THE CHURCH AND FALSE TEACHING
1 Tim 1:1-20, 4:1-8
Question: Why should I worry about false teaching?
Good morning brothers and sisters,
Would you believe; our stay here with you is already half over! Time really flies.
On the remaining 4 Sundays we will be going through the letter of 1 Timothy.
Timothy was Paul’s assistant in Ephesus and Paul wrote this letter to him around 65AD (1 Tim 1:3) to warn him against false teachers.
Let us pray and ask God for help to understand this warning about false teaching.
Dear heavenly Father,
Thank you for this opportunity to come freely to worship You this morning. Thank You for preserving this letter to Timothy for almost 2000 years so that we also can learn what You taught them through Paul.
As we study this letter now, please open our hearts and minds.
Please take away all distracting thoughts and worries, so we only hear You speaking.
Will You help me to speak clearly and faithfully so that we all may learn what You want us to know and do. May we leave church today knowing You better than when we arrived.
We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The question for us this morning is: Why should I worry about false teaching?
When you watch a good sermon on YouTube or hear an inspiring message on the internet, do you check if it is false teaching?
Or do you think: It is uplifting, I enjoyed it, and that is all that matters.
Well, I hope that after this service you will go home and be aware of the dangers of false teaching, and know how to protect yourself against it.
First let me give you some background of why Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.
Has anyone here been to Ephesus? That’s good, some of you have been there.
Map of Turkey
In Paul’s time Ephesus was the capital city of Asia Minor, now Turkey, with a population of over 200,000, the second biggest city after Rome in the Roman Empire. (https://bibletalk.tv/the-city-and-church-of-ephesus, Accessed 10 July 2019).
It was a harbour city on the Cayster river but due to river sedimentation over many centuries, Ephesus is now land locked, no more harbour.
Port of Kusadasi
Nowadays cruise ships dock at a place called Kusadasi and tourists travel 20km by bus to ancient Ephesus. Today nobody lives in Ephesus and only tourists and archaeologists come there.
In Paul’s time it was a prosperous port city and had a silver industry linked to the worship of the goddess Artemis (Gk) or Diana (Roman). Artemis/Diana was the fertility goddess. Later in 330AD they built a huge temple for her that became one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Unfortunately today there is nothing left of that ancient wonder of the world. But this is what it would have looked like.
(http://www.oc.edu/academics/bible/resources/greece-turkey-biblical-locations/ephesus.html. Accessed 9 July 2019)
Temple of Artemis
100 Magnificent marble columns 20m tall. Amazing how they built that without modern construction machinery.
(https://bibletalk.tv/the-city-and-church-of-ephesus Accessed 10 July 2019)
And this is what Artemis supposedly looked like. She was the fertility goddess.
Paul started the church in Ephesus around 52AD (Acts 18:19).
Slide 8: Timeline
At one stage Ephesus was the third most important city for Christianity after Jerusalem and Antioch.
(https://www.housetohouse.com/the-history-of-the-church-of-ephesus-in-time-lapse-photography/ Accessed April 2019)
The last time he met the elders was in 57AD (Acts 20:17-38).
That was an emotional farewell because he told them it was probably the last time they will see each other. The unsettling thing about that farewell meeting was that Paul warned them that after he left false teachers will come from outside and even inside the church.
Fast forward 8 years to 65AD.
Timothy was in Ephesus then. Did Paul’s predictions of false teachers come true? Yes, unfortunately Paul’s predictions had indeed come true; there are false teachers are in the Ephesian church. Therefore Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to stop these false teachers.
Please keep your Bibles open at 1 Timothy. We will flip between chapter 1 and chapter 4 because both chapters talk about false teaching.
The question for us is: Why should I worry about false teaching?
To do this we’ll look at false teaching from 4 angles:
1. The source: where does it come from?
2. The content: what does it teach?
3. The danger: how can it affect me?
4. The defence: how do I guard against it?
1. The source: where does the false teaching come from?
In 1:3 Paul says that certain men were already teaching false doctrine in the church. Paul didn’t mention them by name but they were church people. False teaching came from inside the church.
Another source of false teaching came from outside. In Acts 20:29 Paul warned them that savage wolves will come in among you. These are outsiders who come in and mix with the members of the church.
So false teaching came from both inside and outside the church.
2. The content: what does it teach?
We don’t know exactly what the false teaching was but there are a few hints:
Paul calls it false doctrines (v3).
Somehow it involves myths and endless genealogies (v4). Around that time there were Jewish teachers who told OT stories but added speculative genealogies of ancestors. They added fanciful ideas to what the Bible says about the OT people. Their teaching was imagination, it is not in the Bible.
(e.g. The Book of Jubilees, ~ 125BC and The Biblical antiquities of Philo, ~ 70AD.
See Philip G Ryken 1 Timothy, Reformed Expository Commentary, 2007, page 9 ff).
In chapter 4 these false teachers forbade marriage and eating certain food because in their opinion the body and food, and all material things, are bad.
Paul calls all this meaningless talk; a waste of time.
So if that is all false teaching, what is sound teaching?
Chapter 1 says that sound doctrine is teaching that advances God’s work - which is by faith.
The goal of sound teaching is to produce love which comes from: a pure heart, good conscience, and a sincere faith.
Then in 1:8-11 the law is given as an example of sound teaching; it brings sinners back to God. The example of a bad sinner is Paul himself
So in summary: Sound teaching is teaching that saves sinners from God’s punishment. This is the ultimate aim of sound Christian teaching; bringing forgiveness to people, even a bad sinner like Paul.
This is wonderful news; If you are sincerely sorry for living a rebellious life against God and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross in your place, then you can come to God, repent and ask for forgiveness.
This forgiveness is available no matter how bad a sinner you are, just look at Paul. Before Paul became a Christian his name was Saul and he hated Christians. He persecuted them, he supervised the killing of Stephen, one of the Christian leaders, he went from town to town to search for Christians to persecute them. But even he was forgiven and his life completely changed and here he is now; travelling throughout the Roman Empire to tell this good news. So if anyone here this morning has not yet accepted that Jesus died in your place, please do so today. Come and talk to someone today.
We have a wonderful God who is waiting for you to come to Him!
That is what sound teaching is; bringing sinners back to God.
3. The danger: how can false teaching affect me?
Paul mentions several dangers of false teaching in chapter 1:
It promotes controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work (1:4). Controversies means arguments and debates, it’s not helping God’s work.
It causes some to depart from these and turn to meaningless talk (1:6). Departing means drifting away and meaningless talk is wasting time.
It makes people ambitious and proud; they want to be teachers (1:7) But the problem is they don’t know what they are talking about. An example of this is in chapter 4 where they say you can’t get married and you can’t eat certain foods. But actually 4:4 says everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. So they don’t know what they are talking about.
A big danger is in 1:19; people who reject sound teaching suffered shipwreck with regard to their faith like Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:20) who were church leaders but now don’t believe anymore.
This is repeated again in 4:1; Instead of following a loving God who forgives sinners, they now follow deceiving spirits and demons with the result that their consciences are seared as with a hot iron (4:2).
Instead of following God they now follow the devil.
What about us today? Where do false teachings come from and what do they teach now?
Slide 14: External false teaching today
Today, some false teachings come from outside the church.
In this interconnected world of the internet, social media and TV we are bombarded by all sorts of teachings.
One common false teaching in our post-modern society is relativism
which says that there are many ways to come to God and they are all equally valid. As long as you are sincere God will accept you. Some New Age teaching is like that.
Or, the teaching that there is no God; you can believe what you want
and I can believe what I want so don’t be intolerant and argue!
Other times, like in Paul’s time, the false teaching is loosely based on the Bible but with fanciful additions. An example is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code which is a novel but surprisingly many people read it as fact. Other false teachings that are also loosely based on the Bible are cults like JWs. I don’t know how strong they are in KL. Be careful even though they walk around carrying a Bible.
False teaching that is most difficult to guard against are those where the errors are subtle. If it is completely false it is easy to spot and we won’t be deceived. For instance the recent cult from China: Eastern Lightning who believe that Jesus has already returned for the second time but this time as a woman, and she arrived in China.
Or the Mormons who teach that after the resurrection, on the way back to heaven Jesus stopped over in the US. With such completely false teaching it is doubtful if many Christians will be deceived.
Or what about the prosperity gospel? This seems to be strong in KL. It is also loosely based on the Bible because it teaches that God is love and He wants to bless us. That is correct, so far so good. But then it says that God’s blessings are material and health and all we have to do is ask and God will give it to us. Therefore, if we do not have material wealth or if we are not healthy, the problem is with us. Either we don’t ask enough, or we have done something wrong. This prosperity gospel treats God like a vending machine: you put money in, press the button and a can of Coke comes out. If the can of Coke doesn’t come out there must be a problem with you; either you didn’t put enough money in, or you gave the wrong type of coins or you didn’t press the right button, somehow the problem is with you. It ignores our relationship with God as our heavenly Father who is in control and He decides what is good for us.
So, watch out for false teaching, be discerning. Before you read a book check who the author is, what his background is. Is the publisher reputable? If you are not sure, ask a mature Christian friend.
Similarly, before you open a link to an internet page, or WhatsApp, check it out. Don’t waste time reading everything you receive through social media. Don’t believe everything you see on FaceBook, YouTube, WhatsApp etc.
Take the same precautions against TV preachers. Be especially careful when they start asking for money. Remember that the greatest Christian ministries in history are faith based. They just pray for the Lord to provide for their needs, they don’t ask for money. Of course it is different with a church because you know them, it’s not strangers asking for money.
These are some of the external sources of false teaching today.
Internal false teaching today
But Paul also warns that false teachers will come from inside the church. At a recent Christian convention in Sydney a speaker warned that often Christians are on guard against the world and outsiders but often the danger comes from inside our own churches. Is it possible that among us at St Andrews there are false teachers who teach things that are not in the Bible? Maybe that person sitting behind you? Or in front of you?
Christians don’t suddenly become false teachers. It is usually a gradual
process. Sometimes it starts by getting interested in a particular aspect of the Christian faith. They research it without being discerning and get influenced by what they read. They develop an unhealthy obsession with the topic.
A few years ago at our church in Sydney a keen Christian became so interested in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He got so obsessed in researching this and finally claims to discover a new teaching of Jesus. I could not understand him. Our pastors disagreed with him and he left the church.
Recently we had dinner with an Australian Christian couple who we have been friends with for over 30 years. He surprised us because he is helping someone publish a book on universal salvation. Universal salvation teaches that because God is love everyone will ultimately be forgiven and accepted by God. That is false teaching because Jesus says: I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by Me. But in his church he promotes his false belief to others.
Summary of the dangers
So in summary:
The danger of false teaching is that it draws us away from the Lord Jesus. Instead of pleasing the Lord Jesus we waste time on meaningless ideas and unimportant pursuits. The end result is we stop following God and follow the devil instead.
Brothers and sisters, it is important that we look out for each other as a church family, be accountable to each other and help each other to love Jesus more. When you hear someone say questionable things encourage them to check what the Bible says. The Bible is our final authority, not even a preacher. Look after one another, we are a family.
4. The defence: How do I guard against it?
How do we guard ourselves against false teachings? I have three suggestions:
1. As I already mentioned, guard ourselves against false teaching by being discerning. Don’t believe everything we hear or read. Don’t be gullible and believe too easily in conspiracy theories, in rumours etc. Be discerning. Always check the background of the speaker, author, website or article. Don’t just assume that because the book is popular or the speaker has many followers, or your friends recommend them, that their doctrine is sound.
2. Know what sound doctrine is.
In order to know what is false we must first know what is true.
The better we know what is true the easier we can tell what is false.
The dangerous teachings are those that looks like sound teaching but is subtly wrong. Paul warns in 4:1 that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Remember that the devil is a master at disguise and deception.
Brothers and sisters, look for sound doctrine; the teaching that brings sinners back to God, like Paul and you and me. Spend time to know what sound doctrine is. We have so many good resources available in books, on the internet, podcasts or BSF. Use them to strengthen our faith and our understanding of sound doctrine.
3. The third point to guard ourselves against false teaching is:
Spend time with the Lord.
Ch 4:7,8 says: train yourself to be Godly….. because Godliness has value for both the present life and the life to come. How seriously do we train ourselves in Godliness? How much time do we dedicate to be with the Lord each day?
I often talk with people about their relationship with Jesus and how much time they allocate each morning to be with God. Because we are all busy many people do not spend time with God each morning. Some people do say that they pray on their way to work either while driving a car or sitting on the bus or train. Other people say they are too rushed in the morning and spend time with God at night before they go to sleep. While all that sounds good, in reality it means giving God our left over time. We give Him bits and pieces of our time which we can not use productively otherwise. We are not giving God our best but our leftovers.
Instead, why not dedicate 15 minutes each morning to our Lord? Read the Bible, meditate on it and pray. Use a good devotional guide that goes through the Bible systematically. After reading the Bible passage and meditating on it spend time in prayer and commit the day to the Lord. Ask Him for the Holy Spirit to help us to live a life that pleases Him that day.
So, start with 15 minutes each morning. Over time we will value this quiet time in the morning with our Lord and we will slowly spend more and more time.
We started off with the question: Why should I worry about false teaching?
The answer is: It is dangerous, and here are the ways to guard against it.
1. Be discerning, don’t believe everything
2. Know what sound doctrine is
3. Spend time with the Lord each day
Brother and sisters, go forth in peace and stick to sound doctrine. Amen.