We need to remember that a church’s doctrine is not to be limited to their current situation. We are to recognize that we stand in line with centuries of historical truth. Every church potentially is less than a generation away from compromise, so it is essential that we know how to guard against departure of doctrine.
After his opening greeting in his first letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:1-2), Paul provides Timothy with a serious charge, which reveals the occasion for the writing of this letter (1 Tim. 1:3-5). He begins by saying; “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1:3). Paul’s urging of Timothy to “remain at Ephesus” reveals the seriousness of the occasion. The fact that Paul “urged” may imply that Timothy had plans to move on from his role in Ephesus. However, Paul wanted him to stay with the view of guarding against a departure of sound doctrine. Within the church there were “certain persons” who need to be told, “not to teach any other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:6). Who are these “certain persons“? Clearly they were individuals who carried a position of authority in the church, as they were teachers. It is most likely that they were within the eldership. Back in Acts 20:28-30 Paul warned the Ephesian elders,
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
Furthermore, the book of Jude warns,
“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
These teachers have departed from sound doctrine and they “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4a). It is possible and likely that they taught biblical truth, but they added to it by promoting “speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4b). When people start putting the focus of their teaching on matters that aren’t found in the Scriptures, and emphasize matters of a speculative nature, they have departed from the truth. This is how tragic their actions are, they have departed from what God has entrusted. The word of God is a “stewardship from God” and therefore is to be declared and defended. For the false teachers in Ephesus, the content of their “speculations” was “myths and endless genealogies“. From the pastorals we glean that the content of their teaching was speculative (1 Tim. 1:4); it misused God’s law (1 Tim. 1:8-11) and the false teachers probably aspired to material wealth as a result of their ministry (1 Tim. 6:3-10). However, we know very little concerning what this was specifically.
This same kind of departure of sound doctrine has continued right through church history even up until today. The problems we face today is simply old heresy dressed up in new clothes. You have people preaching the heresies of the prosperity gospel, works based salvation, legalism, and the list could go on.
Paul commanded Timothy to do all that he can to see to it that no other doctrine be taught – he is to guard against the departure of sound doctrine. The goal of this charge is genuine “love“. This love has a threefold source – it “issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith“(1 Tim. 1:5).
What are the signs of someone departing from sound doctrine? By observing these signs we can help guard ourselves from departing from sound doctrine. Also, we will be able to discern in others this horrible compromise and protect ourselves from false teaching.
After giving this charge (1 Tim. 1:3-5), Paul reveals the conduct of the problematic teachers in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:6-7). He again refers to them as “certain persons” which is a term used for false teachers (cf. 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4).
They have strayed from the source of biblical love (“swerving from these“), which has led them to wandering “away into vain discussion” (1 Tim. 1:6). This departure from sound doctrine has resulted in their pride (“desiring to be teachers of the law“) and ignorance (“without understanding“). In his second letter to Timothy, Paul stated that one of the characteristics of a false teacher is self-love (2 Tim. 3:2). For this reason, they strive to gain positions of authority and the praise of man. What does a departed of doctrine look like? Here is a summarized profile of a false teacher:
They Ignore Biblical Love
Those who depart from sound doctrine ignore biblical love (1 Tim. 1:5, cf. 2 Tim. 3:2). This is interesting, because this is the charge they bring against those who preach the word of God. If someone simply preaches what the word of God says, they are often labeled “harsh” or “unloving”. Such logic comes from a faulty understanding of biblical love. Biblical love “issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5), in other words it comes from the truth. False teachers do not have a genuine love for God’s Word or His people, therefore there belief departs from sound doctrine.
Source their Doctrine outside of Scripture
Secondly, they don’t source their teachings from the sufficient Scripture (1 Tim. 1:4) and a transformed life (1 Tim. 1:4, 6). It is amazing to see how many prominent teachers and preachers today don’t preach from the Scriptures. Sure, they may mention the Scripture and quote a series of hand picked verses that are forced to back up their claims. But their use and interpretation of Scripture is deplorable. Individuals in the seeker sensitive movement will carefully craft sermons around their listener’s felt needs. Others will base their teaching on tradition (Col. 2:8), or even mystical experiences (Col. 2:18). All of these “sources of authority” are a sure sign of one departing from sound doctrine. False doctrine departs from the truth and therefore propagates error.
They are Prideful
Thirdly, those who depart from doctrine are prideful (1 Tim. 1:7). They often seek to gain greater positions and prominence (cf. 1 Tim. 6:4 and 3 John 9-10). They are motived by a love for themselves and not for God and His truth (cf. 2 Tim. 3:2).
The Scripture tells us time after time to beware of such people (eg. Matt. 7:15; Matt. 16:6; Matt. 24:4; Acts 20:28-30; Phil. 3:2; Col. 2:8; 2 Pet. 3:17). Doctrine is important because it is a summary of what God has said. Let us remain firm in the truth of God’s word by declaring and defending it.