Doctrine Is for Love
So last week we started a new sermon series in the book of 1 Timothy, and Pastor Joe kicked things off for us with an introduction to the book — and one of the things you’ll notice a little different about this series from here out is that we’ve divided up 1 Timothy into smaller pieces, which is going to allow our sermons to really slow down and dig into the text.
And that’s going to feel different to you because we just came from the book of Genesis and at some points in Genesis we preached multiple chapters at a time — and just so you know, that’s not how we’re doing it here. Genesis is a big story; 1 Timothy is a short letter; and so this going to be a little different, and you’ll see what I mean.
Today we’re looking at verses 3–7 and I want to tell you right away that the main point of these verses is the charge that Paul gives to Timothy. The word “charge” is mentioned twice here, in verses 3 and 5. And this charge is in response to “certain persons” — which is another phrase mentioned twice here in verses 3 and 6. So the main thing we need to understand is what this charge is all about, but we can’t understand the charge unless we understand the context of these certain persons. And really, both of these two things — the “charge” and the “certain persons” — help us understand the other.
So here’s how we’re going to set up the sermon: There are two parts: we’re going to start with
Who are the “certain persons?”
What is “the charge?”
And I need to say: the charge that Paul mentions here is especially relevant to pastors (because he writes it to a pastor), but there are at least three lessons here that apply to all of us. And that’s the part I’m most eager to show you — so hang in there with me for the 1 and 2, and then we’ll spend most of our time on these three lessons. [So it’s 1 and 2, and then 3. Got it?]
So let’s pray and we’ll get started.
Father, thank you for this moment as we gather together and open your Word. We recognize that the unfolding of your Word gives light and imparts understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130). Father, we would be in darkness if not for your grace. Give us more grace now, we pray, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Who Are “Certain Persons?”
Okay, so first, who are the “certain persons” mentioned in verses 3 and 5?
We see right away that the presence of these certain persons is the reason why Paul has Timothy in Ephesus. Verse 3 says: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons…”
So Paul starts this letter by repeating something to Timothy he’s already told him at least once. He says: “Hey, just like I told you before, stay in Ephesus…” — and here’s the reason why — “so that you may charge certain persons…”
And the content of this charge gives us some insight into who these certain persons are. By what Timothy commands them not to do we know what they were doing. They were doing two things:
1) These certain persons were teaching different doctrine
We see that in verse 3. Paul says “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” And that phrase “different doctrine” is one that Paul uses again in chapter 6, verse 3, and there he gives us a little more definition. He says there that this “different doctrine” does not agree with “the sound words of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Which means that this is a serious problem. These certain persons are not giving another perspective within orthodoxy, but they are teaching heresy. And there is a difference between those two. It’s one thing to have various understandings of secondary issues under the umbrella of Christian orthodoxy. It’s a completely different thing to oppose the “sound words of Jesus” — which is the apostle’s teaching. So this different doctrine is false teaching that is leading people away from Jesus.
Which means that these “certain persons” are heretics. They are false teachers, and Paul pulls no punches when it comes to this stuff. In the book of Galatians Paul says that if anyone preaches a gospel different from what he preaches then they should be condemned forever (that’s Galatians 1:8). And then a little later in this chapter, in 1 Timothy 1, verse 20, Paul names two of these certain persons and he says that he has handed them over to Satan (1:20). Which is intense.
These certain persons are not just folks causing trouble; they are teaching things that contradict the gospel. That’s the first thing we know about them.
2) These certain persons were devoted to distraction.
We can see this in verse 4. This is the second part of Timothy’s charge. “Charge certain persons …” — verse 4 — “not to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.”
Now verse 4 is obviously connected to verse 3 — these certain persons taught a different doctrine because they were devoted to “myths and endless genealogies.” Or maybe their different doctrine was their devotion to the myths. Or maybe it’s both. Either way, verse 4 does explain a little bit more about what this heresy actually was. What exactly were these false teachers teaching?
Well, we know it has something to do with myths and genealogies, but what’s interesting is that Paul doesn’t elaborate on the content of the heresy, but instead he talks about the result of the heresy. And therefore, what Paul says here is not isolated to one specific kind of false teaching, but it goes for every kind of false teaching that has this same result.
And here’s the result. The result is “promot[ing] speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” That’s verse 4.
Now what does that mean?
Well, whatever this speculation is exactly, we know that it stands in opposition to the stewardship from God by faith. It is “speculation rather than the stewardship from God.”
And that word “stewardship” is important. It can also be translated “order” or “plan.” It’s a word used by Paul in his other letters, and most notably in Ephesians 3:9. And this is how he says it there. In Ephesians 3:9 Paul says that his apostolic mission is to
bring to light to everyone what is the plan [the stewardship] of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was according to the eternal purpose of God that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So the stewardship from God, or the plan of God, is God’s plan of redemption realized in Jesus and made visible in the church. Paul is talking about all of redemptive history that culminates in the church and is all centered on Jesus. That is God’s design. That is God’s plan. And this is a plan by faith. Which means, it is characterized by faith, not by works, not by ethnic privilege, not by family pedigree, not by social status. God’s plan of redemption is by faith. Which means you — whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your story is — you can get in on this. God’s salvation is not for those who are good enough — nobody is good enough, but God’s grace is great enough, so have it. Embrace God’s salvation by faith.
And see, these false teachers were promoting speculation, which contradicts this. Verse 6 calls the false teaching “vain discussion” — which means, these false teachers are not helping people. They were devoted to gobbledegook — and gobbledegook will not save you.
Overall, these “certain persons" were distracting people from the truth. They were diverting people’s attention away from the very thing that will give them life.
And so it’s into this context that Paul gives Timothy his mission.
He tells him: “Hey, stay in Ephesus and shut them down.”
What Is the “Charge”?
That’s the charge. What is the charge? This is pretty straightforward here. Timothy was to charge the certain persons not to teach any different doctrine and not to devote themselves to myths.
And the word “charge” means “to order” or “to command.” It means that Timothy is supposed to speak into this church and give them a directive with authority. Paul doesn’t tell him to stay there and have conversations. He doesn’t say to hear them out. He doesn’t say to set up a round-table discussion to find out how they feel. No, this is a shutdown mission.
And it’s interesting to me because I think a lot of us have an image of a certain personality that we think would do this sort of thing really well. We probably imagine that it’s someone who is abrasive and harsh and cold, someone who is super intense — but the thing is, we know that Timothy didn’t have that personality at all. In fact, based upon the things that Paul says to him, we get the idea that Timothy was young and he had a weak stomach, and he was probably a little timid.
Which means we should ask: what qualified Timothy to lead this shutdown mission? What qualified him to go in there and get rid of this false teaching?
Embracing Sound Doctrine
And we see it’s because Timothy had embraced sound teaching. It’s not that Timothy was a certain personality type, it’s that Timothy was committed to the truth of the gospel and he lived in line with that truth.
That’s what the elder qualifications are getting at in 1 Timothy Chapter 3. There must be a commitment to sound doctrine. And this is how Paul talks about it in Titus 1:9. He says:
[The elder/pastor] must hold firm the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
So elders must live in accordance with gospel — they must be men of character — and they must embrace sound doctrine so deeply that they can teach that sound doctrine and rebuke different doctrine. That is mainly what the office of elder is about. It is a teaching office, which includes rebuking. Elders exist primarily for the church’s doctrinal integrity.
Elders Are Doctrinal Guard Dogs
We see this in 1 and 2 Timothy, and we see this in the book of Titus. Both Timothy and Titus were pastor-disciples under Paul, and Paul gives both of them jobs. Listen to what Paul tells Titus in Titus 1:5. He says:
This is why I left you in Crete [now remember Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, and then Titus is in Crete, and here is why:], so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.
So the gospel had been preached in Crete, and people believed the gospel, and churches were popping up. And Paul told Titus to go and appoint elders. Now why?
It was for the sake of sound doctrine. There were already, at the very start of these churches, false teachers who were trying to slip in, which means these churches need guard dogs. They need elders who can teach and defend and live out sound doctrine, which is exactly what the book of Titus is about. Elders are meant to be doctrinal guard dogs. Which, by the way, is a masculine task.
That’s part of the reason why Paul has to spell out gentleness as an elder qualification. At the character level, elders must be gentle and not the kind of men always looking for a fight — because an important part of their work already involves correction, and you can’t do correction if you’re a hothead.
So Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24,
And the Lord’s servant [talking about elders] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.
That is what you should expect from your pastors, and that is what Paul is telling Timothy to do here in 1 Timothy 1. Timothy was to charge the false teachers to stop.
That’s the charge. So we’ve seen the “certain persons;” we’ve seen the “charge” — but now, for the rest of our time, I want to show you three lessons that we learn here in this passage and this goes for all of us.
Three Lessons for Us All
1) False teaching is still a problem today.
Now back in the First Century, when Paul wrote this letter, sound doctrine was a matter of life and death for the church. If the church did not defend sound doctrine, they would have become watered-down, assimilated, and eventually forgotten. So there is a bit of a survival mindset in Paul’s letters that we don’t really feel today, which I think is part of the reason we can downplay the importance of doctrine.
Now I’m speaking very generically here, but for a lot of Christians, doctrine is just not that big a deal. I remember back in college I had this professor who used to always say that people choose churches based upon two reasons: good programs and good parking. [We know that’s why you’re here:)]
But it is true that in general, for many Christians in North America, doctrine is not on the top of their list. Just look at the best-selling Christian books. Doctrine is just not that important.
But the problem with that is that false teaching is still a problem. False teaching destroys churches and threatens souls. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since the time Paul wrote this. False teaching still exists today, and it will continue to exist until Jesus comes back — and there are at least two reasons why. Both of these are spelled out in the New Testament.
In 1 John 4 John says that false prophets have gone out into the world in “the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:1–3). He means that the Satanic attack on the church and in the world is already underway, and the tactic is deception. The enemy has always been a deceiver — that was his tactic in Genesis 3, and that’s his tactic today. The enemy wants people to believe untrue, whack things about God — just like Adam and Eve did. That’s one reason why there’s false teaching — we have an enemy deceiving people now.
Then another reason there is false teaching is laid out in 2 Timothy 4:3. Paul says:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions
Here’s the deal: there are some things that people really like to hear. There’s an appetite out there for —
no-strings-attached positivity, and
build-your-own-destiny prosperity, and
political-subChristian dominance, and
There is no limit out there to the garbage that’s said about God — because these are things that people want to hear. And people will always be able to find themselves a coward who will tell what they want to hear.
This is our world. False teaching is still a problem. We need to know that.
2) Sound doctrine is for loving God and loving others.
This is in verse 5. This is such an important verse. Pauls says:
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Now the charge in verse 5 is the same charge mentioned in verse 3. This is the charge that stops false teaching; the charge that rebukes; this the shutdown charge — and the aim of that charge is love. Which means that sound doctrine is for love. Teaching sound doctrine and correcting with sound doctrine has love as its goal. And when Paul says “love” he’s talking about love from us. In this verse he doesn’t mean the love that God has for his people, but he means the love that people have for God and others.
Now our love for God and others is derived from God’s love for us (we did four sermons on this last August). And it’s because that’s true — because our love is derived God’s love — that is why sound doctrine is so important. That’s why Paul can say that sound doctrine — knowing the truth about God and the gospel — has the goal of you loving God and people. And to be clear, you can’t really love God and people any other way.
First, you can’t really love God unless you know him truly.
And by that I mean: we must know God as he has revealed himself in his word. A lot of times we can prefer the Instagramable, filtered versions of God. We don’t care so much about sound doctrine; we just want “pretty doctrine.” We want the God who fits in with our culturally-influenced, pre-conceived notions. We want a God who never rubs us the wrong way. We want an easy God, and we love that “God” — but it’s not real love unless it’s right knowledge. And of course this make sense: it can’t be real love for God if we are loving him for something he is not.
This is why sound doctrine is so important. Again, you can’t really love God and people any other way. And when it comes to people …
You can’t really love people unless you point them to the true God.
Only saying things that people want to hear will ultimately not help them. And that’s the problem with these false teachers. They are saying things people want to hear, and I’m sure they were authentic and raw and welcoming and all that … as they led people to hell. We only truly love people by giving them more of God — which is why we have to know God truly.
That’s what sound doctrine is for. Its goal is love.
3) The source of love is a deep place with a high standard.
And we learn this in the last part of verse 5. The goal of the charge is love, but it’s even more than that. Look at verse 5: Paul says it’s love “that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Which means it has to be love from the right source. Love has to be coming from the right place, and this is a deep place with a high standard. Listen to this:
a pure heart
a good conscience
a sincere faith
And if we get it wrong here then we get it wrong everywhere. That was actually the first problem of the false teachers. Look at verse 6. Paul says that “Certain persons by swerving from these” — now when Pauls says “these” he’s talking about verse 5 (pure heart, good conscience, sincere faith) — “Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion …”
This tells us that the false teaching is not first a data problem, it’s a source problem. It’s not so much corrupt sayings, but it’s the corrupt souls from which it’s said. False teaching is not mainly an information mistake, but it’s a motivation sabotage. See, to put it negative, these false teachers had —
a sinister heart;
they had a seared conscience (see 1 Tim. 4:l2); and
they had a deceitful faith.
They were not just wrong out here [pointing from mouth], but it started right here [pointing at heart]. Which is why the source of our love which is the goal of our charge matters.
The goal of sound doctrine is love. The source of that love is holiness.
That’s why Paul tells Timothy over and over again to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (4:16). “Keep yourself pure” (5:22). “Pursue righteousness” (6:11). God cares about the source. The source of love matters. And I mean that for everyone.
There’s no doubt that this passage is relevant for pastors. It’s written to a pastor. But the importance of source applies to all of us. Your love for God and people must come from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. And I expect that feels heavy.
It’s heavy enough to know that we’re supposed to love God and others — and most of us already think we don’t do a great job with that. And now Paul is telling us it has to be love from the right source — it has to be love from a deep place with a high standard. Okay, so where’s the good news?
Well, there is good news. Paul says that love must be from a pure heart — that means a heart that has been cleansed. Love must be from a good conscience — that means a happy conscience directed by the Word of God. Love must be from a sincere faith — that means a faith that is fruitful and evidenced in real life.
And then when we put all that together we realize: Oh, of course I can’t do that myself. That’s not up to me. This is the work of God. This depends on the grace of God. This depends on the power of God — love from a source like that requires a miracle.
And God works that miracle.
The only reason we can love from a deep place with a high standard is because God has loved us from the deepest place with the highest standard. That is the cross of Jesus.
When Paul says in other places that his only boast is the cross, I think this is what he has in mind. Who are we? Who are we to be loved and to love?
And then Jesus came. He came and lived perfectly in our place — he was pure and good and sincere. He endured in faithfulness, and he loved us to the uttermost. That is the cross. When Jesus went to the cross, we went there to suffer in our place. He absorbed the punishment we deserved for our sins. He washed away our dirt. He removed the shame that covered us. When Jesus died for you — the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God — when Jesus died for you, God showed his love for you. By that love he conquered sin and death for you. That is the love of God — love from the deepest place with the highest standard, and that is the only way we can love others.
That’s what this Table is about.
We come to this Table each week to remember the death of Jesus on the cross, which means we remember here the love of God. If you trust in Jesus, if you are united to him by faith, we invite you to this Table with us, and today, as you take the bread and cup, I want you to rest in God’s love. The love that God calls us to out there goes back to the love that God pours into our hearts through Jesus. That is the Holy Spirit at work right now. And so we give thanks in his power.