Initial Instruction – 1 Timothy 1:3-7
"As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 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. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 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."
Here we dive into the meat of Paul’s instruction to Timothy. It would be silly to think that Timothy had no idea whatsoever of what Paul expected him to do while in Ephesus and that he was doing little of anything until this letter arrived for him. Doubtlessly Paul and Timothy had discussed what needed to be done, but now it’s in writing. As Paul’s representative, Timothy now has written instruction that he can point to if and when his leadership is called into question.
Praise God for the authority of His Word! Ministry is always so very simple (seldom easy but always simple). We simply obey what God has already said and preserved in print for us to do.
These verses deliver Paul’s instructions to Timothy in three stages. The first couple of verses contain Timothy’s marching orders. Verse 5 reveals the true objective behind those orders. And Paul concludes in vv. 6-7 by addressing the obstacles that may hinder Timothy’s progress.
The Orders (vv. 3-4)
“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus”
Paul is simply reiterating what he has already told Timothy. The best way to piece together the series of events from Paul’s release from prison to the writing of this letter is as follows:
1. Timothy is with Paul during his incarceration in Rome.
2. Upon release, Paul sends Timothy to the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea).
3. Paul then travels to Colossae via Ephesus.
4. Paul and Timothy meet back up in Ephesus.
5. Paul orders Timothy to stay in Ephesus while he travels on to personally visit the Macedonian churches (just like he did the Asian churches).
For fear of copyright infringement, I’ve illustrated the above sequence from a screenshot of Google Earth. FYI, the arrows indicate direction traveled and not the routes taken.
“so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines”
Now we get to the rub. Paul had instructed Timothy to stay behind in Ephesus so that (purpose statement coming up) he would instruct/teach/command certain individuals not to teach strange doctrine. There are a few things that we need to understand.
First, this “strange doctrine” or “false teaching” is already circulating. By not identifying the particular individuals (certain men), it’s probably safe to say that at least the majority of the Ephesian elders are not a part of this movement and that Paul may not personally know the individuals in question. But the way he phrases his instruction indicates that this must stop. This is not a hypothetical concern. Paul is not saying, “Hey, Timothy, make sure nobody says anything stupid.” No. There is currently a fringe movement in or near Ephesus where men are teaching things that they should not be. Timothy’s marching orders are plain: Tell them to stop it!
But what is meant by strange doctrines? This translates a single word in the Greek that literally means “different teaching.” But does it refer to the content (different teaching) or to the method/manner (teaching differently)? If content is in view, Timothy’s charge is to tell these individuals to stop teaching things that were never taught before (strange/different doctrine). If the method or manner of teaching is in view, Timothy is commanded to tell these individuals to stop teaching in a way that differs from the apostolic tradition. The first option focuses on doctrine while the second emphasizes hermeneutics (method of interpretation).
Let’s back up and ask ourselves a question: Why do people differ on various doctrines? There is only one answer: Because people come to the text from different directions with different intentions and use different methods of interpretation. If every person came to the Bible from the same angle and used the same method of interpretation, then there would be no disagreement or variant doctrines.
So which emphasis does Paul mean? Logically speaking, both are in view. If these men are teaching doctrine that alters from orthodoxy it is because they have come to the text in a different manner. Bad doctrine begins with bad hermeneutics. Timothy is commanded to tell these yokels to knock it off.
“nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies”
It appears that Timothy’s command is two-fold. On the one hand he is to instruct that men stop teaching differently and on the other they are to stop being distracted. What exactly is meant by myths and endless genealogies is a matter of great debate. There are probably some Jewish roots in these myths and genealogies. This could be a reference to early traces of the Gnostic heresy. But Paul doesn’t hang a label on it nor does he dissect it. Why? Because his point is to simply correct irrelevant thinking.
The point is simple. Certain individuals are spewing nonsense as well as being filled with nonsense. Stop it!
“Which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.”
This is a tough section to translate, but this statement gives Paul’s reasoning behind his instruction. The nonsense that is distracting these certain men is utterly worthless and is actually working against God’s redemptive plan. The best that these myths can offer are speculations and do not advance God’s administration (His plans, purposes, will) one iota. Paul draws a line here that must be clearly seen.
On one side you have strange teaching, myths, and genealogies; things that may entertain the mind or appeal to the imagination. But on the other you have the gospel; God’s redemptive plan by faith alone.
Something to keep in mind: faith is never without precedent. Our faith is rooted in historical, verifiable fact. We believe in Christ because we know what has occurred in history and see the consistency in God’s Word. Faith is always objective.
These strange teachings on the other hand are completely subjective. At best they rise to speculation. The choice is between a subjective myth and an objective faith. The stakes are pretty high. Timothy’s orders are to instruct men to stop spewing this nonsense and stop being filled with it.
The Objective (v. 5)
“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”
It doesn’t get much easier than this folks. Paul tells us what the goal of instruction is right up front. The content of the instruction has already been stated. Namely, to stop teaching differently and to stop being distracted. The audience of the instruction consists of the “certain men” in or around Ephesus. But the goal/reason/objective that Paul wishes to reach is very plainly stated as love. Love is the reason to give instruction.
Notice how there is nothing to give further clarification on this love. Love of God? Love of neighbor? Love of brother? The answer is “yes.” Instruct these men to stop teaching differently. Why? Because you love them and you do not wish to see them continue to sin against a holy God who will hold them accountable. Because you love the brethren and you do not wish for them to be led astray. Because you love God and you do not wish to see Him misrepresented. Why do we make a big deal out of right doctrine? Because we love.
What follows is a three-fold description of genuine love’s source. Love comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. A pure heart or a clean heart indicates a heart (the inner man/the control center of mind, emotion, and will) that has been scrubbed clean from any and all that would soil it. This is the heart of the believer who has been made clean and is kept clean by the blood of the Lamb. Love begins here.
Next comes a good conscience. God has given man a conscience, an awareness, so that he knows and is aware of right and wrong. Having a conscience is one thing, but does it work properly? We typically use the word good to describe quality. The ice cream was good. The yogurt was not good. (Frozen yogurt is nothing short of an abomination). But a better understanding is to think of this word good as describing completion. Something that is good is complete/finished/lacking nothing. A conscience that is good is functioning on at full capacity because it is not missing anything. Love comes from a clean heart and a functioning conscience.
And lastly love comes from sincere faith. The idea is a faith that is genuine (what James would call a living faith). The objective of instruction is to bring these certain men back to clean hearts, good consciences, and genuine faith so that they might love and be loved.
I’ll just make two more comments before moving on. 1) Someone who is teaching differently or is under different teaching is in desperate need of love. 2) Withholding instruction is the most unloving thing you can do. Love instructs.
The Obstacles (vv. 6-7)
“For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 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 are the same men to whom Timothy is to give instruction (v. 3). “These things” refers to the three-fold source of love. The individuals in question have strayed and turned away. Their control center is impure and filthy. Their consciences are incomplete and malfunctioning. The sincerity of their faith is a legitimate question. They very men who Timothy has been commanded to instruct could also be the obstacles obstructing the objective.
These men consider themselves to be teachers of the Law (a probable reference to the Old Testament). Their desire is to be known as Bible scholars. Yet the problem is that they do not understand their subject matter. They make confident assertions (Thou shalt not…! Thou must do…!), yet they could never explain to you why they claim the things they claim. More often than not, the loudest people are the most ignorant and certainly the most in need of instruction…and love.
Something to consider; these men did more than disagree with Paul and Timothy of a few theological points. They have turned away from the gospel itself. We must understand that there is not a single theological or doctrinal nuance that does not have gospel implications. There is zero room for error for the teacher. Any erroneous or inaccurate or incorrect view of theology is an erroneous, inaccurate, incorrect view of God. The stakes are high. If there are certain men in or around the church (influencing the sheep) that teach differently, they are in need of instruction. If you love them, the sheep, and the chief Shepherd, then you will instruct them.