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Timothy Series - Lesson Three:

1 Timothy Chapter 1 Verses 3 - 7

John Baugh
August, 2008

 

Warnings against False Teachers of the law:

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.

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.

(1 Timothy 1:3-7)

 Keep The Doctrine True:

In his first letter to Timothy Paul gives Timothy counsel and guidance on how to conduct himself in the leadership of the Church in Ephesus.

At the close of the book of Acts, Paul is imprisoned in Rome, where he stayed for two years in house arrest, with his movements and ministry restricted to a hired house and those who would visit him there. Luke indicates that Paul was eventually released from there (most likely because no one would come from Jerusalem to testify against him).

Many scholars believe that after his release from this first imprisonment, Paul traveled with Timothy and Titus around the Roman Empire before going into the East again. He left Titus on the island of Crete to guide the emerging church there, and brought Timothy on to Ephesus with him to the church that had been long established in that city. The apostle then left Timothy in Ephesus while he himself traveled on up to Macedonia.

The letters (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus) are called Pastoral Epistles because they contain qualifications for ministers and are filled with practical instructions governing conduct in the local church. Scholars (mostly) agree that these are the last of the letters from the pen of the apostle Paul to two of his closest traveling companions.

In the letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul sends personal charges to these young ministers, lists the qualifications for spiritual leadership, cautions his spiritual sons regarding false teachers and apostasy and offers instruction regarding conduct in the church.

The chronological setting of these epistles cannot be established with certainty, but assuming harmony of the various scriptures leads to the conclusion that Paul's ministry extended past the close of the Book of Acts in this way:

1. In approximately AD 62 Paul was released from his Roman imprisonment. He left Titus in Crete, Timothy in Ephesus and then traveled widely, writing 1st Timothy and Titus as he traveled.

2. He was later imprisoned and wrote 2 Timothy, approximately AD 67 (2 Timothy 1:8).

 

1St Timothy 1:3-7

In his instructions to Timothy, Paul first urged him to guard the teaching of the church. In Paul's mind, teaching doctrine was the most important aspect of the ministry of the church. It must be kept pure to the Gospel and unsullied.

Someone said that, "The main thing is to see that the main thing remains the main thing."

The principal task of the leadership of any church is to assure that the teaching is in line with the gospel, the words recorded, concerning Jesus. Paul calls it, "the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted" (1st Timothy 1:11).  Paul knew that the Gospel was the body of teaching to which a church should give itself.

There are many other subjects that are good and right for Christians to pursue but when Christians come to church there is one body of teaching, and only one. The church exists to declare this unique body of truth. Anything that differs is not to be taught in church.

When it comes to teaching, Paul wrote to Timothy that the teaching in Ephesus must be clear, straight and true.  That is the first thing Timothy is charged to do. He is to stop the teaching that is different, and oppose these wrong concepts.

As strange as it sounds, Paul had already indicated that the church in Ephesus would come under attack. The 20th chapter of Acts documents Paul's last visit to Ephesus before his imprisonment in Rome. While at the port of Miletus, Paul called to the elders of the church at Ephesus. The 20th chapter contains the Apostle’s farewell to these elders.

In verse 29 he says,

"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”(Acts 20:29-30 NIV)

And So, Timothy was in Ephesus, left there by Paul, when he departed for Macedonia, and representing him to the church there, attempting to follow his discipler's wishes and understanding of the role of a pastor to the church.

Timothy’s first task was to stop certain teaching that was going on in Ephesus. 

There were two possible sources for these problems:

1 - Gnosticism

About this time a false teaching called Gnosticism was coming into prominence. (in the Greek language gnosis means knowledge.) The adherents to this belief held many and somewhat varied beliefs such as:

- Gnostics claim to have a superior knowledge which was available only to a select few. This belief placed an exaggerated value on the intellect. It denied that knowledge was available to everyone and singled out only a select few.

- Gnostics believed matter was evil and that the mind was spiritual. In their opinion, the mind was unrelated to anything physical. Therefore the mind could enjoy a high and lofty relationship to God while the body participated in unrestrained self-gratification. Another aspect of this thought process was the prohibition of natural bodily activities such as eating or sex. (Food is matter, therefore is evil; sexual activities—even in marriage—involve use of the body, therefore are evil).

- Gnostics denied that Christ came in the flesh. (The body is evil. Therefore, God could not become human flesh.) This belief led to denial of the virgin birth because deity could not take the form of man. Gnostics held that Christ (God) descended upon Jesus (man) at baptism and left before crucifixion.

 More on Gnosticism - here.

Scholarly agreement is not uniform regarding Gnosticism. Some believe that it may not have been a fully developed movement when the pastoral epistles were written. Some scholars disagree, believing that Gnosticism existed before the birth of Christ. Most scholars agree that these Gnostic thought patterns were beginning to emerge at the time of Timothy was serving as Pastor at Ephesus.

By the time the Apostle John wrote his epistles (80-90 AD) this heresy was more fully developed and his first epistle counters these beliefs in a comprehensive manner.

Looking at 1 Timothy 1:3-7, Gnosticism Stressed:

V3 – False doctrines
V4 – Myths and endless genealogies – promote controversies, rather than God’s work
V6 – meaningless talk

2 - Jewish Influence on the Church in Ephesus:

In Acts Luke tells us that many Jews were coming into the Christian Church. The Jews had followed Genealogy for many generations. The importance of genealogy to the Jews is evident from the Old Testament writings (and from both Matthew and Luke’s writings). Additionally, Jewish literature was filled with mythical tradition that most of the Jews of that day would know and might attempt to insert in the teachings of Christianity.

If the problems in the church at Ephesus were coming from converted Jews, the myths were most likely similar to those contained in the Old Testament's Apocrypha; the fourteen additional books (located in time, between the Old Testament and the New Testament) that are not contained in Protestant Bibles. The books of the Apocrypha were never accepted by the Jews as Scripture, but were widely circulated in the early centuries. They contain fanciful tales and imaginative accounts, usually about wise men, who had remarkable teachings about various themes. This may have been what was being taught along with the Christian truth in Ephesus.

Paul's warnings to Timothy do not state that these teachers were blatant heretics and if they were coming from Jewish converts they were not intended to be. They may have been from Jewish men of the congregation who, in many ways, were good teachers, but they were beginning to introduce ideas that were derived, basically, from Jewish philosophy and in variance with the Gospel.

Verses 6 and 7, state that these men were "longing to be teachers of the law." Perhaps they were Jewish converts, attempting to inject Jewish fables, myths and genealogies, into the church at Ephesus.

The problem with this is that it is essential that there be unity in the teaching of a church. Differences of style and presentation are common and fine. There also are different gifts, which vary, among teachers. There are different choices of subjects of the revelation of God. The heart of Christ's truth, however, must remain unsullied (unaltered), because the Scripture is the most powerful weapon the Church has to correct error and to deliver people from bondage into freedom. The teaching of the truth, therefore, must be central in the ministry of the Church.

A Personal Experience

Most pastors and teachers in Africa are filled with the Holy Spirit, but some are painfully short of Scriptural knowledge, especially among the recently converted. During a training session in Zambia in 2006, one Pastor exclaimed that he had never known that Paul was a Tent Maker and had a vocation other than evangelist. He was excited that God would allow him to have his job (accountant) and still serve the Lord as a bi-vocational pastor.

A good friend working in the missionary field of sub-Saharan Africa states that there is a huge need for teachers to come and work with Pastors and Laypersons there, saying that "the average Sunday School Teacher from the USA is a giant of biblical knowledge compared to many African pastors and teachers". He says that "Africa is thousands of miles wide and only an inch deep."

One thing can be said of African pastors, though. Most of them are hungry for the truth of the Gospel and eager to share it with their brothers and sisters in Christ. In their efforts to share the Gospel, Christian Pastors in Africa constantly come up against ancestor worship, witchcraft, nature worship and many other beliefs that Paul would have called Heresies. Many Christians in Africa (just as it was with those in Ephesus) have problems leaving behind their old beliefs. Biblical knowledge, and a guarding of the Gospel teaching, helps them overcome these handicaps.

Back to Timothy:

Ephesus had similar problems with biblical illiteracy - lack of knowledge of the Word of God and a weak understanding of it. Timothy was left in Ephesus to correct that condition. Paul urged his student to oppose the wrong concepts being taught in the Church, to expose faulty sources and to point out the myths and the genealogies that pulled these people away from Christ Jesus.

So what was wrong with these myths and Genealogies?

Jesus said, "By their fruits you shall know them," (Matt 7:20 KJV).

Any time a teaching is brought forth, one might ask, "What does it lead people to do?"

Paul tells us very plainly that the teaching in Ephesus promoted speculations, produced endless debate and brought on specious reasoning. Problems like this always arise when human philosophy is interjected into the gospel. It begins to dominate the thoughts of the congregation, so that they neglect to understand the revelation of the Word of God. Speculations begin to take the place of true biblical study. People begin to pursue speculative matters which take them away from the pure revelation of the Scripture. Paul writes about this problem to Timothy, but exactly the same problems come up in congregations today, when those who teach choose to vary from the Gospel message and inject the latest philosophical thought (trendy belief message) into their teaching as “at variance with, but equal to” scriptural teaching.

Timothy was urged to turn these teachers away from this type of teaching because it was unhealthy and unprofitable. It resulted in a congregation engrossed in speculative mind adventures. So, how was Timothy to accomplish such a task? Paul urged him to contrast this teaching with the true revelation of scripture. He was to charge these teachers not to "occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations, rather than the divine training that is in faith."

In Paul's opinion these teachers should have been studying and teaching a deposit of truth given by God to men, and appropriated by faith. In Paul’s mind, faith is not merely belief. Faith is trusting God and acting on the basis of facts which God has revealed in Scripture.

God's body of truth (Scripture) is unique in the world. It is the secret of how to release men and women from the bondage of evil (sin) in their lives to deliver them into the wonderful freedom of the sons and daughters of God. That is the nature of the gospel. It is so powerful and so radical that it is always under subtle attack both from without and within. That is why it is so necessary to ensure that the teaching is accurate and true and biblical, because, when it is, it delivers people, it frees people, it changes whole families; it has a powerful effect upon society.

Continuing

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.

In Verse 5, Paul traces the course of love back to its source, its origin. Paul writes about, "love that issues from a pure heart," and behind that, "a good conscience," and behind that, "sincere faith."

Beginning at the end, faith is believing what God has said about the total end of our old life and the impartation of a new life identified with the righteousness of Christ -- that is what we believe. We are new people; we are not the same. Everything of corrective nature in Christianity is to come back to that source.

Therefore, love begins with sincere faith that the great facts of the gospel are personally true of us. We are the ones who died in Christ, and rose again with him, and are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. When we believe those things, our actions will begin to change. We will begin to see that some of the things we have been doing, and the way we have been living are not consistent with a changed life. They no longer are the normal outworking of a heart that has been made anew in Jesus Christ. Then, these things begin to fade.

People of conscience do not have to be forced to stop things; they begin to see that these things are inconsistent with a changed life and it affects their conscience. That is what Paul means when he speaks of a "good conscience." Conscience is the judge of our behavior. It affects the way we act, either accusing us or excusing us. And, as we begin to be consistent in our actions (with what we really are), we have a good conscience. We see ourselves forgiven, restored and accepted, the past washed away. Yesterday, with its sins and mistakes, is cleansed. Every day we begin anew on this basis, living according to a good conscience.

Living to the demands of a good conscience results in a pure heart. Our inner attitudes begin to change because we are no longer the same people we once were. Our thoughts also begin to change as we are less often led to do the things we should not be doing. The changes in our attitudes and thoughts purify our hearts. Then, as those things occur, we begin to become vessels for the flowing out of the love of God.

Paul said in Romans 5,

"The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us," (Rom 5:5).

Love begins to touch us and those around us. That is the gospel. That is the good news.

There is a fourth thing Paul tells Timothy about these teachers. Timothy is to recognize their true state. Today, we would say, “Where they are coming from”.

Certain persons by swerving from these 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 assertions. (1 Tim 1:6-7)

In other words, these teachers had become "doctrinal wanderers," wandering about from one aspect of human speculation and philosophy to another.

If you watch people like this over the course of time, one thing is characteristic of them: they never stay with one subject but are always pursuing some new theological and philosophical fad.

This doctrinal wandering results in what Paul calls, "vain discussion." (The New English Bible calls it "a wilderness of words,".

Paul said their motive was a desire for position and reputation, not to see that the truth is taught or that lives are changed. They desired to be "teachers of the law," motivated by ambitious pride. Yet, Paul said they did not understand what they were saying or the sources from which they took their knowledge. Though they appeared to be impressive teachers, they were without any real understanding of reality.

It is always important to remain true to the apostolic witness of the truth as it is in Jesus.

 

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