Meditations in 1 Timothy: 35: Straight Teaching
1 Tim 6:3,4 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.
Perhaps Paul is starting to wind down and is aware that he ought to be drawing to a close soon, for now we find him returning to that subject with which he started this letter. Remember he exhorted Timothy at the beginning of it, “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” (1:3,4) See the words ‘false doctrines’ there; we have them again now but now he expands on this with a threefold description.
The first is about anyone who “teaches false doctrines”. These people don’t so much reject the truth as distort it and replace it with teachings which are simply wrong! Second, these people do “not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The ultimate proof of their wrongness is that their teaching conflicts with what Jesus himself said. The teachings of Jesus had been passed on by the apostles and was in the process of being put into the first three Gospels, but these men rejected and distorted Jesus’ teaching. Third, these people rejected “godly teaching”. What they were left with was godless myths, things that had no origin in heaven. In each of these ways, these men were flying in the face of the apostolic teaching and were wrong.
But more than that, says Paul, such a man “is conceited and understands nothing.” (v.4a) That he is conceited means he is proud and refuses to accept the truth and let the truth impact and change his life. That is what should happen when we come to Christ, the word of God impacts us under the convicting of the Spirit, and changes us. However, these men have not submitted themselves to the truth but have, in fact, concocted their own ‘truth’ and by so doing reveal that they really know nothing of the Gospel.
But Paul doesn’t leave his condemnation of these men there, for he lists off a whole series of wrongs that they are involved with. They have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (v.4,5) We need to read the list as a whole and then as individual parts.
The first part is about what they DO and the second part are the CONSEQUENCES of what they do and the third part is the MOTIVATION for what they do.
So, first of all, what they do. They have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words.” We have to be careful here because I would always challenge students of God’s word to question it, but that is to say, “What is it saying and what does it mean?” There is one particular modern fiction writer who has come to some prominence by building in controversy to his stories, for example postulating that Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles or even the mistress or wife of Jesus. Built on a non-canonical book, the writings of which compare in no way to the Scriptures, and digging up old heresies from the past, this writer is typical of those Paul was speaking against. He says that have “an unhealthy interest” in such things. When the truth of the New Testament is so clear and so accredited, why should anyone want to delve into and stay in these weird and wonderful spurious writings from first century cults? There is nothing spiritually healthy about that!
But then, second, we have a list of consequences or outcomes that this sort of thing produces: “that result in (1) envy, (2) strife, (3) malicious talk, (4) evil suspicions and (5) constant friction between men of corrupt mind.” This sort of disharmony over purported truths, things made up by men, ideas that are twisted from the Scriptures and completely distorted, these things simply provoke argument and upset and division, definitely not the work of the Spirit!
Finally Paul reveals his opinion of why these men do this: “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” Having given their thinking over to the weird and wonderful, they have had the truth taken away from them by the enemy and they use their ‘school of thinking’ as a means for gaining an income. Today we would see them making money by writing articles for newspapers or magazines, or giving seminars. They use what they have, their version of godliness, for making money. You can’t get much further from the truth than that. The truth is not for using but for letting God apply to your life and bring transformation. Tragically, because of the sinfulness and stupidity of human beings, people are gullible and do allow themselves to be swept into wrong thinking, and so, even today, Paul’s warnings still apply.