I Timothy 6:3-5 “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”
Paul Tournier was a Swiss doctor who, back before the second World War, claimed that if a man does not resolve the important questions of life, he will experience deep mental and emotional disturbances. Without a knowledge of the living God man suffers. People say that in this new millennium modern man is not interested in God. Then he is in a terrible state, because I am a modern man and I am fascinated with God. I cannot think of anything more gripping than God. Try to picture an apprentice cook. One day I hear the head chef saying, “That boy is not at all interested in cooking. I don’t know what I shall do with him.” So I throw in my six pennyworth: “What’s he interested in?” I ask. “Girls, soccer and rock’n’roll,” the chef says. “Well,” I say to the chef, “from now on why don’t you talk to him about girls, soccer and rock’n’roll?” “No way!” says the chef. “If he isn’t interested in cooking, then he’s missed his vocation in life.” That master chef lives for his kitchen.
There is a man who loves his vocation, and he wants to persuade every apprentice who comes to him to fall in love with it too. The apostle Paul has fallen in love with the Son of God, and he wants everyone to love the Son too. That is what he is going to do with his life. He is going to make beautiful the Lord Jesus Christ to men and women. He is going to captivate them with Christ. He is going to spend his days telling them all about this wonderful person, Jesus of Nazareth, and he wants Timothy to do the same. If we are going to be healthy men and women then we must know Jesus Christ. So here Paul begins by reminding Timothy that we are not ignorant concerning what Christ has to say to us.
1. We Have the Sound Instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.3)
We’ve got it – from the Lord Jesus himself. That is what Paul is telling Timothy, and all the church too. That is the confidence of the New Testament writers. We are humble about our own attainments, and aware of our own many falls, but we are not shy in stating what the Bible says. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Hebs.1:1&2). It’s not important to listen to me, but it is crucial that you listen to God. He lives, and he is not silent.
We can see how such a certainty runs right through this very chapter. Paul refers to a Christian beliefs and he writes about them as the ‘teaching’ (v.1 and repeated at the end of v.3), ‘sound instruction’ (v.3), ‘the truth’ (v.5), ‘the faith’ (vv.10, 12, and 21), ‘this command’ (v.14), and ‘what has been entrusted to your care’ (v.20). Notice especially the words of the apostle in our text, “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.3). The phrase is literally the ‘healthy words’ of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible that this could be referring to words about Christ. But the teaching of the New Testament, while centring on the Saviour, is more than that. The apostle is referring to the healthy words that come to the world from our Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is the ultimate origin of what we believe. It is the Son of God who has given to us our teaching, or our sound instruction, or the truth, or the faith, or what has been entrusted to us, or whatever diverse phrases the New Testament employs.
Think of how the apostle Peter heard those healthy words from the lips of Jesus himself, and then he told them to the 3000 on the day of Pentecost, and they told them to their family and friends, and they told them to their children, and they told them to their children, and so on and on, in a chain that stretches down all the way to you and me. I heard these healthy words from another Christian, who had heard them from another and he from another, all the way back to the Son of God himself. The gospel came to us from the Lord Jesus’ own lips.
All this is one of the consequences of God’s love for us. The apostle Peter assures his readers that “we have the word” (II Pet. 1:19), and then he describes the word as “a light shining in a dark place” (II Pet. 1:19). We were walking back to Keith Underhill’s house in Nairobi one night, and there were no street lights at all. It was pitch black, and suddenly a pack of dogs in the darkness ahead of us began barking and snarling and running towards us. I couldn’t see them. I didn’t know where they were or how many. I could only hear the menace in the darkness ahead, and I was afraid – as much by what I didn’t know as what I could hear. But Keith had been along that road in the dark on many occasions, and he did not seem to be afraid, and that gave me some hope.
The Lord Jesus Christ sends us out as sheep amidst wolves, and as we often say, wherever there is a flock of Christ’s there will be wolves. But we have a light shining in a dark place. We can train it on the wolves and frighten them away. We know what a wolf is, and we have the light that can drive the darkness away. Here is a book and it enlightens my mind concerning who God is, who I am, what is death, what I must do to be saved, how then I should live, and how I may inherit eternal life. In this dark world there are sinners who trust in the Son of God. God has loved them so much he won’t not allow them to wander around in darkness. “We have the word!” It is a light to our feet.
In Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” Christian leaves the City of Destruction and he is told about the Wicket Gate. The way to the Celestial City lies through the Wicket Gate, but he can’t see any gate. Evangelist then asks him whether he can see the light. Yes, he can see the light. Then go to the light and you will find the gate. The Bible is the light, and Christ is the Gate. You will find Christ in the Bible. That is our conviction. He is the light of the world, and he is the door.
Here in our little town we are in contact with the whole world. We can see children starving to death this week in Ethiopia. We can see them die ‘live’ (as they say) on television. The reality of global travel screams at us from the window advertisements of half-a dozen shops selling exotic destinations. We can walk home from this church past a Chinese restaurant, an Indian restaurant, a Burger King, a Turkish restaurant, an Iraqi restaurant. The American Mormons are knocking on our doors. The Muslim students drive to their meeting place by the playing fields each Friday night. We live surrounded by differences in religious and moral beliefs. Sexual philosophies, different political angles, and various moral views, attitudes on every subject ranging from homosexuality to the Welsh Assembly abound in our culture. It is called a pluralistic society.
David Cook, Director of the Whitefield Institute, Oxford, and broadcaster, has said something like this, that pluralism leads to relativism, which is the idea that there are no absolute universal standards of what is true, good, right or wrong. Relativism argues that what is true, good, right and wrong varies from time to time, place to place and person to person. The favourite relativist phrase is ‘It all depends …’ It all depends where you are, when you are. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. When in Rome we do what the Romans do, and when we are elsewhere we fit in with them. It sounds so cosy. Until you go and live amongst cannibals.
So the relativist goes one stage further, because he realises that if we all simply did whatever was right in our own eyes that would result in chaos. People could spew out their hatred and encourage people to lynch others. So the relativist suggests that the cure for the problem is tolerance. We must live and let live. All opinions are to be tolerated and permitted unless they do serious harm to others. That seems harmless enough. There are indeed different ways of looking at things. Perspective makes a difference. Let us live at peace on our streets with our Muslim neighbours. Let us give to them the right to proselytise and worship, even if in most lands where Islam is overwhelmingly present that freedom is denied to Christians. We turn the other cheek.
But the tension we feel comes from the fact that we are under the constraint of a faith that believes that Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God. He is the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to God but by him. He alone was raised from the dead on the third day. We who believe that are living in an society which says you must tolerate every kind of opinion. The Welsh band, “Manic Street Preachers,” come from a small town in South Wales called Blackwood, and I lived three miles from there in the 1950’s. I went to Blackwood on a bus on a Saturday afternoon to see Doris Day and Alan Ladd films. On Friday nights there would be occasional Christian Endeavour rallies in Blackwood. These Manic Street Preachers released an album in 1994 called “The Holy Bible.” Of course, it was linked to the name of their band. Then in 1998 their album appeared which could not have had a different title. It was called, “This is My Truth. Tell Me Yours.” That phrase is coming from the streets of Blackwood – two hours from here – today. It says, total relativism reigns.
Here in the New Testament is the Christian claim that the Creator of this world has spoken his truth through prophets he has sent into the world, and ultimately he has spoken through his Son Jesus Christ, who has said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you … and I will take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also.” And when you have heard that you don’t reply, “Very interesting, and now let me tell you my truth.” Because after you have listened to the Sermon on the Mount your truth sounds rather feeble. Christians claim that because God loves us he has given to us “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.3).
To make us deny that is the end of persuasion, mission and evangelism. There would be no point in any Christian knocking on doors with questionnaires if the Lord Jesus is not the truth. But if God is, and He is not silent we have to challenge our friends’ relativism. We have to show the truth and relevance of the Bible to their lives. This letter of Paul’s to Timothy arrived and grew in influence in a similar multi-cultural pluralistic society to ourselves. There were thousands of people on the streets of Ephesus who each thought that they had their truth, and yet it was this unique word of the early Christians that turned the world upside down. It is still turning people lives around today.
What does it achieve? Its words make people healthy. Saul of Tarsus was a man sick with anger, bigotry and cruelty. He had been involved in the stoning of a young Christian called Stephen. But when he met with Jesus Christ he was cured of all that. He became a healthy man. Two weeks ago I sat and talked at a conference with a man I have known for a long time called Malcolm Maclean from Inverness. There were years in his life when he dabbled in drugs and indulged in drinking, “Yet,” he said, “I was becoming disillusioned with such a meaningless existence. Was there not more to life than daily doing nothing except indulge in self-centred pleasure? … One night I was lying on my bed feeling depressed with life. I saw the New Testament and decided to read it. The portion that I read included the words of Jesus, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). This verse really shook me. Jesus, whom I thought had died two thousand years ago, was claiming to be the source of abundant life” (“He Found Me”, Christian Focus, 1991, pp.87-101). That was over twenty years ago. Other things happened that worked together to bring him to faith in God and they have given him peace and joy. In other words, he has been delivered from the sickness of unbelief and despair by paying attention to the ‘healthy words’ of our Lord Jesus Christ. If there was no truth, only everybody’s equally worthy opinions, would Malcolm Maclean even be alive today?
But there is another important phrase at the end of verse 3, “godly teaching.” In other words the result of this teaching, if it is received and followed, is that it leads to godliness. These words change people. They promote godliness in their lives. Let me give you a very simple illustration of this. I was talking with Malcolm Maclean, and he told me that when he became a Christian he was a lorry driver working for a national haulage firm and he enjoyed the work. But in 1989 he got married. “I realised,” he says, “that long-distance lorry-driving was not suitable for marriage. It involved long hours away from home and I did not believe it would help my marriage to grow if that continued.” So there we have an example of practical godliness that came from Christ’s teaching. Malcolm became a more considerate husband after his conversion. Or again, when he was converted he was smoking about forty cigarettes a day. Now we would all recognise that that is plainly wrong for a Christian to smoke that number of cigarettes a day, that such a man is addicted, that he is under the power of nicotine, and his lungs are being ruined by the smoke. So again, Malcolm succeeded in saying no to cigarettes. The teaching which he received was unto godliness. Again, as we heard, he had spent time every day in the pub, and after he was converted it was a powerful temptation to keep going there and drink, so much so that he had to alter his route home so that he no longer walked past the door of his favourite pub. The teaching he embraced encouraged literally new ways of life. You understand that it was not a ‘killjoy’ lifestyle. In fact, he says that he now knew a ‘wonderful joy and peace’. But there were things Malcolm shed from his life as he became more godly.
So, the apostle tells us that in the Scriptures we have the healthy words of our Lord Jesus Christ which result in godliness. You can imagine the impact made upon people as they sat quietly on a mountain side and they listened to the words of the Lord Jesus teaching them the Sermon on the Mount. We sometimes think it would have been wonderful to have been there with them and heard his unique voice and listen to the way he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are the pure in heart” and so on. That would have been memorable, but in the Bible we actually have God-breathed words today.
Let me illustrate it like this. Some years ago Jay Adams was in Brazil speaking to missionaries. One missionary, wishing to make the point that Brazil was an illiterate country asked him the following question. “If you had a secretary and you told her that you were going to leave town for several days and that you wanted her to do so-and-so on Thursday, but before you left you thought better of it and you wrote her a note telling her to do it on Wednesday, on which day do you think she would do it?” Jay Adams answered, “On Wednesday, of course. She could always wave the paper in front of my face and say, ‘See, this is what you wrote.'” “Exactly,” he replied. “That is the way it would be in America. But not in Brazil. In Brazil she would always do it on Thursday. She would reason, ‘I heard him say “Thursday” with his own mouth. So, he must have made a mistake when he wrote “Wednesday.”‘” In an illiterate society the spoken word takes precedence over the ancient word.
When Paul wrote to Timothy he was aware that many of the people in Ephesus were illiterate, and that is why he has told Timothy in chapter 4:13, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” In an illiterate society you might tend to undervalue the written word, but he tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed (II Timothy 3:16). As Jay Adams comments, “it is as much God’s Word as if it were spoken audibly from his own mouth. If you were literally to hear God’s voice, he would say nothing more, nothing less, and nothing different from what he has said in that Book. It is to be read, heard, and obeyed as fully as any literally breathed out words of God would be” (Jay E. Adams, “How To Help People Change,” Zondervan, 1986, p.25)
So Timothy is being encouraged here to never forget that the Lord has given us sound instruction and godly teaching. Paul expects Timothy to translate it into what John Owen calls “a sweaty kind of preaching” that is, real vital engagement by the word with a congregation. There are no other words that can tell us who we are and also change us into something far better. Timothy must saturate the whole congregation in Ephesus with the health-giving, life-changing Scriptures which make sinners godly men and women.
2. There are Those Who Teach False Doctrine. (v.30.)
We don’t want to talk about ‘them’ do we – those other people, out there, and pass judgment upon them, and say that what they believe and teach is false? That would be self-righteous and smug, wouldn’t it? That would be saying, “We’ve got the truth, and everyone else in the entire world is wrong,” and then we’d just be running them down and bragging up how superior we were. That is the usual caricature of evangelical Christians isn’t it? So we don’t like to major in the errors of other people. We are too conscious of the gap between what we believe and how we live. But, let me ask you, are there no religious people around in the world who fit this Identikit description that Paul here gives Timothy of a vain ignoramus? He says, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing” (v.3 and 4a). Has that any relevance at all today? Does it ring any bells? What happened in the last week of March 2000 in Uganda? The police in a place called Kanungu in the south-west of the country found the bodies of about 500 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments. What conceit, to call your organisation, “The Movement to Restore the Ten Commandments.” The people who led it were saying, “We are going to make people keep the ten commandments.” Then they understood nothing, did they? Were they going to declare that part of Uganda a sin-free zone? How different the reality. There were hundreds of people who came under the control of false teachers who seem to have been given some drugs by these evil men. They then gathered the people into a church building, the doors being nailed up, and the building was set on fire. They all died, and in the following weeks hundreds of other bodies killed by this cult were also discovered.
Let me ask you whether you agree that the leaders of that cult taught false doctrine? Yes, you have to admit that. So there is such an entity as wrong teaching. We know when we compare it to the words of Christ. Were those religious teachers in Uganda in agreement with the health-giving words of our Lord Jesus Christ? Remember that he said, “anyone who is [merely] angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt 5:22). It sounds as though those religious murderers in Uganda ignored those words. Isn’t it important to know the difference between true and false teaching? Imagine that your own daughter had said that she was going off to worship with the “Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments.” Would you have said, “I mustn’t judge their truth. I mustn’t say that anyone is wrong. Go, my daughter.” Would that have been wise? Would that have been loving to your daughter? When she wants to marry a racist skinhead, do you say that his truth is as good as anyone else’s, and so she can go ahead and marry, and you have no objections? Would that be wise? Would that be loving to your daughter? Would you have taught her anything about truth and error, and right and wrong in her life? Would you have given her any standards in life? Of course you would have.
When the Lord Jesus tells us, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt.7:1), he is not saying, “Don’t be discerning, and don’t evaluate, and don’t pass judgment on any religious nuts or racist skinheads telling them that their views are wrong.” What the Lord Christ is saying in that phrase is this: “Do not be self-righteous in your judgements, always exonerating yourself and condemning others.” He is saying, “Do not be censorious.” He is saying, “Don’t feed your attitude of looking for sins in other people and being blind to your own faults.” He is saying, “Don’t develop a critical spirit so that you’re always complaining about others.” If we have tasted the grace of God towards ourselves we will be compassionate towards others who have fallen.
So too here, when Paul talks about people teaching false doctrine, that is a terrible reality, because ideas have legs and they can march in jack boots, and bear guns, and build gas-chambers and concentration camps. The horror always starts with wrong teaching and it ends in a conflagration of hundreds of corpses burning in a church building.
So let us not be blase about false teaching. The Lord Jesus warns us in the Sermon on the Mount to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them” (Matt.7:15). They are all around the flock of God. You hear them on the radio’s Thought for the Day, and its Morning Service, and in discussion periods in school. The nation is awash with false teaching. The Times last week had the headline, “Top Theologian Revises Biblical Prohibitions” (March 27, 2000), and it mentions someone called John Elford who is Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral. He argues that the widespread belief that the Bible prohibits active homosexual relationships is a false combination of prejudice and ignorance. Mr Elford has written a book to be published next month on this theme and it is called, “The Ethics of Uncertainty.” We are saying that we bump into false teaching around every other corner. A lot of it denies what you hear from this pulpit, and the devil then says to you that what you hear from me is just my own ideas. Then in the Spectator two days earlier there was a reference to the Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, who last year published a book attacking the whole notion that we have to be religious to be moral and to believe in God to be good. The book is called “Godless Morality” (“Spectator,” 25 March, 2000, p.22). If we met these men mightn’t we be impressed by their learning, charm and sincerity? They would want us to believe them to be most ‘evangelical’ men, but it is by their fruit we are to know them, that is, what their teaching is, not their own pleasant manners.
The Lord Jesus talked of the devil himself appearing as an angel of light. If what appeared to be an angel stood in this pulpit and spoke we would all be crouching behind the pews. It would be the most memorable event ever to have occurred in the history of this church. We would talk and argue among ourselves for the rest of our lives concerning what we thought that angel had said. When every word I had ever preached here had long been forgotten what the actual words of the angel had been would be in our memories on our death-beds. But what does the apostle Paul say to the church in Galatia about angels? “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gals. 1:8), and in case we did not get it right the first time he repeats it in the next verse. We have to judge and condemn even angels if they preach another gospel.
Especially in an age of pluralism and relativism, everything has to be judged in the light of “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching” (v.3). This is the only light we have. The others are strange fire. You say to me that this is a rather pessimistic sermon, to warn people about false doctrine. You say that people will stop coming if they find this is the stuff of our pulpit. People like encouragement, you say, but I am going to venture to say a brief word in defence of warnings, learned from the man who founded the seminary at which I studied. There are times when warnings are a very encouraging thing. You know that once or twice a year I go across the Irish Sea to County Tipperary to encourage my brethren there. I arrive back late on Saturday night in Fishguard harbour and I have known it to be very foggy, and I am very glad then that the captain of the ferry boat is a bit of a pessimist and that he no longer ploughs along at full speed. I am glad that he checks his radar screen. There are times when the boat almost stops and then you can hear the foghorn sounding from the harbour. There is a buoy floating exactly where the captain would expect it to be found. But unless the captain saw it he would be very pessimistic about his whereabouts. He would be doubting whether he were on the right channel to Fishguard. The result of those warnings would be that he took great care as he approached the shore. The warnings were all worthwhile. The sound of a foghorn is lugubrious, and I would not like to hear it all the time, but when danger is near it is positively melodious.
There are sea-captains who are less pessimistic than the captain of the Irish ferry. One was at the helm of the tanker the “Sea Empress” a few years ago outside Milford Haven harbour when she ran onto the rocks and discharged her cargo of thousands of tons of crude oil into the sea and onto the beaches of Pembrokeshire. It was a fearful disaster. As I read the magazines of the Welsh churches a hundred years ago I meet a spirit of strong optimism about the century ahead of them. I am reminded about the virgin voyage of the Titanic. Superficially the good ship of Welsh nonconformity seemed to be going on as always, the passengers in the pews were sitting comfortably, and the crew of officers actively working away at what they are supposed to do, but all the time the danger was just under the surface. In times of deadly peril there are leaders who will say that all is well; there are leaders who decry any word about false doctrine as alarmist talk, and they will urge unity and peace, declaring that the church is perfectly loyal and true. God forgive them, brethren, I say it with all my heart: May God forgive them for the evil that bishops and theologians and preachers have been doing to Christ’s little ones. May the Holy Spirit open their eyes while yet there is time.
3. The Men Who Teach False Doctrine Divide the Church. (vv.4 & 5)
You will remember that these were great days for the early church. Days of the right hand of the most high, when the Spirit of God was being poured forth in Pentecostal showers. Yet there were false teachers, and the church needed to be warned about them.
What does a false teacher do? He divides the church. Paul tells Timothy that “he has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words” (v.4). There are men whose only interest in Christianity is in the teaching people fight over. What has a man done who has taught a congregation error? He has put a wedge in the Christian church, and if it stays there it will split that church from top to bottom. When false teachers went to church in Galatia they began to teach the necessity of being circumcised and of keeping the Old Testament food laws and feast days in order to be justified before God. In effect they were saying that the work which Jesus Christ had done in obeying the law of God in our place, and dying under the curse of the broken law upon the cross in our place, was not enough. It was a wonderful work, but it was not sufficient to save anyone. For salvation, they said, we must trust in Christ PLUS … We must believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ PLUS … And that addition to the work of Christ has been the wedge which false teachers have introduced into the body of Christ for the last two thousand years. You understand why? If salvation hangs on a partnership of Jesus Christ (who contributes 95%) and ourselves (who have to contribute a mere 5%), then we are utterly lost and hopeless men and women, because sin affects everything we turn our hands to. We cannot attain even 5% of our salvation. Our only hope is that the Son of God accomplished our entire redemption, all by himself. How does the apostle describe these men? People who have been “robbed of the truth”(v.5).
Throughout history there have been denominations who have insisted their members add to the work of Christ. What incredible and damnable folly! The Roman church has introduced its doctrine that the bishop of Rome is the representative of Jesus Christ on this earth, and that every true Christian must acknowledge that, and receive his teaching. It has introduced the teaching that grace comes via a sacramental system and it has put no less than seven sacraments in the hands of its priests. Trust in Christ, yes, PLUS the whole package which Rome has erected. They have robbed their devotees of the truth/
Then you think of the cults that have arisen, generally from North America, and they all say that in addition to trusting in Christ you must submit to the revelations and interpretations that make up their own distinctive teachings, because these teachings came to their founders from the Throne of the Universe. So you say to a Mormon when he knocks on your door, “Is it enough for me to put my trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation and then to follow him?” And he will stammer and equivocate but in the end if you persist he will say to you that that is not enough, that there is a plus which you must do, and that plus consists of submission to the baptism and truths taught by the Mormon cult.
For the mission field this has been disastrous. Throughout Africa and South America the cults have spread like wild fire, and whenever you go to an area you will meet people who have been affected by them and the themes they want to talk to you about are these controversies and quarrels about words. They have been robbed of the truth.
It is so odd how we evangelical Christians are considered to be the divisive people. We hold to the system of Biblical truth found in the Apostles’ Creed, and the Athanasian creed of the early church, the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and the 1823 Confession of Faith of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. We will co-operate with anyone who believes those truths. We were in the annual Assembly of the Associating Evangelical Churches in Wales yesterday and some of those congregations have the Westminster Confession of Faith as their basis, and others have the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and others the Congregationalist Savoy Confession as their basis, and others the 1823 Confession. Yet we are brothers and work together, and pray for one another, and support a theological seminary in south Wales where men are trained for the ministry. We are not dividing the church. We did not spend time yesterday in controversies and quarrels about words because we had so much in common. We have a healthy interest in truth and unity, and words of peace. Thus it was with Luther, and with Whitefield, and with Spurgeon, and with Machen, and with Lloyd-Jones. They were reformers, and they would not co-operate with those who taught error. For this they were called schismatics, but their great concern was the unity of the body of Christ not its division.
4. The Result of this False Teaching is Disaster.
It results, Paul tells Timothy, in “envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth” (vv. 4 & 5). If you dabble with false teaching you are seeing your future here. Look at every major denomination where modernism dominates its hierarchy and its training of ministers and what do you see? Rival magazines and papers, rival conferences, disputes in their annual assemblies, political lobbying, deals being done over the language of their join statements to accommodate everyone with studiously vague language. You have the feminist lobby and the animal rights lobby and the homosexual lobby and the liberation theology and the pacifist lobby. They are all pulling the denomination this way or that. There is no purity and no peace. That is the Church of England today, with its Third World Bishops fighting against its American and Scottish bishops. In other words, as a result of false teaching you have exactly what the apostle says here, “envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth” (vv. 3 & 4). It is an extraordinary prediction of what we are seeing in this new century in the professing church all around us.
If every opinion is regarded as equally valid, and if religion is now regarded as a private matter which may or may not have anything to do with a person’s character and life then you will get constant friction within the church. It is true at a personal level. A single man recently told an acquaintance of mine, “Yes, I do a lot of things that are wrong, you know, a lot of stuff sexually. I’m really into it. But, you know, I believe it’s all taken care of on Calvary.” Malicious talk! The professing church has sold the nation cheap grace and decisionism for so long that the real thing is no longer recognised, or it is dismissed as legalism.
What are we saying? That all true faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus is permeated with repentance, and all true repentance has, as the basis of its hope, the work of Christ alone. We are not adding a plus to Christ when we say, “No holiness, no heaven.” We are simply joining together what are joined in the Bible, “I testified unto you repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 21: 20-21). They are both there. Paul said, “I testified in Damascus, Judea and then to all the Gentiles that men should repent, turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). The apostle explains what he means by repentance. It is not saying a prayer that you are sorry, but doing works worthy of true gospel change. Men who are strangers to repentance are strangers to the benefits of the finished work of Christ.
But there is one more fact that characterises false teachers, and it is a love of money – they “think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (v.5). If we go back to the time of the apostles we meet Ananias and Saphira and the influence that money had over them, even to lying in the church to the apostles. If we go back to the time of Luther we see the greed of the popes and their ambition to build vast castles and temples in Rome and selling pieces of paper which claimed to deliver souls from years in purgatory if they bought them. You think of the Prosperity Religion which is everywhere in Nigeria, and so common that gospel churches are no longer able to protest against it. “Christianity Today” recently published a feature on Bishop T.D.Jakes of Dallas Texas who is being spoken of as the new Billy Graham. He is the latest religious star to grab the attention of America. It said, “The Jakeses’ emphasis on nice clothes and fine restaurants has set them up for a lot of criticism. Pointing to his flashy wardrobe, Mercedes-Benz, and $1.7 million house critics charge that Jakes is in it for the money. Worse, they say he is peddling a prosperity gospel, teaching his parishioners that they can get rich too, as long as they’re on God’s side” (“Christianity Today” February 7, 2000, p.56). The man seeks to defend himself, but those facts are not helpful. It is always a danger that confident orators get involved in religion to make money.
Men and women let us be aware of the reality of teachers of false doctrine. Let us pray for our officers that they be discerning men. Let us pray for our family heads that they be wise. Let us pray most of all for our young people that their hearts won’t envy sinners. I was speaking to a missionary about his six children and he mentioned them one by one. When he came to the last one and he said about him, “He likes nice things.” That was his worry, that there was a taste developing for the latest technology, and fashion, and CD’s and fine food, and concerts, and the big game.
We are following a crucified Saviour, who had nowhere to lay his head. He has given to us the words that his Father gave him to tell us. He has sent his apostles forth with the gift of the Holy Spirit who led them into all truth. Let’s be satisfied with them. Let’s be discerning, uncompromising men and women where revealed truth is concerned, but always abounding in the work of the Lord.
April 9 2000 Geoff Thomas