Chaos in the Church
           1 Timothy 1:1-11
           By Paul Robison

Ever heard anything like this: “This religious teacher who "really understands" biblical prophesies can give you deeper and further insights as to what will take place in the future.  He can show you how the United States is mentioned in the Bible and how World War 3 will take place.  He will explain the secret pact made between a Russian president and the Vatican to usher in the time when all religions will become one.  He can tell you about Israel's destiny, the Antichrist, and the significance of 666.  All of this and more can be found on 14 DVDs which will cost you only $200; that's an $80 reduction off the regular price!”  And there's a button on the website also if you wish to make a donation.  “Don't be left in the dark; get the real story about what is going to happen!”  Maybe you've heard some similar offer.  Guess what?  This situation is as old as the New Testament.  The book of 1 Timothy has something similar going on.
Before we listen carefully to the letter's introduction, let's get some background information.  We see that Timothy is working with the church in Ephesus while Paul is making his way to Macedonia (1:3).  This statement is significant because it shows Paul is on the move.  He is no longer in prison as we saw at the close of the book of Acts.  Undoubtedly, he was released and is now working as a missionary once more.  This would have been around 65 A.D.  About five years earlier, Paul had called the elders at Ephesus to meet him.  They came, and he gave them this warning in Acts 20:28ff: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.  Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."  Sadly and terribly, what Paul predicted five years earlier is taking place while Timothy is working in Ephesus!  How do we know this?  There are several indications.  Look at 1:18-20: "This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, [waging a good warfare doesn't sound like all is going well], having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have shipwrecked [some members, maybe even some elders themselves, had rejected a good conscience and had shipwrecked their faith], of whom are Hymenaus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme [so Paul has personally disciplined two men who have been involved in blasphemous teaching]."  Now look at chapter 4:2-3 where Paul explains that there are those who are "speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own consciences seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."  This looks like some of the perverse things that the elders who have become savage wolves are now teaching to the brethren in Ephesus to try and draw away the disciples after themselves!  Now notice 6:5: "Useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of great gain.  From such withdraw yourself!"  It sure sounds like these false elders have wandered away from the truth and are offering other members deeper knowledge, sort of like the person in our introduction, for a nice price, of course.  They discovered that "godliness" can bring a nice financial profit!  So, these elders have sold out and have gone off the deep end!  Yes, Timothy really had his hands full combating these fallen elders who were trying to pull other members into their heresy. Paul hopes to come to Timothy in a short time (3:14), but in the meantime, this letter will have to do.  So the apostle Paul writes to encourage Timothy and to give him some advice as how he and the church can combat these perverse heretics.  Yes, the church in Ephesus is in chaos.  Paul gives Timothy several imperatives to help with the chaos that is going on in the opening verses.
Let's read the first four verses: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, to Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  As I urged you when I went to Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith."  After calling God our Savior and Father and Jesus our hope and our Lord, Paul gives his typical greeting to Timothy, his son in the faith.  Timothy has already been sent by Paul to three other congregations: Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi.  So Timothy knows how to work in various situations.  Now there is one thing that is very unusual here.  Do you notice that Paul's usual opening prayer is very obviously absent?  Why is that?  The chaos at Ephesus might explain this.  There is an urgency about the situation, so Paul gets right down to business.  After urging Timothy to remain in Ephesus, then notice what he commands: "Charge some that they teach no other doctrine, no give heed to fables and endless genealogies."  Charge means "to command", so Timothy is command some members not to teach something different from the Gospel and not to give heed to fables and endless genealogies.  You see, these members are not the heretics; these are members who have been listening to them.  So here is the first imperative: "Warn the unstable!"  Paul doesn't want the good brethren at Ephesus to be lead further astray or drawn away by the fallen elders.  Paul also notes that this false teaching causes disputes and does not lead to godly edification based on faith.  So Timothy is to warn these brethren, who might be wavering, not to teach what the fallen elders are promoting and not to pay attention to their false teaching.  Paul said in Colossians 1:28: "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."  Paul took a stand for the truth and when false doctrines were being taught, he warned others against those falsehoods so that they could become mature Christians.  Why can't we to the same?  Shouldn't we warn other brethren when someone is spreading falsehood?  Like Paul and Timothy, let's warn the unstable!
Now let's read verse 5: "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith."  It would have been a better translation if the wording read, "Now the purpose of the charge is love."  You see, the word used in verse 5 is the same word used in verse 3.  Paul is saying that the purpose of the charge to teach the Gospel and to avoid listening to the fallen elders is love among the faithful brethren in Ephesus.  Notice how Paul describes the fallen elders' teaching as fables (1:4), idle talk (1:6), doctrines of demons (4:1), and idle babblings and contradictions (6:20).  And what has this unhealthy teaching produced?  The answer is found in 6:4 where Paul says that their doctrine has created "envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, and wranglings."  So Paul desires for there to be brotherly love among the steadfast members based on the truth of the Gospel.  So, here's the next imperative: Foster genuine love!  Instead of "lies in hypocrisy" (4:2), it is time for the good brethren in Ephesus to see there are still those who love them from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. "How sweet, how heavenly, is the sight when those that love the Lord in one another's peace delight, and so fulfill the word.  When love in one delightful stream thru every bosom flows, when union sweet and dear esteem in every action glows" (Swain).  Foster genuine love!  A preacher of many centuries ago once made this observation: "Have you ever noticed how heat will cause things to expand?  In the same way, the warmth of love will expand another person's heart" (Swindoll quoting Chrysostom).  The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:9: "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good."  Foster genuine love!
Now let's read verses 6-7: "From which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say or the things which they affirm."  Don't confuse the "some" of verse 6 with the "some" mentioned in verse 3.  They are two different groups.  In fact, the group in verse 6 are the fallen elders who are trying to gain a following for themselves.  Now notice how Paul describes them.  First of all, he says they have strayed.  Literally, the word means “to miss the mark".  In other words, these leaders have departed from a sincere faith.  Secondly, they have turned aside to idle talk.  Oh yes, these elders can really talk a good game, but its idle talk that doesn't edify.  Thirdly, they desire to be teachers of the law.  Look at moment at Acts 5:34, and you'll find a Pharisee named Gamaliel who is described by Luke as a teacher of the law.  These fallen elders in Ephesus are using the Old Testament law as a basis for their arguments, and they are wanting to be like Jewish rabbis!  Fourthly, Paul affirms that these fallen elders are really devoid of understanding.  Oh yes, they may promise to give you deeper understanding, but Paul knows that they are misusing the Scriptures to promote their false ideas about celibacy and fasting.  This leads to a third imperative: Avoid the heretics or the fallen teachers!  Another commentator makes this good observation: "1 Timothy is "full of the language of apostasy, of how Christians can make shipwreck of the faith.  Paul [uses] such words as 'swerve off course' (6:21), 'repudiate' [or reject] (1:19), 'abandon' [or depart] (4:1), 'turn aside' (1:6; 5:15), 'wander away' (6:10).  All of these verbs imply that a person had once owned and embraced the true faith, and then [he or she] rejected or abandoned it ..." (Witherington).  The elders had shipwrecked their faith and had become savage wolves.  Now here's a question for you: Does what Paul say here support or refute the belief known as "once you saved, always saved"?  Paul says in 6:5 that Timothy is to withdraw himself from such fallen elders.  Avoid the heretics!  Let's now read Hebrews 6:4ff: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come [you see, these were brethren], if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance [notice, these members have fallen away; they haven't just fallen short; they have fallen away and their repenting apparatus is broken and no longer functions], since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put Him to an open shame [these who were brethren have torn Jesus from their hearts and now murder Him anew through their false practices]."  The writer goes on to say in verse 8 that those who bear only thorns and briers will be rejected by God and punished.  Heretics are impossible to save because they have reached a point that they are incapable of turning back to God.  Their consciences are so seared and their hearts are so cold that Jesus means nothing to them anymore.  You know, we often think that if we'll just give people more time, they'll change, but when they keep producing thorns and briers, we'd better beware lest we get pricked by them!  Avoid the heretics!
Now let's read verse 8: "But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully."  Paul had just mentioned how the fallen elders were using the law improperly.  So he clarifies quickly law itself is God's inspired word, and it is good if a person will use it in the right way.  Here's the next imperative: "Use the law or Scriptures properly!"  The apostle Peter warns in 2 Peter 3:16: "... which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do the rest of the Scriptures."  The Word of God can be twisted or distorted so that a false meaning is produced.  Do you know why fire engines are red?  Here's the logical explanation: "They have 4 wheels and 8 men; 4 plus 8 equals 12, and 12 inches makes a ruler, and a ruler is Queen Elizabeth, and she sails the 7 seas. The seas have fish, and fish have fins, the Finns hate the Russians, and the Russians are red; fire engines are always rushin'; so that is why they are red" (Carson).  That may sound far-fetched, but some preachers today, who find an eagle in Revelation, suddenly proclaim: "There's a symbol which stands for the United States!"  Isn't it easy for us to read things into a text?  Use the law or Scriptures properly.  Some false teachers like to allegorize texts.  This type of interpretation was even popular in Timothy's day, and it was probably what some of the fallen elders were doing to make their case.  This is when you make things in a story stand for something else. For example, let's take the story where Abraham's servant meets Rebecca.  Remember how he prayed that God would reveal who should be Isaac's wife by having her offer water to him and his camels.  If you wanted to argue for fasting, you could say: "The servant stand for old age and infirmity, Rebecca stand for youth and good health, and this shows that water, not food, is what you need to obtain good health!"  Use the law or Scriptures properly.
Now let's read verses 9-10: "Knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine."  "Sound doctrine" means "healthy teaching". The teaching of the fallen elders was diseased, and Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:16-17 that such teaching leads to ungodliness and is deadly like caner or gangrene.  One commentator made this good observation: "Healthy teaching leads to proper Christian behavior, love, and good works; the diseased teaching of the heretics leads to controversies, arrogance, and strife" (Fee).  So, the imperative here is: "Stay with healthy teaching!" Paul is being ironic here.  You see, those who are claiming to be teachers of the law are just as lawless, ungodly, and unholy and those who flagrantly break the Ten Commandments!  Did you notice how all the sins mentioned here follow the order from the fifth to the ninth commandments?  Did you know that the word "teaching" is found at least six other times in 1 Timothy?  Staying with healthy teaching can help a church in a time of chaos.  Stay with healthy teaching!
Now let's read verse 11: "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust."  Notice how Paul describes this as a glorious Gospel from the blessed God.  Why would anyone need to improve on that?  Paul believed that the Gospel was God's power to save and God's means to produce hope (Romans 1:16; Colossians 1:23).  Paul affirmed in Galatians 1:6-8 that if an angel or a person preached a different Gospel than what the apostles taught, that being would be accursed (and he repeats that twice so you can't fail to get his point)!  The last imperative is: "Uphold the Gospel!"  Paul says that this Gospel had been entrusted to him, and we know that he was commissioned to preach it to the Gentiles!  Jesus' Great Commission to make disciples also means that the Gospel has been entrusted to us.  Earlier this year, there was a challenge issued to you to think of five people that you knew that needed the Gospel.  Have you been praying for them?  Have you made any effort to reach them?  Do you need some materials to help get you started?  "Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother?  For the harvest time is coming on, and the reapers work will soon be done.  Will your sheaves be many?  Will you garner any (and garner means your collection of grain) for the gathering at the harvest home" (Fillmore). Uphold the Gospel!
A church in chaos needs lots of help.  Paul's advice to Timothy is practical: Warn the unstable!  Foster genuine love!  Avoid the heretics! Use the law or Scripture properly!  Stay with healthy teaching!  Uphold the Gospel!  Jesus never used His teachings as a way to make a financial profit.  His saving Gospel and grace were offered freely.  And they still are today.  Paul presents Jesus as our hope and our Lord in the opening verses of this chapter.  He cannot be your hope unless you make Him your Lord.