One of the remarkable features of inspiration is that no God-breathed Scripture is strictly personal nor limited in its application to a particular time. Paul’s final pastoral epistle, for example, was addressed to a specific individual, Timothy, with whom Paul had had long and direct personal acquaintance. As we might expect in such a personal letter, there are allusions to particular events and individuals known to them both. But as specific and pertinent as were these allusions by the Apostle Paul to his protégé Timothy, they still remain applicable to us though we are reading them nearly two thousand years later.
A case in point is Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding “Alexander the coppersmith.” Paul told Timothy that this man “did me much evil . . . for he hath greatly withstood our words” (II Tim. 4:14a, 15b). Consequently, Paul instructed Timothy to “be thou ware [“be on guard,” be wary] also” (v. 15a). Now we do not know this man; we cannot even be sure of whom Paul was speaking. Clearly, he poses us no danger today. Nevertheless, these inspired words are not wasted on us: they convey a message that is as relevant as anything that is happening today, reminding us of what we must guard.
Paul invokes wariness, not against physical danger, but rather against the spiritual danger that those who reject the Word pose. That is not to suggest that Paul was superhuman or oblivious to physical danger or suffering. We know that when occasion permitted, Paul was not loath to escape physical difficulties. For example, when Paul so angered the Jews in Damascus by preaching the gospel that they sought to kill him, “the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket (Acts 9: 25). When Paul and Barnabas preached at Iconium, they stirred up a mob of Jews and Gentiles who hoped to stone them. We read that when Paul and Barnabas were “ware of it,” they “fled” (Acts 14:6). When the Jews stirred up the people against Paul’s preaching in Berea, “then immediately the brethren sent away Paul” (Acts 17:14). That having been said, Paul’s successful avoidance of harm was not motivated by personal fear or reluctance to suffer but by a sense or knowledge of God’s continued purpose for him to declare the gospel. Personal safety and comfort were never Paul’s priorities.
His warning to Timothy, then, is not a warning to guard his physical safety but his spiritual safety and the spiritual well-being of his flock. Paul understood that the consequences of being jailed or beaten, though sometimes exceedingly unpleasant, were temporary, and ultimately of no great moment. But the consequences of permitting doctrinal error to go unchecked would be loss of eternal reward for some and even eternal damnation for others.
The government, through agencies such as the FDA and the CDC, constantly warns us about dangers to our health. Law enforcement authorities warn us about the dangers of breaking various laws, such as drinking and driving. We are warned about the dangers of failing to pay our taxes or of neglecting our civic responsibility to vote. Parents warn their children to behave, to be nice, not to engage in dangerous behavior. And on and on.
But where are the watchman crying out against the spiritual danger of false doctrine, of teaching that actively opposes or merely flirts with Scripture? Where are those who would echo the words of the Lord Jesus:
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer . . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:11).
We should not be careless about natural dangers, but we must truly be wary and sound a warning regarding the eternal consequences of doctrinal error.
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