Timothy’s Assignment: Protect the Church (1 Timothy 1:3-11)

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Timothy’s Assignment: Protect the Church

1 Timothy 1:3-11

I’ve been researching ways to protect the church and it turns out there are plenty of ideas out there.  Look at the screens behind me. First, you can have a security team protect the church, or you could get some nuns on the job. You can surround the church with sandbags in a flood, or you can wrap church members in bubble wrap so that nothing will hurt them.

You could enforce a dress code in the church to protect people from outside worldly influences. You can surround the church with a moat for protection, or you can turn the church into a tank. You can build a barrier of buses around the church. And some people think that playing organ music will protect the church from evil, worldly music.

You can get a guard dog for the church, or a guard cat for that matter. You can get insurance to protect the church. And you can even invite in some ghosts to protect the church and scare people away. And my personal favorite is, you get Rob Sousa to protect the church. Lots of ideas and some of these will actually serve a purpose on rare occasions, but sadly none of them will make an ounce of difference when it comes to the greatest danger the church will ever face–and that is false teaching.

False teaching surrounds the church of Christ constantly. It’s all around us today. It’s attacking us from all directions. The battle is raging for our minds and our souls and it is incumbent upon church leaders to protect the flock of God. But how do they do this? How do church leaders protect the church? That’s the question we want to ask and answer this morning.

Last week, we kicked off a series in the book of 1 Timothy. We’ve entitled the series, “House Rules.” We want to take about four months to work our way through this incredible little epistle. And last Sunday morning, Chris introduced to us the entire letter (starting in the first two verses) and we learned that the Apostle Paul is writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, to instruct him on how to lead the church in Ephesus.

Timothy is Paul’s apostolic delegate in that city and Paul is writing to give Timothy instructions on how to undertake that job. Now the reason why this was so necessary is because the church in Ephesus was under attack from all kinds of evil false teachers who were spreading their heresies all over Asia Minor and Paul wants Timothy to step up, lead that church, and protect the flock in Ephesus.

He wants Timothy to engage in the fight. He wants him to take on their enemies in the faith, to face them head on and command them to cease and desist. He wants Timothy to step up and he wants the false teachers to step down. Timothy’s job is to protect the saints, protect the Gospel of Christ, and protect the church in Ephesus.

Now of course that same responsibility remains in the church today. God has appointed shepherds, elders, pastors, teachers, and leaders, who just like Timothy, are to protect the church in the very same way. The reason for that is because the exact same battle that was raging in Timothy’s day is still raging today. The same heresies that existed then still exist now.

In fact it’s even worse, because as the centuries have passed between that day and this day, more and more evil teaching has been added to the mix. There are teachings such as easy-believism, works righteousness, baptism for the dead, purgatory, legalism, religiosity, the openness of God, universalism, the addition of extra-biblical writings (so-called new prophecies from God), the denial of the Trinity, the denial of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, mythology, moralism, the worship of Mary, pluralism, the denial of the virgin birth, the denial of the resurrection, antinomianism (lawlessness) . . . the list goes on-and-on.

And just so we are clear, folks . . . this is not a list of preferential things. All of these teachings are right now sending people to an eternity in Hell. These are not small matters. The Church today–Faith Bible Church today needs to understand Ephesians 6:12, when Paul said, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Listen, Satan wants to take us down by having us believe false doctrine–that’s where the battle lays. The devil wants us to soften our stance on sound doctrine. He wants us to crack open the door just a little bit so that he can insert strains of false teaching that will fester and ultimately turn us away from the pure, unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That’s why he says to the Ephesians, “Take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). Folks, we are in that evil day and we need to learn how God will protect His Church through godly leaders. We need to listen to Paul’s lesson for Timothy and make the exact same application to us today in 2017. Are you ready?

Okay, here we go. Let’s read today’s passage together. And what I’ve done is, I’ve divided this section into three parts. There’s the crux of Timothy’s assignment (verses 3 to 4), the conscience of Timothy’s assignment (verses 5 to 7), and the conviction of Timothy’s assignment (verses 8 to 11). These are the three elements of Timothy’s job–three tasks which he was required to implement in order to protect the church in Ephesus.

1.  The Crux of Timothy’s Assignment: Demand Sound Doctrine

So look first at the crux of Timothy’s assignment in verse 3. The task for Timothy was that he needed to demand sound doctrine. Look at verses 3 and 4. Paul says to Timothy, “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, [you] remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.”

Here is the central issue in Timothy’s ministry–he is to demand sound doctrine. He is commanded by Paul to command the false teachers to shut up. These false teachers are to cease and desist. Now I want to give you some background here–who were these false teachers? Well apparently they were well-known to both Paul and Timothy. They are probably elders in the church–that’s why Paul gives great detail to the proper qualifications for elders in chapter 3, because apparently they had men in that eldership position who should never have been elders in the first place.

Paul refers to these false teachers in verse 3 as “certain men”. Paul doesn’t need to name names here in this context, because Paul and Timothy knew exactly who they were talking about. Now as it turns out later in the letter, Paul actually does call out some names. If you look at verse 20 in the same chapter, you see there that Paul calls out two men, “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom [He has] handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20).

These two men were particularly dangerous–their false gospel was so blasphemous that Paul put them out of the church. He excommunicated them so they wouldn’t be able to wreak havoc in that congregation any longer. So we learn then that there are times when excommunication needs to happen, but back here in verses 3 and 4, it seems that isn’t yet necessary.

It may become necessary if they don’t listen, but for now these “certain men” had to be instructed to stop teaching their strange doctrines. They could stay in the church as long as they stopped teaching heresy. Now what were these strange doctrines? What were the errors that they were peddling?

Well, the term “strange doctrine” in verse 3 is a reference to anything that is not in accordance with sound doctrine. Doctrine then is either sound (i.e., right and biblically-founded), or it is strange (i.e., wrong and not biblically-founded). Now verse 4 gives us a little clue as to what these strange doctrines were.

First, they were nothing more than myths. In others words, these certain men have turned their attention to fanciful mythology. These were Jewish legends and fables not rooted in history at all, but rather stories intended to distract from actual, historical accounts of God’s dealings with His people. You see, if you can rewrite history and replace facts with myths, you can destroy any true understanding of God’s salvation plan for mankind, because the whole Old Testament record is reinterpreted. So these false teachers were replacing the historic facts of the Gospel with manmade myths.

And secondly, it says in verse 4 they were putting way too much emphasis on endless genealogies. In other words, they were speculating on allegorical interpretations of family trees, and family lineages, and family roots, and who descended from whom. And all of this speculation and guesswork was, in some way, corrupting their understanding of the true Gospel, because in their mind, it didn’t matter what you believed Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. What you really needed was to be born into the correct family line.

Now we see these same heresies in other places. Not long after writing this letter to Timothy, Paul also wrote to another one of his delegates, Titus. And he wrote something really similar to Titus. You find it in Titus 3:9, “Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

These additions to the Gospel that were somehow rooted in the Old Testament Law ended up corrupting the Gospel. So these false teachers needed to be silenced. Now all of this is based on something really important. We need to understand this. Paul says it in chapter 3, verse 15–he said there that “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

You see what’s at stake here–it’s truth. Truth is at stake. The Church has the responsibility of defending truth. So that means the Church must shut down the false teachers. They can’t be allowed to continue their false ministry.

Back in Titus 3 again Paul said, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9 to 11).

If a person insists on teaching false doctrine, you put him (or her) out of the church. You warn them a couple times, but if they refuse to change–if they are defiant and unwilling to budge, then the church must reject them in order to protect itself.

A few years ago, there was an occasion back in New Zealand where we asked a lady to leave the church because she was falsely teaching that Christians were required to keep the Old Testament dietary laws. She didn’t believe a person could be saved unless they avoided pork, bacon, shellfish, shark, birds of prey, eel, snake, and escargot. (Now, some of those foods don’t sound good to me anyway, but that’s not the point).

We warned her to stop teaching this. She refused. And so we needed to put her out–why? Because her teaching was in direct opposition to the Gospel, which requires nothing to be added beyond faith. Faith alone–that’s the Gospel. The Church needs to stand for truth. It must reject what is false and defend what is true.

Faith Bible Church–aren’t you glad for this solid pulpit? Well, maybe not this particular music stand, but the man who stands behind it and walks all around it. Aren’t you thankful to God that our teaching pastor brings us sound biblical teaching every week? You see, there are a lot of churches that don’t get that. There are a lot of churches whose pulpits are filled with preachers who are just like the “certain men” mentioned here in 1 Timothy 1.

And these pastors aren’t devoted to teaching sound doctrine. They’re far more concerned with self-help principles, and personal improvement strategies, and moralism, and politics, and man-centered ideas. Sadly, the majority of pulpits in America (and in New Zealand) are teaching strange doctrine. Not all of them–there are some really great churches out there. But the majority of religious pulpits do not teach sound doctrine.

And do you know why they do that? It’s because the people themselves “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” That’s exactly what Paul said would happen in 2 Timothy 4:3 to 4. See, people get what they want–churches get what they ask for.

Let me tell you, folks–this preaching platform here at Faith Bible Church only exists because you all want it to exist. Your attendance, your partnership in ministry, your giving, your prayers, and your support means that this pulpit can be a faithful pulpit.

It works the same way as gossip works. See, gossip needs a talker for sure–but it also needs willing listeners for it to survive. When you take away the people who want to hear the gossip, you basically shut down the gossip train. In the same way, the teaching and preaching of sound doctrine requires willing, humble, and receptive listeners. Without them, it doesn’t continue.

We pastors and elders want to say, “Thank you for your desire to hear sound doctrine.” Without you wanting the right stuff, this pulpit would not exist–that’s your part in this. But our leaders know that we have a responsibility too. We are charged to protect the church from false teachers. And we are going to do that by demanding and providing sound doctrine from this pulpit.

We are going to do this here in the main Sunday service and we are also going to do it throughout all the ministries of the church. We are going to test our ministry leaders and keep them to the highest standard of sound biblical doctrine. We are going to train the next generations of elders who will continue to maintain the same doctrinal/biblical convictions that we have today.

We want to be on the job. We are committed to this, because the Gospel is at stake. The character of God is at stake. The testimony of Christ’s Church is at stake. Here at Faith Bible Church, the destiny of 700 souls is at stake. This is life and death stuff. And so we’re not going to give up teaching the Bible.

This is a commitment made to you, before God, from our pastors and elders: We will “teach sound doctrine . . . 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which [we] have been entrusted.” That’s our promise to you. Timothy was to protect the Church, and his first task was to “demand sound doctrine.” Let’s go now to the second element of Paul’s instruction to his young apprentice, and this is . . .

2.  The Conscience of Timothy’s Assignment: Timothy is to Check Teacher’s Motives

Paul warns Timothy that men’s motives make all the difference in the world when it comes to who you let your teachers be. Look at this–it’s the second piece of the equation, starting in verse 5. Paul says, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” That, my friends, is the pure motivation of a sincere teacher of God’s Word.

The one quality that drives the ministry of a faithful teacher is love–selfless love. Love for God. Love for people. Love for the good news of Jesus Christ. That is what motivates a faithful, biblical, sound, unhypocritical Bible teacher. Now according to verse 5, look at it, this loving Bible teacher has three qualities.

First he has “a pure heart”–not one filled with sinful desires. Not one plagued by evil dreams. False teachers, in contrast, have dirty hearts that are unaffected by the Gospel. But genuine instruction comes out of a clean, purified heart.

Secondly, a trustworthy teacher has a “good conscience”–not one laden with guilt. Godly instruction comes from a person whose own conscience is clear–he’s not plagued by guilt. He’s free from condemnation. He evaluates his own life, sees the transformative effects of the Gospel in himself, and is empowered with great confidence, knowing that there is nothing holding him back from running hard, because his conscience is clear.

And then thirdly, he has a “sincere faith”–he ministers not with pretense and hypocrisy–a godly teacher has integrity. His faith and life are sincere. There is no pretending. There is no hypocrisy. He’s real and genuine. His faith is absolutely sincere.

These are the three qualities of loving instruction and loving instruction is the goal of Christian ministry. But sadly, not every teacher loves in this kind of way. Some teachers have totally opposite motives and checking the motive of the teachers is the point here, because some teachers teach out of love–some teach out of selfishness.

Look at verses 6 and 7, “For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” These two verses reveal the truly evil heart of the false teacher.

We see here their real motivation. We see what really drives them. They want to be seen to be someone. They are driven by the desire for recognition. They want the acclaim that comes from being a teacher. They want kudos from their followers. It says it right there in verse 7, “They want to be teachers of the Law.”

They are super-confident. They come off as if they’re experts. They present themselves as knowledgeable, but it’s all a show because in reality they have strayed away from the Bible. They pride themselves in fruitless discussions about things that lead nowhere at all. They don’t have a clue what they are really talking about, but they pretend that they do.

This is what makes it so confusing to some Christians. They don’t know which teachers to trust, because a false teacher is never going to come out and tell you he’s a false teacher. He’s never going to fess up and expose his ignorance. Instead, he’s going to learn the powers of persuasion, public presentation, he’s going to wear the latest fashions (designer jeans or designer robes), get the brightest smile, the longest waves of hair, and he’s going to employ the best communication skills to convince the crowds that he’s something, when in fact he’s nothing.

It says there in verse 6 that they “turn aside to fruitless discussion.” One of the greatest pursuits of our post-modern generation is to ask meaningless questions, designed to confuse people and lose people in ambiguous, philosophical rabbit-trails that never lead to real answers about anything real.

These people love uncertainty. They delve into ideas and philosophies that have no good purpose, and they lead to no good thing. They distract people from the straightforward truth of God’s Word. They deter people from trusting the certainty of God’s knowledge. Avoid these people. Avoid these teachers. They are all around us!

They are on so-called “Christian” TV. They have websites. They are on the radio. They have pod-casts. They write so-called “Christian” books, and these books are sold in Christian bookstores, but they do it all for selfish gain. They’re in it for themselves and what they can get out of it. They are driven by ego. They want to be known. They do it for the fame.

Avoid them–don’t welcome their teachings into your home. Don’t welcome their teaching into your car or into your media library. Stay away from these wolves, because that’s what they are. They are wolves that are trying really hard to look like sheep, when they’re not.

Five years prior to this letter, Paul had already warned the elders in Ephesus that this was going to be a big problem for them. In Acts 20, Paul met with these leaders and he said, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29 to 30).

Paul knew this was going to happen. And now just five years later, it’s actually going down. And so Paul is explaining to Timothy, you got to check the motives of your teachers. What is it that drives them? Why are they in the ministry? Are they driven by their love for God and their love for others? Or are they driven by the promise of celebrity?

And remember, they’re not going to tell you. So we’ve got to figure it out for ourselves. That means we better know something of their life, and family, and background, and testimony, and reputation before we listen to their teaching. Check the motives of your teachers, folks. Check their lifestyle. Make sure they have a pure heart and good conscience and a sincere faith before you listen to their pod-casts and before you read their books.

The Apostle Peter warned of a similar thing when he wrote in 2 Peter 2, “There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:1 to 3).

Watch out, folks–this is life and death stuff. You ask, “What should I be looking for?” Well, look out for bad doctrine (or maybe just a lack, or absence, of doctrine altogether), extravagant lifestyle, money, ego. Look at their followers–are they solid in their faith, or are they worldly? Are they students of the Word, or are they into tradition, or other books?

Does their ministry operate within the bounds of Scripture, or are they looking for the new fandangled thing, or a new experience? What does their family look like? Does the teacher operate like a lone-ranger, or does he (or she) have people around them keeping them accountable? We got to check it all out.

If we’re going to have any chance of protecting the flock of God, we need to demand sound doctrine. We need to check the motives of our teachers. These are essential to the life of the Church. And thirdly (and finally), let’s look at . . .

3.  The Conviction of Timothy’s Assignment: to Apply Commandments Biblically

Paul teaches Timothy that the Law is good, but only if it’s used lawfully. He says it there in verse 8, “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” Now Paul has to make this point for clarification, because he doesn’t want to be accused of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Paul’s enemies misunderstood the Law–they didn’t get it. And they are probably thinking in their minds that Paul doesn’t believe that the Law is good. And so he has to clarify now, that the Law is good, as long as it’s used lawfully. In other words, the Old Testament Law is very beneficial.

It is very necessary, as long as you don’t turn it into a bunch of meaningless myths and bizarre lists of genealogies. You can’t mess with the Law of God–you have to interpret it correctly and you have to apply it correctly. In addition to that, we have to understand who is the target audience for the Law. Read verse 9, “Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person.”

Now this is an interesting statement–the law is not for everyone. It applies to some people and not to others. The Law is not for an already righteous person, but it is for a still unrighteous person. The Law is not for a saved person, but it is for someone who is still unsaved. The Old Testament Law then is for unbelievers.

Look at verses 9 and 10 again, “[The] law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who [strike] their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.”

Paul is saying these are the people who need to hear the Law of God. These are the people who need to see God’s standards in stark contrast to their own godless lifestyles. These are the people who need their sin to be called out in such a way as to show them just how far they have fallen from God’s righteous standards.

You ask, ”Do we have an example of how this works?” Yes, we do! We have an excellent example, in Jesus Himself.  When He came to confront the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, He used the Old Testament Law to do it. His Sermon on the Mount is the perfect example of how to bring the Law to bear on religious unbelievers.

Over and over again in that sermon, He told the crowds, “You have heard it taught,” and He would state what the Pharisees had been teaching the people about the Law, and then He said, “But I say to you,” and He then went to lawfully teach the Law of God.

Instead of allowing the religious types of His day to pretend that the Law of God was a standard they could actually maintain in their own strength, He showed them that the requirements of the Law of God were so high that no one could ever possibly maintain them. The Law of God shows a sinner just how sinful he is–that’s what Jesus was doing. And that is what Paul explains here in 1 Timothy.

So it turns out then that the Eddie Roman approach to evangelism is biblical. Ray Comfort, Living Waters (Way of the Master) have been showcasing public evangelistic conversations for years and they use this method. They take the Old Testament Law and ask an unbeliever to compare his life with that law. Then they use his self-evaluation to show him how lost he is and how desperately in need he is of a Savior.

It’s a good model for evangelism. It’s not the only way to evangelize, but it is a biblical way, because it’s the Law that forces people to recognize that they are guilty of disobeying God’s commands. That’s why Paul says to Timothy, “the law is good.” But you got to use it lawfully. And I want you to see how Paul does this so masterfully. This is awesome.

He says in verse 9, “[The] law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.” All three couplets of sinners here are representative of those who live their lives without concern for God’s glory. In a very real way, these first three categories of sin are an echo of the first four of the Ten Commandments.

But Paul goes on in verse 9–he says the Law is . . . “for those who [strike] their fathers or mothers”–that’s the fifth commandment. He says the Law is for . . . “for murderers”–that’s the sixth commandment. He says in verse 10, the Law is for . . . “and immoral men and homosexuals”–that’s the seventh commandment.

He says the law is for . . . “and kidnappers”–that’s the eighth commandment. He says the Law is for . . . “and liars and perjurers”–that’s the ninth commandment. And just in case he’s missed anything, he says, “and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.” Paul masterfully references the Ten Commandments (from Exodus 20) here to describe the target audience of the Law of God. And by doing so, he shows us how to use the Law.

The Law is not a list of rules to turn us into good people. It’s not a moralistic rulebook for conservative religious people. It is designed to show us how sinful we are. So what does all this mean? It means if we are going to have any chance of protecting the flock of God from false teachers, we have to learn how to use the Law, lawfully.

We can’t play fast and loose with the Bible. We need to study it, know it, exegete it, interpret it with correct, hermeneutical rules–use it carefully, use it biblically, apply it biblically and then we will have a fighting chance of protecting the church from heresy.

Here at Faith Bible Church, we want to teach you how to apply the Bible biblically. We’re going to model this. We’re going to practice this. We’re gonna teach you this, both by our example and by instruction. This is vital to our doctrinal and spiritual integrity as a church.

Let me wrap this up briefly by finishing with verse 11–look at it. We have been entrusted with the glorious gospel of the blessed God. It’s been given to us to look after–to care for. So here’s the question for you–are you willing to do whatever it takes to protect it? The Gospel of our blessed God is glorious. It is marvellous. It is wonderful.

What are you willing to do? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to protect it? You have been charged, our leaders have been charged, to protect the Gospel of God. Protect the Church of God. What are we going to do to achieve that goal?

It could be that you need to be a better student of the Word so you can defend sound doctrine. You need to listen to more expository sermons. You need to get into a youth Bible study. You need to enroll in Men of the Word. Enroll in one of the excellent women’s Bible studies. Enroll in the Training Center next fall. You need to figure out a way to know sound doctrine and to be able to refute error.

Or it could be that you can better support the Bible teaching efforts of this church. You can give more, serve more, get involved in some way that ensures that this pulpit, this ministry, this church continues to promote sound doctrine.

Or it could be that you can rid your life, rid your home, and rid your family from the influences of false teachers. You need to identify those sources of error that have snuck into your home undetected and remove them, stop listening to them, stop reading them, stop exposing your wife and your children to them. Their lives are at stake. Like a messy worksite, you got to stop every now and then and get rid of all the trash so you can see clearly what you’re trying to do.

Or it could be that you have been using the Old Testament Law as a way to earn your own salvation. You’ve been thinking that if you can just obey enough of the Ten Commandments, then you’ll be good enough for God. But that’s not the way it works. The Law is not for the righteous–it’s for the unrighteous.

The Law doesn’t tell you how good you need to be–it tells you how bad you already are. If that’s you, you need to be saved. Put your faith in Christ to save you, instead of trusting your own good works to get you there. May God help us as we put these things into practice. Let’s pray.

About Nigel Shailer

A pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church and head of the counseling ministry.

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