2 Timothy 3:5 ESV having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
In these now 38 years of pastoral ministry I have met a long list of the kind of people the Apostle Paul is warning Timothy about here. Identify them. Avoid them. Go no contact with them. And who are they? They are people who claim to be Christians. People who have an appearance of godliness. But who, by the rotten evil fruit they demonstrate, are not born again by the power of Christ.
In fact, I can confidently say that in these nearly four decades of ministry, the large majority of people who were members of the congregations I pastored, fit this very description. And I do not believe that this is at all atypical in the local churches today. You must be born again, and they were not.
In this chapter, I want to talk to you about Mary. Mary, like so many on my long list of these kind, was not just a church member. She came from a family of church leaders. The large part of her time was spent doing “church.” She and her husband established numbers of church outreach ministries. They were present at every single church event. They religiously maintained daily Bible study and devotions. But there is more.
Mary was regarded in the community as a model of Christianity. She was very popular in the community. Young people referred to her with terms of endearment. Mary’s face “shone” when she was in front of a crowd in some ministry role. And so, when Mary first came to our little church, we counted ourselves fortunate and blessed. Mary was full of praise for me, for my sermons, for…well for just about anything I did.
But Mary’s was only an appearance of godliness. Mary did not know the Lord. Mary was not born again. How do I know?
Mary was in fact a very mean person. The people I have described here so far who regarded her as an eminent saint, really did not know Mary. They thought that they did, but they only saw her facade. People who worked more closely with Mary, including some of her family members, really did not like her. They had been the targets of her true evil nature far too often. But, of course, Mary’s disguise was so effective that most people would never listen to the truth about her.
Mary was a person who craved revenge. Not justice, but revenge. If Mary thought that someone had wronged her, you could be that she was going to do something to punish them. One time, for instance, when a very kind Christian lady inadvertently forgot to come to a meeting at the church where Mary was leading, Mary was incensed. Afterward she went on and on to me about how this lady’s oversight had devastated Mary’s work that evening. Revenge was on the horizon.
A couple of weeks later, Mary set this lady up. (Let’s call this other lady Jill). Mary asked Jill to come and help with a choir practice, which Jill did. And then, right at the start of the session, Mary turned to the choir with the target of her malice right beside her, and said, “Jill is going to lead you in this practice this evening.” And with that, Mary dropped her choir leader book on the lectern in front of Jill, turned, and walked out. Jill of course was unprepared and looked the fool.
This was only one of Mary’s cutthroat episodes. After Mary and her husband had been in our church for 3 or 4 years, Mary’s tactics had become clear to me and I sat them both down to confront Mary in particular. For at least 3 hours this fruitless session went on and every single point that I described to them was met with some of the strongest denial I have ever been witness to. NOTHING they had done was wrong. ALL fault rested with me.
Mary had to win, you see. Her reputation of holy saint had to be maintained. So even then they did not leave the church. And Mary continued to be Mary. Some months later, Mary was scheduled to sing a solo at a community event. My wife and I were present and just before the proceedings began, Mary backed up against a wall near us, looked at us and with an anxious look on her face said, “I feel judged by all these people. I don’t want to do this.” The fact was of course, Mary did want to do it, but she also wanted to make us feel sorry for her and angry at those “judgmental” nameless someones out there. When I started to put my hand on her shoulder to offer her some consolement, her reaction was one that would be remarkable to a psychologist. She quickly backed away and communicated clearly “don’t touch me.” I don’t pretend to know what was in her head at that moment, but I can confidently say it was something that was all about her.
I could go on for a long time telling you about the countless other times Mary put on her deceiving disguise and worked her wickedness behind the scenes. The times she would use flattery to turn us against one another are without number. How she would drop “reminders” in her speech about “that time you wronged me.” But I suppose her ‘coup d’tat’ was seen at her funeral. Hundreds of people came to give their praises to the memory of Mary. The finest Christian they had ever known.
But it was all just an appearance of godliness. Mary was not born again. Mary did not belong to Christ. Mary’s “christian” life and zeal was a denial of the power of Christ’s real work in the heart of His genuine people. Mary was a person, I now realize, who the Lord tells us to avoid, no matter the cost. And you can be sure that Mary would do all she could to make anyone who did reject her claim of saintliness pay a price. No matter. Avoid such people.