seek whatever teachings suit their passions. We, as believers, often do this by making an artificial dichotomy in our minds. We think our right to freedom is guaranteed by the founding documents of our country, so we don’t need to reference the Bible to determine what we should do. Or our call to hospitality and charity are Biblical, therefore we opposed it in the political realms.
But this misses the point of Scripture. Scripture is designed to help us live (2 Tim. 3:16). It’s designed to cut to the heart of matters (Heb. 4:12). It’s designed to help us pursue godliness in all matters of life (political, interpersonal, theological, and every common place thing). Scripture calls us to examine everything carefully and hold on to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21). So with our charge from Scripture, let us dive in to some of the areas we’re tempted to stray from good and sound doctrine in our modern age.
Our Constitutional Rights
I’ve heard repeatedly many Believers declaring that their rights are being violated by the temporary orders surrounding this Covid-19 pandemic. Their rights to freedom, religious assembly, and the like are being usurped by a power hungry government. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant, the theological question we should ask ourselves is how does Scripture say we should respond to our government and does that answer change in the face of tyranny?
Romans 13:1-7 tells us that we should be subject to our government. And the reason we are told to be subject to our government is that their authority comes from God. If their authority comes from God then our complaining and our resistance is actually against God and not man. When we post grumbling, complaining, maligning posts on the internet or make such comments to our friends and family, we are sinning (Phil. 2:14-16), and telling God we don’t trust Him.
This is an easy trap to fall into, our non-believing friends and many of our Christian friends don’t think there’s any problem complaining. After all, we’re just saying things could be done better, and isn’t that true? My boss isn’t perfect and makes bad decisions, so complaining is just saying he could be better. The president, governor, legislative bodies, and judges are imperfect so complaining and grumbling about them is just saying they’re not perfect too. Right?
God put your ruler over you and he is using their every deed (whether good or evil) to mold the situation you’re in (Rom. 8:28) to present you with the opportunity to display His greatness to those around you through your humble submission. When you do, those around you will be blown away at how you can gracefully submit to unjust and unreasonable rules, and just maybe they’re see your good works and glorify God in heaven (Matt. 5:16). But when you act out of frustration and unrighteous anger you act in sin, and you act exactly the way the world sees as natural (Gal. 5:19-21). There’s nothing in you or your angry social media posts that would show your neighbors and friends that there is something better in Jesus.
Israel spent 40 years in the desert complaining about their God-appointed leader (Ex. 15:24, 16:2, 17:3; Num. 14:2, 29, 16:41), and what did they gain from it? Did it expedite their time in the desert? Did it please God? Did it ease their anger or frustration? Not even for an instant! We should learn from this and instead of complaining, embrace the future God has offered us.
But the Church is Being Persecuted!
Persecution, by definition means to make someone flee, put someone to flight, drive someone away through mistreatment and suffering. Based on what you’ve seen, is the government causing you to flee for your life or safety?
As the government’s actions have caused none of us to flee for our lives and safety, this is not a persecution but only an inconvenience. The government hasn’t targeted Christianity or any religion at all, but has made blanket laws that cover all gatherings regardless of intent. Jack from Driven Nails puts it this way:
It is a stretch, however, to refer to what the church in the United States is now going through as “persecution” even though there are unbelievers in the government who would love to see all churches shut down and who are biased against Christianity.
John MacArthur said:
But this is not that [persecution]. Might become that in the future. Might be overtones of that with some politicians. But this is the government saying, “Please do this for the protection of this society.” This is for greater societal good, that’s their objective. This is not the persecution of Christianity. This is saying, “Behave this way so that people don’t become ill and die.”
Now you may not think that you’re going to have that impact on somebody, you’re not going to be the one that becomes a carrier and causes something to be passed on to somebody else down the road and somebody dies. You may think that’s [not] going to be you. But you cannot defy the government.
Our religions liberties are far from being under attack. If they were, you’re right that civil disobedience would be required of us. We’d have no choice to but to meet together in secret like the churches in China, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia (among others). If the government says we (targetedly) can’t meet while others can, then we must obey God – who says we must meet (Heb. 10:25). For more on this distinction read or listen to: Thinking Biblically About the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Interview with John MacArthur.
Know that if persecution comes toward you it is only a means of purifying you. If, tomorrow, you’re arrested and tried for your faith, it is only a quicker way to heaven and God has deemed you ready. So march along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and meet your Maker in the flames of trials (Dan. 3). Hold your head high as you march Jesus’s death walk, because you were deemed worthy (Acts 5:41) and today you get to see Him face to face. But since persecution has not truly hit America, worry not about it at all.
Re-posting Political Material & Conspiracy Theories
There’s a sub-point in what I just said above about posting politically charged material on the internet. Over the years I’ve seen this done countless times from many people, and I’ve done it myself. I remember years ago several of my friends wanted to show their support for a certain governmental body and posted a video rife with statistical errors. More recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts from Christians extolling the virtues of their political candidate or spreading and feeding rumors and lies about the current pandemic. All of these posts ended up being full of lies as I learned when I began googling the stories and tales posted.
The shear volume of Christians posting conspiracy theories has gotten so bad that multiple Christian websites and leaders have posted their responses encouraging us to be thoughtful, not slander, and keep our focus on bringing God glory. Here are some of the sources I’ve seen address this:
The Gospel Coalition: Christians Are Not Immune to Conspiracy Theories
The Gospel Coalition: Why It’s Hard to Resist a Good Conspiracy Theory
Christianity Today: On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift
Christianity Today: Conspiracy Theories in a Time of Coronavirus: How to Address the Problems They Reveal
King’s Cross Church: Facebook Video
Instruments of Mercy: Why Your Christian Friends and Family are so Easily Fooled by Conspiracy Theories
My own church is doing a sermon series on Galatians and found that in the text there we are called not to get caught up in lies. How do we get caught up in these lies and theories in the first place? Too often those posting them cannot possibly know them to be altogether true. They have posted something that tickled their ear and appealed to their sensibilities and intellectual leanings.
When it comes to Covid-19 these theories have ranged from the virus being caused by 5G technology which has resulted in arson and assault. Others have posted that this virus was created by Bill Gates to pad is already thick wallet (a theory started by QAnon – a conspiracy theory think tank). And still others target Anthony Fauci as attempting to destroy the economy and hurt Trump’s reelection chances.
In the face of all of this, some Christians have responded by re-posting these wild theories and speculating what devious things the government is cooking up. They re-post these things without any reasonable ability to be sure they are right. My friends, this is the very definition of slander. Slander, that deadly sin that God hates (Pro. 6:16-19). Slander, the very thing Jesus calls an evil thought (Mat. 15:19). Slander, the very attribute that James calls demonic (Jam. 3:14-16). Slander, the very thing Paul declares exemplifies those who hate God (Rom. 1:30). Slander, the very act that is so grievous we’re not even do it to our enemies (Mat. 5:43-48). Slander, the very thing we’re called to put to death (Eph. 4:31 & Col. 3:8).
But what if the theory is true, doesn’t that make it not slander? Joe Carter addresses that in his article:
Conspiracy theorists may contend it is not slander when the claim is true. For that to be the case, though, they must have knowledge the conspirators are involved in a specific secret plot—and knowledge is what they never have.
If you’re struggling with this concept, I would suggest you read his full article where he goes on to explain that spreading theories you believe to be true – without knowing it to be factual – is actually doing the work of Satan for him.
My friends, the bottom line is we should not be sharing articles and info-graphics about our political heroes, coronaviruses, or whatever other conspiracy theory comes out next. At least not until we know it is true. We should not share them without looking into the matter as best we can to verify that we would not be breaking the ninth commandment – we ought to never bear false witness against anyone (Ex. 20:16).
What then should we do?
Respond with wisdom (Mat. 10:16). In wisdom we ask questions and act slowly. We attempt to ascertain truth and help guide people to what the logical conclusions of their reasoning will bring them to. This is exactly what Jesus did. The pharisees would ask him a question and he’d ask them one in return (Mat. 21:23-24). The crowds would ask him questions and he would turn it back on them and in order to help them reflect on their own motives (Mat. 19:17). And always his question cut to the heart of the matter. So when you see people talking about these volatile topics are you reflecting on how your words indicate where your heart is really at? Are you helping others realize that their words show a lack of faith in Jesus or at the very least do nothing to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:29)?
In wisdom we do more than just ask questions, we carefully consider where people are at and endeavor to help them. Consider this short list of examples:
The wise person recognizes the fear that others feel and seeks to help them through it. Are you helping people with their fear by showing them there’s nothing in this world worth fearing other than God (Is. 8:12-13).
The wise person sees the loneliness in others and aims to bring them comfort (Pro. 18:24). Are you letting people know that their is One who wishes to comfort us in our afflictions if only we would surrender ourselves to Him (1 Pet. 5:7)?
The wise person notices the uncertainty that these times make us feel and seeks to remind others of the goodness, sovereignty, wisdom, and faithfulness of God. For when we recognize that God is good (Mar. 10:18), we can trust his intent. When we recognize God is able to do whatever he pleases (sovereign – Ps. 135:6), we can trust his power. When we recognize that God is supremely wise (Rom. 16:27), we can trust his plan. When we recognize that God is faithful (Ps. 31:5), we can trust that he will carry out his good and wise plan. When we recognize these things, we learn we can trust him completely.
The wise person seeks to lay aside unhelpful theories and instead share the life giving truth of the gospel. Are you committed to abstaining from gossip and slander, and helping those around you find the Truth (John 14:26)?
I don’t know which side of the fence your on in these debates, and I’m not sure it matters much. The real question is are you being wise? Are you putting Jesus first? Are you wisely being self-reflective (Mat. 7:5), finding the idols within yourself that have cause you to be upset, frustrated, irritated, and annoyed at the recent changes in our society? Are you laying your sins at the foot of the cross and begging for forgiveness?
Are you letting people know that their life in in deadly peril (Rom. 6:23) and only by giving up all that they are and laying their whole selves on the altar can they be saved and given new life – freedom – in Christ?
Additional resources on being wise in this pandemic:
John Piper: Coronavirus and Christ (he put out a whole free book on the topic)
Kindred Community Church: Your Brother is More Important than Your Opinion
Gospel Coalition: Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You
Sovereign Grace Church: Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide the Church