The Apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy to help and encourage him at a time when the Church was experiencing internal pressure from false teachers. He encourages Timothy to: “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 1:13).
Paul identified certain conditions that he saw as being challenges that the Church would have to deal with in the days preceding Christ’s return. Whatever the time frame for this event was in Paul’s mind, it is also for understanding of those living in “the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). Historically we can see the conditions Paul references as being ongoing issues since the Church began. Perhaps it is just a matter of intensity.
One character trait Paul brings to our attention is, “… having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). The word “having” conveys the thought of holding or possessing, while “form” means the external shape or look – the appearance. Godliness entails reverence, piety and devotion toward God. This verse clearly warns of some appearing to be godly when in fact it is an empty form. These people will have the external trappings of godliness. They will talk a good talk, but something is lacking.
What is lacking is the power to transform internally. The implication is that they have been exposed to the power but have not embraced it. Jesus Christ had some strong words to say about this condition. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Did Paul have Christ’s words in mind as he dealt with the situation Timothy was facing? Again, the words of Christ. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
Whilst Christ’s words had a specific target, they are warnings about a serious human condition. The human mind likes to appear good without actually being good. If the Holy Spirit is active within us, it will be a transforming power. The old dies and the new thrives. It must be this way if we are to have oneness in our relationship with God. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
The power of God’s Spirit will help us fulfill a simple spiritual formula. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Our ability to “abhor” and “cling” is derived from the indwelling power of God. This is a power which needs to be exercised.