The word of the day is “truth.” In matters of faith more than any other, the truth is of utmost importance. But how do we arrive at the truth? Some think that they can achieve truth by constant study. In our reading of 2 Timothy 3:1-9, the apostle teaches that those who rely on human inquiry are deluded and subject to delusion. He observes that they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vs. 7). If we do a “close reading” of this verse, we can find suggestions about avoiding endless and fruitless pursuits of learning about the spiritual. At the same time, we can discover how to reach the truth of the sacred things of God and our salvation.
Learning by Observation
To be constantly learning sounds like a good thing. The Greek term for learning refers to the “observation” that increases knowledge of the world (Strong’s 3129, 256). Of course, such learning is often useful and enriching. But the term “always” refers to the constant investigation that this method of learning demands. It aims to expand the boundaries of personal and human knowledge continually. But that motive prevents the commitment, devotion, and dedication to the Lord necessary for spiritual understanding.
Imagine a scholar who spends a lifetime studying the resurrection of Jesus Christ and never attends a Pascha service. She might know more about the facts, information, and different ways of viewing the resurrection than all the other worshippers combined. She is committed to learning even more. Yet, by her never-ending study will never come to the truth of the Risen Christ.
These insights suggest that our motivation for spiritual understanding should be more than curiosity, inquisitiveness, broadening the mind, and tolerating other points of view. We should approach the learning of sacred things as if our salvation is at stake. That is why John joins the other writers of Scripture in their earnest warnings against “false teachers,” “corrupt minds” (vs. 8), and deceivers of the faithful.
The Goal of Full Understanding of the Spiritual
The appropriate goal of spiritual learning is not entertainment, enrichment, or interest. In our selected verse (vs. 7), the apostle teaches that our aim should be to “come to the knowledge…” The Greek word for “knowledge” has a prefix that expresses the idea of “full” understanding. This complete comprehension does not come at once but gradually grasps the subject matter as a whole.
By this wisdom, Paul teaches that to reach the spiritual truth, eclectic, and piecemeal understanding is insufficient. Those who would know the Lord and the way of salvation must be dedicated to growing in their comprehension of spiritual teachings. What one learns as a child is hardly adequate for the challenges of adult life. Paul complained to the Corinthians that he could not speak to them as “spiritual” persons but only as babies in Christ. He said, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food, for until now you were not able to receive it…”(1 Corinthians 3:1-2). In the same vein, the apostle wrote in Hebrews. “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age… Therefore, leaving the discussion of elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection…” (Hebrews 5:6:1).
Arriving at or Entering into the Truth
Such mature spiritual understanding is something that we should “come to…” according to our selected passage. The Greek word for “come” can mean “arrive at” (Strong’s #1933). That translation suggests that the truth is a destination that is reached only after concerted effort. We might hear stories of sudden conversions, unexpected revelations, and instant insights. But in most cases, the Lord prepared those who received these miracles. A long struggle and sincere search for answers to the questions of their souls made them ready to receive the enlightenment that seemed to come so suddenly.
But then again, the term “come” in Greek may also mean “to enter” (Strong’s #1933). Spiritual knowledge is not objective in the sense that an external perceiver can discern it. Objective perception does not require faith but only observation. But knowing by faith “enters” into the reality of the spiritual world. This “entrance” into the truth means that there is a likeness between what is known and the one who knows it. Thus, as Thomas Aquinas, Nikolai Berdyaev, and other philosophers have noted, “The knower participates in the known.” According to this principle, the knowledge of holy things requires that we share in a relationship with them. Accordingly, we come into the knowledge of the truth by and through our participation in the life of the Church and the relationships of its fellowship.
Knowing the Deep Things of God
Finally, according to our chosen verse (7), we must come into the “knowledge of the truth.” It is doubtful that those who are constantly learning without finding the truth would recognize the truth if they came across it. Their knowledge is superficial. Their shallow minds cannot delve into the depth to the things of the Spirit. Paul speaks about this depth when he writes, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-11).
We have noted that knowledge requires a likeness between the knowers and what they know. Accordingly, Paul observes that no one knows what is in the heart and mind of other persons except they themselves. This means that only the Spirit knows what is in the heart and mind of the Spirit. Now Paul gets to the point, “We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). That is, we can only know the truth of God and salvation by the Spirit.
The truth of sacred things is hidden to those whose minds dart from here to there in the clouds of their own limited understanding. They have neither depth nor discernment. But those who by faith plumb the depths of the spiritual world finally arrive at the deep truths of Christ and salvation, truths beyond ordinary words, images, or concepts. They come to know them because the Spirit reveals them to them.
In conclusion, this single verse of Scripture points us to the path that leads to our entrance into the truth of the sacred things of God and our salvation in Christ. May we leave our own small-minded knowledge behind and follow the leading of the Spirit. And by the Spirit may we search the depths of understanding that God seeks to reveal to us. Then we can be assured that we will attain the knowledge of the truth.
Mathew the Poor wrote about the human condition and its lack of knowledge of the truth. He taught, “So many matters are incomprehensive and unknowable… There is a cloud of mental darkness hanging around them.”
Matthew went on, “This human condition has a remedy, however. The remedy is faith. By faith, man can transcend his lack of knowledge. By faith, he can transcend the divisiveness of his knowledge. By faith, he can transcend this mental darkness. Although faith is an incomplete and somewhat incomprehensible vision of God, its reward is tantamount to perfect and clear vision. Faith actually prepares for vision. By faith, we receive here and now the power of the resurrection in which we will see God face to face: “…for we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13: 12, 13) (Matthew-the-Poor 2003, 84).
Works Cited: Matthew-the-Poor. 2003. Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way. Translated by Wadi El-Natroun The Monastery of St. Macarius the Great, Egypt. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.