For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 2Tim. 3:6-7
Paul must have hated women. Either that, or he was so entrenched in the unenlightened, oppressive, chauvinistic culture of the day he can be entirely disregarded as an irrelevant misogynist. Or so the ultra-tolerant and hyper-diverse entirely non-judgmental thinking of our era might say.
Why did he have to pick on the ladies, though? “Weak women weighed down with sins” isn’t very loving, especially coming from the guy who commanded women to keep silent in the church, submit to their husbands, and cover their heads. The translators in the employ of King James had the audacity to render this text “silly women,” so no extra points for flattery there.
So what’s the deal with these silly, weak, or gullible (NKJV) women?
According to Glinda, the good witch of the North and an early crush of my 7 year old heart, “It’s always best to start at the beginning.”
The beginning of this section of Scripture is this: “Realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come.” We might be tempted to think that as the gospel invades the world and the church marches on, that the “difficult times” will begin to decrease. The truth, after all, sets free. If it’s true individually, certainly there’s a sense in which it applies in society when the gospel takes root a city, and then a state.
Sadly, that’s not the case. Rather than getting easier, the trend is that the times will become difficult. Not because of a failure of the gospel, mind you. Not even because of the triumph of blatant paganism. No, Paul goes on to say the times will be difficult because men will love self, love money, be boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
Significantly, the final descriptive phrase Paul uses is this: “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” They’re not blatantly wicked. They don’t publicly celebrate their wickedness. They’re wicked in a “godly” sort of way. It’s just a powerless godliness. It’s a godliness that is powerless to effect any actual life-transformation.
These men are the reason “difficult times will come.” Not because of hostile Emperors, though Paul was sitting in prison and would soon die because of one. Not even hostile cultures, though many Christians have lost their reputations and their lives because following Jesus is often dangerously counter-cultural. The difficult days Paul has in mind here are difficult because wicked men will masquerade as godly men.
Here’s a question, then: Why would a wicked man pretend to be godly? Why would a “brutal, hater of good” act like a righteous man? They have discovered something: godliness is a key that can open the door to self-gratification. A person may have no desire to deny self, take up the cross, and actually be godly, but pretending to be godly may provide him with what he truly desires, namely, the satisfaction of his fleshly desires.
For example, Paul warned Timothy in his first letter about “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” These depraved people figured out how to make a pretty penny peddling godliness. There’s big bucks in “godliness,” if you know how to market it right.
The Christian “world” then, is going to be invaded by actors, people pretending to be one thing in order to get another thing. These people don’t want to be genuinely godly, they want to use godliness as a tool to gain what they genuinely want. To use economic terms, godliness is a “supply” for which there is some “demand,” and for which some are willing to “pay.”
So in 2 Timothy 3, you have a description of people who love self and money more than they love actual godliness, so they use godliness as a commodity to bring to market in order to raise “capital” for the things they truly love – pleasure, possessions, and acclaim.
What do we do with these men? Interestingly, we don’t find very many classes of “lost causes” in the Bible. By “lost causes” I’m referring to people to whom we don’t even bother trying to reach; people with whom we give up hope, cut our losses, and run away. These so-called “godly” people are a lost cause. Paul says with words that are powerful by means of their bluntness and brevity: “Avoid such men as these.”
As good and upright and noble and God-honoring as it is to sacrifice life and limb to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, or demonstrate the greatest love and die for the brothers, do nothing of the sort with these men. Just avoid them. Don’t reach out to them, don’t try to reform them, just turn your back to them.
Why? Because they’re dangerous, they’re sneaky, and they’re destructive. Let me get back to my economics metaphor. If fake godliness is the “supply,” where is the “demand?”
These men, as Paul indicates, “enter into households and captivate weak women.” They know where to look for “customers;” they invade houses to get them. Furthermore, they seek to “captivate,” which means “enslave” the “weak women” they find there.
I don’t think we need to apply a lot of imagination to see what’s really going on here: Evil men, pretending to be godly, invading households enslaving vulnerable women. A Bible under the arm, a verse on the lips, wickedness in the heart, zeroing in particularly on vulnerable women. That’s the picture painted here, and it’s as nauseating as it is sickly familiar.
Who are these “weak women” who buy the pseudo-godliness?
The term Paul uses is found only here in the New Testament. It means “little women.” The lexicons say it is “contemptuous diminutive,” which is why it’s translated “silly” (contemptuous”) or “weak” (diminutive). Contemptuous indicates it’s a term of sarcasm and ridicule, not affection. Diminutive carries the idea of disdain. We reverse the terminology in English when we say something like, “think you’re so great, big man?” The phrase means the man isn’t that big, and isn’t that much of a man.
Interestingly, it doesn’t feel like Paul has a great deal of compassion for these ladies, does it? This would be the time to call them victims and order the brothers to stand up and protect their little sisters, would it not?
Briefly, consider some of the characteristics of these ladies.
The first is that they are “weighed down with sins.” The idea in the Greek is “sins are heaped up on them.”
The idea of being “weighed down” must refer to the weight of guilt. Sins are weighty, they sink our spirits into the dust, and overcome us with crushing guilt. And here are ladies with big piles of sins.
The fact that they’re still weighed down with sin must mean that they’ve never found forgiveness in Christ, or to borrow from Bunyan’s picture, their burdens have never been released at the cross. This is supported by Paul’s statement that they haven’t been able to “come to the knowledge of the truth.” These aren’t Christians.
But their conscience is stirred. They are perhaps particularly immoral women to have such notably weighty burdens, but they recognize the reality of their sin, and therefore also righteousness and impending judgment. It is possible to be oblivious to the weight of sin, but these ladies are not.
The second is that they are “led on by various impulses.” The ESV is better when it says, various “passions.” These ladies are led around by their passions, like a bull led by a ring in its nose, or the Little Rascal’s donkey by a dangling carrot always just in front of it. Their passions lead them, and they follow after with no real resistance whatsoever.
And notice their passion isn’t singularly focused. They have “various” passions. They desire this, so they chase after it. Then they desire that, so they chase after that. James says a double-minded man is both unstable (1:8) and impure (4:8). So it would seem to be the case with these ladies. They are unstable, because any new desire can send them off in a new direction. They are impure, and their impurity creates these desires, followed by the guilt which crushes them down.
The third is that they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Presumably “learning” here refers to some sort of religious education. In fact, we might even be bold enough to consider it decent, wholesome education. But it falls short of “the knowledge of the truth.”
Now we have to ask this: Are they “unable to come to the knowledge of the truth” because they simply can’t find it? Is this an unfortunate case of looking for gold and only finding the gold of the fool? Is this a desperate search for truth that simply yields no results, making this a great and awful tragedy? These ladies might actually be the case study for the legendary jungle tribe yearning to know God but can’t find him because the missionaries haven’t made it there.
We need at this point to consider the market demand for defective theological instruction which Paul will touch on in the next chapter: “wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.”
This seems to be the case with these ladies. They desire teachers, but only a certain kind of teacher: they desire teachers who line up with (or scratch) their various passions. That means they need teachers, who are also unstable and impure. They need someone to help them manage the weight of sin, but without eradicating their endless pursuit of various passions. They need the relief of religious salve without the antiseptic sting of repentance.
Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door – oh, who could that be? Bingo! A man “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This is a match made in the fires of hell! She’s actually looking for a form of powerless godliness, and he’s peddling it. He enslaves her, feeding his own godless lusts, feeding her a steady diet of phony religion which eases the burden of guilt, and validation for pursuit of her own passions, feeding her godless lusts.
So at the end of the day, we find that Paul really has the same contempt for these ladies that he has for their captors, because ultimately they want the same thing – fulfillment of their passions under the guise of religion in order to somehow salvage their guilty consciences and simultaneously gratify their fleshly lusts.
The wretched part is that both parties – the men making a show of godliness and the women making a show of finding godliness – exist within the church, and Paul’s warning is this: they make life very, very difficult for the church. They make like difficult because they’re hard to spot, they make a good outward show of spiritual life, but they’re destructive – to themselves, to each other, to their pastors, and to the entire church.
What to do? Interestingly, Paul says to Timothy in regards to the ungodly men: “they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.” There’s hope here: “they will not make further progress.” But there’s also a pretty trying time: “their folly will be obvious to all.” It’s trying because that doesn’t happen overnight. And typically the pastor sees the folly before everyone else does, but the instruction would seem to be, just wait until everyone sees it. Then it will pass over. Or, to quote from his first letter to Timothy, “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.”
The silly, weak women? In the text, they seem to pass out of Paul’s consciousness almost as quickly as they came into it. He doesn’t dwell there long; it’s not a horse to be flogged. As usual, the bulk of the weight for the destructive behavior rests on the shoulders of the men. The warning to the women is this: Don’t be so overcome by a toxic combination of sin, guilt, and unhindered passions of various kinds that you become vulnerable to being enslaved by these wicked men, or worse, go chasing them down yourselves. Don’t be feeders of these monsters because of your unwillingness to hack off the legs or pluck out the eyes of your passions. Take your sin and its corresponding guilt to Jesus, not the ear-tickling teacher at your door. Don’t be a silly woman.
for my beloved sister
picture from Google images