Truth for Young Believers: Doctrinal Inoculation

Did you know that the Bible provides a method for dealing with a spreading disease? In the scriptural instance, the threat is to one’s spiritual health, and it is caused by gangrene, a metaphor for wrong teaching. Hymenaeus and Philetus were the superspreaders (2Ti 2:17-18), but the chapter provides a three-step approach to combatting the infection.

Step 1: Strengthen the Immune System of the Healthy. The best way to combat poor health is to stay ahead of it by promoting good health. Timothy is given the key to fending off the gangrene – “rightly handle the word of truth” (2Ti 2:15).[1] When we experience symptoms of an illness (e.g., a fever), we know there is a problem because we first know what good health actually feels like. Similarly, I will be prepared to detect false teaching by being well grounded in the truth. To “rightly handle the word of truth” is to understand it accurately and teach it clearly. Earlier in the book, the gospel with its associated teaching is described as “sound words” (1:13), that is, health-producing teaching. Give yourself to the study of the Scriptures; its teaching will nourish and inoculate your inner man.

Step 2: Avoid the People that Are Spreading the Illness. We may initially be a bit uncomfortable with an exhortation to stay away from people; after all, we are social creatures. But this biblical prescription for spiritual safety clearly states that some people and things must be avoided. “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth” (2:16-18). “Depart from iniquity” (v19); “cleanse yourself from what is dishonourable” (v21); “flee youthful passions” (v22); “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies” (v23); “avoid such people” (3:5). Stay away from those people and their teaching. Asymptomatic carriers of bad teaching are rare – wrong teaching leads to wrong living.

Be careful, though, that this separation doesn’t lead to arrogant isolation. We are to “pursue righteousness … with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2:22). We need one another. The biblical model for a healthy walk is not parking myself in front of YouTube, but the fellowship of a local church.

Step 3: Patiently Care for Those Who Are Afflicted. Some people carelessly and deliberately spread contagion. Others are different, sadly caught in its snare (2:24-26). With kindness and patience, such victims are to be fed steady spoonfuls of right teaching. Their case is not hopeless; recovery is possible. God is able to heal them, bringing them to “a knowledge of the truth.”

There is life-giving, authoritative, unequivocal truth – that’s what the Scriptures are. Place a high value upon good teaching to help inoculate yourself against the many strains of false teaching that can compromise our spiritual health.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.