The Empty Suit Sndrome
Have you ever heard of the ‘empty suit syndrome?’ The term ‘empty suit’ was coined several years ago to describe a person who looks good, dresses in style and looks the part, but who lacks any kind of substance. The ‘empty suit syndrome’ places great emphasis on appearance, with little focus on the depth of personality and character. The modern era and post-modern era has continually brought to us a focus on the vain and temporal. We have become a society enamored with looks, appearances and style.
This ‘empty suit syndrome’ has crept into the church today. Too many attend out of duty but with no passion for God; some participate in the body of Christ as a social exercise so that they will have something to do and friends to relate to, but with no desire for Jesus Christ. There are too many spiritually empty suits, if you will, in the church, devoid of spiritual power and the Word of God.
This type of thing must have been on Paul’s mind when he penned his last epistle, 2 Timothy. It would be in 2 Timothy 3:5 that Paul would write to Timothy to warn him of false teachers, leaders and members that would invade the church after his death – “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” This monumental verse is staggering in its implications. It set in the larger context of a passage that speaks of the difficulty of the ministries:
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.”
This is substantial. Paul tells Timothy to avoid the empty suits of the church. The words of 2 Timothy 3:5 are telling:
Ø Avoid those “…having the appearance of godliness…” The term for “appearance” can also be translated “form.” The Greek term is ‘morphosin’ from the root word ‘morphe’ from which we get our term metamorphosis, which refers to a change, but in this case refers to outward appearances that are absent any content. It is a reference to a form without substance. There was an outline without anything in the middle. It’s like a cookie cutter, but with no dough in the middle. And what was the appearance of these false teachers, leaders and members? It was the appearance of being godly. These false teachers, leaders and members were playing church, but had no clue as to the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Ø And what did Paul say about these teachers, leaders and members who appeared godly but weren’t? He notes that they have denied the real, authentic power of God. Read verse 5 again, “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” The word for “deny” is ‘arneomai’ and carries with it the meaning of deliberately and intentionally disowning, refusing or denying a thing. In other words, in these ‘empty suits’ there has been a willful rejection of the very godliness that they are attempting to represent.
Ø And what was it they were denying? Again, read verse 5, “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” The term for “power” is ‘dynamin’ and is the root word from which we get our word dynamite. And what is the power of God? The power of God is the third person of the trinity – the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:7-8 unfolds the promise of the power of the Spirit: So when they had come together, they asked him, “‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” The unveiling of this power would be unleashed at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on His disciples as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:14-21 states it well: But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
Ø Paul’s command to Timothy was to avoid such people who had the appearance of being godly, but who had deliberately denied the power of God in the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:8 identifies two examples of this kind of ‘empty suit’ spirituality, Jannes and Jambres. Jewish history identifies these two men as the men referenced to in Exodus 7:11-12, men who were magicians before Pharaoh and who challenged Moses as he came to declare the Word of God – let Israel go! In essence, spiritually empty people are nothing more than spiritual magicians with no real power. Avoid such men!
How can we avoid this kind of ‘empty suit spirituality?’ It comes from being filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 commands, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” And Ephesians 4:30 states, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Further, 2 Thessalonians 5:19 states, “Do not quench the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we are to be filled and controlled by the Spirit of God just as a drunkard is controlled by intoxicating drink. In essence, we are to be spiritually intoxicated. This is what it means to be a Christian (Baptist) Pentecostal. To be reborn, regenerated, filled and controlled by the precious Holy Spirit of God! So, how do we become filled and controlled by the Spirit of God? How can we avoid being an empty suit that denies the very power of God?
Paul answers this question in 2 Timothy 3:10-17: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Paul outlines several things in 3:10-17 that Timothy needs to incorporate into his life if he is to avoid being an ‘empty suit’ and if he is to deal with those who deny the very power of God. These are amazing principles that are as current for us as they were for Timothy in day!
Ø Check up to see if you’re a saved person! This is what Paul reminded Timothy of in Chapter 1 (vs. 5): “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” An empty life is overcome by being a saved person, filled and sealed with the Holy Spirit of God.
Ø Hook up with a spiritual mentor! In 2 Timothy 3:10-11 reminds Timothy of how he had followed Paul’s example. That is, Paul was a mentor to Timothy, praying for him, giving him advice and helping to guide him spiritually so that Timothy would avoid the many spiritual pitfalls that can trip up a believer. As a result, it is imperative to hook up with a spiritual guide. There is great accountability in the mentoring process. Find someone who is spiritual in your life who will pray for you, love you and hold you accountable.
Ø Stand up and get ready for hard times! Paul reminds Timothy that following Christ will be difficult at times as 2 Timothy 3:12-13 notes – “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” The hard times would be characterized by 1) individual persecutions and by 2) having to deal with imposters who would invade the church in an attempt to sidetrack her from the Word and from her mission. His word to Timothy is not very sympathetic – instead he challenges him to expect hard times. Hard times are on the way, especially hard times brought on by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ø Fill up your head and heart with God’s Word! Adding to a spiritual check up, a hooking up with a spiritual mentor and a standing up under the onslaught of persecution, we are to add filling up on the inspired Word of God as noted in 2 Timothy 3:14-17: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Ø Finally, look up for Jesus is on His way! Again, this was Paul’s last letter prior to his death in Rome. Yet, he would write in 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” The Lord is coming in two ways in terms of day. There is the ‘day’ of the Lord and the ‘Day’ of the Lord. Small caps ‘day’ is the day you will die. More than likely, that day will come before the LARGE CAPS ‘DAY’ of the Lord comes – the day the Lord Himself returns. But no matter if Jesus comes for you on your day of death or if He comes on His day to take the church away, the hope of Jesus’ return is something that ought to fill us with power and confidence (2 Thess. 4:18).