Today is the first Sunday of the new year! And we kick off a new sermon series in all three language groups. 1st Timothy is the letter we’ll be looking at from now all the way up to Easter Sunday. This is a letter written by Paul to Timothy. It’s called a “pastoral epistle,” because it was written by one pastor to another pastor.
And one of the beauties of this letter is that Paul gives us, plain-as-day, his purpose in writing it in chapter 3, verses 14-15. Let me read those, so we know why this letter was written: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” That was so good I just have to read it again: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
Don’t you love that? This letter shows us how God’s church is to function. We will read about the centrality of the gospel, what to do about false teachers, the importance of prayer for all people, qualifications for elders and deacons, and more. So, we’re calling this series, based on these two verses in chapter 3- the Household of God. Every household has unique characteristics, different ways that it functions. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s just how things fall naturally. But the household of God is no different, except that the head of the household is Jesus Christ. And we want to function under his authority. That’s why we turn our attention to 1st Timothy over the next few months.
If you would turn with me to 1st Timothy chapter 1, as we jump into this letter. I’m going to ask Ian Cooley, who is one of our deacons here at Lamar, to come and read verses 1-11 with us. With our new memory verse for the month, apparently Ian also has a suggested song he’s going to sing for us. This is to help us memorize the new verse for the month. Would you like to start with that before you read for us? Follow along as he reads 1st Timothy 1:1-11 for us. And if you’re able, please join us in standing in honor of the reading of God’s Word:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
This is the Word of the Living God. You may be seated. Right off the bat, we see a somewhat standard greeting. Most of the letters of the New Testament start with the sender of the letter, then give the recipient, then a formal greeting. And that’s what we see in verses 1 and 2. Paul is an apostle “by command of God our Savior and of Jesus Christ our hope.” There he’s reminding them of his God-given authority, and that this is not an ordinary letter, but a letter from an apostle.
“To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” Timothy was Paul’s right-hand man for years. He was pretty young when he first met Paul, likely in his younger twenties. Paul wrote in Philippians that he trusted Timothy with anything. These two were extremely close. He was an apprentice of sorts. And we see in verse 3 that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to help get some things right with how the church was functioning. And that’s where we see the first thing Paul wants to address, which is false teachers.
Now we talked some about false teachers back in December when we were finishing up 2nd Peter. Today we see that where false teachers go wrong is with the misuse of Scripture. It’s not always that they have the wrong source for truth; it’s sometimes that they misuse that source. I’ve heard someone use the example of having a compass, but not knowing how to use it. Think about misusing a compass, maybe not understanding the calibration necessary depending on where you are in the world. I mean, you could have the best compass in the world, but it’s not going to help you if you don’t know how to use it correctly. In fact, you can end up in quite a different place than you expect because you’re misusing that compass.
What we have this morning is five ways to misuse the Word of God. That’s how we’ll organize our time. Several of these we’ll spend just a brief amount of time on, and a few we’ll ponder for longer. Five Ways to Misuse the Word of God:
- Innovative Doctrine (3).
Now, I use that word “innovative” because it’s usually a good thing to be innovative, right? To be creative? I love being creative. However, when it comes to God’s Word, it should give us pause when we hear something that’s truly innovative, or new. And I don’t mean new to us because we’re all growing in our faith and we’re going to be learning new things about God’s Word. I mean new to Christian history.
There are times when God uses individuals to return Christians to biblical doctrine. There’s no doubt that’s true. One such time was the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther. There are times when seemingly new doctrine is good and fitting. But really, those times aren’t even about new doctrine, but instead a return to original doctrine from Jesus and the apostles themselves! A return to Scripture.
But there are plenty of other examples when innovative doctrine, something that’s supposedly been missing from the Christian church, and we just happen to have figured it out right now—much of this is nonsense. And this is why Paul instructs Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” It’s amazing that even only after decades after Jesus died and rose again—they already had people coming in and teaching a different doctrine. A different gospel. And certainly, this is something that happens today, 2000 years later.
One such example is the New Apostolic Reformation. You don’t have to remember that name, but basically over the last several decades a number of individuals claiming to be apostles with the same authority and influence as the original apostles of Jesus. Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church in California, fits that bill. So does Todd White of Lifestyle Christianity in north Fort Worth. And then Kenneth Copeland, who we’ve talked about before. Of course, these individuals are also all over the world.
The main takeaway with this for us is that yes, things change. And that’s a good thing, many times. But when it comes to biblical doctrine, our understanding can grow, but truly innovative doctrine is not a good sign. If we think we’ve figured something out that no one else has in 2000 years, that’s probably not a good sign. The 2nd way to misuse God’s Word:
2. Speculation rather than Stewardship (4).
Verse 4- Paul tells Timothy to charge certain people not “to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” So, the church in Ephesus was dealing with myths, probably including speculative interpretation of the Law of Moses. In other words, myths about whether marriage could even be holy since it involves sexual activity, or discussion about whether or not certain foods should be eaten since the Law of Moses prohibits certain foods. “Endless genealogies” likely having to do with just how Jewish any particular of these false doctrines might be. In other words, these false teachers were likely trying to prove their authority by pointing to their heritage.
Nowadays, that’d be like pointing out your family connections in order to establish your authority. “Do you know who my father is?” God doesn’t give a flip about your heritage. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you cannot teach different doctrine.
But these kinds of myths “promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” In other words, the gospel of Jesus Christ is our stewardship. That is what we’ve been given to embrace and pass down to other believers. The Word of God is our stewardship. It doesn’t belong to us, but God has entrusted us to manage it well. To teach it and pass it down. The third way we can misuse God’s Word:
3. Pointless Discussion (6-7).
Verses 6 and 7: “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” Reading that last phrase, I can’t help but think about my wife Lauryn, and our marriage. I don’t know about all you other husbands, but there are times when I make confident assertions about things I know nothing about. In fact, it seems to happen often. It can be things as trivial as the location of a certain object in our house— “It is not in this cabinet, I have checked.” It could be more serious things.
Here’s the truth of it. When we’re insecure, when perhaps we’re not walking with God with a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith—we will get defensive about secondary things. We’ll get angry when questioned or challenged— “No, no! I am right! This is true!” But when we’re walking with God with a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith—we won’t feel the need to unnecessarily defend ourselves and the position we’ve taken— “Who cares! Let’s seek the truth together!” “It’s not about me, it’s about truth.”
I remember an argument I started with Lauryn a while back about whether or not she told me about one of our kids’ doctor’s appointments. When you have four young children, it sure does help to not have to take all the kids with you to the doctor. So, she had told me about the appointment, so I could try to come home for an hour and watch the other kids during that time. I was convinced she never told me. She was convinced she had.
So, here’s the thing: instead of saying, “Hmm, I’m sorry about that miscommunication. Let me see if I can move my meetings.” What did I do? I went all Sherlock Holmes on her. I was researching my texts and our emails to see whether or not she had told me about this appointment. Can I just admit something now: that was POINTLESS! That’s a good example of vain discussion. We were getting totally off-track (mainly me) instead of just focusing on what mattered. Seeing if I could help make sure we get this kid to the doctor. As it turns out, I was making a confident assertation without understanding what I was saying, to use Paul’s words here. In other words, I found it. She had told on more than one occasion about this doctor’s appointment.
Listen: discussion of Scripture is always valuable. Because Scripture is living and active. It is God-breathed and useful for teaching and reproof, and for training in righteousness. But we must not obsess over things that are not Scriptural. That can quickly become vain discussion. The fourth way we can misuse God’s Word:
4. Wrongful use of the Law (8-11).
Let’s walk through verses 8-11. “Now we know that the law is good.” We know that, right? God’s law is good! It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing, “if one uses it lawfully.” So we see, there’s a right way to understand God’s law, and a wrong way to understand God’s law. And we see the explanation starting in verse 9: “understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murders,” and the list goes on.
What Paul is saying here is that the Law of God is not meant to oppress the people of God. The Law of God is meant to convict sinners of their need for a Savior. Paul writes in Galatians 3:23-26- “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
All that to say, as believers in Christ, we do not trust in the law to save us. That’s why Paul says, “the law is not laid down for the just.” Because we know the law cannot save us. Instead, the law shows sinners their desperate need for a Savior. And he goes into this detailed list of the kinds of sinners who need the Law to show them their sin and need for a Savior. Lawless and disobedient. Ungodly and sinners. Unholy and profane. Those who strike their fathers and mothers. Murders. The sexually immoral. Men who practice homosexuality. Enslavers, liars, perjurers. And I love this, in case you thought you were off the hook with that list: “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”
The Law is good, if we use it lawfully. We obey God’s Law, but we do not trust in the Law to save us, because it cannot! We trust in Christ and Christ alone to save us. The fifth way we can misuse God’s Word, like these false teachers that Timothy was having to address:
5. Focused on Anything Other than the Gospel (11).
Verse 11. At the heart of sound doctrine is the gospel of glory. The good news of the glorious Christ. This is the centerpiece of sound doctrine. Without this centerpiece, no other doctrine or beliefs can be sound. This is why we must remain centered upon the gospel. This also why we’re spending eight weeks in a row observing the Lord’s Supper. Because it’s a tangible expression of the gospel itself. Of our hope in the body and the blood of Christ. We’re not commanded by God to observe the Lord’s Supper every week, but if the Lord’s Supper is an expression and reminder of being centered upon the gospel, why not observe it more often? I invite you to be praying for your elders, as we consider weekly observance an indefinite thing.
Everything must be centered upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because once you stray from that focus, things get dangerous quickly. And because that’s what Scripture is all about. I love verse 15, which we’ll look at next week: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” This is why he came. And this is the truth we must protect at all costs, even if it means calling out false teachers when they stray.
Why Must We Guard Against the Misuse of God’s Word?
That may sound unloving or even mean. But it’s quite the opposite! The whole reason Paul wanted Timothy to call out false teachers is because he loved this church at Ephesus! He wasn’t being mean; he was being loving! Why must we guard against the misuse of God’s Word? Why must Timothy charge these people not to teach different doctrine? Because this is how we love one another.
I love verse 5. The goal, always, in studying God’s Word, in correcting our brothers and sisters, in all things, the goal is love. Verse 5: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He’s basically saying, we’re not correcting these false teachers to puff ourselves us. Certainly, I don’t bring up Kenneth Copeland and Bill Johnson and Todd White to put them down and puff ourselves up. We have no need for that. We have a pure heart and a good conscience in God’s eyes, because of what Christ has done. We’re not doing this to stir unnecessary controversy or stroke our egos. We’re doing this because we love God’s church too much. We love God too much to let his church wander away into vain discussion and myths.
We have a stewardship, the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing more valuable we can protect than verse 11, “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, with which we have been entrusted.”