Don't Feed the Trolls!
[Here are Pastor Joel's Notes from His Don't Feed the Trolls message. PTL!]
Trolls. Internet trolls. And then there’s the worst kind of trolls – Christian internet trolls. I thought it was interesting to talk about that subject a couple weeks ago on a podcast. Of course, we got a couple of dislikes. The trolls didn’t like being called out as trolls. “I’m a Christian. You can’t call me a troll!” Hey, look, if you’re angry like a troll, if you act like a troll, and you talk like a troll – YOU’RE A TROLL. We may be talking about the Bible but that doesn’t make a Christian somehow exempt from being a troll! Anyway, ever since that podcast, I’ve periodically gotten memes about trolls. One meme said, “I’m not saying you’re stupid. I’m just saying that you have bad luck when it comes to thinking.” Or “I’m guessing you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of grace teaching.” Or “I see no point in arguing with you. You do a fine job proving your ignorance on your own.” Or “Your mother didn’t wait 9 months for you just so you could become a troll.” I saw a Kermit the Frog meme in which Kermit said, “Many people don’t know this, but you can read something you disagree with on the internet and just move on with your life.” Or “I’m going to file that interpretation somewhere between ‘ignorant brethren’ and ‘false teacher.’”
I want to talk about general characteristics of false teachers, then go through what Scripture teaches about how we’re to conduct ourselves and communicate.
False teachers aren’t usually trolls, although their followers tend to be trolls, but this section of passages defines when you should walk away. Because God would not have you striving. He’d prefer that you just walk away.
I made the point on the podcast that bad doctrine and bad attitudes go hand-in-hand, which is certainly true enough. But sometimes even grace believers can have bad attitudes, as I did when I was young, because they don’t have enough good doctrine in them. Or they know tons of good doctrine, but in a moment, they ignore what Scripture teaches and make the choice to act in the flesh. Or you can have a believer who knows some sound doctrine, but they’re not willing to spend time in the Word, to let the words of Christ dwell in them richly, to renew their minds, and to apply those grace doctrines to their walk.
So what we have here are just broad, general, characteristics of most false teachers. Evidence of false teachers can quickly be discerned by poor behavior. Here Paul is instructing how to handle false teachers.
1Ti 6:3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 1Ti 6:4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 1Ti 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. 1Ti 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 6:7For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 6:8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 6:9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The big picture topic of this section is money, and the springboard to this entire discussion is false teachers. Just imagine. Timothy at Ephesus may encounter a false teacher, one who has a form of godliness, but his teachings are flat-out wrong. So Timothy would naturally want to engage this teacher to try to bring him into the knowledge of the truth. But based on his reaction, there are some teachers with whom Timothy should continue to have a dialogue, and there are some with whom Timothy should completely walk away. Do you know what it means when Paul says in from such withdraw thyself? It means don’t feed the trolls. When the conversation plummets into strife and doting questions, walk away. Don’t feed that troll. Mark him. Avoid him. And no longer engage him.
In vs. 3, Paul gives 3 outward characteristics to look for in those false teachers with whom Timothy should withdraw and have no interaction. First, the behavior is striving and doting about questions, from somebody who teaches otherwise… This is a person who teaches anything other than what Paul taught, particularly in these pastoral epistles. Second, the behavior is striving and doting about questions by one who consents not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ… They refuse to draw near to, yield to, assent to, wholesome words, which are sound words, the words of Scripture itself that supplies nourishment and health to the soul, spiritual words in stark contrast to the angry, vitriolic, carnal, striving, flesh-appealing words of trolls. What would be an example of some false teacher today? How about a certain pastor calling all of us spiritual bastards, and morons, or how he lumped Bryan Ross with a bunch of Calvinists and then questioned his salvation? Disgraceful. That is a man who refuses to consent to wholesome words. Paul says, from such withdraw thyself.
Paul is making the point here that their behavior of constantly striving and doting about questions reveals to us that these false teachers are 1) men who teach doctrines other than what Paul taught. 2) They are men who refuse to consent to wholesome words, because they’re destitute of truth. And, 3), these are men who doggedly refuse to accept and embrace the sound doctrines of grace, which is according to godliness. The sound doctrines of grace are the only means by which any of us can exhibit true holiness, true godliness today, which is to accept what God has accomplished in us through the cross, to see ourselves as God sees us in Christ, and we live our lives according to those truths yielding to His righteousness by studying His Word, meditating upon His Word, and staying in constant communion with God through prayer. If anyone refuses to open their minds to even the possibility of these truths, refusing even wholesome words, the words of the Lord Jesus Christ given to us by Paul, and the sound doctrines of grace, that man has shown us that he is too proud, fanatically too proud to accept truth even if it’s shown to him out of in God’s Word, and he’s addicted to doting about questions and striving with you. This brings us to inward and outward manifestations of his corruption.
First, he is proud. He elevates himself and his own thinking above God and the Word of God. Or, on the flipside, he horribly demeans others to elevate himself. He knows nothing. Of course, this man has some worldly knowledge, but he knows nothing when it comes to spiritual matters. Paul tells us in Eph. 4:18 that unbelievers have their “understanding darkened… through the ignorance that is in them.” In God’s eyes, even the most brilliant atheist is completely ignorant because he doesn’t possess His knowledge and His wisdom. Because he is ignorant, many false teachers probably not even saved, and instead of calmly considering the merit of what God teaches, he wastes his time demeaning others and arguing with people. And out of this corrupt state of mind and soul, we’d see some evidence of that corruption in his behavior. Paul said in the second half of vs. 4, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. Out of that corrupt mind and soul is a deeply envious man, jealous of someone who possesses more or is superior in some way, like having more knowledge. He is also guilty of strife, of resorting constantly to heated arguing rather than calmly considering His Word. Paul would write in 2Ti 2:23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 2Ti 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient… Strife isn’t just arguing. Strife is an all-out verbal war for total victory. Strife is you handing your foe a humiliating defeat in a contest of wills. Strife is you proving your superiority over your enemy, which goes against the very nature of Christ. We are to share the truth in love in a spirit of sincere meekness with gentleness and patience in order to persuade others to faithfully, intellectually, and emotionally accept the truth. He is also one who rails, one who rages in blasphemy. He is also guilty of evil surmisings. Do you know what surmising means? To surmise is to imagine something with little evidence. So evil surmisings is someone arriving at twisted, evil, worldly, illogical conclusions because he’s imagined a false narrative with little evidence. He is also given to perverse disputings of men of depraved minds. Have you ever seen perverse disputings of depraved minds? It’s not a pretty sight. These are arguments with no practical value between corrupt men, which is as apt a description of politics as one may find in the Bible. This phrase carries with it the idea of two objects rubbing against each other. When saints calmly discuss differing views based out of His Word, iron sharpens iron. But when it comes to perverse disputings of depraved minds, you have the idea of two objects rubbing against each other and causing damage to each other.
And we have two more qualities. Paul says he’s destitute of the truth. He is empty of the truth inside himself. In the context of this verse, the context of his pride, his over-indulgence in unprofitable arguments, being full of envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, etc., he is more than empty of the truth, he has actually defrauded himself of the truth, because he has closed the door in his mind from receiving and accepting the truth. If he wasn’t closed off to the truth and he knew what it is to be a sinner, owing his eternal life to the mercy and grace of God, he would not dare to persevere in teaching doctrines that are directly antagonistic to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ given to Paul to us. They would not live to argue and combat the words of the Lord, who died for us, and the One who is the ordained Judge of the quick and the dead.
And finally, this false teacher concludes that gain is godliness, which to me, is a blistering condemnation of the health, wealth, and prosperity teachers, who lie to the faithful by telling them that God’s purpose for their lives is to become wealthy and successful. Teaching that gain is godliness presupposes that gain is somehow representative of godliness, that gain is somehow evidence of God’s blessing upon you. This is covetousness masked by a thin veneer of a fraudulent form of godliness. Kelly said, “It is really to turn Christ's name to the account of present and worldly interests; it is an abuse of grace, an abandonment of truth, save in profession, and also a taking forethought for the flesh in order to satisfy its lusts; it is as alien as can be conceived from all that the Holy Spirit is now working on earth to the glory of God the Father.” Exactly. Totally agree. Teaching that gain is godliness is to take the desires of the flesh and pervert those desires into religious doctrine, which is blasphemy. Gain is not godliness but godliness with contentment is great gain. True godliness, walking with God in His Spirit, having a good conscience, gives contentment, no matter the circumstances or how much stuff you have. A believer who seeks heavenly things should no longer cling to earthly things, knowing that we brought nothing into this world, nor shall we carry anything out. If eternal things, eternal rewards and our eternal glory, are fixed realities in our hearts and minds, then we would naturally be content with the basic necessities of life. Jonathan Edwards once said that “Grace is the godly man’s treasure; and godliness [itself] is the gain he covets.”
Now get with me to Phil. 2. False teachers are not generally trolls but many trolls exhibit the qualities of false teachers, and these passages inform us when we should know that we must walk away. So let’s now contrast false teachers with how the believer is to conduct himself. Of course, we’re going to focus on vs. 3, but let’s consider the context, and this entire section together as a whole.
The Ultimate Anti-Troll Verse
Php 2:1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,Php 2:2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Php 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Php 2:4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.Php 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Php 2:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: Php 2:7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: Php 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
First, I would just have you notice that the evidence of Christ’s life in you is following in His example of humility. The one thing all these Christian trolls have in common is lack of humility. A condescending arrogance with the words they speak. I sometimes read the comments and think, “Okay, if I suddenly change my mind and embrace all your doctrines, does this mean I’m going to become an angry, vain, troll like you? No thanks. I won’t accept whatever it is you’re selling me about because I don’t want to be like you. In sales, they say you’re selling yourself as much as you’re selling the product. But in the spiritual realm, you’re not selling yourself, you’re selling Christ whose life should be manifest in you, which means that you’re selling Christ as much as you’re selling the gospel. So when it comes to internet trolls who call themselves Christians, I can’t help but ask, “Why should I care about your opinion about whatever it is when you’ve never taken the time to apply what Christ told you about how to LIVE? And how to treat others? How about Eph. 4:32? Be ye kind one to another. Tenderhearted. Or how about "speaking the truth in love?" Or having your "speech alway with grace seasoned with salt?" Or communicating in a way that " is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers?" Or how about Php. 2:3? “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” When Paul says lowliness of mind, it’s not so much thinking lowly of yourself but to think rightly and truthfully of yourself while also esteeming others as more important than ourselves. “The smallest birds make the sweetest music.”
Abraham said, Gen 18:27 “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, [and I] am but dust and ashes.” Jacob told the Lord, Gen 32:10 “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant…” Or you have Paul who said 1Co 15:9 “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” But above all, you are exhibiting the humility of Christ. Does esteeming others greater than yourself include your enemies and those with whom you disagree? Absolutely. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself esteemed us more important than Himself, when we were enemies with Him, and He came into this world to die for our sins. Php 2:8 “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Christ Himself lifted our needs above His own when He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And Paul would say, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”. Have the same mind that was also in Christ, the humble, loving, patient servant. He took the form of humble servant for our benefit; thus, we are to take the form of humble servant for the benefit of others. Because we have the benefit of His death, we should resemble His life. And letting this attribute of His life living out in us conforms us to His image, and the world may encounter Christ in us. Paul would say, Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory. We covered strife. Strife isn’t just arguing. Strife is an all-out verbal war for total victory. Strife is you handing your foe a humiliating defeat in a contest of wills. Strife is you proving your superiority over your enemy, which goes against the very nature of Christ. And strife goes hand-in-hand with vainglory, which is “exclusive vanity excited by one's own performances; empty pride; undue elation of mind.” That is one who is arguing and demeaning others to glorify himself. He loves to hear himself striving with others and display what he thinks is his own brilliance. We’re not in this spiritual warfare to glorify ourselves but to glorify not only the Lord Jesus Christ but also the holy Father in Heaven whom He seeks to glorify.
Speech ALWAY with Grace
Col 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. I would argue that this verse doesn’t simply mean that you know the right doctrines of grace when you answer every man but you also know the manner in which you should share those doctrines of grace. He said that our words are to be alway with grace. Notice he said “alway.” There are no exceptions. Alway with grace. Which means that we have to look past the behavior of unbelievers, look past their vitriolic words, and see their need, not their faults and deal with them in grace. Our speech must be always with grace because that’s the only way we can reach those who hate us. It’s not that our conversations with others take place within the framework of His grace, but that our speech alway with grace reflects the very nature and character of God’s grace living out of us regardless of who we’re dealing with or what they’re saying. There is kindness and love directed at that person even when it’s not deserved. Ignore the hatred, anger, vitriol, poor behavior. See the spiritual need and respond alway with grace seasoned with salt. Salt was used, particularly in Bible days, as a preservative of food from corruption. So our words of grace are seasoned with salt, seasoned always with truth, which makes our speech both savory and wholesome. Grace flavored with the preservative of truth and wisdom makes our conversations edible, makes us hungry for more, and keeps it from corrupting. Grace and truth in our speech demonstrates the influence of His grace upon our hearts and works His grace into the hearts of our hearers. This is one of those principles that’s easy to preach but hard to do. What does that look like? What does that sound like? I’ve not mastered this, but I want to. Grace believers should be masters of grace.
Tips when debating:
David Reid announces that he’s giving pushback before he gives it.
I love asking a question by citing a Bible verse.
Even though the person may have said something wrong, which you’d like to address, look for things to validate first.
This is timeless - Ecc 10:12 The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. How is it that the words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious? They are gracious in that they are always profitable. He is always gracious about sharing the wisdom he’s learned from His Word. He’s always gracious in terms of the demeanor with which the truth is shared. And he’s generous about sharing wisdom from God. But the immediate context would also seem to indicate that the wise man’s mouth is gracious in that precaution is taken to not cause injury by what is said. Ecc 10:11 Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better. This means that the gracious words are to be careful to not cause injury to others.
Conversation as it Becometh the Gospel
Php 1:27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; How would you define this? How would you describe a conversation that becometh the gospel? It’s not just conversation that wouldn’t turn you off from the gospel but conversation that draws you in to the gospel. A conversation that is a reflection of the loving nature and character of the gospel itself. Bullinger would say of this verse to “exercise your citizenship” but I’d say exercise your identity. Mike would often say, “People don’t care about what you know until they know you care about them.” One listener pointed out Php 3:19Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) Php 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ… Our identity is already heavenly. Our seats are already waiting for us in Heaven. So our conversations should be heavenly in nature, too. What does that mean? We speak in tone and words that reflect the nature of God – humility, love, grace.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Eph 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: What does that sound like? Can you think of examples of truth in love shown to you that affected you? So embody that in your own speech. When your speech is with grace, even when you’re not feeling it, it affects the way you feel. You feel good living this way! You’re creating an environment filled with grace and love!
Verbalizing thoughts that reflect that character of agape love is speech with grace. The love chapter. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, and thinketh no evil.” When we allow these attributes of love to live out of us and we put into words thoughts exhibiting agape love, they are words of grace. These are words that are tender and compassionate, kind and obliging; mild and gentle. Thoughts of grace in our words reflect the gracious attribute of God. They are words of love that rejoice in the happiness, the honour, the comfort of others. We are in that constant disposition to speak of our desire to see good fortune come to others, preferably over ourselves even. Words of grace never act out of place or out of the character of love. Words of grace observes decorum and good manners. Words of grace rooted in love is never rude, never bullies - ever willing to extend love to all men for the sake of their benefit, their edification.
Edification is a building up of a person in the faith and love builds them up in the faith, and that love that is felt is exhibited in words of grace to them and about them. Words of grace proves the love you feel. There is that connection between agape love and speech with grace because if there is love, then he would not think of evil or wish for evil in his words to anyone. Love thinketh no evil. Love speaketh no evil. Words of grace avoids the trappings of thoughts that do not embody agape love. Like love, words of grace would not rejoice in iniquity but verbally rejoice in the truth. Words of grace would not only rejoice in the truth, but also praise the one who speaks the truth to encourage that person for believing the truth. Just as agape love hopeth all things, words of grace expresses hope for the best to anyone while also remaining ever confident in our one hope in Christ.