The Christian leader’s lifestyle is based upon an inner character of the heart, enabled by the Holy Spirit, that causes them to behave in certain ways. This temperament is part of “a settled habit of mind,” an inner trait that drives our outward conduct. This settled habit is how the heart, mind, and hands meet to fuel the task of reproducing leaders to fulfil the purpose of Christ in the world.
When virtues go wrong, when the mind and heart harden to the work of the Spirit, leaders fall foul to the temptations that were raised over the last few days on the blog: legalism, relativism, consumerism, and authoritarianism.
Today we’ll refer to our two-by-two matrix once more. We’ll unpack the danger of when the virtue (think settled habit of mind) of ‘knowing’ is not based upon the “deep truths of the Scriptures” practiced in “faith and love” with a “clean conscience.”
Christian leaders know they belong to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14)
Consider three “habits” that belong to the “knowing” virtue:
Leaders are committed to deepening their knowledge of the Scriptures and put it to affect in their life and ministry (3:14-17).
Leaders are committed to ensuring that the truth of the Scriptures is presented and retold (4:3).
Leaders offer practical instructions to others on an array of topics whether practical, personal, or spiritual (4:9)
Consider what would happen if a leader put these habits into practice without “faith.” That is, without the correct beliefs about the holiness of God and the veracity of Christ’s atoning work which gives someone a clear conscience?
Consider too, if the truths about God’s requirements for a clean conscience, that is righteousness, were put into practice in ways that were motivated not by love for what had been done, but out of a desire to earn what had been achieved by Christ?
If that were the case what we’d have is legalism. That is a system that thrives on personal performance rather than the finished work of Christ.
Legalism, at its core, promotes self-righteousness and self-authority. It has the appearance of truth, but errs. This system is seen to be at the heart of Paul’s warning to Timothy in 2nd Timothy 3:6-9:
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
The problem being addressed is not that people opened their homes to teachers. Such hospitality was the customary practice. The wrong is that these teachers ‘gain control’ over gullible women. That phrase is literally to take captive. It’s a compound word stemming from a word meaning, ‘a spear-point’, and another meaning ‘to be taken or conquered.’ The term speaks of prisoners of war. It’s a word used by Paul twice elsewhere.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:23)
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:21-23)
The second example is significant. Whether the text applies to the previous, unregenerate state of Paul’s or a present struggle is debated. What is absolutely clear is that Paul’s argument is that the law has no power to free us from spiritual death. Only Christ has that power. The text ties the idea of captivity to trying to live the Christian life without the help of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that in this section Paul was revealing with considerable candor his difficulty in meeting the radical demands of the Christian faith. At the same time, he was using his own experience to describe the inevitability of spiritual defeat whenever a believer fails to appropriate the Spirit of God for victory.
False teachers instructed these women that their own learning and effort brought change, rather than changing come through repentance, regeneration, the impartation of the Holy Spirit, and settled habits of mind being developed in a believer’s life.
Within our fourfold framework we speak of this error in terms of a leadership where legalism thrives. Consequently, self-authority and self-righteousness are prevalent both of which denigrate the holiness of God and the need for the sacrifice of Christ.
So how should Timothy respond to this? In contrast to those who pursue what tickles their ears, Timothy is to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace out of a pure heart (2:22). So, 2:22 invites Timothy to follow Paul’s example of pursuing that clear conscience.
Paul then instructs Timothy how he should respond.
Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
Paul says that the truth-telling work must be done without quarrelling and through kindness. Elsewhere Paul wrote that it is the goodness and kindness of God that leads people to repentance (Rom. 2:4). With that verse in the background it would appear that Paul’s intent is for Timothy’s behavior to reflect the favorable disposition of God to those who are in fact opposing God not Timothy.
It took me a while to understand that when someone is for something that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are against me. When someone stands on a doctrine that I consider to be wrong, I don’t have to act as if they are against me. They aren’t. They stand opposed to God and this God treats such people with kindness and patience. His will for them is that they experience the promise of life now, while they live. Only the life of God can destroy the controlling and devastating power of sin. Personal effort can’t achieve that.
Second, when someone’s teaching is not in line with the counsel of Scripture, I shouldn’t think that it is my role to defend God’s honor. My role is to present the truth. Present does carry the thought of defending, as in the idea of apologetics, but this neither has to be defensive nor offensive. What it requires is me knowing the essential truths that are being denied or downplayed.
We’ll address those truths as we progress.
For now, note that one key responsibility of leaders is to know the truth. How can we defend the truth we do not know? More to the point, if we do not know the truth, especially the truth about Christ’s death as it relates to God’s holiness, it’s possible we’ll err into a legalistic righteousness. This legalistic righteousness exists in many forms. I haven’t got the time to go into that here. Suffice to say that salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone.
Food for Thought:
1. What do you consider the essential of the Scriptures to be?
2. How do you present and retell the Scriptures?
3. How are you offering practical instructions to others?
As always, please leave any thoughts, comments, and questions in the comments section below.
 M.R. Vincent, Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 291). Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York (1887), p291
 D.J. Moo, Romans (p. 234). Zondervan: Grand Rapids (2000), p234
 R.H. Mounce, Romans (Vol. 27), Broadman & Holman: Nashville (1995), p167
 So C.S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament, IVP: Downers Grove, IL (1993), on 2 Tim. 3:7.