2 Timothy 3:5 ESV having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
“Well, you know, those two couples have been fighting with one another for years. This is nothing new.”
Almost three decades ago when I had first come to be the pastor of our present church (though it had a different name then) there was no peace. Not even in the first few weeks. Our feet hit the ground and the battle began almost immediately. And I bet you know the reason why by now – you must be born again, and the large majority of the people weren’t.
The case studies I want to describe for you in this article concern two couples who were members of the church at that time. Both were present at every meeting of the church and one of the men was in fact a leader and office holder in the congregation.
Now, they all had an appearance of godliness. Jack, as we will call the man who was the chairman of the deacon board, taught a Sunday morning class and was the “go to” guy – a real servant ready to take care of any problems. Just call on old Jack and he would be there. He and his wife often told about how they had come to faith in Christ years before. They knew Bible data and facts and verses.
The second couple (let’s call them the Smiths) also appeared to be sound Christians. They had an appearance of godliness. Like Jack and his wife, they too would give their “testimony” of how they had been saved years before. They were disgusted by the liberal churches and preachers in town.
After I had been here for about a year, Jack blew up. He, in his “servanthood,” had actually been enjoying power and control and the notoriety it gave him. People said Jack was the most godly man they had ever known. But Jack evidenced his lust for power regularly and ultimately I confronted him. He exploded and stormed out of a board meeting, then a second explosion came a few weeks later and he publicly blew up in anger at a Sunday morning worship service, storming out again, never to return.
In the aftermath I contacted one of the previous pastors of the church who was in another ministry not far away. I wanted to ask him for his insights on Jack and his wife to see if there had been incidents of “storming” anger fits in the past. In my converstation with this pastor, I mentioned to him that the Smiths, longtime friends with Jack and his wife, had remained in the church and were now at odds with Jack over the present schism.
In the course of this conversation, that pastor said something that is really the core of this article. He said:
…well, you know, Jack and his wife have had regular conflicts and angry blowups with the Smiths for years. This is nothing new.
That pastor had been at the church for quite a long time and had observed this pattern.
And here is the telling problem – how is it that this pastor for all those years he was their pastor, never doubted that Jack and his wife and the Smiths were Christians? Why did he never challenge their profession of faith? I can tell you. It was because he really in practice, down where the rubber meets the road, did not believe – you must be born again. In his theology (oh, of course he would energetically deny this) an appearance of godliness is all that is necessary for salvation. He, you see, taught a false gospel that denied the power of Christ which, by the new birth, makes us new creations with new hearts, that makes us people who love Christ and love His people.
Here is the telling truth about Jack, his wife, and the Smiths –
1 John 2:9-11 ESV Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. (10) Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (11) But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
You cannot be characterized by the things these people habitually evidenced in their lives AND be a new creation in Christ. This is why we had such a mess on our hands in this church so long ago. Because this previous pastor and others like him, over the years, had preached a false gospel and it produced a false flock. Unregenerate people were assured that they were “saved.” In such an environment there is “church growth,” only what is growing is not the real church. It is a cancerous counterfeit. Over the years we would see the ranks thin drastically as the Word of God effected its work, teeth were gnashed – and as one of them put it, “the Sunday services have been hell for us. We are leaving.”
This is why, for example, that pastor I had spoken to, would preach a message that emphasized “forgiveness.” We are to “love them anyway” in spite of their behavior. “Christ has forgiven you, so you must forgive unconditionally.” “We are all sinners, you know.” He preached it because all of the sin and evil in his congregation had to be excused or the thing would fall apart.
Throw that message in with a happening music “ministry” and you have the formula for numerical church growth, pastoral career success, and a reputation in the community as “the loving family church where everyone is happy.” Most of you know from hard experience at the hands of these kinds of places what these teachings produce. Not only do they give rise to counterfeit christians, they oppress and condemn real Christians.
What do we learn from this case study of an appearance of godliness? From Jack and his wife and the Smiths? We learn that such people do not know the Lord. And sure enough, after a couple more years, the Smiths also exploded in anger. They could no longer tolerate the Word of God and the light that it shined upon them. It was as if a switch got thrown in their brains and in a flash, just like that, their smiles turned to scowls and they were gone.
Both couples, of course, found new “church” homes to join. Notice I said “church homes.” They settled in different churches. They fought less with one another that way.
An appearance of godliness, you see. Don’t be duped by it. And don’t forget that little, powerful command the verse closes with:
Avoid such people.