Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 6:3-10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/14/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 6:3-10
“If Anyone Teaches Otherwise”
As we dig into today’s passage, it is clear that we are approaching the end of this letter. Here in verse 3, Paul revisits the topic he opened the letter discussing. In 1:3, Paul started the letter reminding Timothy that he was left at Ephesus to charge some that they teach “no other doctrine.” Some were engaged in heterodoxy (“other teachings”), other teachings that were not in accord with orthodoxy. We said back then that this could include a wide range of things. It could include things that weren’t necessarily heretical contradictions of Christian teaching, but other, at best, apocryphal teachings. For example, this could include teachings on things like legends and speculative genealogies that serve to distract from what the church is supposed to be teaching and learning. But we also said that this heterodoxy could also include direct heresy, such as we saw described in chapter 4. That’s where we saw how false teachings threatened to replace the Christian faith with ascetic practices, with things like forbidding marriage and teaching people to abstain from certain foods. That was not just another teaching, it was a heretical teaching that directly contradicted orthodox doctrine.
And so here in verse 3 we see that same heterodoxy mentioned again when it uses the language of “if anyone teaches otherwise.” The phrase “teaches otherwise” is the same Greek word as back in 1:3. Paul’s concluding this letter the way he began it. He wants Timothy to remember that he can’t allow these other teachings to be an issue in the church. And here in 6:3 he again defines and clarifies this other teaching. Here it’s not only “other teaching;” not just side teachings that distract and focus on speculation. No, here Paul’s talking about teaching that won’t consent to wholesome words. In other words, it’s teaching done by teachers that won’t agree with sound doctrine. Their teaching is not just “other teaching.” It is contradictory teaching. It is teaching that doesn’t fit with Jesus’ teachings and it’s teaching that doesn’t fit with godliness.
When thinking of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy I appreciate that we belong to a confessional denomination. What I mean by that is we are not a church that has some little half page statement of faith to define what is sound doctrine. We have the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order that defines what we confess to be a sound exposition and explanation of God’s Word. Though we don’t require every believer in the church to have to understand and confess every single jot and tittle in those doctrinal standards, it is what you can expect to be taught by our church leaders. In other words, you can know what we believe to be orthodoxy and sound doctrine and thus what to expect in the teaching that happens at our church. Our confessional documents make this very clear. They also help us to be able to clearly combat false teaching. We can point to these confessional statements in helping to clarify what we will and won’t allow taught in the church.
And so, today’s passage brings us back to the concern of this false teaching. Now, since that’s a topic we’ve already discussed quite a bit as we’ve gone through 1 Timothy, I won’t have us talk any more about that topic in general today. But what this passage uniquely contributes to that topic is that verses 4 and 5 tell us about some of the characteristics of these false teachers. It tells us about who they are at their core. It also talks about some of the fruits that their false teaching brings in the church. And so that’s what I’ll have us focus on today. First, we’ll consider the fruit of their false teaching. Then we’ll consider who these false teachers are at the core.
So then, let’s talk about their fruit. What is the fruit of their false teaching? This starts in verse 4 with the words “from which come.” “From which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings.” These are five things that can come from their trying to bring their heterodoxy into the church. I’ll describe each briefly.
First, envy. How might envy be a fruit of false teaching? There’s surely several different forms, but I think of what happens when there are two different teachings at odds with each other. The side that is not allowed to be taught in the church is going to envy the other side when their doctrine is being taught in the church. So, think about this. If you have some heterodoxy that some people are trying to get taught in the church, they’ll probably start to convince some members in the church of their views. Then when the leadership of the church has to stand up against that heterodoxy, the effects on the congregation can be one of envy among some. Among those who started to buy into the heterodoxy, they’ll be envious and jealous that their views are disregarded by the leadership and not allowed a venue to be taught. A somewhat similar example here is with Jesus and the religious leaders. You might remember that when he was on trial before Pilate that Pilate figured out why the religious leaders were against Jesus. It was because of envy according to Matthew 27:18. The religious leaders had grown envious over how Jesus and his teaching were winning the hearts of the people. The people were turning away from the religious leaders’ teachings to learn instead from Jesus. Envy is a real threat in the midst of doctrinal controversy.
Next, strife. This one is easy to understand. People who bring either heterodoxy or heresy into the church are going to bring strife. The Greek word here is eris which can be translated as strife or discord. If you know your Greek mythology, you will recognize that this is the same word as the Greek goddess by that name, Eris. Eris in Greek mythology was the goddess of strife and discord, famously known for instigating the Trojan War. Eris in Greek mythology would spark quarrels. Of course, Paul is not talking about Greek mythology. The point is that it’s not some pagan goddess causing the strife. It’s the false teachers promoting their other teachings. The result is a church that is fighting and struggling from within. Quarrels can break out among church members. Even if the false teachers aren’t allowed to teach, you could imagine them wanting to put in little jabs against the church’s teachings whenever they can, causing strife. All this threatens the harmony and peace and concord that should be in Christ’s church as we unite around a common doctrine and common faith.
Third, Paul mentions reviling. This is the word for slander. Think about what might happen if there is someone who has “other doctrines” in the church but aren’t allowed to teach them. They likely will start to bad mouth the leadership to other members in the church. They’ll revile the other side and their position. This surely happens a lot in a more private setting, as a way of talking behind their backs. It might also be something done publicly. And frankly this can go both ways. Other members in the church might start speaking against the false teachers and their positions in private as well. The end result is that you have a lot of people reviling one another. Not good.
Fourth, there can be evil suspicions. A suspicion is when you suspect something but don’t have enough evidence to know for certain. These evil suspicions likely have in mind suspecting people of evil. Imagine the result of false teachers trying to promote their views. They can go around getting people to second guess the other side. They can go around placing seeds of suspicion in people that could get them to suspect the worst of the church leaders. And of course, this can go the other way too. When the church leaders have to speak against some false teaching, suddenly people in the church might be looking for false teachers under every pew. They might suspect everyone of being a false teacher in disguise. It could end up being like the idea of a Red Scare when people have been afraid of everyone being secret communists. Both sides can begin to assume the worst of the other, and there can become a lack of trust among church members.
The fifth and final fruit mentioned is “useless wranglings”. Now this is similar to the strife already mentioned. But the nuance here is that this is a word of rubbing. The idea is that there is a constant rubbing up against each other. The NASB translates this as a “constant friction.” There is just always heat, always an argument, always trouble being made. It becomes an atmosphere of constant struggle. Paul says this too is a fruit of these false teachers trying to bring in their contrary doctrines.
So, I hope it is clear that these are not good fruits. We don’t want these fruits in the church. This is a reason why Paul told Timothy he had to combat these false teachers. It’s really the main reason why he wrote this letter! This is not a positive environment to be in. Of course, there is a warning here for us in the OPC. The OPC loves doctrine. I mentioned the strength before about us taking the time to clearly confess in detail what we mean by sound doctrine. In general, that’s a good thing. Yet, when our doctrinal statements were first put together they were consensus documents. In other words, they realized that good Christians could disagree on various minor points of doctrine. They were intentional in what they chose to include in those documents and what not to include. By today’s standards, those doctrinal statements can look very long and detailed. But when they were put together, they didn’t include everything they could have spoken on. They were intentional to allow for some diversity of views in the church. But they spoke on what they believed needed to be spoken on. And so, the temptation today in our denomination which loves theological precision is to keep wanting to fight and argue over minor details. But we must be careful to not end up being overly narrow or more dogmatic on details than we should be. Otherwise, we could end up having some of the very same fruit that were just described here as being caused by the false teachers.
So then, let’s now in our last point consider what’s at the heart or core for these false teachers. Verses 4 and 5 list several qualities or characteristics of these false teachers. They are proud, they know nothing, they are obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, they are men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, they suppose that godliness is a means of gain. Contrast this list with the other lists of people in this letters; lists like the qualities in elders, and deacons, in godly widows, and in godly young women. These are not good qualities to have. Let’s discuss each briefly.
First, pride. They are puffed up and conceited by the knowledge they think they have. Just after this passage, Paul tells Timothy that he needs to flee such things and instead pursue things like gentleness. That word gentleness can also be translated as meekness. It’s such meekness and gentleness that these false teachers are lacking. Instead they go around arrogantly proclaiming things they shouldn’t be proclaiming.
Their pride is particularly problematic because of the second quality mentioned here. Paul says such false teachers actually know nothing. They are without knowledge. They are ignorant. Interesting because we know that knowledge can result in pride. But Paul is saying they have the pride but not the knowledge! And so, they’ve arrogantly convinced themselves that they have the truth, but in reality are mistaken in their ignorance.
Third, Paul says they are obsessed with disputes and arguments over words. These are two different qualities that Paul mentions, but they obviously are related. These false teachers love a good debate. They look for fights. Sometimes the argument is just over a single word or two. Realize that Paul is saying this is a heart condition. Some people just crave arguments. They just pick fights all the time. Not physical confrontations; but battles of the mind and whit. This is why the Bible has to speak against quarreling in so many places. It’s a struggle of the human heart, especially for some people. The word for “obsessed” here in the Greek is literally that they are sick for debate. In other words, their desire is an unhealthy one! Again, in the OPC, we have to be on guard against this. Yes, there is a time and a place for a theological dispute. It was right of Martin Luther to fight against the Roman Catholic Church who had replaced the gospel with a lie. But the temptation in the OPC is to always be fighting about something. This reminds us that such is not a quality to want. Paul says it’s actually a trait common in false teachers.
Next, we see some of the worse qualities. Verse 5, these are men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth. This speaks of someone who has not been born again. These are unregenerate people. The word for corrupt here can also be translated as spoiled or ruined. With minds like that, we understand why they won’t heed to the church’s teaching and admonition. No matter how many pastors and elders talk to them of sound doctrine, their ruined minds just can’t understand. It’s a sad thing to think about. It’s even more sad when we think of them being destitute of the truth. The word destitute here is the passive form for the word “steal”. Thus, the NIV translates this that they “have been robbed of the truth.” Surely the idea is that they’ve believed a lie and been defrauded of the truth. The truth has been stolen from them by the enemy. That especially makes sense when we think of these false teachers coming from within the church. Here they are at church where the truth is being taught all around them. But with their darkened understanding they believe the enemy’s lies instead. This reminds us of the spiritual warfare involved in all of this.
Lastly, we see some of their sinful motives when it says they suppose that godliness is a means of gain. This is clarified in the following verses when it talks about the love of money. We’ll consider more of that topic next week. But the point is basically that these false teachers believe that their false teaching can make them money. Sadly, I’m sure we can all think of examples of different pastors or TV evangelists that seem to be in it for the money.
So, we have here this description of some qualities at the core of such false teachers. Let me point us again to the gospel to remind us what ultimately separates us from such false teachers. In contrast to these people who are robbed of the truth, we remember what James 1:18 says for us Christians. James 1:18, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” The Lord has given us new life by the word of his truth! Again, thinking in contrast to how these false teachers are described as being without understanding and having corrupted minds, we remember Ephesians 1:18. There it speaks of how God enlightens our understanding so that we can know the hope of our calling! Do you see my point? What separates us from these false teachers is the work of God in our hearts and lives. The gospel points us to how we need the Lord to intervene in our lives. We need him to work in our hearts and minds in a way that only he can do. Be encouraged again today in the gospel which declares how God has saved you by his grace. Grace that transforms you from within and gets you to hope in his truth. For believers, this is who we are at the core, at our heart: new creations that have been turned to the Lord and his truth and toward godliness!
So then, it becomes the ministry of us his church to then deliver this truth to people. Because the reality of the heart change that’s happened to us is that God ordinarily does that change in conjuction with his truth. People are grown and changed as God’s Spirit works through the reading and preaching and teaching of his Holy Word. As the words of Jesus and the doctrine which accords with godliness is proclaimed, God changes people’s lives. This is why we are called to promote this truth in the church, and not the other false teachings. We must promote these wholesome words, this sound doctrine. So yes, there will be a way in which we will need to fight for the truth and the sound doctrine. While at the same time we will need to resist the temptation to be fighting about other-doctrines that are not of the word of Christ or the teaching which leads to godliness. May this then be the fruit that comes from us God’s people. As those changed by the Spirit, may the Spirit bring forth the fruit of knowledge, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. May this be fruit we find in our own lives. And may it be what is seen coming up in our church community.
In conclusion, see this contrast. Who these false teachers were at their core resulted in the bad fruit that came from them and their actions. Who we are at the core as Christians is what will result in good fruit coming forth. Let us keep looking to Jesus who heals sick hearts. He has made us born again on the inside. Let us look to him to continue to transform us by the renewing of our minds in his truth. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.