Guard Your Head and Your Heart: Part 1
Passage: 1 Timothy 1:3-7
I’m sure all of us have been amazed and amused many times at how the human mind can wander. Have you ever been an hour into a late-night conversation with friends when you suddenly realize that you are discussing the oddest, most random topic? Maybe you are talking about some obscure scientific question or something really gross, and someone finally asks, “Why are we talking about this?” Everyone realizes how strange the conversation has become, and you begin to trace how the conversation evolved. It‘s amusing to see how a conversation about the Presidential race devolved into a discussion about moldy food in the refrigerator. Our fallen minds have an incredible ability to wander off track. But sometimes our wandering tendency doesn’t end with an amusing laugh; sometimes it can have danger consequences. Sometimes Christians and even whole churches can stray from a godly pursuit and fall into a dangerous ditch. Of course, sinful lusts for pleasure lead people astray all too often, but sadly our hearts are so deceitful that sometimes even good things like theological study can wander in an unhealthy direction. This was happening to the church at Ephesus. There were men in the church who had probably started well and had advanced into positions of leadership but then they got off track. Curiosity over inconsequential questions distracted them from the issues that really mattered, and their pride was pushing them to pursue their own glory rather than the good of the church. Sadly their mental rabbit trails were taking them and the church down a path of devastating consequence. The story behind this text is very sad, and it ought to serve as a sobering warning of the importance of clearly seeing the goal God has called us to pursue and of staying focused on that goal.
There are three easily identifiable sections to this paragraph. In vv. 3–4 Paul reminds Timothy of the responsibility he had been given to confront this false teaching, which was having such destruction effects. Verse 5 follows by articulating the goal of spiritual transformation that God is trying to accomplish in his people. God’s purpose for biblical instruction is to produce a sincere godliness that transforms all of life. Verses 6–7 follow by reflecting on how some had lost sight of this goal and wandered into vanity and sin. This morning, we are only going to deal with vv. 3–4, and, Lord willing, we will look at vv. 5–7 next week. I’ll say up front that this sermon may seem a bit scattered at the beginning as we try to piece together exactly what was going on in Ephesus, but if you stick with me, I have some important conclusions that we will draw from this passage. Let’s begin by considering…
Timothy’s Setting (v. 3a)
Normally, Paul begins his epistles with some kind of friendly, warm thanksgiving but not 1 Timothy. Paul gets right down to business by reminding Timothy of the mission he had been given. Timothy was in Ephesus was to confront false teachers. The abruptness with which the epistle begins highlights the urgency of situation. The false teachers were having a devastating affect on the church. But in the midst of giving his initial charge to Timothy, Paul gives us some information regarding the historical setting of the letter that is important for our study of the book.
Hopefully, you recall from last Sunday that the Pastoral Epistles were written after the events of Acts took place. Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment and enjoyed at least a couple of years of free ministry. During this time Paul heard about the influence of false teachers at Ephesus, and he sent Timothy to deal with it.
Sometime after Timothy arrived in Ephesus Paul took a journey into Macedonia, which was across the Aegean Sea from Ephesus. Verse 3 seems to indicate that Timothy left Ephesus and met up with Paul somewhere along his journey. Timothy apparently updated Paul on the situation at Ephesus, and Paul urged Timothy to deal aggressively with the problem. Essentially, vv. 3–4 rehearse what Paul had told Timothy during this meeting. It’s probably fair to assume that once Paul reached Macedonia, he wrote this letter to Timothy to help him deal with the situation. This letter from Paul would also give Timothy’s efforts an apostolic stamp of approval, which of course would be helpful for establishing his authority with the Ephesians.
In sum, Timothy’s setting is Ephesus, where Paul had sent him to address the problems created by false teachers. Paul then goes on in vv. 3–4 to remind Timothy of what he had said. In so doing, he gives some important details regarding the opposition. Let’s talk next about…
We need to answer some questions about the opposition if we are going to really understand this text and much of what is coming in this epistle. First…
Who were the false teachers?
Last Sunday, I read Acts 20:30. Several years before Paul wrote 1 Timothy, he had warned the Ephesian elders, “from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples.” It seems that this is exactly what happened (1:6, 19–20). These verses indicate that the false teachers were not outsiders who were trying to make inroads into the church. Instead they had a profession of faith, and they probably had been members of the Ephesian church, maybe even elders in the church. I would have to imagine that their history in the church made them far more difficult to deal with. Their relationships probably gave them more credibility than they would have had otherwise. People probably had a hard time seeing them as wolves rather than as fellow-sheep. I’m sure that those relationships made it more difficult to remove them. You can almost hear someone saying, “We can’t kick out Henry’s boy. I taught him in SS, and he used to mow my lawn.” The fact that these men had roots in the church made Timothy’s job very difficult. The most important question we need to answer is…
What were they teaching?
Paul never gives us a systematic description of their teaching because his audience didn’t need one. They knew what the heresy was; therefore, we are left to piece their theology together based on the references Paul makes.
Verse 7 mentions that they claimed to be “teachers of the law.” We know Paul is referring to the OT Law, because vv. 8–11 go on to discuss the significance of the OT Law. We can assume they at least claimed to get their teachings from the OT. However, they were not teaching traditional Judaism because the things Paul mentions about their teaching were not a part of mainstream Judaism. As well, Paul never brings up circumcision, food laws and other kinds of issues that typically created conflict between Judaism and the gospel. Instead, the false teachers were probably ethnic Jews who claimed they had convert to Christianity but had since gained a renewed interest in the Law. But rather than really teaching the OT, it was…
Verse 4 tells us that the false teachers were wrapped up in “fables and endless genealogies.” A fable is a fanciful tale or a legend that isn’t based in evidence or hard reality. You might see how fables could attract a crowd but where do genealogies fit in? I doubt very many of us get excited when we come across a genealogy in our Bible reading. What was so exciting about these genealogical studies and what kind of myths were they telling? Again, since the false teachers claimed to be “teachers of the law,” we can assume that they claimed to be deriving these myths and genealogies from the OT. We know from contemporary Jewish writings that it was very popular during this time to speculate regarding minor details of OT. The Jews would debate silly questions like how many angels can fit on the head of a needle. And it was also very popular to speculate about the genealogies. People would insert new names and make up all sorts of fanciful stories about the characters who were listed. None of this was based in fact; it was all just amusing speculation that provided teachers a platform to show off their creativity and, most likely, their supposed mystical connection with God that gave them special insight into his Word. You might be wondering why anyone would listen to such nonsense, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Many pastors in our day read all sorts of loony ideas into the text every week, and people think they are brilliant because it sounds really good, and they aren’t listening with discernment. A third characteristic is that it pushed an…
Ascetic Lifestyle (4:3)
Asceticism is the idea that abstaining from the basic comforts of life makes you more godly. 4:3 tells us that these false teachers claimed that not getting married and not eating enjoyable foods made one more spiritual. And so this heresy included an emphasis on stringent rules as a means of godliness. The saw these rules rather than the gospel of grace as the foundation of their standing with God. But these rules did not stem from true virtue. These men were ultimately…
We are going to see throughout the book that these teachers were characterized by pride and envy. True Christian virtue was not an emphasis of their teaching. Paul doesn’t paint a pretty picture of these men or their doctrine. A final question we need to answer regarding the opponents is…
What were they producing?
The answer to this question is found in v. 4 and in the contrast between “disputes” and “godly edification which is in faith.” This last phrase is a bit tricky to translate. The phrase “godly edification” is probably better translated as “administration/stewardship of God.” The idea is that God gave Paul and all Christians a responsibility or stewardship to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. This is our mission. And this stewardship is to be conducted “in faith” or “by faith.” Paul is not here thinking of saving faith but of the ongoing faith of a Christian that must direct our efforts to accomplish our mission. At the end of the day, we know that we can’t open blind eyes or save a soul. We can’t make someone obey God; therefore, we just do what God has called us to do, and we trust him to change hearts and lives. This is the mission that God has given us, and it is awesome to see God honor our faith by doing things through us that are clearly beyond us. And what was so awful about the work of the false teachers is that rather than producing this sort of God-centered, spiritual transformation it instead produced “disputes” or division. That should be expected shouldn’t it? They were speculating over questions that God never answered and making unfounded assertions. Of course there are going to be disputes when you aren’t dealing with what God has said. Imagine the scene. This teacher stands up on Sunday, and he pulls an idea out of the text that no one has ever scene before. It sounds really compelling and some people ooh and awe and tell him how smart he is to see what they never saw before. But since the idea isn’t grounded in the text, someone else pipes up and says, “I see it this way.” Then another guy does the same. And a massive discussion follows. Some people leave impressed and entertained. Others leave upset. The teacher leaves feeling like the smartest guy in the room, but no one leaves in awe of God, convicted over their sin, or committed to pursuing godliness. It may have been a very compelling service. People were on the edge of their seats the whole time, but God wasn’t glorified. The gospel was not lifted high, and the mission of God wasn’t advanced at all. Quite the opposite, the pride and divisiveness of the meeting has dishonored the name of Christ. It’s a very sad picture. Timothy’s opponents were doing terrible damage to the work of God at Ephesus. What does Paul tell Timothy to do about it? Finally for today, let’s talk about
Of course, Timothy was responsible to confront this teaching. In v. 3, Paul uses two significatn verbs to encourage Timothy. First, he says “I urged you” to do this. This verb always has a very relational sense. In this context, it pictures Paul putting his fatherly arm around Timothy and compassionately but firmly telling him, “You’ve got to deal with this. You can’t dismiss this as insignificant, and you can’t just hope it disappears on it’s own. Timothy, you must put your big boy pants on and take responsibility.” As I said last week, we should not read these kinds of statements as indicating that Timothy was weak. Any sensible person would dread doing what Timothy had to do. In fact, the guy that’s ready to charge like a bull in a China shop probably is not the guy you want dealing with this. Paul again urges Timothy to deal with the problem. Then he tells him what that meant. He was to “charge some” that they not teach or give heed to this heresy. The verb translated “charge” is again a strong term. It has a military background, and tense of the verb indicates a sense of finality. In other words, Paul is urging Timothy to stand up and with the authority of God, to tell these people to stop immediately. Specifically, they were to stop doing two things. First, they were to…
This charge is again very strong. What is particularly significant about the word Paul uses is that it places the false teaching outside the boundaries of orthodoxy. Paul assumes that there is a settled core of Christian doctrine and practice. But the Ephesian church was toying with beliefs that could not be reconciled with this core. It was a different doctrine. Because of that, there was no room for debate. This teaching must not be tolerated. And so Paul didn’t say, “Let’s all get together and talk about his.” Or “How about you hold a public debate.” Something we might hear today is, “We can learn something from everyone. We need to listen to what these false teachers have to say, and maybe they can add a new perspective to our faith.” Paul said, “Tell them to stop this immediately. The only doctrine that should be allowed in the church is the doctrine that God has given you.” It is without error or omission. It is perfect and fully sufficient. Timothy was to tell the false teachers to stop teaching. Second, he was to tell the whole church to…
He says “don’t give heed” to these foolish and useless teachings. Get rid of this stuff. It’s worthless, and it doesn’t accomplish anything of value regarding the mission we have received. In fact, it distracts from the mission. This charge is addressed to both the teacher and the listener. The teachers need to stick to the Scriptures and that which advances the mission, and the listener should not tolerate anything less.
We’ve waded through some thick stuff today, but what does this mean for you and for me and for Life Point? I have four conclusions/applications that I’d like to consider.
Biblical teaching must advance the mission of the church. It must not be lowered to promoting a teacher, entertaining a crowd, or satisfying our curiosities.
We are here to make disciples. That means that we need to win people to Christ, teach them who God is, and how to obey his Word. We ought to expect that Bible teaching will be intended to do these things, and we ought to listen to biblical instruction with the desire to hear from God, so that I will become like him. Hopefully that seems obvious, but it’s very easy to go off course in lots of different directions. One of the outstanding attributes of Life Point is that it has always placed a major emphasis on deep biblical teaching. This is a good thing. If the Bible is God’s Word and is the means God uses to transform lives, then we need to dig into it and find out what it says. And we need to think seriously about the implications of God’s Word for all sorts of different issues that come up in life. But we must be very careful that our study never becomes a purely academic pursuit. A pastor can preach with the intent of showing off how smart he or impressing people with all the amusing nuggets he found in his study. Of course, we all like a bit of controversy, and so a pastor can grab people’s attention by simply stirring the pot or making controversial statements. And the congregation can make the same kinds of mistakes. You can show up to church not really wanting to hear from God but instead just looking to have your ears tickled with interesting ideas. What a sad place to be. The kind of church I just described might have some really interesting services. They might know the Bible really well and know every fact there is to know about God. But they don’t know the God. They don’t love God. They are not passionately pursuing godliness, and they are not reaching their community for Christ. May God help us to always stay focused on the “administration of God which is in faith.”
Biblical unity results from defending right doctrine and resisting schism, not from minimizing the truth.
There is a fascinating irony to this passage. The false teachers were causing disputes; they were being divisive. You would think that Paul would address this divisiveness by encouraging everyone to set aside their differences and get along. But he actually does the opposite. He tells Timothy to start a war. He was to emphasize truth, not downplay it, and he was to drive out the false teachers, not pacify them. Paul understood that the only healthy unity is a unity around truth. And so we need to keep holding up the truth and wrestle with the truth. We may not all come to the exact same conclusions, but as long as our pursuit of the truth is motivated by a love for God, our differences will not divide us. We’ll be able to tell where we must take a hard stand and where we can leave room to differ. Let’s be a church that hungers for truth and resists needless division.
Stay focused on God’s purpose to change you and use you.
As a pastor, this is something I constantly have to work at because Bible study can easily become just a job or an academic pursuit. It can happen to all of us. Bible study becomes nothing but a hobby to satisfy our curiosity, and we can come to church to be intellectually stimulated, chat with friends, and be comfortable. We need to really fight that tendency. Anytime you come to God’s Word, do so with a longing to hear from him and to become like him so that you can be used by him. Folks, one of the quickest ways that we can kill the effectiveness of Life Point is if church becomes about me. We all show up focused on ourselves. We come to get a buzz, to sing the songs that we want to sing, to talk with our friends, and to get our way. That kind of selfishness will shut us off the our community and to needy believers around us. We will not accomplish God’s mission and probably will end up divided because selfishness never leads to happiness only bickering and complaining. Let’s be a people who are pursuing God and pursuing the mission he has given us.
You can only be saved by believing the gospel God revealed in his Word.
I’m sure there is someone here who has never put your faith in the work of Christ for salvation. Maybe you don’t think it matters. God can’t be that picky. But Paul is clear that doctrine does matter, that we must believe the truth as revealed in God’s Word if we are to have a relationship with God. He’s going to make it clear later in the epistle that this especially includes a right understanding of the death of Christ and of how we can be saved. You can’t just blindly wander into heaven. Do you know why Jesus died, and do you know what the Bible says about how you can be saved? If you aren’t sure, you need to get this settled. I hope that you will talk with me afterwards about what it means to be a child of God. Don’t hope you get it right. Find out from the Scriptures what God has said.