or devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship of God's work, which is by faith.
I. CONSIDER THE TENDER CARE WHICH THE APOSTLE TAKES OF THE EPHESIAN CHURCH, "As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I was going into Macedonia, so do I beseech thee now that thou charge some that they teach no other doctrine." As Timothy was with the apostle in his first journey through Macedonia (Acts 16:3, 12; Acts 20:3, 4), this must refer to a later journey, occurring after the first imprisonment at Rome.
1. Mark the affectionate style of his address - "I besought thee;" whereas to Titus he said, "I gave thee command" (Titus 1:5). Timothy received no authoritative injunction, but merely a tender request that he would prolong his stay so as to check the waywardness of false teachers who had risen to mar the simplicity of the gospel.
2. Mark the tendency of the purest Churches to be spoiled by false doctrine. The apostle had foretold the rise of a separatist party when he was addressing the elders of Ephesus at Miletus (Acts 20:29, 30). They may have been few - "some;" but if they were like "the grievous wolves" of the prediction, they might succeed in "drawing away disciples after them, speaking perverse things."
II. THE CHARGE WHICH THE APOSTLE GIVES TO BE ADDRESSED TO THE FALSE TEACHERS.
1. It was a charge that they should teach no doctrine different from the gospel. "That they teach no other doctrine."
(1) This implied that the apostle's doctrine was the true standard of teaching by which all other teaching was to be judged.
(2) There may have been no doctrinal heresy at Ephesus; but the teaching, being of a morbid, unedifying, speculative character, would tend to reduce the warmth of "the first love" of Ephesian saints, if not to lead to serious departures from the faith.
(3) Ministers must take special care that no false doctrines be broached in the Church of God.
2. It was a charge that the errorists should give no heed to fables and genealogies.
(1) Fables. Evidently rabbinical fables and fabrications in the regions of history and doctrine. The Talmud is full of them.
(2) Endless genealogies. The genealogies of the Pentateuch were actually made the foundation of allegorical interpretations by Jews like Philo, who largely influenced their countrymen. There may have been a disposition likewise, on the part of Jews, to establish their genealogical connection with Abraham, as if the bond of a physical relationship could add strength to that firmer bond which allies all to Abraham, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, who believe in Christ (Galatians 3:29).
3. Consider the ground upon which the apostle condemns this injurious teaching. "Inasmuch as they minister questions, rather than the dispensation of God which is in faith."
(1) The teaching was unprofitably disputatious. It ministered questions not easily answered, and which, if answered, had no practical bearing upon Christian life.
(2) It did not tend to promote the scheme of salvation as set forth by the apostles - "the dispensation of God which is in faith."
(a) God's dispensation is simply his method of salvation, as unfolded in the gospel (Ephesians 1:10), with which the Apostle Paul was specially entrusted (1 Corinthians 4:1).
(b) This dispensation has its principle in kith; unlike the fables and genealogies, which might exercise the mind or the imagination, but not the heart. Faith is the sphere of action upon which the dispensation turns.
(3) The apostle's anxiety to check this false teaching at Ephesus had evidently two grounds.
(a) This rabbinical teaching, if allowed to enter into the training of Gentile congregations, would cause Christianity to shrink into the narrow limits of a mere Jewish sect. Judaism might thus become the grave of Christianity.
(b) It would despiritualize the Christian Church, and rob it of its "first love," and prepare the way to bitter apostasy. - T.C.
Neither give heed to fables.
At Cudham, in Kent, is an old church. Walking round it on one occasion, I observed a portion of the roof falling to decay and needing to be propped up with a timber stay. On closer investigation, however, I discovered that the decaying portion was none of the old structure, but a modern addition. We need not fear for the ancient fabric of Christian truth. The new-fangled doctrines will fall to the ground, while the old gospel "endureth for ever."
The very commendations which some people give of the so-called gospel they preach arouse our suspicion. When we hear of its recent and human origin, we at once begin to doubt its validity. We are reminded of the boy who went into a shop to change a sovereign. "Are you sure it is a good one?" asked the man behind the counter. "Oh, yes, quite sure, sir; for I seed father make it this morning." We do not believe in a gospel which was coined but this morning. We preach a gospel which was minted in heaven, which bears the image and superscription of Christ, which has the ring of true metal, and which will pass current in all the dominions of the King.
When some men come to die, the religion which they have themselves thought out and invented will yield them no more confidence than the religion of the Roman Catholic sculptor who, on his death-bed, was visited by his priest. The priest said, "You are now departing out of this life!" and, holding up a beautiful crucifix, he cried, "Behold your God, who died for you.'" "Alas!" said the sculptor, "I made it." There was no comfort for him in the work of his own hands; and there will be no comfort in a religion of one's own devising. That which was created in the brain cannot yield comfort to the heart. The man will sorrowfully say, "Yes, it is my own idea; but what does God say?"
In reviewing some of the questions: which occupied my attention at an early period, I have seen reason to bless God for preserving me at a time when my judgment was very immature. When I have seen the zeal which has been expended in maintaining some such peculiarities, I have thought it a pity. Bunyan would have called them "nuts which spoil the children's teeth." They have appeared to me as a sort of spiritual narcotics, which, when a man once gets a taste for them, he will prefer to the most wholesome food. A man who chews opium, or tobacco, may prefer it to the most wholesome food, and may derive from it pleasure, and even vigour for a time; but his pale countenance and debilitated constitution will soon bear witness to the folly of "spending his money for that which is not bread."
Avoid disputes about lesser truths, and a religion that lies only in opinions. They are usually least acquainted with a heavenly life, who are violent disputers about the circumstantials of religion. He whose religion is all in his opinions, will be most frequently and zealously speaking his opinions; and he whose religion lies in his knowledge and love of God and Christ, will be most delightfully speaking of that happy time when he shall enjoy them. He is a rare and precious Christian who is skilful to improve well-known truths. Therefore let me advise you, who aspire after a heavenly life, not to spend too much of your thoughts, your time, your zeal, or your speech upon disputes that tess concern your souls; but when hypocrites are feeding on husks and shells, do you feed on the joys above. I would have the chief truths to be chiefly studied, and none to cast out your thoughts of eternity.
In his confidential letter to Timothy, he struck very hard blows, and more nearly in language of contempt than I remember his using in any other of his writings. He made a distinction in this way: he warned against that method of teaching which led to discussions, questions, janglings, disputes, envyings, and urged Timothy to pursue that line of teaching which had in it the power of building men up, of edifying them — this being the architectural word for building. Those doctrines which tended to educate men in a noble manhood he told him to preach; but those other doctrines which resulted not in the change of men's dispositions, but in debates and questionings, he counselled him to avoid. That which tends to develop right sentiments he declares to be gospel teaching and preaching, whereas that which tends to develop nice distinctions, nice arguments, nice points of orthodoxy, and to make men think that they know ever so much, so that they are proud of their knowledge, though they are fools all the time, is false teaching and preaching. And here we have the foundation on which men should be united. Unity is not to exist in governments, ordinances, and doctrines, but in things that pertain to godliness of life. It is said, "If a man is sincere his convictions do not make any difference." Don't they? A man says to you, "I saw you break into a bank." "Oh, no," you say, "That is only a joke." "Yes I did. And not only that, I saw you pick a man's pocket." He sticks to it that he saw you do these things; and the more sincere he is the worse it is for you. Do not you think it makes any difference what a man's convictions are when he is talking about you? You demand that a man shall think right when he talks about you, and your wife, and your daughter, and your credit, and your interests. Everybody holds. in regard to certain technical speculative ideas which lie outside of positive knowledge, that men should believe right. In the great realm of which we are speaking, and in reference to things which relate to manhood and character, everybody holds that right believing is essential. We hold every man responsible for his beliefs so far as his conduct is affected by them: not for his speculative beliefs, but for those of his beliefs which pertain to human life in the family, in business, and in government. Of the great laws to which men are accountable, spiritual laws are the highest, civil laws are next, social laws are next, and physical laws are next; and belief in the existence of these laws is important. A belief that men are accountable to them, and that obedience to them brings happiness, while disobedience to them brings unhappiness, is also important. You may leave out men's beliefs in regard to certain philosophical views of responsibility, and that which is woven in the loom of apprehension may be scattered, and no harm may result; but the great fact remains that men are accountable to those laws; and every man stands on that. Men are accountable; and if they do right they are rewardable; but if they do wrong they are punishable; and the greatest danger would result from teaching that it made no difference what men thought and did. It would be a fatal blow at morality. It would reduce man to the level of the animal, that acts according to instinct and not according to reason. There could be no greater mistake than that. While there may exist differences of opinion in regard to minor points connected with this fact, it is all-important that men should recognize the fact itself, that under the Divine government, and under the laws that belong to that government, men are held accountable for their conduct, for their feelings, and for their thoughts in life. Men are also in agreement with regard to the ideal of character — that is, in regard to the architectural plan, which is laid down in the New Testament for godliness, or true Christian manhood. They believe that the New Testament requires that the whole man shall be shaped and educated into a perfect obedience to all the laws of his condition here and hereafter. They believe that the body must be wholesome in a perfect Christian man. They believe that where there is a perfect Christian manhood, the intellect must be healthy and regulated. They believe that a man's disposition must be perfectly developed and harmonized before he can be a ripe Christian man. We hear a great deal about the way being obscure, so that one cannot tell what the truth is. Men complain that if you go to one church they tell you one thing, if you go to another church they tell you another thing, and if you go to another church they tell you still another thing. It is true that churches differ on various minor points; but they agree on great essential points. In those things in which they are at agreement, they are like the body of a shawl; and in those things in which they differ they are like the fringe of that shawl. The body of the shawl is solid; and there is division only in the fringe. It is the outer edge of truth about which men quarrel more than about anything else. In regard to the great central truths there is substantial unity. A man might better go into a desert in a sand-storm, or he might better put his glass into a blinding mist, in the hope of getting a view of the stars, than attempt to come to an understanding of the interior nature of the Divine life and government, by means of philosophical thought or discussion. That is a subject about which there is no controversy. It is here that the Christian world agree. About the ineffable love of God, about His inconceivable excellence, about His wondrous goodness and mercy, men are all agreed. Secondly, what is called "orthodoxy" in each sect falls, for the most part, into that category about which men differ, and may differ; as also do what are called "fundamental doctrines." Fundamental to what? That is the question. The doctrines which are fundamental to right living, to reverence and love toward God, and to love and self-sacrifice toward man; the doctrines, in other words, which are necessary to build up godliness in each particular man — about those doctrines there is no variation of belief. They are fundamental to conduct, fundamental to character, fundamental to duty; and about them men do not squabble. But what is fundamental to Calvinism in another thing. "Fore-ordination" is necessary to Calvinism; but it is not necessary to higher piety. Being "irresistibly called by efficacious grace" is essential to the Calvinistic scheme; but it is not necessary to true Christianity. Though such things as these may be fundamental to the forms, and ceremonies, and rituals, and usages, and governments of Churches, they are not fundamental to piety in its highest sense. I do not say that these outward elements have no value: that is not the point; I say that whatever their value may be, no man has any right, in the face of Christendom, to call them fundamental to Christianity when they are only fundamental to a side-issue — to something on either side of which a man may stand in his belief, and yet be a Christian and go to heaven.
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