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1 Timothy 1:1-11: Instructions for Correcting Errors Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 30 July 2006

Timothy is young and somewhat shy.  He has experience ministering in difficult situations.  He has served in diverse cities such as Corinth and Thessalonica.  Now he is serving in Ephesus, one of the most pagan cities in all the Roman Empire, a city that boasts the most impressive pagan temple in the world.  Not only is the city a difficult setting, but the Church is not doing well either.  It seems that some of the leaders in the Church are focusing on the wrong issues and pulling people away from the sound teaching of the Apostles.  They are forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods.  Their consciences have been seared and they are departing the faith (see 1 Timothy 4:1-4).  On top of this, they do not seem to have much respect for Timothy or his ministry.

It is into the above situation that the Apostle Paul writes to his beloved Timothy.  Timothy had served Paul and the Lord faithfully for a number of years.  Yet, the situation was difficult in Ephesus.  Paul, who is reaching the end of his ministry, writes to encourage his fellow worker and to give him instruction in dealing with the troubles in the Church.  He wants the Church to recognize Timothy as his representative and to follow his lead.  Thus, look at how he begins the letter in verses 1 and 2.  Paul, as usual, asserts his apostleship under Godís command.  He also calls Timothy his true child in the faith, a statement to commend him to the others.  Finally, he states his hope for Timothy and for the instruction in this letter: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

From there, Paul moves quickly to addressing the situation of the false teachers.  This morning we want to identify their errors and the immediate instruction that Paul gives for correcting them.  Letís begin with their errors.

The Errors of the False Teachers

The first error of the false teachers is simply stated: they were teaching different doctrine.  Look at what Paul writes in verse 3.  Paul wants Timothy to remain in Ephesus and charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.  As we will see more in this letter (see 1:12-17), the standard for doctrine for Paul is the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the writings and teaching of the Apostles.  His accusation against these teachers in Ephesus is that they are teaching something different than what Timothy knew to be true, something different than the gospel and different from the teaching of the Apostles, including himself.  In fact, the whole situation is a fulfillment of Paulís words in Acts 20:29-30.  Paul knew the threat even then and now wants to end it.  Thus, generally speaking, Paul encourages Timothy to remain in Ephesus so that he might stop these men from teaching contrary to the true gospel.  This is the general problem, we will see more specifics in the next verse and throughout the letter.

The more specific error of the false teachers is that they were focusing on unimportant matters.  Look at verse 4.  These teachers were focusing on what Paul calls myths and endless genealogies.  It is hard to know exactly what this means, but it is most likely a reference to allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament and misunderstandings or misapplications of the genealogical material, which was seemingly common among Jews at this time.  Whatever these phrases refer to, Paul goes on to say that focusing on these issues was only leading to speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  These myths and genealogies were taking the focus off of what was important, namely the plan (or Ďgood orderí as ESV notes) of God which comes only by faith.  The false teachers had left the gospel to talk about myths and speculations which only lead to controversy.  Although the comparison is not exact, it makes me think of all the emphasis on end-time events.  So many times, we end up missing the point of books like Daniel and Revelation just to make our speculations about when and how Christ will return seem plausible.  I am not saying that these discussions do not have a place in the life of a Church, but when we become so certain about our understanding that we focus more on proving our thesis than understanding the text, then we have a problem.  This will only lead to speculation and controversy instead of the building up of the Body of Christ. 

Yet, this is not the end of the false teachersí errors, for it seems that they were also mishandling the Law.  Look at verses 6-7.  These teachers, who again were apparently Jews, wanted to be teachers of the Law.  The only problem is that they did not understand the Law.  Paul says that they did not even understand the points that they made with confidence.  Instead they are wandering into vain discussions that are pointless.  As Paul will instruct Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, these teachers are not rightly handling the word of truth. 

So, how is Timothy supposed to handle these teachers?  Beyond simply identifying the errors (which is important as we have seen), how do we labor in correcting such errors?  This leads to Paulís instructions to Timothy in this passage.

Paulís Instructions for Correction

First, we need to remember the goal in teaching: love.  Look at what Paul says in verse 5.  Paul reminds Timothy that the aim, or goal, of their charge is love.  It seems this refers to two issues.  First, as we have already noted, the false teachers, by focusing on myths and genealogies, were leading the people into speculations and away from the purposes of God.  What they were teaching was not promoting unity but controversy.  We should point out that false teaching not only leads to bad doctrine, but it also leads to disunity.  Ideas have consequences.  And it seems that the ideas of the false teachers were leading to a lack of love in the Church. 

Yet, the second issue here is that Timothy should model love in his correction.  Here we see the connection between love and discipline.  Love does not mean allowing the false teachers to continue corrupting the Church.  Rather, love comes from a pure heart, one that has been cleansed from sin.  Love comes from a good conscience, one that is not falsely motivated.  And love comes from a sincere faith, one that is honest and devoted to the true gospel.  Paul wants the false teachers to realize that the controversy that they are causing is evidence of their error.  Yet, this is no Ďpeace at the expense of truthí talk.  Rather, Timothy is to correct them in love that is pure and good and devoted to the truth.  Paul will go on to speak harshly against these false teachers, but here he reminds Timothy that the aim of their charge is love.  When people are focusing on unimportant matters and leading others astray from the truth of the gospel, then we need to correct them in love by leading them back to the truth.  Not to correct is unloving and correcting in an unloving way is unhelpful as well.

Second, we need to remember the intention of the Law: to instruct sinners and drive them to Christ.  Look at verse 8.  Paul says that the Law is good as long as it is used lawfully.  But what does this mean?  How do we use the Law lawfully?  Look at verses 9-11.  Paul says that the Law is not for the just.  Many interpreters take this to mean different things.  Yet, it seems that Paul is referring to believers, those who have been justified in Christ.  As we saw in the book of Galatians, the Law is helpless in justifying us.  Rather, it is only through faith in Christ that one is justified.  The intention of the Law then is to make us painfully aware of our sinful condition and our need for a Savior.  This is what Paul is referring to as he goes through this list of sins in verses 9 and 10.  The sins seem to follow the order of the 10 commandments.  The first sins deal with general offenses and offenses against God.  Then, the list moves to sins we commit against others, such as for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.   Even today, these sins are practiced in our culture.  Men need to hear the Law that they might be convicted of their sins and flee to Christ.  Thus, in our presentation of the gospel, one way that we can convince people of their need for Christ is by simply walking them through the 10 commandments.  As they admit their disobedience to these, they are admitting their need for Christ.

Yet, what about Christians?  Is Paul saying that Christians have no Law to follow?  Are we left to our own?  No, the Law we follow is the Law of Christ (see Galatians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 9:21) which finds its seed in the Mosaic Law.  Thus, we follow the moral commands of Christ and the New Testament writers which are foreshadowed in the Law of Moses.  We are not a lawless people.  We do not need to make the same error as the false teachers by using the Law unlawfully.  Rather, we must strive to understand the intention of the Old Testament Law and its purpose and use for us as believers.  We must let it point unbelievers, and believers as well, to their need for a Savior and their need to keep the Law of Christ by faith in Him.

The influence of false teachers is still around.  People still tend to focus on unimportant matters and lead others away from Godís plan of salvation that comes by faith.  The Law, and the Old Testament in general, is still mishandled and misapplied.  So what do we do?  How do we respond?  First, we must instruct with love and without compromise.  This is a difficult task.  Like so many other matters in Christianity, we have a tendency to focus on one at the expense of the other.  But we need to remember that the goal of our correction and teaching is love, while also remembering that love is not love without truth. 

Second, we must rightly divide the Word.  So many errors in our Churches come from misunderstanding of the text.  For whatever reason, we do not read and study the Word in a way that if faithful to what the author meant and to what the Spirit intended.  This can be a thorny issue, but we must do our part to study the text in way that leads to a correct understanding and application of the intended meaning (which is the whole point of our current Sunday Night study).  We need to read and apply all the Scriptures in light of Christ.  We need to point others to their need for a Savior, a task that can be done from every text in the Bible.  We, like the Spirit, need to make the goal of all our interpretation and all our ministry the magnification of Christ as Lord.  Anything else is simply error.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 07 August 2006 )

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