Monday, February 27, 2017

1 Timothy 6:2b-10 “False Teachers stir up Discontentment- The Sound Words of Jesus produce Godliness with Contentment! ”

Contentment! We find that word at the heart of our passage. Paul says in v.6, “Now there  is great gain in  godliness with contentment. To the Philippians he writes,  “ ... I have learned in whatever situation I am  to be content.”  To be content means to be in a state of happiness or satisfaction. What  a satisfying  word   that is, and  yet, what an elusive word that is.  Can you say with Paul, “... I have learned in whatever situation I am  to be content?  An answer to  this question would be multifaceted, as I  have realized when  in recent times I had made  a  study of   the subject of contentment. 

Here then  is a further contribution to  that investigation, and my  further  thought  on the matter,  as it arises from  our text, is this: False teachers or false teaching  are  a major source of    our discontentment, whereas the sound words  of our Lord Jesus Christ  are the true source of real contentment!  This text teaches me that  there are thoughts and ideas   promoted by false teaching  that lead to discontentment and there  are thoughts and ideas  promoted by the  sound words  of our Lord Jesus Christ that  lead to godliness  with  contentment. 

In our recent studies in Paul’s first letter to Timothy we have seen that Paul has stressed the importance of the maintenance of good relationships in the church.  He does this in a number of interesting ways. In Chapter 5 we have seen how he counsels Timothy, pastor at Ephesus, to deal well and wisely with older men and women, and also with younger men and women in the church.  In particular, he stresses the importance of looking after genuine widows in the church, whilst helping families also to take care of their   widows. He counsels younger widows to remarry and so to become settled, and not restless and problematic in the church. He also counsels that the fulltime elders of the church, those that labour in preaching and teaching, should be well looked after. Too many pastoral families have   had their relationships soured  because the church did not obey this basic  injunction which  underlies  the support of  those  who work  for the  church: Don’t muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.[1]    Furthermore, Paul teaches that good relationships between Christian slaves and their masters   (or between employees and employers) were needed to reflect the worthy name of God. 
Nothing adds more to our discontentment than unstable relationships fostered by unstable teaching or emphases. Paul teaches us that it is important to  promote  stable relationships in the church at many levels through wise, biblical counselling  that leads people to godliness with contentment.

And now Paul says: “Timothy, teach and urge these things”[6:2b]. These few things or  matters  that we have  considered in chapter 5 and into chapter 6 are of course  illustrative and not exhaustive, and it is in this context that  Paul  provides  further  counsel for maintaining  sound  and stable relationships.  

Stable relationships must be built on sound, balanced doctrine. Balance means that biblical truths are taught in context and that these truths are weighted appropriately. Terms such as ‘law’ and ‘grace’, for instance, must be understood against the entire emphases of the Bible. Wrong emphases here can easily lead to lead to legalism (Galatians) or antinomianism (Corinthians). Furthermore, sound doctrine must not only be believed. It must be practised. Otherwise it becomes hypocrisy. Paul has already reminded Timothy (and us) in 4:16 to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (doctrine). It is not just doctrine (correct belief). It is also yourself, how you live out to that sound doctrine! There are people that are thoroughly orthodox in their beliefs, but they themselves live and behave in contradiction to the doctrine which they say they believe.  This contradiction always produces conflict in the church, in the home and at work.
I needed to remind you of this as we now come to the next statement: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness…”
Let us stop there for a moment!  Paul makes a contrast between different doctrine and the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ.   What is the difference? The   outcome is different:

(i)                 The different doctrine (Gr. heterodidaskaleō), in Paul’s own words   leads to this:  “he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant frictions among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” [6:4,5].

Three things are characteristic of false teachers: pride, ignorance, and preoccupation with obscure things. All you need to be a heretic is a little pride, and a little intelligence plus  the gift of speaking,  and you've got the perfect ingredient for heresy.  But there’s more to be considered. In vv.9-10 Paul adds this : “But  those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction, For the  love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”  

The outcome of  ‘different doctrine’  is  that it produces an unhealthy desire for financial gain. The  false teacher  thinks of godliness in a very  different  way than Christ had intended. For them “godliness is  a  means of gain”. And so we find that prosperity  teachers  have a very different goal in mind  in their teaching.  They  redefine terms.  Godliness  to them means,  being healthy , happy and wealthy. Thus they are successful because they give people what their  depraved  hearts  want to hear  (6:5)   and  in the process  they  get very rich from their conferences and books they sell. A visit to the local bookshop confirms this. The religious section  carries  by far more books by false teachers.  The irony is that although these authors  outwardly promote  the pursuit of contentment, yet in very real terms they actually breed discontentment by replacing Christ  with  material emphases! If you were to turn on the television today or any day of the week, most of the so called Christian TV channels do exactly what Paul is speaking about here. They are turning Christianity into a means of gain.  And they teach that  that God wants you to be physically healthy and materially wealthy and that if you’re not, it's because you don't’ have enough faith or because  you haven't yet  bought the holy anointing oil or water, consecrated by the apostle  from them.  So, it was very common then, 2000 years ago. It is common now. . Paul  makes it clear that that is not what Christianity is about. The gospel in fact does bring great gain ,though not the kind false teachers are looking for.

(ii)               The  sound words of our Lord Jesus, by way of contrast, “accords with godliness”(v.3)   or “godliness with contentment”(v.6).  This is  the sound doctrine that Paul  and the other apostles taught. It is true apostolic teaching. It is  Jesus’ teaching . The apostles were literally  the messenger boys  (Gr. apostellō) of Jesus. They had nothing new or novel to say. They spoke  the balanced truth  and in  the tone that  Jesus taught them. This teaching leads  to godliness with true contentment, and it applies whether you are rich or poor, healthy or sick, happy or in emotional turmoil. The sound words of our Lord Jesus  transform your life so that the truth is lived out in godliness. It leads to  a life of true  holiness, in commitment to God in  Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it leads to contentment.


I remind you again that the  NT epistles constantly warn us to be on the  watch against false teachers – those who would rob us of  our true peace and contentment in the Lord Jesus.  Paul, in his three so-called “pastoral epistles” has a lot to say about false teachers and teaching[2] and the outcome of their teaching. And its’s all focused on  stuff that Jesus never focused on: “myths, endless genealogies which promote speculations… certain persons  … have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law without understanding either what they are saying, or the things  about which they make confident  assertions” [1 Tim 1:4-7]. They are led by  “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…” [1 Tim 4:1]. They are focused on material gain [1 Tim 6:9,10,17]  and engage in irreverent babble and quarrel about words  in the name of wisdom  and godliness. They are fixated on controversial questions and disputes about words.  This was the problem of the Pharisees.  Jesus said that they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They get fixated on some aspect of truth and make that secondary or tertiary aspect a major aspect of their teaching.  One man tells the story of  how  he was once introduced  to someone  in the congregation  and as he struck out his hand to greet him the man said, not   “Hi, Hello, I'm  Peter...”  but,  “What do you think about the little horn of Daniel?” There are people who  fail to  read the moment. They  have  an unhealthy interest in the obscure. But mostly, they oppose   true, sound doctrine [2 Tim 3:8]. Paul says: “They profess to know God, but  they deny him by their  works “ [ Tit. 1:16]

Sound doctrine is plain. Its results are plain. It leads to godliness with contentment.
False doctrine leads to personal ungodliness and discontentment at many levels: home, work and church. Please note that whereas sound doctrine is plain and straightforward in appearance, this different doctrine has many ugly tentacles and faces (see vv. 4,5)
Now, we are not suggesting that sound doctrine is easy to grasp. Many struggle with it, and we must struggle.  We are fallen beings. The gospel is contrary  to our sinful nature and therefore contrary to our natural thinking. Sin must be unlearned, and replaced with biblical gospel thinking. That takes time, and it takes repeated reminders  and sitting under  the teaching of the  sound gospel as long as we live. And how do we know that we have it?  When sound doctrine  leads to sound living.
Our fundamental concern must be that  the truth as it is in Jesus  should lead us  to transformed lives [see Romans  12:1,2] characterized by love for God,  and by loving service for  one another and  by loving service to a lost world. 

True godliness may be firm and bold, because it believes the truth as it is in Jesus,  but is not contentious for the sake of being contentious. It is not quarrelsome. It is kind and gracious and patient.    One way to guard against  sliding into  false doctrine  is to consistently  check  whether the truth  produces more Christ-likeness in us , leading us to more godliness and true contentedness. The gospel does bring great gain, but it's not the kind of gain that the false teachers are talking about.
May the Holy Spirit  be pleased to deeply embed the truth in our hearts , to make us  able to discern different doctrine   from  the sound words of our Lord Jesus. Amen !

[1]  Deut. 25:4 ;  1 Tim. 5:18;  1 Cor. 9:9
[2] See 1 Tim 1:3-11 4:1-5; 6:3-10,20 ;  2 Tim 2:16-18,23 3:1-9,13; 4:3-4,15; Titus 1:10-16 ; 2:9-11

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