Wednesday, April 13, 2016

1 Timothy 1:3-11 “Dealing with False Teaching”

After the  short but powerful presentation of his credentials  and his  greeting  to Timothy (1:1-2), Paul   gets straight to the point. There are evidently serious problems  in the church at Ephesus, a church  that  was established  on his second missionary journey  (AD 49-52)[1] by missionary labours  of Apollos in  Acts 18:24-28 and  by Paul  in Acts  19.   It was on this journey, according to Acts 16: 1-5,  that Paul met  Timothy (then probably only a boy)  and his family.  Much water was going to flow under the bridge  until about 10  or more years later  when  he would write his first letter to Timothy, who  at this time had been ordained [2]. At this time  Timothy had been serving the church in Ephesus,  as  we read in v. 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 …”.  Paul had  left Timothy  in Ephesus  whilst he travelled  north to Macedonia.  Being a young  and inexperienced pastor  in  a challenging  environment is no easy  task. I have been there myself when I  received the charge from this congregation  in  1990.  So, in this challenging situation  in which the apostolic  teaching  of the gospel  is undermined   in Ephesus, what must  Timothy do,   as he depends upon the grace, mercy and peace from God? 
Here’s what Paul offers by way of counsel :

Charge  certain persons from teaching  any different doctrine! (v.3)  

Different  doctrine! This  implies   that there is  a body of true doctrine which Paul, Timothy and the New Testament church knew to be the orthodox  teaching of Christianity. In  Acts 2:42 it was called  “the apostles’ doctrine” [3]  - a  core of apostolic proclamation and teaching which defined  biblical Christianity.   It was that  teaching which the  Ephesians  first heard and which they responded to  some 10 or more years  earlier,   and which is now being challenged  by  this different doctrine[4].  So now  Timothy  is encouraged by Paul to  firmly take hold of the situation by charging or commanding [5] certain persons  to stop  teaching  doctrine  that was contrary to what they had received.  Throughout this letters to Timothy we  here this charge repeated  e.g.   
  • command and teach these things” (I Tim. 4:11). “ O Timothy, guard  the deposit entrusted to you” (I Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14). 
  • “Follow the  pattern of the  sound  words that you  have heard from me….” (2 Tim.1:13). 
  • “What you have heard  from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will be able  to teach others also” (2 Tim.2:2).

The authority of the apostolic Word  of God is not to be trifled with. The Bible and the nature of  Christ  has been challenged  by many unorthodox teachers  in the history of the early church, and this fact gave rise to the wonderful summaries  of the Christian faith in terms of  the  Apostles creed, Nicene creed, Chalcedonian  creeds etc.  So Timothy  (and Titus in  1:10,11)  have  a pastoral duty and authority  from  God to  command and  silence  those  that  mislead  the  church of God  with this different doctrine.  We have the same responsibility today.  We must ensure that  the church is fed  sound   doctrine, that conforms to the apostolic teaching as we find in in the Bible.

Now,   it is amazing  to see how quickly  unorthodox teaching enters  the church. In  Acts 20:29 -31  Paul had previously  warned the Ephesian elders  concerning  the fierce wolves who would not spare the flock, and here we are! It is happening, and now Timothy was confronted with the damage caused by   these  persons teaching false doctrines to the church.
What was the content of their    different doctrine?  In v. 4 he elaborates. They apparently   “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations ”. 
In  v.6 Paul speaks about  them  having “wandered away into vain discussions, and in v. 7 he mentions that they  “desire to be teachers of the law, without understanding  either what they are saying or the things about  which they make  confident assertions…”

Oh how many people you find in the name of the Christian faith  indulging in  speculative  doctrines and myths and endless genealogies.  This is  very true  for Mormonism, a fast growing  false religion also  found in Namibia. This cult  originated with  a man called Joseph Smith.  He said  that in  1823  an angel named Moroni had appeared  to him.  The angel claimed to  be  the son of Mormon, the now dead leader of an American race known as Nephites. The story goes that two  groups, the Lamanites and the Nephites   had  migrated from  the  Middle East to the Americas between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. The  Lamanites eventually  defeated and destroyed the  Nephites in battle. All this claims to have been written down on tablets of gold and Joseph Smith  had discovered them  and copied   them, and  the originals disappeared when he had finished. The detailed account of these myths  is now supposedly contained in the book of  Mormon. It is  interesting  to note that  the Mormons  are obsessed with the genealogies of its members because of their strange doctrine  of  proxy baptisms for their dead relatives. Millions of people believe all this and  this teaching  has spread it all over the world. “Myths and endless genealogies” are still  alive  on planet earth! 

Today we also hear of  stories of people who say that they have gone to heaven and have come back, and  people  are  enamoured  with  their stories, but in reality this is all meaningless talk  because in the end this produces only speculation and not godliness. The best-selling story of a boy's near-death experience in 2015  was a fake. Alex Malarkey has retracted his story about going to heaven and returning.Co-written with his father Kevin Malarkey and published in 2010, the book purported to tell the story of six-year-old Alex's experiences in heaven after a car accident in 2004, which included meeting and talking to Jesus. Now, however Alex – who was left quadraplegic by the accident – has written an open letter to booksellers including the Southern Baptist Convention's Lifeway business recanting his story and taking aim at other accounts of "heaven tourism", a genre that includes Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo and My Journey to Heaven by Marvin Besteman….. Alex confessed : "I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. "I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.[6]

What  are   the consequences  of  false teaching ?

Paul says that they  promoted  speculations  (v.4) and  apostasy since  some in the Ephesian congregation  had  wandered away from  a sincere faith and have  turned to vain discussion (v.7). Such people  who  claim such mystic experiences  and enlightenment, often set themselves up as teachers   and  in the context in Ephesus  some of these have set themselves  as  “teachers of the law” (v.7), but they  were  the literally  the blind leading the blind, as they lead their followers  away from Christ  and into  darkness and confusion.   

It is in this context that Paul  provides us with a helpful understanding of the use of the law in  vv.  8-11. Paul says that the law is good  if one uses it lawfully  i.e. for the  end to which it was intended to be used by God (v.8). But then there is also  the  improper  (heterodox) use of the law.  Any good thing from God has  been and is being abused.  That is the nature of  the ongoing  Satanic subversion of the truth of God in Jesus.  Those false teachers in Ephesus ( the fierce wolves of Acts  20:29,30)  speaking twisted things  appeared to be . “teachers of the law” (v.7).  So these teachers of the law  with their  mystical  and speculative  inclinations kept ignorant people in bondage.  That,  however is not  the proper use of the law and so ,   in vv. 8-  10  Paul helps Timothy  to discern the proper use of the law.

The proper use of the law

The law defines what sin is. Paul gives us examples of what sinners  are like and what they do  in vv.   9 &10.  The list roughly  follows the outline of  the  10 commandments.  Sinners are  lawless and disobedient. They are ungodly and sinful. They are unholy and profane (irreligious/ polluted). Those are the sins against God. The next few  descriptions deal with  sins against  fellow human beings:  disrespect for  parents, murder, and sexual immorality of all kinds (homosexuality being explicitly  mentioned),those who enslave  others, and  who lie  and commit perjury  even under oath and so on!

The law of God is made for such lawbreakers  (v.9).  The law was given  not to condemn those who have been justified by grace through faith in Jesus, but  the law was given  to judge  “the lawless, disobedient, ungodly , sinners, unholy , profane…”. At the end of the ages. When the Lord Jesus Christ shall come to judge the living and the dead,   the law will  accuse  all such people, while  those who have trusted in Christ and  who have lived in dependence on Him for their  righteousness  are  freed from  the accusations of the law.

There is much more that can be said about the function of the law e.g. the fact that the law with its stringent demands  is used by God  to bring conviction of sin and  to drive us to Christ.  But  Paul doesn’t say it all here.    Paul is concerned  to help Timothy  in his work  as a pastor   to people  who were being enslaved by false teachers . False teachers  always lead people away from Christ by  making   secondary matters  (i.e. matters that are in the Bible … there are many mysteries ; there are genealogies , there is the law)  into primary matters, thereby losing Christ  in the process. Losing Jesus  means that  we  will easily  slip back into our pagan lifestyles with  its idolatry  and immorality  - all the things  addressed by the law .
So,  Timothy is to do all he can to put a stop to the spread of this teaching, such as mysticism and worthless speculations  on matters like genealogies. He is  to stop  this tendency by which people become enslaved  by  a legalistic framework. 

But the work of the pastor does not only consist in  dealing with such problems  negatively. Timothy must not only teach the Ephesian church in term of what not to do, but he must also instruct the church in a positive way. We see this in v. 4.  He talks about  that which  promotes God’s work, and he says it is “love (for God and man)  that issues  from a pure heart  and a  good conscience and a  sincere faith “ and in  v. 11 he gives us the object of that faith: “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God”. The gospel is  Jesus Christ, His person and work , and we shall see that  Paul continues    with that theme  in  1:12-17, ending  with that tremendous doxology in v.17

Myths and genealogies and legalism  promote controversies, but God’s work is promoted by “love that issues  from a pure heart  and a  good conscience and a  sincere faith“. Timothy was sent to Ephesus to save the church from being destroyed. His mission was one of love for God and for the church. That was the reason for silencing the mouths of false teachers, and if  Timothy fails  to do this then he will not truly love God or the church. Jesus  greatest outburst of anger  was  when He saw the temple of God  the House of Prayer  abused  by unscrupulous  marketeers. We too show our love  by our zeal for God and for His church. We will never show true love by way of compromising  with false teachers and their false doctrine.  
So many of our failures are failures  to  keep the two great commandments, that is  loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbours as  we would love ourselves. (Mark 12 :30,31).

Paul's advice to Timothy  is  therefore  : "Timothy,  do your work  at Ephesus  for  God with love  for God and for the church . Do this from a pure heart  and a good conscience  and a sincere faith .  Do this in accordance  with the  gospel of the glory of the blessed God with  which I have been  entrusted." 
Amen !

[1]  Second missionary journey : Acts 15:36-18
[2] 1 Tim 4:14
[3] See also   1 Cor 15:1-3 ;  Rom 6:17;  2Tim 1:13
[4] Greek : heterodidaskaleō
[5]  Greek : paranggelō  - para ( besides) & angelō (to announce)  - to pass on an announcement .

No comments: