GOD’S CHURCH, GOD’S WAY, Part 2

Fight Against False Teachers, 1:3—11

Very quickly Paul gets into the main reasons for writing this letter.  He spent all of two verses on the niceties, and with verse three he jumps right into why he is writing this letter to Pastor Timothy.  Verse three begins with an urgent plea for Timothy to stay put in Ephesus, and so we will begin this teaching with the same urgency.

1.  Stay where you are!  1:3, 4

3As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.

The very first thing Paul urges Timothy to do was clearly the most urgent thing Timothy must do:  remain in Ephesus.  Literally, Paul wrote this:  “Remain still there in Ephesus.”  It is a vigorous command; we might say, “I want you to stay put where you are for now!”

We don’t know a whole a lot about what Paul was doing during these concluding years of his life and ministry, but we are able to deduce that he was drawn to Macedonia and it seemed as though Timothy wanted to travel with him there.   This makes sense because Paul was elderly and in poor health and Timothy was young and vigorous and had proven himself to be a great asset to Paul’s preaching ministry.  It would have made perfect common sense for Timothy to travel with Paul into Macedonia.  However, sometimes the Lord wants His people to do things that go against our much lauded “common sense.”

There are times in life when it is easier to pack it in and move on than to remain in a difficult or uncomfortable situation.  There is an instinct buried deep within all of us to escape from seemingly impossible situations or onerous responsibilities.  The easy way out, or the path of least resistance, often looks very attractive to us and “common sense” would dictate that it would be better to move on than to continue banging our heads against a brick wall.  To escape to greener pastures and have a fresh start just seems to be the right thing to do under certain circumstances.  But when God says, “Stay put!” He has good reasons for it!  Sometimes God says “Go” and sometimes He says “Stay,” but whatever He says, God always has good reasons and we must be sure that we are obedient to His Word and will regardless of how we feel about it or whether or not it makes sense to us.  God’s will always makes perfect sense to Him.

Paul had been released from his two-year stay in a Roman prison and he apparently made a missionary visit to Ephesus.  While he was there, he encountered a problem that needed immediate attention, so he left Timothy there to pastor this important first century church and to correct the problem.  The problem was a common one:  certain men had come into the church teaching false doctrines.  The church has always had false teachers; within a few scant years of its founding, in fact, false teachers had infiltrated its ranks.   Paul does not mention their names, referring to them only as “certain men.”  Probably Timothy knew full well who these “certain men” were so Paul tactfully does not name them.   In verse 20 Paul mentions the names of two trouble makers—Hymenaeus and Alexander—who had succumbed to false teaching, so maybe they are included in the “certain men.”

What was the nature of their false teaching?  Paul gives us a hint, saying it involved “myths and genealogies.”   Most scholars believe these false teachers who wanted to be the “big shots” at the Ephesian church were Gnostics, who peddled a warped combination of Christian/Jewish/pagan mythology.  Verse 7 suggests that they were actually Jewish teachers who were caught up in ancient Jewish myths and legends found in various apocryphal writings during the Old Testament period.  In a parallel passage, we read this—

…pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.  (Titus 1:14)

Paul makes it clear that these new teachings were controversial and did nothing to promote the genuine work of the Gospel.  It may seem hard to imagine that people who had sat under the teachings of a man like Paul could be swayed by the ramblings of “wanna-bees,” but there is a segment of the church that is always anxious to welcome whatever is “new” or different.  The situation in Ephesus brings to mind two other situations, one in Galatia and the other in Athens—

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  (Galatians 1:6—7)

21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  (Acts 17:21)

In Galatia, false teachers had been welcomed into the church and were in the process of stealing its members.  Here were people who had heard the Gospel, responded to it in faith, had been growing in their faith, yet when the “new” and “exciting” teachings came along, they too easily jumped ship to run after them.  In Athens, the people liked to debate and pit their ideologies against whatever they considered to be old fashioned notions taught by “fuddy duddies,” like the Apostle Paul.

In every age there are people who love to indulge in strange mixtures of truth and error.  And it was Timothy’s job as pastor to guard his congregation against such teachings by teaching the truth and by administering discipline to those who went against the truth;   that is “God’s work.”  The word translated “work” is oikonomian, which literally means “stewardship.”  The objective of every pastor and church leader should be faith-centered stewardship based on the Word of God.   Any teaching that gets in the way of that objective or any individual that leads others away from that objective needs to be dealt with accordingly.

2.  Practice brotherly love, 1:5—7

5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

All church discipline should be administered in love.  The highest goal of all preaching and teaching is love—agape love.  It is the Word of God that draws God’s people together.  For church leaders, an expression of that love is combating error with truth through the faithful teaching and exposition of God’s Word and the protection of their congregation from false teachers.

For their part, the false teachers seemed to have gotten a foothold in Ephesus, and while their “new” teachings fascinated some, they only served to cause trouble and push the people apart.   That is a distinguishing mark of false teachers and false teaching:  controversy and consternation.

According to Dr. McGee, there three things that every church should manifest:

  1. Faith.  A church should manifest faith in both God and in His Word.
  2. Love.  Love is more than a word or an emotion; it is an active concern for others in the Body of Christ.  It means that you treat your fellows with respect and concern; you don’t gossip and tell tales.  It means you build them up, not tear them down.
  3. A good conscience.  Conscience is man’s “moral intuition.”  Although your conscience should never be your guide—that task should be left up to the Holy Spirit—it can serve as a kind of umpire, passing judgment on your current state, your thoughts, and your emotions.  In the believer, God often uses the conscience to “produce godly sorrow” which leads to repentance, 2 Corinthians 7:10.

These three things, according to Paul, needed to be manifested first by Timothy, then by his congregation.  These false teachers, though, had completely missed the mark and turned from the truth to “meaningless talk.”  The Greek word is very descriptive and used only here in the New Testament; it means “empty babbling.”  Nothing is emptier than teaching devoid of God’s Word.  Somebody can stand behind a pulpit, look the part, speak well and sound impressive, but if what they are teaching is not of God, they are mere “wordmongers,” saying nothing of value to anybody.  Paul’s opinion of these men couldn’t be clearer:  they thought they are so smart, but in reality they knew nothing, they didn’t even understand what they were trying to teach others.  They deluded people for they themselves were deluded.

3.  Proper teaching, taught properly, yields results, 1:8—11

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Paul had identified the false teachers at Ephesus as men who had appointed themselves as learned teachers of the Law, and now he points out that HE knew all about the Law, and that the Law was good, but that these false teachers had taken it and perverted it.  God never gave the Law to His people as a means of salvation, which was part of the false teaching.

An interesting phrase that needs our attention is:  “[the] law is not made for the righteous.”  What was Paul getting at?  Did he mean that the righteous no longer need to concern themselves with mundane things like right and wrong?  Of course not!  As Paul taught elsewhere, the Law served our “schoolmaster” to lead us to Christ, and to know Christ is to have that Law inscribed on our hearts.  This is part of the “new covenant” as prophesied by Jeremiah—

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  (Jeremiah 31:33)

But that written Law condemns sinners; it points out the wrong in their lives.  Paul gives a list of the kinds of sin and behavior the Law condemns.  As if to drive his point home, at the end of his list, Paul adds, probably with a twinkle in his eye:  and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. In other words, the teaching of these false teachers directed at Timothy and his congregation would be better directed at themselves!   The false teachers immersed themselves in wild and fanciful teachings because they never saw their true state:  sinners in need of the Gospel.  Christians who fall for false teaching need to take heed of this fact.  What does it say about a Christian who is so easily swayed by a phony Gospel?  What does it say about their conscience?  What does it say about the Law that is supposedly inscribed on their hearts?

It is difficult to imagine any teaching more powerful than the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.”  This was the teaching entrusted to Paul and to Timothy.  Sound doctrine demands that a person keep God’s Law.  At the same time, sound doctrine declares that a person cannot keep it; it reveals that without Christ that person is lost.   The Gospel is glorious, and sound doctrine must be taught because people need to know their true condition and the only remedy for it:  the pure Word of God.  False teaching is attractive because it never demands that a person see themselves as God sees them:  a hopeless sinner, lost forever.  Nobody wants to see themselves like that, so they cling to the kind of teachings that make them feel good about themselves.

God loves you and He values your soul to the point where He would rather make you feel uncomfortable  about yourself so that you’ll change than stroke your ego and let you go on living in a fool’s paradise.

God’s church, done God’s way promotes real love founded on the truth of God’s Word and the proclamation of sound doctrine.  It’s easy to manipulate people’s feelings and emotions, but God calls for changed lives and He wants His truth written on our hearts so that we will manifest love for Him and for each other, faith, and be able sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Don’t get flim flammed by false teahers.

(c)  2010 Witzend
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