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Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 41

October 30, 2003

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Lesson 41 studies Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, specifically his writings on righteous living and the signs of apostasy. Read the following commentary by Robert L. Millet, Richard Lloyd Anderson, and Neal A. Maxwell for additional insight.

John G. Scott on contending over doctrines:
Paul took a firm stand on the issue of contending over doctrines. He advised Timothy to "study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness" (2 Timothy 2:15-16). Here, Paul encouraged study of the doctrines and precepts of the gospel and denounced "profane and vain babblings" as the antithesis of godliness. Additionally he warned that "their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus" (2 Timothy 2:17). A canker is "that which corrodes, corrupts, or destroys." fn Paul's use of the word canker impressed on Timothy that the contention arising from vain babblings was something that could destroy him and the Church. This warning should also impress on us the need to avoid "vain babblings" before they canker us today. In the modern Church this is a matter of increasing concern. Many brothers and sisters who could have gone on to exaltation have instead become ungodly because of their unbridled and faithless intellectualism, which induces them to wrongly "[divide] the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Unfortunately, errors can be made about even such solidly established doctrines as the Book of Mormon being what it claims to be, women and the priesthood, or the divinity of Jesus Christ. Paul's example of men who erred concerning true doctrine was Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had debated about the doctrine of the sequence of the resurrection until they "erred." That mistake was severe enough to "overthrow the faith of some" (2 Timothy 2:18), which concerned Paul, who had the gift of seership and knew that the Apostasy would come from those who had allowed themselves to succumb to that ungodliness.
 
In 2 Timothy 2:22 we find Paul's admonition to his friend to avoid vain babblings by "[fleeing] also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Paul was not necessarily talking about immorality when he wrote of "youthful lusts." J. R. Dummelow explained Paul's meaning as to "avoid a young man's desires after novelty in teaching. (There is apparently no reference to the desires of the flesh.) Avoid foolish questions or speculations which gender strife, and pursue a steadfast course of piety with sincere believers, not entering into controversial disputations, but correcting opponents with gentleness and meekness, not for the sake of victory, but for their good." fn Certainly the doctrines of the gospel must be defended and correctly taught, but, Paul stressed, it must be done for the right reason.
 
Second Timothy 2:21 heightens our understanding of our responsibility when we are tempted to dispute the Brethren concerning doctrine or any other issue that is vital to our exaltation. Paul used a term familiar to Christians when he said,
"If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." Ordinarily, Paul might have used this sequence of words to speak of some moral temptation. Instead, the context of the entire chapter indicates that Paul was speaking about the temptation to ask "foolish and unlearned questions" (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul taught that the tendency to question, to contradict, to debate the fundamental doctrines of the Church must be treated as any other sin would be treated: we must purge it from our souls. Only in this way can we securely study the gospel and safely arrive at our appointed destination, the celestial kingdom.
 
Paul had considerable experience in this area. Only a few decades before he had been carried away with the doctrines of the learned men around him. Years of reflection must have humbled him as he thought how he, too, had once been a man deceived by his own vain and babbling words (see Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-43). Is it any wonder that Paul counseled: "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2 Timothy 2:24- 26). For Paul, who at one time persecuted those who disagreed with him in doctrine, this was a triumph of faith. It is a triumph of faith we also must achieve: to study the gospel so we will know the truth and accept without question the doctrines that allow us, as Christians, to become one with our Savior.
 
( The Apostle Paul, His Life and His Testimony: The 23d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 181.)
 
Robert L. Millet on sound doctrine:
Immediately after giving his greetings of love to Timothy, Paul instructed his youthful aide to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine...from which some having swerved...unto vain jangling." (1 Tim. 1:3, 6.) Apparently Gnostic Judaists, men who aspired to be "teachers of the law" yet who wholly misunderstood the full nature of the law, were teaching "contrary to sound doctrine" and were making inroads in Ephesus. (1 Tim. 1:3-11.) Likewise Paul instructed Titus in Crete to "speak thou the things which become sound doctrine" to counter those who "profess that they know God; but in works they deny him." (Titus 2:1; 1:16.) Paul well knew that false teachers can quickly lead believers into forbidden paths, so he desired that both Timothy and Titus select priesthood leaders and teachers who would maintain doctrinal loyalty.
 
Timothy was charged to "keep that which is committed to thy trust" by not allowing "profane and vain babblings." (1 Tim. 6:20.) The King James translators used science when the word should have been rendered knowledge. Translated more understandably in our modern language, Paul instructed Timothy to "turn a deaf ear to...the contradictions of so- called 'knowledge,' for many who lay claim to it have shot wide of the faith." (1 Tim. 6:20, New English Bible.) The ancient Gnostics received their name from the Greek term meaning knowledge. "Like many sects that have broken from the Church today," Dr. Anderson explains, "the Gnostics generally claimed secret doctrines to add to the Church's public message." fn
 
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the application of Paul's instruction to today's setting: "Teachers in the Church represent the Lord in their teaching. The Church is the Lord's; the doctrine is the Lord's. Teachers speak at the invitation of the Lord and are appointed to say what he wants said, nothing more and nothing less. There is no freedom to teach or speculate contrary to the revealed will. Those who desire to express views contrary to gospel truth are at liberty to find other forums or to organize churches of their own. But in God's Church, the only approved doctrine is God's doctrine." fn
 
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 180 - 181.)
 
John G. Scott on teaching the truths of the gospel:
 
At the end of his letter, Paul, thinking of the destiny of the Church that he had fought so hard to develop, called on his beloved friend and fellow laborer to continue the fight: "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season; those who are out of season reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine" (JST 2 Timothy 4:1-2).
 
For Paul, part of fighting the good fight was to meet the enemy head on through teaching the truths of the gospel. Why should Timothy be similarly engaged in teaching the doctrines of the gospel? Paul's answer is quite clear: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
 
Richard Lloyd Anderson gives even clearer meaning to this passage: "The prophecy on losing sound doctrine also tells how the members will transform the faith: 'After their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears' (2 Tim. 4:3). But these last three words should appear with 'they' and not after 'teachers.' For translations now follow the clear meaning of the Greek, which makes 'having itching ears' apply to Church members: 'Because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers' (2 Tim. 4:3, NKJB)."
 
Obviously Paul understood the problems the Church would face. No longer able to warn the members about the perilous times ahead, the most he could do was enlist Timothy in the cause and encourage his friend to keep the course. Brother Anderson commented on Paul's situation: "The real threat to the Church was not opposition but inner corrosion. Here Paul's last prophecy on the Church fits his last recorded speech on the subject, Acts 20. Both carry the same pessimism about the Church's future and the same mechanism for its failure. What made Paul's . . . farewell heartrending to him was not his leaving but his realizing that the great flock he had gathered would be divided and spoiled. There would be successors to the apostles, but not true successors, for after Paul left would come 'savage wolves . . . not sparing the flock' (Acts 20:29, NKJB)."
 
Paul's words of counsel to Timothy are instructive for all Saints. We too are charged to preach the gospel to others. The fight Paul spoke of is the struggle for souls between God and Satan; Paul had done everything God had commanded him to do in this struggle. Likewise, anyone who has committed to God must also fight, struggle, and labor for the children of God.
 
 
(The Apostle Paul, His Life and His Testimony: The 23d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 185.)
 
Robert L. Millet on apostasy:
 
Most Latter-day Saint missionaries recall that Paul's letters to Timothy contain prophecies about an impending apostasy. Indeed, three of the most frequently quoted passages in the New Testament about apostasy are found in either 1 or 2 Timothy. A careful examination of these passages reveals that they deal with personal apostasy and a falling away from truth and righteousness in the latter days, even after the gospel and true church had been restored to the earth.
 
The first of these is in 1 Timothy 4:1-3, wherein Paul indicates that the Spirit expressly taught him that in the last days many would "depart from the faith," would give heed to "seducing spirits," would speak "lies in hypocrisy," and by so doing would forbid to marry and command to abstain from meats. Regarding these two prohibitions of the apostates, the word of the Lord is clear in this last dispensation: "Whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man....And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God." (D&C 49:15, 18.) An editorial in the Church News elucidates the problems of "forbidding to marry" in our day: "Since eternal life may only be achieved through celestial marriage, Satan does all within his power to forbid men and women to marry. Celibacy, living together out of wedlock, homosexuality, adultery, abortion, and birth control are but a few of the many methods employed to pervert men's minds and prevent the creation and continuance of this holy union. In the words of President Harold B. Lee, 'Satan's greatest threat today is to destroy the family, and to make mockery of the law of chastity and the sanctity of the marriage covenant.'" fn
 
Perhaps the most frequently cited New Testament prophecy about apostasy is found in 2 Timothy 3:1-7. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come," began Paul. Then he listed twenty-one separate evil attributes that would characterize individuals in the last days, such as "unthankful," "without natural affection" (homosexual), "incontinent" (intemperate), and being "disobedient to parents." President Spencer W. Kimball reaffirmed, "I feel sure that Paul was looking forward to these last days when he said...they would swear unrighteously, would disavow God and all sacred things; they would be dsobedient to parents. Certainly we have come to a day when the youth leave their parents, disregard their training, and with what they may feel is justified, abandon their parents, move away from them. This is disastrous."
 
Paul's last prophecy on apostasy is found in 2 Timothy 4:3-4. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine," he began. "And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." Elder Neal A. Maxwell, in an address to scholars and practitioners of behavioral sciences, declared, "The appetite of man for 'fables' and the turning away from truth is not confined to the behavioral sciences, but it is present there also." He indicated that "unchecked drives for sexual gratification and indulgence" are fables prophesied by Paul. He added, "The growing heresy, that disarming fable that there is a private morality, not only turns many away from the truth but also threatens to bury man in an avalanche of appetite." fn
 
President Kimball, ever prepared to defend the standards of the Church against immorality, declared the idea that homosexuality is accepted by God to be a fable prophesied by Paul: "'God made me that way,' some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. 'I can't help it,' they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be 'that way'? Man is responsible for his own sins. It is possible that he may rationalize and excuse himself until the groove is so deep he cannot get out without great difficulty, but this he can do. Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted." fn
 
 (Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 187.)
 
 Neal A. Maxwell on being an example:
 
Paul urged Timothy to be "an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12.)
 
Paul speaks of "our examples"; of these he says, "Neither be ye idolaters," fornicators, serpents, or murmurers. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10.)
 
When Peter urges members to be "ensamples to the flock," he speaks of feeding the flock, of taking oversight of the flock, in which he pleads with the people to be not lords, but examples "not by constraint, but willingly." (1 Peter 5:2-3.)
 
We can't be examples if we're on an ego trip, if we are preoccupied with our needs rather than the needs of those whom we serve. When our ego becomes swollen, then we make the same mistake made by a fine leader in the Old Testament; he had to be reminded by a prophet that there was a time "when thou wast little in thine own sight." (1 Samuel 15:17.)
 
Thus, it is not just a matter of abusing power but of giving us all some actual experience in using power wisely. The sense of powerlessness can be devastating, too. Life is structured, and particularly life in the Church, so that we get experience at both ends of the electricity of power: directing and receiving its effects.
  
(Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 92 - 93.)
 
"Being an example of the believers":
By following the example of those who emulate Christ's life, it is possible to feel the Savior's love and recognize the blessings He gives to His children, said Ruth B. Wright, second counselor in the Primary general presidency.
 
"In Timothy we are admonished to be an example of the believers (1 Tim. 4:121 Tim. 4:12)," Sister Wright said in her address at the General Women's Meeting Sept. 28. "A believer is someone who follows and knows the teachings of Christ not only in His mind, but also in His heart and whose actions are a witness of that belief.
 
"It isn't easy to be an example of the believers. We don't usually wake up in the morning and say, 'Today I'm going to be an example of the believers!' Yet we can say, 'Today I will be kind and thoughtful, or considerate, or honest, or whatever quality I need to work on.' And then we will try hard all day to make a conscious effort to do so. That we can do! We can live in such a way that people can look to us as their examples."
 
To be a good example of a principle, a person must not only understand it, but also live that principle, Sister Wright continued.
 
"To be a true example of believers, we are first committed inwardly to the principle of Christ that our actions reflect. "It is interesting to note that we choose the examples we follow. We exercise our own agency through our choices. Examples are not forced upon us. We choose which ones we want to emulate and which ones we want to ignore or disregard. The choice is ours and so is the burden of the consequence."
 
Sister Wright continued: "We can always feel secure in looking to Christ as our perfect example.
 
"Jesus resisted temptations. He treated all equally. He was patient in His teaching, yet bold in His condemnation of evil. He forgave the repentant, healed the sick and served without ceasing.
 
"Each of us can feel our Savior's love through the righteous example of others. We, too, can strive to live in such a way that we can be examples of the believers."
 
 
('be an Example of the Believers' , LDS Church News, 1991, 10/05/91 .)
 
Richard Lloyd Anderson on 2 Timothy:
 
In 2 Timothy the final result is "having a form of godliness; but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5). This remarkable headline summarizes latter-day conditions and also characterizes the false teachers facing Timothy. So here is the bridge between Paul's day and the future, implying a long absence of the truth. The implications are stunning in "having a form of godliness; but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5). This could be said only of religions that have the name but not the reality. "Power" in Paul is not to be taken lightly, for in the plural it is the word for revelations and miracles. Christian churches today claim the Bible for their guide but on the whole make prophets and the full gifts of the Spirit a matter of history. One commentator writes that after the first century "the gift of prophecy itself, in spite of occasional revivals, gradually fell into disuse and in some measure into disrepute." fn The charismatic movement has spread across traditional churches in their attempts to revitalize old organizations, a demonstration that much has been lost. And a reader of Paul cannot forget that the gospel itself is power—the "power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18). If the form is without the power, the preaching is without salvation.
 
Like Jesus, Paul repeats his prophecy of the coming deceptive apostasy: "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. . . . And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). And who will turn away? Obviously the prophecy fits only Church members; those outside the faith could not lose the truth, for they did not have it. Timothy's commission was to teach "good doctrine" to "the brethren" (1 Tim. 4:6). As discussed, his ministry was to Church members; just before the above prophecy Paul reminded Timothy to strive to keep the members in the faith. But the point of the prophecy is that Timothy is not promised success.
 
The prophecy on losing sound doctrine also tells how the members will transform the faith: "After their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (2 Tim. 4:3). But these last three words should appear with "they" and not after "teachers." For translations now follow the clear meaning of the Greek, which makes "having itching ears" apply to Church members: "Because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers" (2 Tim. 4:3, NKJB). fn Thus, the real threat to the Church was not opposition but inner corrosion. Here Paul's last prophecy on the Church fits his last recorded speech on the subject, Acts 20. Both carry the same pessimism about the Church's future and the same mechanism for its failure. What made Paul's Ephesian farewell heartrending to him was not his leaving but his realizing that the great flock he had gathered would be divided and spoiled. There would be successors to the apostles, but not true successors, for after Paul left would come "savage wolves . . . not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29, NKJB). Again, the real threat to the Church was not opposition but disintegration: "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). The first known subapostolic writing deals with this very issue; as might be expected, the Corinthians had dismissed their authorized leaders. But the most significant point here is that Clement of Rome wrote and quoted the Lord as prophesying of inner division: "Our apostles also knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the title of bishop." fn
 
Thus, Paul's last words on the Church are words of warning—about counterfeit leaders and a substitute gospel. Christians who recognize the apostasy of Judaism from Jehovah must examine their own roots in the long perspective of Old Testament cycles. Time and again the Lord raised up new prophets with Jeremiah's message: "The prophets prophesy falsely . . . and my people love to have it so" (Jer. 5:31). So the theme of imitation prophets is an old one, simply because it is too easy for inquiring faith to degenerate into self-serving smugness. Paul's career is a reminder that professionals may miss God's message while they are mightily engaged in religious minutiae. Paul told Timothy that the truth would be turned into "fables," literally "myths" in his language (2 Tim. 4:4); and he told the Ephesian elders that future Christian leaders would teach things that were "perverse" (Acts 20:30), meaning in Greek and Latin "turned around," twisted or distorted. Who but God could cut through two millennia of theological complications and reestablish the powerful and understandable set of truths preached by Paul and the early apostles? Latter-day Saints testify of this reality through modern revelations as powerful as Paul's. Their claim cries to be considered with increased seriousness, for there has never been a day of more obvious religious floundering, where leaders were less sure of what Christ's Church is or where to look for it. As a case in point, the following comes from the draft of a "contemporary statement of faith" of a major Christian church: "The body of Christ is one, but its oneness is hidden and distorted by the struggles and enmities that persist in the church as they do in the world. . . . Nonetheless the church is one body in a unity yet to be disclosed."
 
 
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 375 - 376.)
 
Richard Lloyd Anderson on righteous living:
 
Sensitive men and women are grateful for the Atonement. But God's unlimited mercy should elevate their self-confidence, not erase it. God's power and man's significance blend, just as the related issues of his grace and man's works blend. Paul plainly teaches that Christ's goal was not merely to cancel past sins but to lead mankind to a life above sin. Greek has a very specific purpose clause, introduced by the preposition hina, translated literally "in order that." And Paul strikingly expresses the purpose of the Atonement by using this construction twice to reinforce his point. "The grace of God" is manifest "in order that" we may avoid "worldly lusts" and "live with righteousness and godliness in this world" (Titus 2:12, literal trans.). And the point is driven home as he restates the doctrine: "Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for us in order that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify a people special to himself, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:13-14, literal trans.). Paul clearly considers the Atonement incomplete without individual actions. The main point of Titus is to stress the good works necessary to retain Christ's grace.
 
Yet some give the proof-text "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5). But quoting that alone perverts Paul's message, for here Paul refers to salvation from the evil works mentioned just before (Titus 3:3)—and salvation comes not through mercy alone but "by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). In English or Greek, "regeneration" is literally rebirth, the same act of baptism that Jesus challenged Nicodemus to accept (John 3:5). So saving grace came to the early Saints through their agency in accepting the ordinances. Paul's point is not to subtract righteous works from salvation, but to show that the Lord mercifully offered salvation when only wicked works were in view. "Not by works of righteousness" really indicates the need of such works in the future, as God had to send his Son to compensate for their lack in the past. The apostle's message here is that in spite of unrighteous works, God allowed forgiveness through Christ and its acceptance through baptism. After that ordinance, the momentum of a continuing righteous life is required for exaltation.
  
(Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 358 - 359.)