Stand up to false teachers

There is one major theme which we find not only in the Pastoral letters of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, but in all of Paul’s letters and also in the letters by Peter and John. It is condemnation of false teachings and false teachers.
1 Timothy 1 3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer
Paul gives a warning which could so easily have been written for today.
2 Timothy 4 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

New Living Translation. The time will come when people will not listen to the truth. They will look for teachers who will tell them only what they want to hear.
Today’s world is being shaped and perhaps even dominated by the internet and social media. Whatever a person wants to believe, they can find websites and blogs that teach it. They can find groups on Facebook and Twitter who have the same views as they do. And the algorithms that control search engines like Google and the social media platforms will make sure that people are pointed to the kind of material they want to read and not exposed to anything which might make them reconsider their views. So people’s understandings are shaped, and at times we should say being manipulated, by influencers who have no particular expertise in what they are talking about, but just have lots of followers. It was obvious that was happening in the responses some people made to the Covid pandemic. But the same thing is happening today in debates over Christian ethics and even over fundamental Christian beliefs. Christians and whole denominations are abandoning sound doctrine
1 Timothy 1:6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
Whenever we read Christian blogs or listen to podcasts, we should bear in mind that most information there is not fact-checked by anybody. In conversations on social media unless the author is a personal friend we can’t be sure how reliable or trustworthy anything they say might be. It might not even be the person whose name we recognize actually writing. We should be on our guard because sadly too often they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
A century ago Marvin Vincent wrote,. “In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.”
So what do the Pastoral Letters teach us about how to recognize and respond to false teaching and false teachers.

TWO WAYS to recognize false teachers
1. Because their teaching is wrong
Sometimes ministers and churches need to take a stand against false doctrines.
1 Timothy 1 3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer
It today’s world we are expected to say that even if we disagree with somebody, they are just mistaken. Paul views false teaching much more seriously than that,
1 Timothy 4 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

For Paul, false teaching comes from the powers of evil.
2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
One aspect of false teaching Paul is challenging here, and also in Colossians and 1 Corinthians, was the way some false teachers imposed rules and regulations on Christians. Other false teachers, who John also challenged in his letters, insisted that they had some special knowledge of spiritual things which was hidden from ordinary Christians. So learn this special knowledge you had to follow those teachers.
1 Timothy 6 20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.
People who are taken in by false teaching are not just making a mistake. They are actually abandoning the Christian faith. Then there were more specific false doctrines which Paul calls out, and he wasn’t afraid to name names either.
2 Timothy 216 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
Again, false teaching isn’t something trivial. It can destroy people’s faith. So sometimes false teachers could be recognized because what they were teaching was obviously, or very subtly, wrong. But Paul points to another way to recognize false teachers.

2. Because their behaviour is wrong

“By their fruits will you know them,” Jesus said when he talked about false prophets and false teachers.
Sometimes it was obvious that the false teachers were just bringing division to the church.
1 Timothy 6:2 … These are the things you are to teach and insist on. 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions
2 Timothy 2 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
Some false teachers just want to stir up trouble. These controversies lead to all kinds of problems including 1 Timothy 6 5 …. constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
There is another obvious red flag we see with false teachers. They are only in it for the money. We have seen this kind of greed time and time again in the rise of the false gospel of health wealth and prosperity. Sometimes the wrong behaviour is not in the area of money, but in the realms of sex or of the abuse of power.
2 Timothy 3 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.
Our generation has seen too many scandals in the personal lives of celebrity preachers and evangelists.
We can recognize false teachers because their have departed from sound doctrine and because their behaviour is inconsistent with God’s truth. So what does Paul say Timothy should do about false teaching. Again, two things.

How to deal with false teaching
1. Challenge the false teaching and correct the errors
This is the responsibility of all leaders in the church.
Titus 1 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Refuting, rebuking and correcting those who oppose sound doctrine by showing them where they are wrong.
1 Timothy 4 6 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
Preachers have a solemn responsibility before God to teach the truth and to challenge errors. This should begin with a gentle rebuke.
2 Timothy 2 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Ministers who contend for the truth of the Bible and defend traditional understandings of Christian morality are not doing that to score points or to win debates. All we ever long for is that those who are leading the church astray will come to repentance and escape the devil’s trap.
2 Timothy 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
In today’s post-modern post-truth world it isn’t fashionable to correct and rebuke false teaching. When Christians do so we are accused of being bigots, or dinosaurs. Political correctness tells us that everybody is entitled to their own opinion and that all opinions are equally valid. That is a lie. Wrong doesn’t become right just because lots of people believe it. Ministers and churches have a solemn responsibility to discern truth from error, to preach the truth and challenge and correct and rebuke the errors. But if the false teachers do not return to the truth, Paul has clear instructions.

2. If the false teachers do not repent, throw them out
Titus 1 10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.
They must be silenced! The damage which false teaching and false teachers do to Christians and to the church is too serious to be ignored.
Titus 3 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Have nothing to do with them. There are similar warnings elsewhere.
2 Timothy 3 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
What to do with false teachers? Chuck them out. Paul commands the same approach in other letters, in 1 Corinthians and
Romans 16 17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.
Paul instructs his apprentices to challenge and condemn false teachings and false teachers. Faithful ministers of God should stick to the truth they have received and believed.
1 Timothy 6 20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.
2 Timothy 2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
One comment in passing. My understanding is that when we do reach what we consider to be the correct understanding of a Bible passage or on an issue in theology or ethics it is entirely appropriate to be “tentatively definite”. I picked up this phrase in a postgraduate seminar with the inspiring New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey. This means we are allowed to defend vigorously our own interpretation in debate. We are expected to do so if the matter has significant implications for belief or Christian living. We should not be silenced by political correctness. Yet at the same time we are obliged always to remain tentative in recognising that we may be mistaken and others may have grasped a truth which we have yet to see. I am tentatively definite with regard to my current understandings of particular matters of theology and morality. What I am definitely definite on is that such issues are not just matters of opinion but matters of truth and error.
False teaching and false teachers have been threats to Christians and churches for two thousand years. In my judgment the problems have just been multiplying over my lifetime. Some people have been teaching that Jesus Christ is not the only way to God and all religions are the same. That is wrong – Jesus is the only way to salvation. Others are claiming that everybody will be saved whether they believe in Jesus or not. That is also wrong – the Bible makes clear in so many places that only those who put their trust in Jesus will be saved. There has been a concerted attack on the Christian understanding of marriage by lawmakers, driven by the secular media. So the issue of same sex marriage has now become the battleground for biblical Christianity dividing churches and denominations. Some people will tell you, “it’s just a matter of interpretation.” I believe that is wrong. The real issue is whether Christians are prepared to accept the authority of the Bible even when it stands in opposition to the opinions of a society which is moving further and further away from God.
Even in the middle of the last 20th Century A.W.Tozer wrote this.
“We have gotten accustomed to the blurred puffs of gray fog that pass for doctrine in churches and expect nothing better. From some previously unimpeachable sources are now coming vague statements consisting of a milky admixture of Scripture, science, and human sentiment that is true to none of its ingredients because each one works to cancel the others out.
Little by little Christians these days are being brainwashed. One evidence is that increasing numbers of them are becoming ashamed to be found unequivocally on the side of truth. They say they believe, but their beliefs have been so diluted as to be impossible of clear definition. Moral power has always accompanied definite beliefs. Great saints have always been dogmatic. We need a return to a gentle dogmatism that smiles while it stands stubborn and firm on the Word of God that lives and abides forever.”
Everything Tozer wrote then is even more true today. Paul’s warnings about false teaching and false teachers are more important than ever.
2 TIMOTHY 1 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

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