“The Escape of Paul”, from the Ottheinrich Bible, circa 1530
3 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine 4 or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. 5 Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
I recently heard a message about false teachers that was based upon Paul warning Timothy about false teachers. Ironically, it was given by Moody Bible Institute, but it was pretty much on the mark (the message, not the rest of their theology). I didn’t take notes, but I did earmark the Scriptures, and it is pretty straight-forward stuff. However, as is typical of evangelical messages, it was short and hones in on some details — in this case, details that are easy to overlook.
“Why bother?” you may ask. Simply because the proliferation of false teachers — not to mention false apostles, false pastors general and false prophets — that claim to be part of the Church of God seem ever on the increase rather than in decline.
11 Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
~ Mt 24:11
The first thing we should note in the opening passage is that Paul warns about a “different doctrine”. Some translations state “strange doctrine”. To be honest, there are no stranger doctrines than what some in the COG community hold onto.
“Different doctrine” comes from heterodidaskaleo, Strong’s G2085. It literally means “to teach other or different doctrine”, or, better yet, “deviating from the truth”. It is contrasted with “wholesome words”, aka “sound teaching”, in 1 Timothy 6:3.
No doubt, we should critically examine doctrines that are put forward simply because HWA stated them. If nothing else, we should hold to one of his most often touted sayings, “Don’t believe me! Believe your Bible! Believe God!”
At the same time, what excuse is there for rejecting an HWA doctrine simply because he taught it? However, it seems that some go well out of their way to do just that, even if it means latching onto the weird, the speculative and the stuff of conspiracy theories.
HWA also continually pointed to the trunk of the tree. Everything else is pretty minor stuff.
If he put forward something that is not supported by the Bible, very well. However, it is obvious that some put forward different ideas simply in order to stand out and be different, to garner attention and to attract those with itching ears for new things.
Myths and Endless Genealogies
Some have bought off on some rather odd and fanciful ideas. I’ve been reporting with some regularity on a number of these things.
Genealogies seems to be an especially weird oddity. I remember once hearing that HWA traced his lineage back to King David. I couldn’t help: 1. Thinking, “Who cares?”, and 2. Thinking of this passage in the Bible.
God used physical lineage with a physical nation. Physical ancestry is one of the keys to understanding prophecy. It was certainly a key to understanding who the Son of David was. However, what is its significance with a spiritual people building a spiritual nation? None!
Why Point Out False Teachers?
OK, so far, we have not covered why false teachers need to be called out, or even what to do about them at all. That’s where the next passage Paul writes to Timothy comes in.
14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”
I’m going to divide this up a little differently than the speaker I heard did (because it makes more sense to me).
We see that Satan’s end goal, once again, is to “upset the faith of some” in v 18. Before that in v 14, we see that false teachers can lead to the “ruin” of others! “Ruin”, or “subverting” in KJV, is actually quite an interesting word. It means “overthrow, destruction”! Peter used this word to describe Sodom and Gomorrah (2Pe 2:6)!
“What is the word?” you may ask. It is katastrophe, G2692, and as you may have guessed it is the word from which we get “catastrophe”!
So, the result of not dealing with false teachers is what? A catastrophe!
And, what is the first way to avoid a catastrophe? To “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God”! I worked hard to preserve the italics, since they are added words. The implication might be “them”, but who is “them”? I would say “them” should be everyone, including the entire congregation.
Of course, the population is larger than it once was, and the Internet allows the proliferation of false teachers, so one must be judicious with their time. It takes a while even in naming the big time egomaniacs like David C Pack, Gerald Flurry and Ronald Weinland. Then, there are the smaller ones with real delusions of grandeur like Bob Thiel and James Malm who continue to hunt and peck around the edges of organizations trying to get on with more important things.
So, while there certainly are false teachers sprinkled around in all organizations, some have gained a certain level of notoriety that people need to be warned against right off the bat.
Don’t Wrangle About Words
Some believe Paul made up the word for “wrangle about words” here. It is logomacheo, Strong’s G3054, and it appears nowhere else in Scripture. It comes from logos, G3056, for words or sayings, and machomai, G3164, for struggle or combat (literally or figuratively). Machomai was used when Jesus’ disciples “strove” about Him saying to eat His flesh (Jn 6:52).
This is the kind of wrangling that I got into more detail about in “How to Interpret the Bible, Part 2: Standard Definitions Don’t Depend on What the Meaning of the Word ‘Is’ Is“. It is the type of twisting to make the text say something completely different than its clear intent that goes on far too often for various motives.
Paul tells Timothy to charge before all to not engage in such foolishness.
Be Diligent and Unashamed
Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel …” (Ro 1:16a). It would be well for us to heed Jesus’ words that if we deny Him before men then He will deny us before the Father!
Paul here ups it a notch, though. He tells Timothy to “be diligent” as well as unashamed. Why? To be approved by God! Why would a “workman” of God be ashamed? Well, if he didn’t “accurately [handle] the word of truth,” then he would have every reason to be ashamed!
Basically, instead of wrangling over words, stick your nose in the book, study it, learn it and be diligent to live it!
How many arguments have their been over what is a new moon? How many arguments have there been over how the OT defines a tithe? There even are those who will take the clear and unambiguous meaning of unleavened bread and say that Passover should be kept with leavened bread! Now, how ludicrous is that?
Instead of doing this, which will lead to shame, study the word!
When will this shame come? Obviously, this is a vague reference to appearing before Christ when He returns!
Avoid Gossip and Vain Talk
Next, Paul says to avoid “worldly and empty chatter”. What does this mean? Well, the world engages in lots of talk about a lot of vain things, but perhaps nothing is more empty that slander and gossip.
There is a whole website run by someone trying to gather a following that does little else than twist a word here, tweak an idea here, and add insinuation to every quote he makes in order to elevate himself in the eyes of others. Here, Paul says it will “lead to further ungodliness“! Notice it didn’t start the ungodliness, but it will lead to further ungodliness!
So, where did it start? In the heart of the person doing it! By the time it occurs, the sin has already taken started!
17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
Whether the action is to intentionally misquote HWA in order to slander him or to proclaim that three leaders of the COG organizations will die on the same day, it is all vain, empty and an abomination before God!
The NASB says it will spread like “gangrene”. Some versions (and the NASB has a footnote to this) state “cancer”. There are a few reasons I don’t think “cancer” is correct. If nothing else, very little was known about cancer until the 20th century.
However, I do think gangrene does fit. Cancer does not always spread. Gangrene, unless treated (and even then there is little chance of success) always spreads. It is always ugly. It is always painful.
I had a step-grandfather that died of gangrene. I’m serious. I could care less what the coroner said (and I never asked), for I know what killed him. He lost one foot, then another foot, then up to one knee, then the other above the knee, and then he developed green spots on the top of his bald head.
That is why I say certain sites are poison! That is why certain teachers are to be avoided! That is why certain organizations are dangerous! Gangrene spreads, gangrene is dangerous, and gangrene kills.
Paul further gives an example of foolish talk with two people who were saying the resurrection is past. They were spreading false rumors and false doctrines. This led to the predictable “upset” in some people’s faith.
The Good News
However, there is good news, and I don’t just mean the Gospel, for Paul reassures Timothy that “The Lord knows those who are His”.
I was having a discussion with someone just today about something similar. Not everyone who goes to church is really converted. Not everyone who seems to keep the Law is righteous. Not everyone who calls you “brother” has been truly called.
Natural law is towards disorder and decay, but God is a preserver of life. He will sort it all out, and out of chaos will come order. That is our assurance. In Him we must place our faith.