“God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (v. 19).
Pastors know the sad reality that church discipline does not bring every erring member of a congregation to repentance. Some people refuse to listen to reason and will not return to orthodox belief and personal holiness. Such has been the case throughout church history, as today’s passage demonstrates. In 2 Timothy 2:17 Paul refers to one Hymenaeus, who is probably the same person he mentions in 1 Timothy 1:19–20, as Hymenaeus was not a common name in the first century. The apostle originally handed him “over to Satan” — he cast him out of the church — that he might be moved to repentance, but it seems he had learned nothing by the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy.
If anything, Hymenaeus’ error was worse by the time 2 Timothy was written, for by then he was denying the future resurrection (2:18). Apparently, these men had an “over-realized” eschatology, that is, they believed that everything the Lord promises will happen at the end of the age had already occurred in their own day. It seems that they no longer affirmed the resurrection of the physical body (Dan. 12:2; John 5:25–29), probably spiritualizing the teaching to say that salvation will not include the physical world but is only the awakening of the soul to a special knowledge of God.
When false teaching spreads “like gangrene” and damages the body of Christ, we can become discouraged and feel like giving up the fight. But the suffering involved in confronting error is not in vain, for Paul says, “God’s rm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (2 Tim. 2:19). The apostle is making reference to Numbers 16:5, which is part of the description of Korah’s failed rebellion against Moses. Paul is saying that rebellion in the new covenant church is like that in the old covenant community — the people of God will be shaken but not destroyed, and unrepentant heretics will get what they deserve in the end. As Martin Luther wrote (in “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”), “God’s truth abideth still.” The Word of the Lord stands rm forever as a foundation we can trust, and all those who try to overcome it shall find themselves crushed under it (Matt. 21:42–44; 24:35).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
John Calvin comments, “Being convinced that the Church shall nevertheless be safe, we shall more patiently endure that the reprobate go away into their own lot, to which they were appointed; because there will remain the full number, with which God is satisfied.” Heresy should not cause us distress regarding the ultimate fate of the church, but we should be concerned for the souls of those who embrace false teaching and pray for their repentance.