1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:1-7)
Beginning in verse 3 the apostle Paul urges young Timothy to confront certain people regarding some teaching that was making its way through the church. It is like Paul is saying, “Timothy! Go and stir up further controversy in the church! Go and put down this teaching that is contrary to sound doctrine!” This is how Paul starts off in his letter. After his gracious greeting he gives Timothy this strong command. These are stern orders. You may not see this in a quick reading, but let me say this is an intense beginning. And we need to know why.
I want us this morning to look at verses 5-7 together. Last time we went through verse 5, but we will look at it again because it provides such important context to this remaining paragraph. Timothy has been charged with the important task of confronting false teachers in the church. Verse 5 tells of their aim, their purpose, what they are shooting for, and verse 6 speaks of the terrible plight of false teachers and results of following false teachers, and then verse 7 even gives insight into what was going on in the false teacher’s minds.
Please, let’s not any of us, in our pride – and we can be proud, right? – get to a place of thinking we are immune from false teaching, or that we cannot be tempted to believe what is false. This is a weighty subject and it is applicable to each one of us. We all have philosophies for living that we are bent toward, that we can easily gravitate toward, that may lead us into a way of living that is not God’s design for us, or that can lead us to judge others because they are not following what we think is biblical when in fact it may not be at all. We can all be driven to these things. I mean we may all have inward desires that may lead us to believe things that are not true according to God’s Word.
For example, you may be easily given to be fearful. Maybe you are a person that has lived with a certain level of fear for most of your life. Maybe as a parent you are fearful of how your kids will turn out and fearful over how outside influences may infect them. Fear is a powerful driver. If fear controls us then we may become susceptible to many types of false teaching. We may develop a way of life that leads to a bunker mentality, for instance, a sheltering that leaves no room for evangelism, or service to families who may not have the same convictions. We may even sense that God is not sovereign, that He is unable to care for us. And so we as parents must be careful not to buy into what plays to our fears. If fear is what most often drives our lives and decisions, to direct our path, to lead us in its way, then it has become our god. It is happy to be our god. And so false teachers can play on that, knowing that most people struggle with fear at least in some way. And so whole doctrines can be developed where things are promised to relieve fear. And out of desperation, we may just buy into it, do anything, believe anything to get relief.
If comfort is our god, then what? Then we may gravitate toward teaching that will lift up that god, praise that god, and teach us how to serve that god. We may move toward a “live and let live” attitude. What I mean is a leave people to themselves, don’t confront those in great danger because of their sin, mind our own business, a “we are not our brother’s keeper” mentality. This is common in many churches. We see it in a misunderstanding of passages that tell us not to judge others. Those passages are taken as though we are never to shine the light of God’s Word on anyones’s lifestyle, way of living. Just let it go, walk away, ignore, and don’t disturb your personal comfort.
What is your thing? Where are you susceptible to error? Is it pride and power, pleasure or peace? Control? Physical wellness? Popularity? Each of these can be so strong in our lives that when someone comes along that plays to these tendencies, we can fall prey to their error. So instead of warring against our weaknesses, we embrace someone who exploits them, cleverly finding a way to, again, couch them in biblical terminology and religiosity.
Many whites in the days of slavery in our country feared that the black man would be free and be equal in society. Whole doctrines were created using the Bible to argue that blacks should be kept down, that they were not equal. The Bible twisted and used to justify keeping a whole race of people down. Out of fear many bought into this. They wanted such a doctrine to be true, so when some offered one, they bought it. Because they wanted it, not because it was true. It appealed to their flesh.
What I am talking about is justifying sin instead of facing it head on and reading God’s Word as it is. And so please, let’s not develop a high minded attitude that we are incapable of falling prey to what is false. I have been there. I have thought, “Well I have my Bible, and so I am safe. I have my Bible, so I am immune from false teaching.” But this fails to realize that we are weak in our flesh, and our desires can be extremely powerful, very strong, and our hearts can be stubborn.
We may be more like Nicodemus than we realize. Do you remember the account of Nicodemus, the leader of the Jews? Do you remember how Jesus met with him in secret at night? How Nicodemus came to Jesus with a question? It was a fascinating discussion. In the discussion, Jesus obliterated Nicodemus’s false world of thinking and began to show him the depth of his false world. I say false world because it was not just his thinking, but his whole way of life that Jesus threw into question. He had given his entire life to a way of thinking and living he was the primary leader of his way, and Jesus rips up his path and begins to lay a new one for him. His world was rocked in a major way because Jesus gave him truth. Here is the discussion…
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:1-13)
Nicodemus, his whole life was spun around here. In awe he asks, “How can these things be?” In other words, “This is not what I have understood for my whole life.” He came face to face with a need for change in his thinking if he was willing to embrace truth. This is where we may at times find ourselves. Are we willing to read the Word and take it as it is, to study, to understand it rightly, to take it in and live it even if it runs contrary to what we have always believed or what we want to believe? What if obeying it, living it out requires suffering? What if it requires giving up something that we have dearly loved? What will we do? Are we willing to read it and study it with a mind that is already made up to live it out as we go? If that is not where we are, then we are more likely, I believe, to read our biases into it, to our own detriment.
Paul says in verse 5, after charging Timothy to face the false teachers with truth…
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5)
We talked about this last week and the importance of this singular verse. Our aim must be love – love for God and love for others. Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. A pure heart is a regenerate, obedient heart, a good conscience is a mind that is clear in regards to living for Christ, not a double minded man who claims to live one way but in reality lives another. And sincere faith, that is one without pretense, one that is not simply living a faith for their own selfish purposes, but living out the faith with a desire to please Christ.
These are statements of refreshment, or they should be. A real person who loves Christ and who is living for Him. This is a person who is loving others from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith!
There aren’t ulterior motives in their actions. There’s no effort of manipulation to control people. There is no effort to simply win someone over to some personal philosophy that one has adopted. No, it is just living for Christ and living for His glory. This should describe you and me, all of us who belong to Him. We are here to live for Him. So whether we eat or we drink or whatever we do, do all for the glory of God! (1 Corinthians 10:31) If this is not who we are, how we live, then we may be those described in the following verses.
Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion (1 Timothy 1:6)
Swerving from what? Again, these had wandered from or swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. What did they do? Where did this wandering or swerving take them? It took them to vain discussions. If we lose sight of what is real and what is pleasing to God, if we swerve from His truth, we may end up as these did in a pattern of vain discussions. Vain discussion is meaningless talk. We probably do that a lot. But here the meaningless talk was taking the place of God’s truth. In other words, it was not just that there were a few relatively meaningless conversations going on here or there, or from time to time, but these meaningless conversations were being passed off as more important than or worthy of replacing what God had laid out as truth. Talk that leads nowhere was replacing truth that leads to life!
We have these beautiful pictures in the Bible of what should be happening in our lives as a result of knowing and embracing truth, of how we are to grow up in Christ…
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2)
This growing up as Christians happens as we listen to and live out God’s Word. His Spirit works in us as His children through the truth He has given us. If you are a growing Christian, then think about how God’s Word has impacted your life. Think about how God’s Word has given you comfort, has pointed you to Christ, has strengthened your walk, has led you to reach out to your neighbors. Think about how God has communicated to you through His Holy Bible. What if all that was taken away, and it all was replaced by vain, useless talk? Your Bible taken from you and replaced by useless babble. This is what the church was facing. This is what is happening in our day too. The Bible and its truth minimized, and human philosophies gaining ground. We must be careful. We must be diligent.
Paul goes further to describe those who were replacing truth with lies…
desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:7)
Paul mentions that these false teachers desired to be teachers of the law. In doing so they were missing the mark regarding love and faith. So they were not serving in love or out of love, we can know that, and by this we can then assume that it was probably some kind of prestige that they were after. Prestige, perhaps like they had seen with the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:5-7 Jesus unfolds the motives of the Pharisees, and we can see what had been driving them as teachers of the law…
5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:5-7)
To serve in love is a different matter than to serve for attention and power. These apparently were after the latter. To be successful then meant to persuade others to follow them, follow them in order to achieve power and notoriety. And so their message, their teaching must appeal to the masses. They needed a popular message, and so they worked their message to appeal to those who were vulnerable.
In 2 Timothy 4, beginning in verse 3, Paul elaborates on this: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Teachers willing to teach to appeal to the people’s passions, and listeners who are looking for such teachers. All this being then a turning away from sound doctrinal truth. And back to 1 Timothy 1, verse 7, we see that their teaching will be very convincing: “without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” They teach with confidence. They don’t know what they are talking about, but they speak with great confidence – confident assertions. Dogmatism does not equal truth, and it never has.
Paul delivered important instruction for Timothy that was meant to exalt Christ and to safeguard the church. These words have been handed down to us. We have important instructions meant to exalt Christ and to safeguard the church. These are words for us.
In closing this morning I want to give you four principles that I hope will be helpful for you from this first paragraph that we have looked at over the last two weeks.
First, when teaching appeals to you quickly, when it seems to hit you just right…be careful, be cautious, be discerning, test it against God’s Word. Just because it feels right, that never makes it right. What is right is what God tells us, what Jesus proclaims.
Second, be willing to counter false teaching. There are times when we must speak. We are ambassadors of Christ, we are here for Him, for His glory, we are His. Who will speak if God’s people don’t speak?
Third, be willing to lead others, by example and with our words, to avoid speculative conversation that leads to confusion – stick with God’s truth when speaking definitively. What we know for sure is true is what has come to us from God. There are millions of things we can speculate about, but let’s not hold those speculations up to a level equal to what we know is God’s truth.
Lastly, be sure that confrontation, when necessary, is motivated by love for God and people – speak the truth in love. If we fail here, we will be arrogant and self-serving in our confrontations.
It is by God’s grace and the mercy of our Lord that we can know truth and live by it. He is our strength, He is our hope, He is to be our all. Let’s run to Him, follow hard after him, love Him. He is able to keep us and will keep us forever.
May each of us agree with the Psalmist, who has said…
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:23-28)
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)