Critical Concerns for Pastoral Ministry (1 Timothy 1:3-7)Related Media
Life is obviously filled with critical concerns and no place is this more evident than in the pastoral responsibilities God has entrusted to the leadership of church. Because of the work of the adversary, these concerns have existed from the very early days of the church, but in view of Paul’s warnings in 2 Timothy 3 regarding the increase of apostasy in the last days and what we are seeing today in the church, Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3-7 are tremendously significant. These instructions are pastoral in nature and reveal what might be called critical concerns for pastoral ministry. These are matters important to the leadership themselves and to the well being of the flock of God as a whole. Obviously, there are many more concerns dealt with throughout those epistles we generally call, the ‘pastoral epistles’ (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). Since these instructions deal specifically with pastoral concerns and since 1 Timothy is the first of the three pastoral epistles, a word is in order with regard to the nature and scope of the pastorals.
The Nature and Scope of the Pastoral Epistles
The Term Pastoral Epistles
The term pastoral epistles has been used to designate the three epistles or letters addressed to Timothy and Titus (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus). Though addressed to individuals, they are not limited to personal and private communications since they were addressed to these men to guide them in matters concerning the church of Jesus Christ and its pastoral care (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15 with 2 Tim. 2:2). The term “pastoral” refers to the familiar biblical image of shepherds caring for their flock of sheep, an incredibly rich figure designed to portray two important images: (1) the bewilderment and helpless of mankind, and (2) God and His loving care to bring lost sheep into His pasture and care for them like a shepherd. The church, of course, is God’s flock with the Lord Jesus as the Good, Chief and Great Shepherd (John 10:11; 1 Pet. 5:4; Heb. 13:20; ), but from within His flock He raises up leaders who are to act as under-shepherds. To them has been give the responsibility of leading, protecting, feeding, and caring for His sheep (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3).
This term “pastoral” is an 18th century designation which has endured down through the years because it is fitting though not entirely accurate. It is accurate in that these epistles are primarily devoted to church order and its life and function. It is inaccurate only in the sense that Timothy and Titus were not pastors in the present-day sense of the term. All in all, however, the content of these books are pastoral in nature whether they deal with personal matters or the corporate ministry of the church. They give directions that have both a personal and corporate flavor necessary for the care, conduct, order, ministry, and administration of churches or assemblies of believers.
In summary we can say that these books were designed by God to aid us in our pastoral responsibilities, organic development and organization, and shepherd care for local flocks (see 1 Tim. 3:14).
Their Place in the Canon of Scripture
In this regard there is a significant point that should, I believe, be noted. The pastorals were the last books written by Paul, the very last. Now why is that important? Since these books deal with church order, organization, and ministering to the church in pastoral care, why not write them first? If you or I were doing this, we would probably first try to get the administrative organization in order (the structure) and then worry about the doctrine. This is the priority in many if not most churches today. It seems a lot of people think that if you have the constitution and the church organized properly, then everything will run smoothly, but it that really so?
Some suggestions to think about:
(1) If the emphasis we see in the chronological development of Paul’s epistles is taken as a model, church order is not the most fundamental priority; doctrine is. Certainly, the church is an organic body made up of many parts and each believer is a member with a special function and task to carry out in an orderly way, but the primary essential for the church is right theology through consistent Bible-based teaching. This is teaching that is designed to lead to an understanding of the Word and its careful application via the ministry of the Spirit of God. This provides us with the spiritual and moral foundation on which we should base the methods, strategy, and administration or organization to be used in the local church. This not only gives us the right foundation, but it provides the spiritual motivation and ability to function in the power of God. Yet, as will be seen in this study, all doctrinal teaching needs to be guided by biblical goals. While our methods will vary, they must never contradict the moral or spiritual principles of the Word.
As an illustration let’s consider the issue of giving. Giving is a corporate and individual responsibility, but our giving and the collection of money should be so done that it does not violate biblical or spiritual principles. The thrust of the New Testament is that giving is to be the product of the leading of the Spirit and one’s personal relationship with Christ. It is to be voluntary and never the result of the methods that employ coercion or manipulation (see 1 Cor. 16:1f; 2 Cor. 8-9).
(2) The organic and unified growth of a church (organization) should be based on sound doctrinal teaching that is based on rightly handling the Word (2 Tim. 3:15). It is God’s objective truth along with the selection of those who are spiritually right with God and qualified that leads to effective churches by God’s standards (1 Tim. 3:1f).
When churches seek to operate an organization based on tradition or background and attempt to use people who are not truly qualified spiritually, they end up with an organization that may appear successful from the world’s standards, but it will not be successful according to God’s standards as found in Scripture. It will lack the foundation, true spiritual enablement, and capacity to fulfill the biblical model.
Oswald Sanders, in his classic book on leadership entitled Spiritual Leadership, has an important note in this regard.
The true spiritual leader is concerned infinitely more with the service he can render God and his fellowmen than with the benefits and pleasures he can extract from life. He aims to put more into life than he takes out of it.1
The greatest need is not for leaders, but for saints and servants. Unless that is held in the foreground of our thinking, the whole idea of leadership and leadership training becomes dangerous.2
The pastoral epistles do, of course, deal with matters of church order or ecclesiology not hitherto addressed in the other epistles, but before God ever gave the church directions for organization or order as specific as those we find in the pastorals, he gave us Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians—His instructions for godly living through faith in the Lord Jesus.
Is this because organization is unimportant? Certainly not! But may I suggest He gave us the other epistles first because: (a) organization and administration are not primary; they are secondary, and (b) because it is sound teaching that promotes true spirituality which ultimately results in ministries that are biblically effective and that manifest the spirit and character of Christ in ministry and outreach.
(3) Some areas of ecclesiology are more difficult to determine than others. As a result, students of the Word have debated certain issues for years like: (a) what is the exact form of government churches should have? or (b) how do we select and appoint men to leadership? or (c) how much authority are the elders to have?, and (d) how much authority is the congregation to have? Does this mean we should not carefully study these issues looking for biblical answers and then come to conclusions based on our study of the facts of Scripture as we can best understand them? Of course not; we should obviously seek God’s mind on these matters. But the point is, regardless of the type of church government (within certain limits), if God’s Word is being consistently and accurately proclaimed with prayerful dependence on the Lord, and if the people take it to heart, a church will become alive, vital, and experience the touch of the living Christ on its ministry.
The Practical and Sound Doctrine Emphasis of the Pastoral Epistles
While the pastorals do deal with the local church and its conduct and organization, they are also intensely practical and contain a strong emphasis on sound doctrine. The pastorals are primarily practical rather than theological, but the doctrinal emphasis lies more on the defense of sound doctrine than on its development, explanation, or elaboration.
Thus, the emphasis is more on: (1) holding to sound doctrine, the doctrine already received as in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. (this is stressed at least 10 to 12 times in one way or another in the pastorals, and (2) on the practical outworking of that doctrine in an individual and in the corporate life of the church.
How does Paul seek to promote both of these areas—sound doctrine and its practical outworking in these epistles? The pastorals are written to promote the maintenance of sound doctrine and practical Christian living through faithful, biblical pastoral care and through ministries that function according to the biblical and spiritual principles of these books.
The organic development of a church is important, but its capacity to do its job rides on a firm foundation of theology and the spirituality of its people. This is nowhere more evident than in Paul’s opening words to Timothy as he brings up what we might call critical concerns for biblical pastoral care. First and Second Timothy are loaded with concerns about certain spiritual needs, qualifications, and behavior that should characterize any church’s ministry and pastoral leadership. However, the focus of this study will be devoted to several key concerns that need to be addressed by every church leader and Bible believing church.
1:3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus …3
While many of the historical details are sketchy, verse 3a refers to a visit Paul made to Ephesus after his release from prison in Rome. While in Ephesus Paul evidently found serious conditions because the rise of false teachers, just as he had previously warned the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:28f). Though he felt the leading of God to go on to Macedonia, his concern for the false teachers at Ephesus caused him to strongly appeal to Timothy to stay in Ephesus in order to deal with this problem. So, the first concern the apostle addressed, and admittedly this is only by implication, is suggested by his words of exhortation, “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus.”
There are evidences here that suggest Timothy may have originally shown signs of reluctance or at least a fearfulness to stay in the battle at Ephesus, perhaps because of his youth or simply because of the nature of what he was facing in Ephesus from the false teachers. Two things here suggest the apostle was challenging Timothy to hang tough and stay the course. First, we can conclude from these words that this is the second time Paul had to urge young Timothy to stay on at the task assigned to Him by the apostle. Further, the word used, “remain on,” is prosmeno, a slightly intensive compound of the simple verb, meno, “to abide, remain.” He did not simply tell him to “remain” (meno), but “remain on, continue longer” (prosmeno) and this is related to the phrase, “just as I urged you” (parakaleo, “appeal to, urge, exhort.” Other appeals made to Timothy by the apostle in 1 and 2 Timothy suggest that here Paul is encouraging Timothy to hang tough to avoid burnout or leaving the very difficult task assigned to him (1 Tim. 1:18-19; 4:6f; 2 Tim. 1:5-8; 2:1ff; 2:24f; 3:1f; 4:1f). Thus, knowing Timothy’s leaning in this direction or simply knowing the nature of the pressures of ministry, Paul wrote not only to instruct but to encourage and fortify. We might paraphrase, “Just as I urged you to stay on before, so now I appeal to you again to remain on, to hang in there in spite of your fears, feelings of inadequacy, or in spite of the nature of the problems you are facing.
Opposition, hardships of various sorts and difficulties go with the territory of ministry in a fallen world. Just as Daniel tells us that the walls of Jerusalem would be rebuilt in times of distress, so Paul warned Timothy and us that “in the last days difficult (kalepos, “hard, stressful, dangerous”) times would come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Ministry is often tough and filled with hardships and pressures, and sometimes the tendency is to run away. That seems the only logical solution. Those in pastoral care may simply feel, “Oh well, what’s the use. This is like trying to climb a greased pole!”
But the apostle did more than simply tell Timothy to remain. There is encouragement and motivation found throughout 1 Timothy to fortify Paul’s appeal? What lessons, then, can we learn from these epistles that provide us with the needed fortification and stability in both finding and following through on what God has called us to do?
The principles for staying power I will suggest in what follows, come from Paul’s various instructions in the pastoral epistles. They are naturally inter-related, yet each principle is distinct and forms a part of the whole picture.
(1) The Principle of Purpose. The first suggestion is found for us in verse 3 and the words beginning with “in order that…” This is a purpose clause that immediately pointed Timothy to the purpose of remaining on. Certainly it is only one purpose in the sphere of a larger overall purpose for Timothy as a teacher of the Word, but it suggests the necessary truth of purposeful living—having an adequate purpose for life that gives one a sense of destiny and meaning for living. Purposeful living comes from recognizing God’s call and will for one’s life. Having an adequate reason and goal for life and for pressing on becomes tremendously motivational as the apostle later delineates in 2 Timothy 2:1ff with the illustrations of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.
Each purpose God has for us, as with this charge to Timothy, has its own special motivation. In keeping with the work of shepherds, Timothy was to provide a protection and a defense for others against false teaching by dealing with these teachers. This could mean the deliverance of these teachers as well as a protection for others in keeping with the call and responsibility we have of loving one another as children of God. In other words, the motive of love for others by what he was doing formed an added incentive and objective for the purpose of his life—the motive of love (cf. 1:3-5; 4:1f; 2 Tim. 4:1f).
If our lives and ministries are motivated by selfish desires like praise, recognition, success (i.e., self-love), then we have a totally inadequate and empty reason for living and we simply will not be able to endure the varied hardships, criticism, and the battles that come along (cf. 1 Thess. 2:3f).
(2) The Principle of Stewardship. Also associated with the principle of purpose that the apostle focuses on later in this epistle is the concept of stewardship—being good stewards of the gifts and abilities God gives us. A stewardship is something which belongs to another but is given to someone as a trust for management on which a return is expected. This includes: (a) Accepting the fact of spiritual gifts and those gifts as stewardship trusts from God.4 (b) Recognizing and accepting the responsibilities our gifts demand—we will each be held accountable.5 (c) Confirmation of those gifts by the body of Christ is another important element of motivation and encouragement. So Paul will also remind Timothy of this in 1 Timothy 1:18 and 4:14.
Further motivation for “remaining on” as good stewards is found in 1:19, “keeping faith and a good conscience.” In the context in which this is said this means two things: (a) To fail to follow through on God’s call and the trust given to us, is to act in unbelief. It is to fail to believe God and trust Him and His wisdom, purposes, promises, and provision. It is to fail to believe in heavenly treasures and to live accordingly. May we remember that what God has called us to do, He has gifted us to do; and what He has gifted us to do, He has called us to do in some capacity and to some degree. To fail to act on this is to act in unbelief. (b) It also means that if we fail to get involved with some form of ministry according to our gifts or to endure with the ministry God has given us, we have to live with a bad conscience. This means we end up living in awareness of the fact we aren’t doing what God has called us to do. So what should we do? Our options are twofold: First, we can face and confess the fact and deal with it—the goal is to have a conscience void of offence (1 Tim. 1:5; Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Cor. 1:12; 4:2). Second, we may opt for all kinds of rationalizations, cover ups, and excuses to avoid fulfilling our stewardship. If we go for this second option, then we end up hardening or searing our conscience (2 Tim. 1:3; 1 Tim. 4:2; 2 Cor. 4:2).
Paul later reminded Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6 that to fulfill our calling, to use our gifts in faithful service regardless of the trials, means we become “good servants of Christ Jesus.” To run away and make excuses is to become a servant of our own selfish desires, fears, and false values. It is to be no servant at all of the Lord (cf. Demas in 2 Tim. 4:10).
(3) The Principle of Personal Spiritual Nourishment. In 1 Timothy 4:6b-7 Paul points us to one of the keys of endurance—a spiritually nourished life, one that is nourished up on the words of the faith, i.e., the Word. It is impossible to remain faithful to our stewardship, if we are not feeding our own souls and being fed on the Word. The contrast brought out in these two verses should drive this home forcefully: listening to God’s Word (vs. 6b) versus listening to men and their ideas (vs.7a). Nourishing one’s life involves godly disciplines (1 Tim. 4:7b-8). This means the spiritual disciplines by which we grow and mature in the things of Christ. It is these disciplines that produce maturity, strength, wisdom, and faithful service from the right motives. This includes—prayer, Bible study (private and corporate), Scripture memory, Bible reading, fellowship with believers who mean business with Christ, and even discipling others.
(4) The Principle of Maintaining a Heavenly Hope—Living as Sojourners (cf. 1 Tim. 4:4:8b-9; 6:6, 7, 17-19; Tit. 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 1:13f). One of the consistent themes of Scripture is the truth that this life is passing away and that our primary citizenship as believers in Christ is in heaven, from which we are to look for the Savior (Phil. 3:20-21). As citizens of heaven, we are only here on temporary assignment as sojourners or pilgrims who are to live in this life with a view to laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19f). Coupled with this are the many promises of rewards that will be given for faithful service in the epistles. Demas deserted the apostle Paul in ministry and the reason given is that he loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10). Only a heavenly hope will keep our values, priorities, and pursuits where they need to be.
(5) The Principle of Maintaining Biblical Motives and Goals. Another means to encourage staying power is the responsibility to have and maintain biblical motives and goals for ministry. Living for God’s glory rather than for the praise of men or personal gain in this life is crucial (cf. 1:5, 17). This will become the third critical concern discussed below where more will be said on this issue. For the moment, however, note the force of the appeal in 6:11-12: The negative flee (vs. 11a) is quickly followed by the positive, pursue godliness (vs. 11b) and fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life (vs. 12). Goal oriented living, like having an eternal perspective mentioned previously, has a powerful influence on one's life.
1:3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, 1:4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. These promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith.
The second problem Timothy faced, and one we continually face as the church seeks to maintain its witness in a fallen world, is that of false teaching and the endless variety of strange doctrines, fads, and ideas. It seems there is no end to these strange doctrines that are always clamoring for our attention and seeking entrance into the thinking of the body of Christ. This is no small problem because it is often so very subtle. They are called “strange” in that they are contrary to Scripture.
The Challenge Before Timothy: An Explanation of the Problem
According to 1 Timothy 1:3b; 4:1-8; and 6:3-5, 20-21, there were false teachers creeping into the church at Ephesus. Their doctrine is described and characterized by Paul as:
(1) Strange or hetero doctrines (vs. 3b). “Strange doctrines” is the Greek word, heterodidaskaleo, from heteros, “another of a different kind” (not just another), and disdaskaleo, “to teach, instruct.” “Strange doctrines” are doctrines of a different kind, teachings not in keeping with the divine and infallible standard of the revelation of God in Scripture or the revelation of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the final analysis, this means deviating from biblical standards either in content, nature, scope, or aim (1:5, 11; Tit. 1:9).
(2) Myths, consisting of endless genealogies (vs. 4a). One might think “myths” and “endless genealogies” refer to two different things, but in reality this is a two-fold description of the same aberration or heresy. Myths looks at the nature of their teaching and endless genealogies at the content.
In nature they are myths. Myths is the Greek, muthos. In its widest sense, muthos means “word, speech, conversation,” but then it came to refer to, “the mere talk of men, rumor, report, or a story or tale.” Finally, it came to be used of an invention of the minds of men—a fiction, a falsehood, a myth. It contrasts the human ideas and perspectives of man with the divine perspective of God. One is myth and one is truth. One is likened to “old wives tales” and what is useless (4:7), the other to what is God breathed and profitable… (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In content they were first of all endless genealogies. “Endless” is the Greek aperantos from peras, “a limit or terminus, end,” and the negative alpha prefix which negates the word with which it is connected. It means “without limits or without end,” i.e., without biblical controls. (a) This could refer to the content, i.e., there is no end to these tales and to the human viewpoint legends of man when he is without the index of the divine Word of God. Without the objective and absolute authority of God’s Word, there is no terminus or restriction on the ideas of man and his endless philosophical and religious speculations. (b) Or this could refer to the goal, objective or aim, i.e., man’s myths (human viewpoint) are ultimately useless and futile. They can’t even attain unto man’s own goals, much less are they capable of furthering “the administration of God” (vs. 4b). Both concepts are certainly true.
Further, in content their teaching consisted of endless genealogies, though based on real characters in Old Testament genealogical tables. These teachers were teaching mythological stories. They would then develop doctrines based on these tales and mingle this with the Word. In addition, they were what we might call ‘fad teachers’ with novel or sensational doctrines which appealed to people with itching ears who wanted to hear something new, something different, or something sensational or strange (see Acts 17:21; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The Challenge Before Us: Illustrations of the Problem
In our world today we face the various cults with their false, heretical, mythological, and fad-like teachings. Then we see others with an emphasis on certain spiritual gifts so that (though claiming to be evangelical) they teach and advocate a different message because it distorts the main focus of Scripture and true spiritual maturity. In addition, there are fads and caricatures of doctrine being taught. Unless we are careful, we can all be guilty of this in our ministries and fail to minister the Word appropriately and effectively. But what is meant by this? By fads, I am talking about jumping on the contemporary bandwagon of ideas that permeate the present theological scene rather than seeking to proclaim the whole council of the word with, of course, proper application to the contemporary problems and needs of people.
As Walter Kaiser warns in his book, Toward and Exegetical Theology, we must guard against, “…mixing the Word with such foreign elements as civil religion, current philosophies, schools of psychology, political affiliations, and personal predilection.” To do so, as he goes on to point out, “is to take the powerful Word of God and to make it ineffective, weak, and despised in the eyes of our contemporaries.”6
And, as Paul shows us in this passage, to do so is to produce speculations and fruitless discussions rather than the furtherance of God’s stewardship or work and the sure convictions of faith that are based on the reliable and God-breathed Word (see 1:4, 6 and 2 Tim. 3:16).
By caricatures we are talking about majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors, about unbalanced teaching, and riding ‘hobby horses.’ Concerning this Spurgeon warned,
A man’s nose is a prominent feature in his face, but it is possible to make it so large that eyes and mouth, and everything else are thrown into insignificance, and the drawing is a caricature and not a portrait: so certain important doctrines of the gospel can be so proclaimed in excess as to throw the rest of truth into the shade, and preaching is no longer the gospel in its natural beauty, but a caricature of the truth…”7
The Causes of Defection
Why does doctrinal defection and false teaching occur? The following is a brief overview of some of the causes that I trust will pose a warning to all of us.
(1) Failure to accept and or adhere to the Bible as our index and absolute guide for belief and practice (1:11; 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13,14; 3:10f). Note especially 1:4 with 4:6, 13; 2 Timothy 3:16.
(2) The misuse of the Bible through poor study habits, poor training, and faulty methods of exegesis. This often results in fads and novel interpretations and shallow teaching (2 Tim. 2:15).
(3) Failure to relate all our teaching and Bible study to God’s design and purpose. That design is true spirituality that produces godliness and changed lives according to the standards of scripture rather than one’s own personal bias or personal agendas (1:5; 4:6,7; 6:6f; Tit. 1:5).
(4) Moral failure and hypocrisy—teaching and religious activity that stems from ungodly goals and aspirations (1:7; 4:2; 6:1-8; Jude 4; 2 Pet. 2:10f 3 John 9-11; Ps. 50:7-23; Isa. 29:13).
(5) Spiritual carelessness—presuming upon the Lord or failure to take one’s spiritual life and God’s Word seriously (2 Cor. 10:1-13; Eph. 5:14f; 1 Tim. 1:6; 4:6,15).
(6) Giving into the pressures of those who want their ears tickled and who aren’t really interested in digging into the Word. (1 Thess. 2:3-6; 2 Tim. 4:1-4 [note the connection with Paul’s challenge in vss 1-2 and 3-4]).
The Charge to Timothy and the Cure for the Problem
1:3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings.
The Nature of the Charge
The nature of the charge is seen in the words, “in order that you may instruct.” “Instruct,” translated “command” in the NIV is the Greek, parangello, “to charge, command, give orders, pass on commands from one to another, or to instruct authoritatively.” It clearly implies authoritative instruction (see 1 Tim 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17).
Timothy was an apostolic representative of Paul and he, by the authority of Paul, was to deal with these teachers through Paul’s instructions and the truth he already knew. If they ignored Timothy’s teaching and his charges, based on Scripture and the apostolic tradition, they would be disobeying what was equivalent to God’s Word. This is equivalent to the proper use of Scripture (not prooftexts taken out of context) to instruct others in the Bible, which is our authority in faith and practice. Likewise, when we accurately teach the Word, we are teaching that which carries God's authority, not because we have said it, but in so far as it accurately represents God’s Word. That authority, however, lies in the message, not in the man.
The Content of the Charge
What exactly was Timothy told to do? As a leader and communicator of the Word, Timothy was responsible to do two things:
(1) Based on the authority of God’s truth, Timothy was to carefully instruct the false teachers. He was to show that their teaching was biblically wrong and out of line with the standards and goals of God’s revelation. Certainly this was to be done in the spirit of love, but surely it was to be done firmly and specifically. He was not to ignore the problem nor side step it. A lot of leaders are adept at stepping around issues. (See also 2 Tim. 2:24f).
(2) His instruction naturally included the charge to stop paying attention to false teaching, which is one of the causes and sources of drifting away. The words, “occupy themselves with,” (NET), “pay attention,” (NASB) or “devote” (NIV), means “to turn one’s mind to,” and thus, “to give heed to, attach one’s self to, to become occupied with.”
There is an obvious concern here that we must see. They had occupied their minds with doctrinal fads and the ideas of men rather than the clear absolutes of the Word (cf. 4:13f). This is strongly stressed in 1:4 as well as in other parts of the pastorals (cf. 4:6,15; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:14; 4:3-4). The standard and the focus of our thinking and preaching must be the authoritative and infallible word of truth. It is imperative that we all recognize that it is this. It is the faithful, exegetical study and communication of the Word with its careful application that protects us from the many delusions of Satan. It is this that builds sure conviction and confidence of the truth into the people of God enabling them to know what is to be believed and why (cf. 4:1-5 with 6f).
Kaiser writes, and I think correctly,
Those sermons whose alleged strength is that they speak to the contemporary issues, needs, and aspirations often exhibit the weakness of a subjective approach. In the hands of many practitioners, the biblical text has been of no real help either in clarifying the questions posed by modern man or in offering solutions … the biblical text often is no more than a slogan or refrain in the message. What is lacking in this case is exactly what needs to be kept in mind with respect to every sermon which aspires to be at once both biblical and practical: it must be derived from an honest exegesis of the text and it must constantly be kept close to the text.8
But why is this so important? Because it is the Bible that is true and accurate and thus authoritative and powerful. It alone has the right, by its divine origin, to persuade men. Otherwise we become manipulated by preachers who play upon and exploit people’s emotions, fears, and cravings for personal and selfish ends.
Furthermore, the tendency today is to appeal to the itching ears of audiences, and cater to their desire to be entertained because speakers want to be popular. So, pastors, conference speakers and the like, as Kaiser again warns us often reward their audiences,
…with repetitious arrangements of the most elementary truths of the faith, constant harangues which are popular with local audiences, or witty and clever messages on the widest-ranging topics interspersed with catchy and humorous anecdotes geared to cater to the interests of those who are spiritually lazy and do not wish to be stirred beyond the pleasantries of hearing another good joke or story. Where is that sense of authority and mission previously associated with the biblical Word?9
In other words, where is an exegetical and authoritative exposition of the Word so that people may know this is God’s truth, and not merely some preachers agenda?
Obviously, the solution or the cure to false teaching and the things that cause it is to counter both the problem and the cause with the appropriate biblical exposition or instruction from the text of Scripture. This will only occur when we recognize the Bible as our final authority and submit our lives completely to God’s plan for learning, proclaiming, and applying it to every area of life.
1:4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. These promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan (or stewardship) that operates by faith. 1:5 But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
The Goal or Aim of Promoting the Stewardship of God which is by Faith (1:4)
Part of the charge to Timothy was to instruct the false teachers against being occupied with what amounts to man’s religious speculations. Here we see the reason and the reason is not only related to the futility of such speculation, but to the need for pursuing biblical goals. The goals mentioned in this text are two-fold: that which promotes God’s redemptive plan or the stewardship of promoting the message of Christ, and that which is to be the result of accurate biblical teaching—Christian (agape) love.
The apostle focuses on the utter fruitlessness of the varied religious speculations of men. Such results are seen in the words, “which give rise to mere speculation…” (vs. 4) and “fruitless discussion” (vs. 6). “Which” in the Greek text is the qualitative pronoun hostis and means “which by their very nature.” The pronoun looks back to the false teaching consisting of myths and endless genealogies. “Give rise,” is parecho and means “to cause, promote, give occasion for.” The point and emphasis is that by the very nature of man’s subjective ideas or by the very nature of those ministries that are based on sketchy and inadequate handling of Scripture, the result will be “mere speculation and fruitless discussion” in both teacher and student. They are subjective and fruitless because they represent teaching that is not based on the objective standard of the God breathed Word of Truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Failure to use and handle the Scripture accurately leads not only to what is useless, but actually hinders the work of God. But why?
First, it causes “speculations” (vs. 4) and “fruitless discussions” (NASB) or “controversies” (NIV) (vs. 6). “Speculations,” the Greek word, ekzetesis,” is used only here, but in this context it must refer to “laborious, out of the way studies into the ideas of men” rather than the careful investigation of Scripture. This refers to futile human speculations, looking at statistics, ever learning, but never able to come to the truth (2 Tim. 3:7) because, ignoring God’s truth, men are being tossed back and forth in an ocean of man’s thoughts and ideas (Isa. 55:8; Eph. 4:14). Second, this kind of teaching leaves men without the comfort and peace of the sure convictions of a faith based on the sure foundations of the Word, but such nonsense actually hinders the sound proclamation of Scripture. Note that our text says, “rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (NASB) or “rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith” (NET). The NIV has, “rather than (promoting) the work of God.”
“Administration” (NASB) or “work” (NIV) or “redemptive plan” (NET) is the Greek, oikonomia, and means either (1) an administration, a way of running things or (2) a stewardship which includes the authority and the work or responsibilities given to a servant (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1-2; 9:17; and Col. 1:25). The word comes from oikos, “house,” plus nomos, “law.” Literally, it means, “a house economy” or “a house steward.”
So what does it mean here? Does it means an administration or a stewardship? If we understand it to mean “administration or dispensation,” it means God’s method or plan of administering salvation to mankind today as in the dispensation of grace or the church age (since Acts 2). The point being that myths and legalistic teachings of the Law cannot further the grace of God in promoting this new administration, but actually hinders the work of carrying the message of God’s grace in Christ which is to be received by faith.
On the other hand, it refers to the office of a steward or a stewardship, it refers to the work of men as stewards of God who are ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1-2). It refers to the work of preaching the Word and building men and women in the Scriptures to develop their faith. Perhaps, because of the context (cf. vss. 3 and 4 and the emphasis on instruction), this is its meaning here though both elements are really involved. The stewardship of preaching the Word in this administration of God is to be done in faith and is designed—because of the Bible’s accuracy, divine authenticity, and authority—to bring people to faith in the work of God in Christ. This is the wealth of assurance which only an accurate understanding of Scripture can give (Col. 2:2).
Unfortunately, many churches, and even churches that claim to be conservative Bible teaching ministries, are filled with people who are loaded with doctrinal and practical uncertainties. There are a virtual hodge-podge of doctrinal ideas and fads. Why? While the reasons are many, certainly part of the cause is unbiblical philosophies and methods when it comes to proclaiming the Word. This is serious business! It is very important that we take stock of the nature of our ministries and how well we are truly communicating the Bible to people.
The Goal or Aim of Our Instruction is Love (1:5)
We might at first be surprised by this. Isn’t our main goal through the study of the Word first fellowship with God and then the glory of God? Yes, undoubtedly it is, but the point is this. As Christians who profess to be God’s people and who claim to know Him, we are to be visible representatives of the invisible God, and nothing manifests that we know him, and know the truth like godly manifestations of love (1 John 4:7-12). And nothing shows our love, especially for those who have been given a responsibility of teaching as Sunday school teachers, parents, and pastor-teachers, like our willingness to labor in the Word and doctrine that we might be faithful communicators of the Word (see 1 Tim. 6:8f).
Literally the text says, “but the goal of the command.” What does “the command” refer to? This is undoubtedly broader than just the charge of verses 3 and 4, though obviously that is included. The last words of verse 4, “the work of God,” or “the stewardship of God,” clearly refer to the whole charge God has given us as his stewards in the responsibility of heralding the gospel message and the Word as an authoritative message. So communicating information or the knowledge of Scripture is clearly in view. For some thoughts on the benefits and dangers of knowledge, see the addendum.
The apostle clearly teaches us that the aim of our instruction or communication of biblical knowledge is love. “Love,” is the Greek word, agape. In the Greek text it is without the article which may stress the quality or character of love. Men can try to manufacture or simulate the agape kind of love, but when put under stress, it will be found to be nothing more than hypocritical expressions of love which give way to the true conditions of the heart (cf. Rom. 12:9).
Because false teaching fails to bring one into a right relationship with God, it is virtually impossible for it to produce the quality of true agape kind of love. Agape is the result of having the mind of Christ, or a Word-filled, Spirit-filled life. Further, agape love is sometimes used as a synonym for the fruit of the Spirit and the whole gamut of mature, spiritual character (1 Cor. 13:1f). It is never simply an isolated virtue, but that which most completely expresses the ministry and character of the Lord Jesus (cf. Gal. 5:22f).
Men can try to manufacture the appearance of true Christian love for various reasons, but it is virtually impossible for false teaching to produce this quality of love. True Christian love is the expression of fellowship with the living God (1 John 4). It is the product of fellowship with God through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit and the light of the Word. It is the product of preaching the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16).
However, sound teaching or orthodoxy may also not produce this kind of love if people lose sight of the goal of biblical instruction. In other words, the study of the Word is never to be an end in itself. It is a means to an end, an indispensable means, but the end is the character of Jesus Christ reproduced in the believer by the fruit of the Spirit. When we study and teach the Word, THIS MUST BE EVER IN FRONT OF OUR MINDS! The end is love for God and love for men (Matt. 22:37-40).
The necessity and means of genuine, Spirit-produced, Word-inspired love is developed and stressed for us in the following words, “from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Note three things:
First, the text is pointing us to the source of genuine love and that which has to be dealt with if we are to be a loving and serving people. This is the significance of “from,” the Greek preposition ek meaning “out of” and which points us to the source.
Second, note that one preposition goes with all three phrases which suggests that together they form the source and means to the production of agape love. Love is the product of an inward and spiritual change, the product of a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Third, as the context makes clear, the only way to deal with all three of these areas or the inner man is the message of the Word. Only the Word, which is alive and powerful, ministered by the Spirit, can deal with the heart and conscience and produce faith in God through the principles and promises of Scripture.
But what do these three refer to and how does it apply to us?
(1) A “pure heart” is a cleansed heart. But in what sense? “Heart” is the Greek kardia which may refer to the physical pump or to the inner man—to either the mind or emotions or will, or to all three. The mind refers to one’s mental orientation, understanding, view point, and thought patterns—to the content of one’s mind or to how and what one thinks. A pure mind is one that operates with the Word as its filter or sieve.
The emotions are the feelings and appreciators or responders of the inner person. Good emotions stem from right thinking, from thinking that is being cleansed by the Word. We cleanse our emotions or have good emotions by thinking with the principles and promises of Scripture.
The will or volition is the decision maker of the inner person or the heart. Cleansed or right decisions come from transformed values and priorities and belief structures created by the Word in the life.
“Pure” is katharos, an adjective describing the kind of heart that one needs in order to produce genuine love. The key here comes from its use. It meant pure in the sense of free from admixture, unadulterated. As such, (a) it was used literally of clean water, of metal without alloy, of feelings that were unmixed, and of motives that were pure, single, and sincere; (b) But it also had a spiritual or ceremonial use. It was used of that which was fit for worship or service to God because it had been physically or spiritually cleansed. (c) Finally, it had an ethical use. It meant free from all guilt and pollution, innocent and pure or unmixed in motives, and of singleness of mind.
A cleansed heart refers to an inner life that has been cleansed of all known sin by honest confession and the proper use of 1 John 1:9. But this would also refer to a heart that has been cleansed in its attitudes, motives, values, and priorities, and in its emotions and choices. This means being cleansed by the Word from selfish perspectives, values, priorities, and pursuits (cf. Matt. 6:19-24; II Cor. 2:17; I Tim. 6:3-5).
(2) A “good conscience.” “Good” is the Greek agathos and is used of what is good in the sense of beneficial in its results and actions (Matt. 7:11; Eph. 4:29; Rom. 8:28). The opposite is a seared, hardened conscience. “Conscience” is the Greek suneidesis from a preposition, “with,” and another word meaning “to know.” Paul refers to the conscience six time in the pastorals (1 Tim. 1:5,19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Tim. 1:3; Tit. 1:15). The conscience is the place of one’s standards and norms, one’s sense of right and wrong, the place of one’s moral awareness. A “good conscience” is:
- A conscience that has a biblical set of standards and norms or concepts of right and wrong. A conscience that has been cleansed and ordered according to the Word (cf. Heb. 5:14; 9:14).
- A conscience that is sensitive and functioning correctly versus a conscience that has been callused or made insensitive by being ignored (cf. 4:2).
- A conscience that is cleared of guilt through keeping short accounts with God, i.e., by the immediate confession of sin (cf. Acts 24:16; I Tim. 3:9).
- An active conscience that judges and approves only such thoughts, goals, motives, words, and deeds of the heart that are in harmony with the great goal of biblical instruction, namely, love and Christ-like service and character.
(3) A “sincere faith.” “Sincere” is the Greek anupokritos from hupokritos, “hypocrite.” It means “without hypocrisy, genuine.” Hupokrinomai, “to be a hypocrite,” was used of actors on a stage who held up false faces or masks over their face to show their moods to the audience seated high above in the seats of the Greek amphitheaters. So our word means “real, genuine,” or the opposite of acting as one in a play.
A sincere faith is foundational to all and refers to only to a real faith, but to one that is actively believes the promises and principles of Scripture and acts on them. For a beautiful illustration of living the life of faith which motivates us to love, serving without regard to self and selfish ambitions, compare the testimonies of Paul as it concerns the ministry in 2 Corinthians 2:14f; 4:1f and 1 Thessalonians 2:1f.
Passages like these should be read regularly by all of us. When we live by faith, we are able to be faithful and content regardless of the pressures of the ministry because God is our reward and our sufficiency (2 Cor. 2:16-17; 3:4-5).
(1) A pure heart stresses our honesty with God and our motives—free from selfish pursuits and goals.
(2) A good conscience is one with God’s set of standards and norms, that is sensitive and functioning, and that is keep short accounts with God. We keep the conscience clear when we approve only such thoughts, goals, motives, words and deeds which are in harmony with the great goal or aim of the Word, namely LOVE.
(3) A sincere faith is a faith that is not only genuine, but in that genuineness it reaches out and claims the promises of God.
1:6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion.
Undoubtedly, you have heard the statements, “aim at nothing and you will hit it every time,” or “people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” Not only must we have biblical goals, but we need to stay focused on them, like an runner focusing and stretching for the finish line. One of the greatest dangers we all face is the danger of staying alert and focused on biblical goals. It is too easy to get sidetracked by problems and by the allurements of the world. The Lord challenged the disciples to take heed to both what they heard and to how they heard it (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18) and Paul challenges us to watch carefully how we are walking because of the days are evil (Eph. 5:15-17). Peter admonishes us in a similar fashion in two passages. First he tells us, “Therefore, get your minds ready for action, by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:13 emphasis mine). He then tells us to be on the alert, i.e., watchful, cautious, because our adversary the Devil is on the prowl (1 Pet. 5:8).
It’s ironic how most people tend to take such good care of their homes, cars and other possessions. They repaint, put on a new roof, re-carpet, wash their windows, and work hard at keeping their house in good shape. They wash and lube and detail their automobiles, boats, motorcycles, and put their valuables in the bank. That’s all well and good, but the most important element of life, the spiritual life of the inner man, we so often neglect. Solomon advises in this paraphrase of the Hebrew of Proverbs 4:23,
“Above all keeping, keep your heart, for from it flows the issues of life,” and Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
In 1 Timothy 1:5-11 we see four failures of the false teachers that can become our failure too if we are not watchful: (1) departure from the aim of instruction (vs. 5), (2) impure motives, wanting to be teachers of the law because this was a position of status (vs. 7), (3) insufficient understanding about the law and the gospel (vs. 7), and as a result, (4) turning aside to fruitless discussions (vs. 6).
But the key to their failure is seen in the words, “straying from these things.” “From these things” refers to the above verses and in particular, failure to promote the work of God which is in faith and the great goal of instruction which is love, the very epitome of Christ-like character.
“Straying” is the Greek astocheo from stochos which means “mark.” This verb means “to miss the mark, fail, deviate,” but it could also mean “to fail to aim carefully or even at all.” It meant to miss either a target or the right path because of failing to aim or watch carefully at the target. The passage has stressed that we have two targets for which we must always aim carefully or we will become defective to some degree and in some manner. These two targets are: (a) the stewardship God has entrusted to us, the proclamation and hearing of the objective truth of Scripture in place of the myths and fruitless discussions of men, and (b) the ultimate aim and goal of biblical instruction which is Christian love or being conformed into the image of the Lord which will result in the manifestation of God’s love to others.
1:7a They want to be teachers of the law,…
In this statement, the impure and selfish motives of the false teachers clearly surface, which demonstrates their failure in love for others.
Literally, the text says, “desiring to be teachers of the law,…” “Desiring” is an adverbial participle (thelontes from thelo, “to wish for, desire, want”) that is dependent on and modifies the main verb, “turned away.” It points us to a false objective or goal that had caused them to turn aside from the biblical goals the apostle had just discussed. In the context here, this was a problem of ego and impure motives. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a teacher of the Word; the problem is with the why, the reason or motives. In New Testament times, to be a teacher of the law meant to have a position of respect, authority, and often, significant financial reward as in the case of the religious Pharisees. And I am afraid that today, we see the same thing happening. Many go into full-time ministry, but for all the wrong reasons. These false teachers were not called and gifted of God; they simply went without being sent. Like Simon the sorcerer of Acts 8 and Gehazi of 2 Kings 5, they were coveting money, position, power, and prestige. Rather than being motivated by love for God, His glory, and for people and their need, they were coveting the praise of men (cf. 1 Thess. 2:1ff) or were hucksters peddling the Word of God for personal gain (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17). By contrast, they were men with an impure heart, an evil conscience, and an insincere faith.
Perhaps nothing is so deadly and destructive to a man’s ministry as what Ralph Turnbull described as the dry rot of covetousness. “Dry rot in timber is a disease which occasions the destruction of the fibers, and reduces timber eventually to a mass of dry dust.”10 And so covetousness in a man’s heart eats away at the very fiber of his character and at the very nature and heart of his ministry, which is having a servant’s heart. As the servants of Jesus, we have been called to be servants of men, to minister to the needs of others, and to bring to them the healing power of the message of the Savior and His Word. For it is only this message and its truth which can sanctify lives (John 17:17).
When we operate from a spirit of covetousness whether for position, praise, or for money, we are involved in that which is contradictory to the very heart of Christian ministry. Such is hypocritical and destructive to both ourselves and to our ministries. It shows we are failing to take heed to our own lives and are preaching a message we don’t really understand or believe as we should. Not only are we not practicing what we preach or teach, but we are not experiencing the healing, life-changing power of the Savior ourselves. Like the disciples who were often seen coveting position in the kingdom, believers can be around the Word, yet, by virtue of covetousness for position, praise, power, or possessions, they can become closed to and robbed of the very truth they are sent out to proclaim (see 1 Tim. 6:5, 10).
The world and the people of our churches are crying for authenticity; they want to see Christians with whom Jesus Christ is real, who are role models and whose lives are living proofs of the very doctrine they proclaim (see Heb. 13:7). Too often, as we have seen with some of the television evangelists, they are served the opposite.
In view of this, we should compare 1 Timothy 4:15-16. “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” Contextually, Paul was telling Timothy how to be a good servant of Jesus Christ. He is one who faithfully feeds others after he feeds himself (see 4:6, 11). The basic principle is this: to be an effective servant in public, one must be effective and faithful in private. A vital public ministry is dependent upon a vital private life.
We should note the order of the first words of verse 16. It is extremely significant. First and literally, “Pay close attention to yourself” and then “to your teaching.” The verb here, epecho, “hold toward, aim at,” with an emphasis on the object held. It means “to fix one’s attention upon something.” Epecho refers to concentrated mental processes and again draws our attention to having and keeping focused on biblical goals, the things that keep us from straying off course.
So, those who wanted to be teachers of the law were those who were ego-oriented and motivated by selfish desires. They were those who had failed to have the right goals and had thereby strayed off course. Rather than ministering for God and others, they were serving themselves. They were occupied with things like, Appearance, “How do I look to people?” Status, “How am I doing?” Performance, “How am I doing?” Gain, “What can I get out of it?”
Wrong goals and straying of the path of faithful servanthood leads to other prominent and obvious critical concerns.
The Problem Explained
1:7b but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently.
Here we see an illustration of cause and effect, of root and fruit, or sowing and reaping. “Desiring to be teachers of the law,” which stemmed from impure motives, was part of the cause, the root of straying from right biblical goals. One the other hand, failing to understand what they were saying points us to one of the results, the fruit. When one’s desire to teach the Word is not motivated by the desire to know God more intimately, His truth more accurately, and minister to the needs of others more effectively, then one will naturally be poorly motivated to truly know God’s truth. In their desire to be “teachers” they were not real students of the Word, which is a crucial requirement and an awesome responsibility for biblical ministry. They were sloppy students, if they were even students at all. They were relying on such things as their ability to articulate what little they knew, on acting as authorities, on personal charisma, and on a spirit of dogmatism. So, as these and other verses in the pastoral epistles show, they were misconstruing Scripture, using it for their own ends; they were both adding to it and misrepresenting it.
Surely, one of the greatest blights on the church today is the shallowness we find in relation to what is being taught. Someone has said the evangelical movement spreading across the country and claiming dynamic things for God is 3000 miles in length, 2000 miles in width, but only two inches deep.
The Challenge and the Cure
1 Timothy 4:5, 13-16; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-4:3
The term crisis is becoming ever more common since we are treated to some crisis almost daily, but it is a term that is being used more and more with regard to what is going on in Christianity today. For instance, in his book, Toward An Exegetical Theology, a well-known Old Testament Scholar, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., begins his book with the first chapter devoted to this issue. The chapter is entitled “Current Crises in Exegetical Theology” and is devoted to the sad state of affairs we are in today regarding the preaching of the Word. Listen to a couple of his comments.
To be sure, the Church has had more than her rightful share of “meditation” or “topical sermons” which are more or less loosely connected with a Biblical phrase, clause, sentence, verse, or scattered assortment thereof.…
Those sermons whose alleged strength is that they speak to contemporary issues, needs, and aspirations often exhibit the weakness of a subjective approach. In the hands of many practitioners, the Biblical text has been of no real help either in clarifying the questions posed by modern man or in offering solutions.… What is so lacking in this case is exactly what needs to be kept in mind with respect to every sermon which aspires to be at once both Biblical and practical; it must be derived from an honest exegesis of the text and it must constantly be kept close to the text.11
Another excellent book concerned with the crisis we are facing today, especially in conservative or evangelical Christianity, is a book entitled, The Coming Evangelical Crisis. This book is concerned with the way we have turned away from the Bible as our authority in faith and practice and turned to the methods and ideas of the world even while claiming allegiance to the Scripture, especially in relation to our moral values, priorities, the way and reason we gather for worship and our spiritual lives in general. In this book, there is also an entire chapter devoted to the issue of preaching entitled, “Preaching: God’s Word to the Church Today.”
Why are we hearing this cry by so many concerned conservative evangelicals today? Because clearly, the Bible teaches us that the preaching/teaching process in heralding the Scripture is vital to the church’s ability to hold to the Bible so that its message accomplishes its God-ordained work to both form and reform the church.
Plainly, effective pastoral ministry is a call to accurately study the Bible first with a view to one’s own life and then with a view to ministering its powerful truth to others. In his excellent book, Between Two Worlds, John Stott wrote,
There is no doubt that the best teachers in any field of knowledge are those who remain students all their lives. It is particularly true of the ministry of the Word. “None will ever be a good minister of the Word of God unless he is first of all a scholar.” (Calvin) Spurgeon had the same conviction. “He who has ceased to learn has ceased to teach. He who no longer sows in the study will no more reap in the pulpit.”
There is a freshness and a vitality about every sermon which is born of study; without study, however, our eyes become glazed, our breath stale and our touch clumsy .12
Certainly, this is part of Paul’s emphasis when he told Timothy, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15). Bishop Phillips Brooks in his 1877 Yale Lectures said:
He must not be always trying to make sermons, but always seeking truth, and out of the truth which he has won, sermons will make themselves… Here is the need of broad and generous culture. Learn to study for the sake of truth, learn to think for the profit and joy of thinking. Then your sermons shall be like the leaping of a fountain, and not like the pumping of a pump.13
Truly, the higher one’s view of the Bible, the more committed we ought to be to careful and consistent study and the more we should recognize our need of its truth both for our own life as well as for our ministry to others.
Many evangelical pastors and churches claim to believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, that it is inerrant and infallible and God’s authoritative Word. But too often, by their approach to ministry, by their neglect of study and the emphasis on programs and activity, by the way some of these pastors use their time, one wonders just how sincere and strong is this belief in the Bible as God’s Holy Word.
But what about the claims of many pastors? I don’t have time, and I have too many demands on my time! First, one needs to be sure this is not an excuse because of an aversion to the hard work of study or a dislike for it. Second, it could be a problem of letting others plan one’s time, and a failure to set priorities and to allot time accordingly (see Acts 6). If we do not plan our time and allot it according to biblical priorities and convictions, we can be sure others will plan our time for us. The devil himself will see to that. Finally, such could be a matter of having a very defective philosophy of ministry and one that needs a careful overhaul in the light of the Word or the emphasis seen in the pastoral epistles.
A number of critical concerns have been shared from 1 Timothy 1:3-7, but at the heart of these is a deep concern for both the communication of the truth of Scripture and the right motives in proclaiming that truth for we cannot separate the two without serious detriment to our ability to care for the church of the Lord Jesus. In his book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, the late Francis Schaeffer warned about some of the crucial or watershed issues facing evangelicalism, but he especially bemoaned the fact that, because many have failed to have a sufficiently high view of the Bible as God’s inerrant and inspired Word, the evangelical church has failed to maintain a concern for truth or sound biblical theology.14
Theology is tremendously important. The apostle Paul’s emphasis in the pastorals for sound doctrine shows a his concern for theology. It also mattered to Jesus (John 17:17) and it mattered to the reformers, but how much does it matter to the church today? Unfortunately, not enough. The church today has become caught up in the thinking and agendas of a popular culture that thinks in terms of being politically correct and being accepted by the crowd rather than biblically correct and honoring to God. As Schaeffer pointed out,
It is comfortable to accommodate to that which is in vogue about us, to the forms of the world spirit in our age. This accommodation has been deadly—in the loss of twelve million human lives over the last ten years by abortion. But it does not stop with questions of life; it is just as evident to virtually every other issue which has been made fashionable by secularist mentality of the day.15
Theology should matter to teachers of the Word because people have a theology whether they know it or not. It may be good (biblical) or bad (worldly), conscious or unconscious, but regardless, people will act from what they believe about God and man and the world in which they live. Their theology will protect them from falsehood, or allow then to believe a lie (see 2 Thess. 2:9f). Plainly, there can be no true spirituality or a healthy and effective church apart from sound theology. Speaking of the persuasive power of the future Antichrist and his ability to lead people astray, Daniel wrote, “And by smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant” (Dan. 11:32a) But the prophet was also confident that not all would fall for his propaganda for he then added, “but the people who know their God will display strength and take action” (Dan. 11:32b).
This is where the leadership of the church has such a grave responsibility in teaching and training the flock of God in the truth of the Bible. Naturally then, this becomes a critical concern and an area where we can expect the evil one to be hard at work.
Writing the foreword to R. C. Sproul’s Book, Knowing Scripture, J. I. Packer writes,
If I were the devil (please, no comment), one of my first aims would be to stop folk from digging into the Bible. Knowing that it is the Word of God, teaching men to know and love and serve the God of the Word, I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalent of pits, thorn hedges and man traps, to frighten people off.…
How? Well, I should try to distract all clergy from preaching and teaching the Bible, and spread the feeling that to study this ancient book directly is a burdensome extra which modern Christians can forgo without loss. I should broadcast doubts about the truth and relevance and good sense and straightforwardness of the Bible, and if any still insisted on reading it I should lure them into assuming that the benefit of the practice lies in the noble and tranquil feelings evoked by it rather than in noting what Scripture actually says. At all costs I should want to keep them from using their minds in a disciplined way to get the measure of its messages.
Were I the devil, taking stock today, I think I might be pleased at the progress I had made…16
Effective biblical preaching and teaching has always been a central priority of God for His people as expressed throughout the Bible, Old and New Testament. It must be so for it is one of the means His people develop sound theology. We would expect then that all Bible believing preachers, like the early apostles (see Acts 6:2-4), would make study and heralding the Word a priority. But that is simply not the case because, as mentioned above, what is popular in the culture in which we live has negatively impacted the expository preaching of the Bible. Many pastors and church leaders have despaired of studying and preaching.
Less and less of their time is devoted to prayer and preparation. Some spend no more than two or three hours in preparation for Sunday. One such pastor makes a habit of preparing his sermon on Saturday night while watching television! Such preaching inevitably makes spare use of Scripture and becomes a series of stories linked around a devotional thought. Some have given up preaching altogether and have shifted to what they call more “hands-on” ministries.
Some have been very candid. “Preaching doesn’t work like they told me in seminary.” “People don’t want to hear it.” “Exposition is for a bygone age.” “Exposition is by definition boring.” So with these, and similar dismissals, the preaching of God’s Word is shelved, and the centerpiece of the Reformation (the pulpit) is moved, in effect, to the back of Bible-believing churches.17
A recent survey in Christianity Today gives adequate evidence for concern because the survey shows many pastors simply do not make Bible study and preaching a priority.
… They considered relational skills the top priority, followed by management abilities, communication skills, and then spirituality. Well’s assertion that the Christian ministry is being redefined in terms of the CEO and the psychologist, whose task it is to engineer good relations and warm feelings, is manifestly ratified by this survey. It is difficult to imagine patients or surgeons listing medical knowledge as the least important item in that respective field—or, for that matter, those involved and affected by any particular vocational endeavor—without massive repercussions.
The thing that most disturbed me about the accompanying Christianity Today article, however, was the way it interpreted the data gleaned from this survey. Because seminary professors put a high priority on theological knowledge, they were considered out of touch with reality and did not have “a good understanding of the needs of local churches or the culture.” The article concludes with this ominous remark: “Something’s got to happen. The church is not going to wait. If the seminaries don’t wake up and come along, they will be left in the dust.” … The article implied that less theology (or maybe no theology) in the seminary curriculum is the direction needed…18
Through the centuries, people have chosen various symbols to show they are Christians, but the greatest mark of Christianity, as the Lord so clearly taught the disciples, is love.
John 13:33 Children, I am still with you for a little while. You will look for me, and just as I said to the Jewish authorities, ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ now I tell you the same. 13:34 “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 13:35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”
It is the message of the suffering Savior who gave His life for us to redeem us from our sin and our self-centered lives that brings us into a vital relationship with God by which we are then able to truly manifest love for others. Thus Paul has shown us that the aim of our instruction is love, but may we never forget that it is right theology and knowing God in Christ that forms the basis for genuine love as it is so evident in these verses from 1 John 4.
4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is fathered by God and knows God. 4:8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 4:9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. 4:10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
4:11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. 4:12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. 4:13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit. 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
The Benefits and Dangers of Knowledge19
God would never instruct us to know the Scripture to be spiritually informed if it were not a vital need in every human being. So what are some of the benefits of knowing God’s truth?
(1) Biblical knowledge gives direction to the life. One of the great warnings of Scripture is that apart from God’s truth, man simply cannot know how to direct his life. It was Jeremiah, the prophet, who said, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
(2) Biblical knowledge gives substance to one’s faith. Faith in itself is useless unless one’s faith has the right object. “On what do those who do not know the truth rely? On emotion, on feelings, on someone else’s opinion, on a book, on tradition, on some other empty, humanistic hope. And the result? Their faith lacks substance.”20
(3) Biblical knowledge gives stability under pressure. When we know that God’s has spoken (inspiration of Scripture) and we know what God has said (His promises), then we can rest in God’s grace, love, plan, and work in our lives because we have a hope that transcends this life. Through the Scriptures, we have hope, and hope gives stability (see Rom. 5:1f; 15:4).
(4) Biblical knowledge gives ability to handle the Word accurately. “By knowing the general themes of Scripture, we are better able to handle the Scriptures intelligently and wisely. A working knowledge of the doctrines, for example, gives us confidence in using Scripture.
(5) Biblical knowledge equips us to detect and confront error. One of the important themes of the pastoral epistles is “sound doctrine” because sound doctrine is necessary to detect and confront false teaching and teachers, as Paul exhorts Timothy in 1:3f. Nothing enables us to detect what is counterfeit like knowing what is true.
(6) Biblical knowledge gives confidence in one’s daily walk with God. As the apostle Paul put it in Colossians 2:2, through the knowledge of the truth as it is found in Christ, we can experience “the full assurance which understanding gives” in our daily walk with the Savior. This means assurance of salvation, the assurance of security, assurance in prayer, in God’s guidance, and assurance of God’s provision of daily cleansing and provision against the power of sin. As the Psalmist put it, “I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts” (Ps. 119:45).
(7) Biblical knowledge filters out our fears and superstitions which siphon our inner energy and immobilize us. God’s truth becomes a screen, a sieve, that sifts out the superstitions that so many people operate by on a daily basis such as seeking direction through their horoscope.
Knowledge alone, however, can be dangerous. Swindoll suggest four dangers:
- “Knowledge can be dangerous when it lacks biblical support—intelligent biblical support.” And such support needs to be accurate. It is too easy to wrongly quote the Bible as proof texts. In this case people often act dogmatically, but they are still only operating on human opinion.
- “Knowledge can be dangerous when it becomes an end in itself.” Or when sought from the wrong motives as to impress people, boost up a sagging ego, or gain points with God.
- “Knowledge can be dangerous when it isn’t balanced and motivated by love and grace. Such results in arrogance, which leads to an intolerant spirit … an exclusive mindset.” This often leads to the misuse of one’s liberty and a complete lack of love for others (Rom. 14).
- “Knowledge can be dangerous when it remains theoretical—when it is not mixed with discernment and action” or the wise and holy use of that knowledge (see Col. 1:9f; 2 Tim.3:17).
This leads us to an important question those involved in pastoral ministry need to ask. What is our final authority? When the chips are down, on what do we rely? When we seek reasons for what we do, what do we turn to? What forms the foundation for our action? When we stop and think about it, there are all sorts of sources of authority that people rely on for what they do or don’t do in terms of pastoral ministry and personal decisions.
These sources of authority also become crutches we can lean on. Some of the things people lean on rather than the Word of God are: (a) Escapism. (b) Cynicism: becoming so occupied with one’s trouble that they grow dark and cynical. They become full of resentment and literally nurse their resentment which expresses itself in revenge tactics (the escape). (c) Secular Humanism (science, empiricism): Men tend to listen to the council of some other person, rather than God. They get their answers from people or a book. They turn to self-help, people’s opinions, self-realization. (d) Supernaturalism: This may be mild or maddening. Some will turn to mediums, some to astrology, some to emotionalism, some to the occult. But in some way they seek a sign from God. Christ said that an evil and adulterous generation seeks after signs. (e) Rationalism. (f) Traditionalism (social, religious, ancestry). (g) Favoritism (the problem of fan clubs): This results in becoming fractional or incomplete in spiritual growth because one refuses to listen to what God is teaching others from the Word. When this occurs, men become our authority and not Scripture (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1ff).
5 See 1 Corinthians 4:1f; 1 Timothy 4:14 [“neglect” = make light of, fail to care for]; see also 1 Peter 4:10b and 1 Timothy 6:20 [“entrusted” is a legal term for what has been deposited with another for safe keeping or for a return on the investment. This refers to the gospel, the Word, but included in that is Timothy’s gift].