I am sure that everyone here has seen or is at least quite familiar with “The Wizard of Oz.” It was a special effects masterpiece in its day. If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the musical “The Wiz” with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross from the 70’s. Now pretty much any high school drama team performs it regularly.
In the mid 90’s, Gregory Maguire wrote the book “Wicked” about the generation in Oz before Dorothy arrives. Then about 10 years later, it was turned into a Broadway musical. The book is quite dark, and it focuses on the nature of good and evil and whether they stem more from nature or nurture. But the musical is a cotton-candy version of the same story.
The musical focuses on two ambitious woman who meet in college with very different ideas of how best to defeat the evil they see around them. The woman who becomes the wicked witch is given the name Elphaba, and the good witch goes by Galinda. Elphaba is more intent on facing reality with all its wrinkles and darkness, accepting it for what it is, and is a misunderstood heroine who wants to expose the wizard for the wicked man he is. Galinda, on the other hand, is a well-to-do, widely accepted young woman who likes to enjoy the perks of the system from the inside. Galinda wants to help Elphaba by encouraging her to do what it takes to become popular. If she’ll dress differently, use the right words, and get to know the right people, you…will…be…popular. Just do what Galinda says, no questions asked, and Elphaba will get what she wants in the end. However, Elphaba isn’t interested in being popular but in doing the right thing. Being popular is just a distraction from the truth.
Christians often face the same temptation. Parts of culture are outright hostile to the faith and want to see it dismantled. But in the main, what culture wants is to see little changes here and there to supposedly help the church keep up with the times. And the human condition is to want to be popular and accepted by as many people as possible. The world is all too willing to tell us what we will have to give up to make us popular.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he says some very unpopular things. In Paul’s day, what he said was unwelcome. Today, what Paul says is hateful, benighted, bigoted, chauvinistic, and intolerant. Many people today, even in the church, want to take Paul’s words and, as Peter says, twist them as they do the other Scriptures.
What will not happen is us shaping the Scriptures to our liking. We must be shaped by the Scriptures. Do we give lip-service to the authority of Scripture until we have something to disagree with? Any church that creeps away from the words of Scripture is a church on its way out. Paul is adamant that Timothy organizes a church that, above all things, guards the gospel. Timothy is called to put the church in order, and the ordering of the church is one very important and highly visible way of guarding the gospel. God would have his church ordered perhaps a little differently than you or I would. The point of the church is not to reflect you and me, nonetheless the world, but to reflect him. The church is to be a worshiping community of priests, every last one of us. From the cultural mandate of Genesis 1, to the covenantal call of Abraham, to the great commission given by Christ, the church is to be the steward of God’s rule and reign over all creation. Therefore, we are not at liberty to govern ourselves according to our own design. This is Christ’s church, not ours.
Starting with myself, I must admit my sinful nature, which is being killed day by day, still wants to be in the center of things. We want our will to be the driving force of the universe. We want a world fashioned after our likeness. We don’t mind an impersonal god, as long as he thinks like us. So before we even know what the book says, because it is Scripture, we must be willing to submit ourselves to it and thereby submit ourselves to God.
It might surprise us what’s in this little letter. Things that we might think are a non-issue, or settled, Paul says to take a second look. What we might dismiss, Paul says to reconsider. What culture says is good may not be so good when you peer under the hood. As Paul says elsewhere in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The natural man does not know God and must therefore be taught by God who he is. And God has given us Scripture to learn how the church must be ordered to preach the risen Christ and guard the gospel of the kingdom of God. So we shouldn’t expect to naturally agree with everything we read. We should expect to be confronted in our unbelief. But God loves his people and does not leave us to our own devices. So in these first seven verses of 1 Timothy, we find that …
Teaching doctrine is loving people.
We have all been impacted by outside forces that want to frame the way we view the world. We have all been told the way to be acceptable and popular. Sometimes these views need to be confronted with the word of God and brought into accord with divine truth. Paul is going to address matters of human sexuality, the character of leaders, and men and women in ministry. The wider culture holds nothing back when it speaks on all of those issues, and unless we’re intentional about the authority of Scripture, that Scripture is the final authority in all these matters, that Scripture settles all disputes as the highest authority, then we will be prone to let culture’s voice speak louder than God’s. And that’s not how we love God or each other. Teaching doctrine is loving people.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Point 1: Christian doctrine has a divine source.
Paul clearly meant this letter to be read aloud in worship and expounded by the pastor-teachers. Paul and Timothy were extremely close and had worked together as pastors and missionaries for years. Paul considered Timothy to be a son. He calls Timothy a true child in the faith. But Paul wasn’t the one who ministered to Timothy when he became a Christian. Timothy grew up in a loving home where the word was taught to him, at least by his mother and grandmother, as we’re told in 2 Timothy. Paul and Timothy pastored in Ephesus for a time. Paul had other work to do, so he continued traveling and acting as a missionary around the Mediterranean. But Timothy was someone Paul trusted so much he would be comfortable leaving him behind in Ephesus to continue the work left to do.
So it is odd that Paul introduces himself to Timothy as an apostle. Of course Timothy knew Paul was an apostle. There’s no need unless Timothy is not the entirety of the intended audience. Paul is ensuring that the church in Ephesus accepts Timothy as their pastor, as their teacher, and as someone that they should trust in choosing who will hold leadership positions alongside him. Timothy’s authority is not absolute; pastors aren’t dictators. Pastors don’t rule by fiat. But there is an authority of teaching and oversight vested in pastors, and the Ephesian Christians should know that Paul the apostle has chosen Timothy and entrusted him with a lot of responsibility in this young church. So clearly, it’s important that the church know and understand what kind of leaders they should have.
Paul the apostle tells us that his apostolic office was not chosen by him but commanded him by God. He did not wake up one day and think, “Today’s the day I start being persecuted.” He was literally knocked to the ground by the Lord and given a commission the old Paul would have wanted nothing to do with. He was present for the first Christian martyr, the deacon Stephen. We’re told he held the coats of those who stoned him, which might also imply he was the ringleader. But Christ gave Paul a new commission. Instead of the great persecutor of the church, he would be the humble planter of many churches. Paul wasn’t given a choice; he was given a commission. There was no rejecting it or coming to different terms. He was knocked down from his pedestal, went down into the waters of baptism, and was raised to new life in Christ. Paul now lived and breathed the gospel. So he is passionate about the church guarding this gospel for which so many have lost their lives. Paul gave his life preaching the gospel he received from Christ. Teaching doctrine is loving people.
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
Point 2: Christ is the center of all doctrine.
The perennial problem for every church is straying from the core message and truth of Scripture. The difficulty lies in that every generation has their own version of it, so it can be difficult to trace a clear line. Most of the time, it’s an ancient heresy or heterodox position repackaged as something novel. But there is a thread running through all of them: Christ is not enough. Some are more subtle than others, but it’s there all the same. Here are two contemporary examples:
In the prosperity gospel, Christ giving himself up for our sin is replaced with God existing to meet your needs and glorify you. Jesus’ death was just an example of what God is willing to do for you, if it has any noteworthiness at all. If you can hide what the Bible says behind false promises of health and wealth, you can make people do anything and give you any amount of money.
In one of the newest spiritual, so-called “Christian” movements, the new apostolic reformation, the Holy Spirit vesting the written word of Scripture with his authority is replaced with mystical power and centralized leadership in the man at the top. If you say God gave you a mandate to heal diseases, cast out demons, and teach new revelations he has given you, then you don’t need to teach what he’s said in Scripture.
But again, the thread in all of these deceitful movements is that they displace Christ as the center of all doctrine. From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, Christ Jesus is the point. He is the thesis of Scripture. He is the culmination of all that God has said and done. He is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Every covenant of the Old Testament is a movement toward the new covenant made in Christ’s blood.
Maybe in no other place is that truth made more explicit than in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews has been called the greatest commentary on the Old Testament. In that book, the author goes to great lengths to show how everything that came before Christ was a shadow of Christ. Before Christ came, all you had to go off of to know what God would do was based on those shadows. Once Christ came, you no longer had to look at the shadow to get a sense of what he actually looked like. We look at him! Christ is better than the angels because the angels worship him. He is better than Moses because Moses was God’s servant but Christ is God’s Son. He is better than the priesthood because his priesthood is eternal. And he is better than any old covenant because his covenant dealt with sin once and for all.
In Paul’s other letters, he warns about people creeping in and teaching false doctrine. They want to usurp the leadership in place. But we don’t get that sense in 1 Timothy. Paul tells Timothy to charge certain persons from teaching different doctrine. It seems as though Paul is talking about Timothy’s fellow teaching pastors of the church. There are those who have not necessarily started teaching contradictory truths, or heresies, but they have started focusing on things that distract from the gospel. This makes sense since Paul goes into greater detail about leadership qualifications in the next few chapters.
The examples Paul gives of different doctrines are myths and genealogies. This supports the idea that they are pastors who have lost their way and not outside pagan influencers, because they are at least trying to make connections to the Bible. Myths are those ideas that usually lack all truth. They might be used to support a doctrine, but they are not themselves true. Therefore they shouldn’t be taught. This was extremely common among the Jews of the first century and well into the next few hundred years. They developed a bunch of background stories for biblical characters or filled in the holes of what is in Scripture. They thought they were helping, but all they were doing is burdening people with myths that are completely unnecessary and might actually not be true. Myths about all the famous Bible characters developed, from Adam, to Moses, to Enoch. Today, we see this in shows like The Chosen. Holy imagination is still imagination. People who watch TV but don’t read the Bible are easily persuaded. Any time we perform something from Scripture, whether it be a video Bible story in Sunday school or an Easter cantata, it better be the words of Scripture. Otherwise, we’re dealing with the same kind of myth that Paul was in the first century.
But what really stands out here is genealogies. The Bible is full of genealogies, and Paul says they’re bad? Not exactly. Unlike myths, genealogies have a good purpose. They are notoriously long and often glossed over in our reading plans, even by yours truly, but they have a grand purpose. They are there to show God’s consistent covenantal faithfulness across generations. The genealogies of Genesis date from creation to God’s selection of Abraham. The genealogies of 1 Chronicles show that not one of God’s elect was lost in the Babylonian captivity. And the genealogies of Matthew and Luke show that the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ has been the plan of God all along. So used rightly, the genealogies comfort the believer and give evidence of God’s lovingkindness.
But that’s not the only way they have been used. All too often, genealogies were used to corroborate their myths. And later, Paul will address how these teachers have understood and taught the law of God. It’s not that the law was bad, but how the teachers used the law was wrong. In the same way, how the teachers used the genealogies was wrong, even though they were good. Any doctrine that leads away from Christ, or pulls focus from him, is a dangerous doctrine. Teaching doctrine that is centered on Christ is how we love people.
5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Point 3: Doctrine should form the whole person.
One of the great questions every believer must ask themselves, both regularly and perhaps especially at times we receive the Lord’s Supper, is “Do I really believe all this? Do I really believe all these doctrines? How can I know? Have I really been changed into someone who loves God and his people? Because it doesn’t always feel like it.”
Now because it doesn’t always feel like it, we’re told to examine ourselves. There will be evidence, or fruit, in the Christian’s life. Much or meager, there will be fruit. In verse 5, Paul tells us what the grand, over-arching theme of our doctrine is: love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. He is applying this well-established rule as a guide for us.
Saying that love is the greatest of all the Christian virtues is nothing new for Paul. He has said early in 1 Corinthians 13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (v.13). Love is the highest of all virtues. And of course, Jesus tells his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is the goal to which we attain, the kind of love modeled for us in the substitutionary death of Christ.
But what makes up love? What are its components? A clean or pure heart, an unbothered conscience, and an unfeigned faith.
What makes our hearts pure? King David knew. He writes in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (v.10). It is God who creates new hearts. God cleans the heart. Apart from him our hearts deceive us time and time again. David was incapable of changing himself. Sure, he could exercise and get in shape, he could color his hair, he could change his clothes. But all that exterior stuff is of far lesser value than the interior work on the heart that only God can do. Jesus tells us in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” So God must act first if we are to have love from a pure heart.
But what about our conscience? If you’re anything like me, your conscience still bothers you. It’s a sign that the Spirit is at work when my sin bothers me. It’s not just a fear of getting caught that everyone feels but a grief over the rebellious nature of my sin. How can I have a good, clean, undefiled conscience? Your conscience is both a blessing as well as a tool of the enemy. The enemy says to us, “If you know what you did, then of course God knows what you did, and he told you not to do it. So how can you ever think you’ll be a good person?”
A good conscience is not a conscience unaware of your sins and disobedience. A good conscience is the result of repentance. Repentance is confession of our sins and a desire to pursue holiness because God is holy. Repentance is not a one-and-done deal. Repentance is the Christian lifestyle. Repentance is the pursuit of holiness. Martin Luther, the German reformer, nailed his famous 95 theses to the doors of the Wittenberg castle in 1517. It was meant to be a list of topics for debate in the university held in the cathedral. The first thesis was this: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” A good and clean conscience does not come from perfection but from turning from sin and pursuing holiness each and every day, and more precisely, especially when we fail.
But love has a third component: a pure heart, a good conscience, and lastly, a sincere faith. That word “sincere” means to hold to the faith once delivered to the saints without hypocrisy. Whether or not you have a sincere faith is answered by questions like, “Is God just a conversation piece for you? Does God owe you anything for your good deeds? Do you give any thought to obedience outside of Sunday morning?” There are those who see Christianity as just worship attendance and little else. But if you seek to give the Lord everything, if his Word is the answer to your questions regardless of whether you like it or not, your faith is without hypocrisy. And just because your faith waivers, that does not mean your faith is not sincere. The tallest skyscrapers move the most in the wind. It’s the one-story, insignificant buildings that are destroyed by the wind. That’s because there’s nothing to them! Their foundations are in the dirt. But why do those tall buildings not fall over? How can they stand up to the wind? Because their foundations go deeper than a one-story house. They go all the way down to the bedrock.
So how do you build your foundations all the way down to the bedrock, past all the sand and dirt and clay? You build your life on the words of Christ. He tells us, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27). Your faith can waiver if it’s built on rock. The rock is what makes it secure. So when your faith waivers, don’t think of it as weak. When buildings move with the wind, they’re actually showing how strong they are. They’ll still be standing when the wind stops. When your faith waivers, look to the bedrock. Remember his life, his death, his resurrection, and his exaltation. He will not let you falter to the point of turning from him.
6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Point 4: Deserting doctrine leads to more misunderstanding.
Few things are as dangerous as someone holding a gun and not looking where they're aiming. “Swerving” here is a term from the archery world, meaning to aim carelessly. It’s like going to the gun range and putting blinders on. It’s deadly. When you don’t know what you’re aiming at, people die. Paul says that these pastor-teachers have aimed carelessly at the law of God. Instead of using the law of God biblically, they are making up their own ways. They don’t know how to use it. The law of God shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. It also shows us the perfect righteous standard God expects. It was only ever executed perfectly in one man, Christ Jesus. So by putting our faith in him, we are counted as righteous, as if we fulfilled the law. If we don’t get that right, we’re treading on dangerous ground. If we don’t understand it was fulfilled in Christ, we risk misunderstanding a host of other doctrines. We will inevitably get the atonement wrong. We will get the church wrong. We will get the whole notion of covenant and faithfulness wrong. One way or another, everything is tied to the law of God. And it’s when we get the law wrong that we misunderstand many other doctrines.
This is one way teachers get students. When they don’t understand the important things, they dress them up in order to give an appearance of understanding. Jesus often charged the Pharisees with something similar. They understood the letter of the law, but they did not understand that he was the fulfillment of the law, even though he proved it many times in public. You can spout off all the $1 words you want, but if you don’t see them as pointing you to Christ, you are like the Pharisees and these pastors in Ephesus. This doesn’t mean everyone goes to Bible college to get a proper education. In fact, theological education should primarily take place in the church. That was the failure of these pastor-teachers. They didn’t understand the Scriptures themselves, so they padded their sermons and lessons with nonsense.
Teaching doctrine is loving people. This is especially true when the doctrine is unpopular and considered intolerant, as we’ll see. Our doctrine comes from God, not man. It came through apostles and prophets, but it’s source was always God. And all of our doctrine ultimately points us to Christ. Christ is the thread going through every page. Sometimes we need help to see it, but it’s there. And when we see Christ on every page, every part of us is changed. Good doctrine is for the mind, of course, but it’s also for the heart and soul. What starts in the mind must eventually change the things we love. And if we neglect the fact that Christ is the culmination of God’s plan, we’ll radically misunderstand other doctrines as well. Without Christ, we have no doctrine. The most loving thing we can do for ourselves and others is to live lives in accordance with the law of God. Teaching doctrine is loving people.