Having thus encouraged Timothy to suffer, he comes in the next place to direct him in his work.
I. He must make it his business to edify those who were under his charge, to put them in remembrance of those things which they did already know; for this is the work of ministers; not to tell people that which they never knew before, but to put them in mind of that which they do know, charging them that they strive not about words. Observe, Those that are disposed to strive commonly strive about matters of very small moment. Strifes of words are very destructive to the things of God. That they strive not about words to no profit. If people did but consider of what little use most of the controversies in religion are, they would not be so zealous in their strifes of words, to the subverting of the hearers, to the drawing of them away from the great things of God, and occasioning unchristian heats and animosities, by which truth is often in danger of being lost. Observe, People are very prone to strive about words, and such strifes never answer any other ends than to shake some and subvert others; they are not only useless, but they are very hurtful, and therefore ministers are to charge the people that they do not strive about words, and they are most likely to be regarded when they charge them before the Lord, that is, in his name and from his word; when they produce their warrant for what they say.—Study to show thyself approved unto God, 2 Tim. 2:15. Observe, The care of ministers must be to approve themselves unto God, to be accepted of him, and to show that they are so approved unto God. In order thereunto, there must be constant care and industry: Study to show thyself such a one, a workman that needs not be ashamed. Ministers must be workmen; they have work to do, and they must take pains in it. Workmen that are unskilful, or unfaithful, or lazy, have need to be ashamed; but those who mind their business, and keep to their work, are workmen that need not be ashamed. And what is their work? It is rightly to divide the word of truth. Not to invent a new gospel, but rightly to divide the gospel that is committed to their trust. To speak terror to those to whom terror belongs, comfort to whom comfort; to give every one his portion in due season, Matt. 24:45. Observe here, 1. The word which ministers preach is the word of truth, for the author of it is the God of truth. 2. It requires great wisdom, study, and care, to divide this word of truth rightly; Timothy must study in order to do this well.
II. He must take heed of that which would be a hindrance to him in his work, 2 Tim. 2:16. He must take heed of error: Shun profane and vain babblings. The heretics, who boasted of their notions and their arguments, thought their performances such as might recommend them; but the apostle calls them profane and vain babblings: when once men become fond of those they will increase unto more ungodliness. The way of error is down-hill; one absurdity being granted or contended for, a thousand follow: Their word will eat as doth a canker, or gangrene; when errors or heresies come into the church, the infecting of one often proves the infecting of many, or the infecting of the same person with one error often proves the infecting of him with many errors. Upon this occasion the apostle mentions some who had lately advanced erroneous doctrines: Hymeneus and Philetus. He names these corrupt teachers, by which he sets a brand upon them, to their perpetual infamy, and warns all people against hearkening to them. They have erred concerning the truth, or concerning one of the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, which is truth. The resurrection of the dead is one of the great doctrines of Christ. Now see the subtlety of the serpent and the serpent’s seed. They did not deny the resurrection (for that had been boldly and avowedly to confront the word of Christ), but they put a corrupt interpretation upon that true doctrine, saying that the resurrection was past already, that what Christ spoke concerning the resurrection was to be understood mystically and by way of allegory, that it must be meant of a spiritual resurrection only. It is true, there is a spiritual resurrection, but to infer thence that there will not be a true and real resurrection of the body at the last day is to dash one truth of Christ in pieces against another. By this they overthrew the faith of some, took them off from the belief of the resurrection of the dead; and if there be no resurrection of the dead, nor future state, no recompence of our services and sufferings in another world, we are of men the most miserable, 1 Cor. 15:19. Whatever takes away the doctrine of a future state overthrows the faith of Christians. The apostle had largely disproved this error (1 Cor. 15:1-58), and therefore does not here enter into the arguments against it. Observe, 1. The babblings Timothy was to shun were profane and vain; they were empty shadows, and led to profaneness: For they will increase unto more ungodliness. 2. Error is very productive, and on that account the more dangerous: it will eat like a gangrene. 3. When men err concerning the truth, they always endeavour to have some plausible pretence for it. Hymeneus and Philetus did not deny a resurrection, but pretended it was already past. 4. Error, especially that which affects the foundation, will overthrow the faith of some.