Safety in Truth
Passage: 1 Timothy 6:2b-5
One of the most popular stories that has ever been told is the parable of the prodigal son. We love this story so much because it is such a beautiful picture of fatherly love and particularly of God’s love for his children. But we also love the story because we can all identify with the foolishness of the prodigal.
He has grown up in a wealthy home, and he has an incredible father who loves him deeply. But he proudly thinks he can do better for himself than Dad can, and he runs away from the wisdom and care of his father. He has a great time for a while, but his foolishness ultimately catches up with him, and he finds himself completely humiliated, eating with pigs, which would be especially disgraceful to a Jew. Only then does he realize how foolish he had been and how good he had it in his father’s home.
His story is so impactful because to one degree or another we can all identify with the prodigal’s foolishness. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, people have struggled with thinking they know better than they actually do, and especially with thinking they know better than God. And time and time again, we reap the consequences for our foolish arrogance.
In our passage for today, Paul warns Timothy about how this type of arrogance had also corrupted the false teachers at Ephesus. They thought they knew better than Christ, and predictably, they were reaping ugly consequences for their arrogance.
Of course, we are nearing the end of the letter, and in this paragraph Paul rehearses the first charge of the book in 1:3–7. These two paragraphs use similar terminology and give similar warnings regarding the wickedness of the false teachers. They are arrogant, they love controversy, and they must be stopped. Since Paul reiterates his first charge in our text, it’s clearly important.
The church must stand against false doctrine, and we must learn from the destructive pattern of arrogance than had taken control of these men.
I’d like to divide our study into three sections—a charge and two reasons why we must obey this charge. Let’s begin by looking at the charge or the command, which is…
The Charge: We must proclaim and defend the truth.
Before we go on it’s important that we take a moment and note the structure of this passage. Verse 2b opens the passage by commanding Timothy to teach the truth, and vv. 3–5 explain why it is so important that he does so.
He makes his point with a conditional statement, or an “if…then” sentence. It’s worth noting that Paul uses a construction that indicates he’s not talking about a condition that may nor may not be true. Rather, Paul assumes that there actually are people who reject the truth of God and teach false doctrine.
Verses 4–5 then paint a very dark picture of these men’s hearts and the destruction they bring on God’s people.
Therefore, the obvious focus of this passage is on the darkness of false doctrine and those who teach it, but before we get to their darkness, I first want to emphasize a positive picture of what we ought to be doing. We must proclaim and defend the truth.
To do this, I’d like to note three facts about the truth that this passage teaches. First…
The truth is exclusive.
In other words, there is only one truth, and the truth does not change. We see this in v. 3, which says that the basic problem with the false teachers is that they do not “consent to…”
The word translated “wholesome” is a medical term, and so Paul pictures God’s truth as a healthy diet that builds strength in the soul. This is a good reminder because sometimes we fear God’s truth because we want to do our own thing, and God’s way can be hard. But we must remember that God’s truth is like a healthy diet that brings good health.
And it is found in “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This phrase in context points to the entire apostolic message that is rooted in the person of Christ, the teachings of Christ, and ultimately the work of Christ in his death and resurrection. For us, this would be the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith centered around the gospel.
Paul’s point is that this truth is exclusive. There is one gospel, and Paul opens the verse by saying that anyone who teaches another doctrine is committing a serious sin. You cannot be wrong on the gospel and be right with God.
I’m emphasizing this point because sometimes we can be a little fuzzy here because we don’t want to offend. Probably all of us have had a conversation with a Mormon missionary. When you tell them you believe the gospel, they will typically reply that we are basically the same. But that is not true. They deny the deity of Christ and salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
The same is true of Catholics. There has been a big push during the last 20 years to bring evangelicals and Catholics together. It sounds so nice, but if someone believes that my works contribute to my justification, Galatians says they haven’t made an innocent addition to the gospel. They have denied it altogether.
I hope that we are all in agreement on this. The Bible is God’s truth, and it teaches a set of fundamental doctrines that are not debatable. And furthermore, no one can get to God while denying these truths.
Maybe you have never considered this before. You have always believed in God and you assume you must be his child. But Jesus said that the way to eternal life is narrow and that the majority of people will not find it because their hearts reject it. No one is going to accidentally stumble into heaven. If you are not sure what the Bible says it means to be saved, then don’t leave your soul to chance. Let me or someone else from our church show you after the service from the Bible who Jesus is, because he is good. Let us show you the good news of why he died on the cross, and let us show you how you can have a relationship with him that is based on his grace and not on your works. Second…
The truth produces godliness.
The end of v. 3 draws an essential connection between right doctrine and a godly life. Paul says one of the ways we can test a person’s theology is by the life it produces. Good theology always leads to godliness; it never acts as an excuse for ungodliness, which is exactly what vv. 4–5 say the false teaching was doing.
We need to emphasize this reality today because there is a lot of ungodliness out there that goes under the name Christian. Many people believe that the grace of God means that I don’t need to labor hard at holiness. They think that because their eternity is secure, they can now do what they want. Some will even argue that we shouldn’t look at the NT commands as duties but simply as suggestions for how we can express our love for God.
This is a lie of Satan. The true gospel changes everything, and Romans 6 says that if someone uses the grace of God as an excuse to live an ungodly life, they do not have the gospel, and they will face condemnation.
Folks, the gospel demands that we are serious about obedience and holiness. It is not okay to keep a compartment of your life that you will not give to God. We’ve got to root sin out of the depths of our heart. We have to drive out things like anger, pride, and bitterness. We must pursue love, humility, joy, and obedience because we cannot understand what Jesus did for us and respond any other way.
The truth must produce godliness, and if anyone tries to teach you a theology that demands less, then walk away.
The third fact about the truth is that…
The truth deserves constant proclamation.
In v. 2 God commands us “to teach and exhort these things.” Both of these commands are in the present tense, meaning that we are to do this all the time. In particular, Timothy was to continually set the truth before the Ephesian Church. He was to teach them right doctrine. That’s idea behind the first verb. But he was to do more than simply fill their minds with facts. He was also to urge them to obey the truth.
Of course, this significant for me as a pastor. A major part of my job is to teach you the truth and call on you to obey it. I hope you come every week expecting that and praying that God would grow your knowledge and challenge your practicing.
But it’s not just pastors who are obligated to proclaim the truth. If you are a parent, you need to be filling your kids minds with truth and calling on them to embrace it for themselves and to live it on a daily basis. And we need to be doing this for each other in the church. We all need to be constantly pointing each other to truth and urging each other to obey it.
Folks, this book is not just a book of wisdom that can make our lives go better. It is God’s exclusive truth, and it tells us the only way to get to him. And it is life and peace. Let’s be renewed today in our commitment to God’s Word and to impacting each other and our families with its truth.
This brings us to the false teachers. Paul especially wanted Timothy to teach the truth to correct the false doctrine that was destroying the church.
His warning about the danger of false doctrine teaches us two reasons why we must resist false doctrine and teach and defend the truth.
Reason One: False teaching deceives the heart.
Paul is pretty blunt in vv. 4–5 about the corruption that had taken hold of the false teachers.
First, he tells us that…
They think they know everything when they actually know nothing.
Paul opens v. 4 by saying that anyone who teaches another doctrine “is proud, knowing nothing.” There is a striking irony in this statement, and we see it repeated all of the time. The prodigal son thought he knew better than his father, and sinners generally think they know better than God.
We certainly see this arrogance in modern secularism. How many atheists have boldly declared with Nietzsche, “God is dead.” They think they don’t need him anymore because they have the world figured out. We also see this in ethics. Many in our society have proudly declared that they know better than God what morality looks like, what the family looks, and on and on we could go.
And in this context, it is especially important to note the arrogance of false doctrine. There are many cults and heretical forms of Christianity out there that claim to know better than the Bible what truth is, and there are even Christian churches and organizations who think that the biblical ethic needs to be updated because we have advanced to a new level of understanding.
But we will never improve on God’s knowledge. Romans 1 is clear that there is nothing objective about the heart of an unregenerate man who is dead in sin. All of this advancement is not an objective pursuit of truth. Rather, it is man’s arrogant attempt to run from the truth of God and his accountability to God.
Verse 5 is very pointed in describing how the minds of the false teachers had been corrupted by sin. He says they are “men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth.” Both of these verbs are in the perfect tense, and in this particular context, the tense indicates that these men were in a settled state of corruption that was the result of past hardening.
Folks, the hardening power of sin is very sobering. The NT warns many times that someone can pursue a path away from the truth to the point that they lose all ability to perceive reality. That’s why people will at times be living in obvious rebellion against God and yet be convinced that what they are doing is right. Sin has so corrupted their minds that they can’t see clearly.
Of course, they have done this to themselves but repeatedly choosing sin, but Satan also works to deceive. Both of these verbs are in the passive voice, meaning that an outside force was at work in them. The literal idea behind “destitute of the truth” is that they have been “robbed of the truth.” Paul tells us how in 2 Corinthians 4:4 where he says of the unsaved, “Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…should shine on them.”
Satan is incredibly powerful and cunning, and he is very active blinding people to the truth and creating prejudice against it. It’s very important for us to remember that when we hear the bold claims of unbelievers or even of professing Christians who clearly are rejecting Scripture. They haven’t uncovered some truth that discredits God’s Word; rather, they are blind.
But the bigger question is how do we protect ourselves from this kind of deception. God answers for us in Proverbs 1:7, which says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” In other words any and every search for truth must begin with the recognition that God is truth and with submission to his authority. Since we are depraved sinners, the search for truth must always begin with the fear of God.
Let’s all be challenged to fear the Lord and to guard carefully against ever proudly thinking that we don’t need God to know the truth or to find joy.
And so the root error of the false teachers was that they thought they knew better than God. Paul also warns that…
They love to stir up useless controversy.
Verse 4 states that they are “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words.” The word translated obsessed is another medical term that contrasts with wholesome in v. 3. It describes someone who is seriously ill and on the verge of death. God’s point is that the truth of Scripture brings health and vitality, but running from the truth of God makes the heart sick.
An obsession with useless questions is a common manifestation of spiritual decay. Have you ever been around someone who just explodes with rage over a relatively insignificant theological issue or point of debate, and you wonder, “Where did that come from?” You later find that their defensiveness, anger, and love for debate is a cover for sin. They are trying to defend what is in their hearts or distract from what is in their hearts. It’s very sad.
I want to be clear here that Paul’s concern is not with essential matters of theology or important debates about ethical issues. The point of this paragraph is to say that theology and godliness matter. We need to know the truth and work hard to apply it. Doing that sometimes requires that we debate ideas and applications. But we all know there’s a line when debate is no longer about knowing and honoring God and instead is about self-glory and divisiveness.
We need to be very careful that we always come to God’s Word with a hunger to know him and to glorify him, and let’s pray that God would protect us from ever having a divisive spirit that is driven by pride, not the pursuit of God.
Paul’s final warning regarding the deception of the false teaches is that…
They are motivated by greed.
Verse 5 concludes by saying that they see “godliness as a means of gain.” I mentioned several weeks ago that traveling teachers could make a lot of money in the Greek world, and the false teachers were looking to do just that. Their primary goal wasn’t to serve the church but to profit off the church. Their love of money was just another evidence of what was in their hearts. They were deceived, and they were dangerous.
There was nothing innocent about these men. Timothy needed to stand up to them and keep teaching the truth in order to protect the church from their evil influence.
The first reason Timothy needed to resist the false teachers was that false teaching deceives the heart. But sadly the false teaching was doing more than corrupting these men’s hearts. It was also affecting the church. Therefore the second reason to resist was that…
Second Reason: False teaching produces evil fruit.
Paul lists five fruits that come from the kind of useless debate the false teachers were promoting. Together they paint a dark picture of a divided church filled with anger and bitterness.
Envy is a really nasty condition of the heart. It’s that gnawing grumpiness or sometimes even obsession that sinners feel toward another person who has something they think they deserve. In the church, it might be over a ministry position, a leadership role, or just a general perception someone enjoys as being smart or gifted. Envy is a wicked sin because it is the opposite of love. And it is also very destructive because it rarely stays in the heart. It almost always seethes out, even if it’s very subtle. It will typically lead to the next sin.
Strife is the opposite of godly unity. And it is particularly sad when strife arises in the church because the NT repeatedly teaches that the church is to distinguish itself from the world by its love and unity. A church filled with strife blasphemes the gospel.
The Greek term here is actually the word for blasphemy. We typically associate this word with tearing down the name of God, but Paul uses it here for how we can tear down the good name of another person. Again, this sin is often closely tied to envy. Have you ever been in a conversation when the topic turns to someone whom you envy? People are talking well of that person, and you feel the need to bring that person down a bit, and so you do your best to throw in some jabs while hiding your evil heart. Maybe you’ve watched others do this. They feel it’s there mission to make sure the world sees the evils of another person whom they envy or hate. Again, reviling can sometimes be very subtle, but it is wicked, and it kills godly unity.
Have you ever known a cynic? They never assume the best of people; instead, they spot evil motives at every turn. Someone does a kind deed, and rather than appreciating their kindness, they assume they are want something in return. When they meet someone who seems to have life together, they assume that this person must be a fake. Now it’s true that we should live with a clear understanding that we are surrounded by depraved sinners, but some people go beyond just acknowledging depravity. They are looking for evil, and they don’t trust anyone. You can’t have healthy relationships when you live that way. It’s just not possible. You certainly can’t link arms in the church and manifest the character of Christ when you always think the guy next you is preparing to stab you in the back.
The emphasis of the Greek term here is on constant friction. Think of rival sibblings who are always fighting each other, or a bad marriage where every night is a battle. Or think of a church where every time the people gather there is underlying tension and bitterness that undercuts the fellowship.
These five words paint a very sad picture of divisiveness in the church and really in any relationship. Folks, we absolutely cannot tolerate these things in our hearts or in our relationships. They are wicked, and they destroy our power as God’s people.
But we also need to be on the look out for these things in others because that’s Paul’s point here. If bitter controversy follows someone wherever they go, it should be a red flag to stay away. On the other hand let’s work to be a church where we can discuss ideas, whether it be theological points, ethical points, convictions, or parenting strategies in order to help each other grow. We need that sharpening. In particular in this context, theology and godliness matter. But let’s always make sure that love for God and one another drives those conversations so that we can help each other onto God.
The basic challenge is this passage is to stay faithful to the truth and to teach the truth to those around you. Let’s be a people of the Book, who model the godliness this book teaches.