As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 1Timothy 1:3-6 NIV
As he traveled around on what we now call his “missionary journeys”, the Apostle Paul was responsible for the start-up phase of the churches whose names have become familiar to us today because of the follow-up letters he sent after moving on.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy is a letter to his young protégé who was serving as a pastor in the city of Ephesus. The letter provides practical guidance to Timothy on how to lead the church, and instructs him on how to deal with false teachings and issues arising within the congregation.
In his letter, Paul stresses the importance of sound doctrine, proper worship, and good leadership, and he provides timely advice on selecting leaders and dealing with difficult people in the rapidly growing church. Overall, the letter provides practical guidance for pastors on how to lead the church in a way that is faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. It serves as a useful resource for Christians today who are seeking to understand how to live and lead according to biblical principles.
The identity of the false teachers mentioned in 1 Timothy is not specified, although Timothy would undoubtedly know exactly who they were. However, based on the context and the teachings they were promoting, we can believe that they were likely proponents of Gnosticism, which was a religious movement that combined elements of Christianity with Greek philosophy and claimed to offer a deeper understanding of God and spirituality. These beliefs included promoting immoral behavior, forbidding marriage and advocating asceticism (the practice of self-denial and self-discipline), which were contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. These teachers and their beliefs posed (and still pose) a danger to the church by leading people away from the truth of the gospel.
I am often asked about the beliefs of various religions in general, and denominations within Christianity in particular, and whether they have relevance or validity.
Dealing with other religions is easy: Jesus said,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NLT
No room for ambiguity there! Shinto, Bhudism, Islam, etc. may be sincere — but they sincerely fall short of providing a path to everlasting life!
However, much more pernicious are the teachings which seek to modify or add to the Gospel in some way, while still claiming to be “Christian”.
These include (but are not limited to):
1 Prosperity Gospel - The belief that God will bless those who have faith with material wealth and physical health.
2 Universalism - The belief that all people will eventually be saved and that there is no eternal punishment.
3 Modalism - The belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of the same divine being, rather than distinct persons in the Trinity.
4 Legalism - The belief that salvation can be earned through good works and obedience to religious laws, rather than through faith in Jesus Christ.
5 Gnosticism - The belief that salvation comes through secret knowledge, rather than through faith in Jesus Christ.
6 New Age Spirituality - A mixture of various religious and spiritual beliefs that emphasize individual experience and personal growth, often incorporating elements from Eastern religions.
7 Jehovah's Witnesses - A religious group that claims to be the only true Christians and denies fundamental Christian beliefs such as the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
8 Mormonism - A religious group that teaches that God was once a man, that humans can become gods, and that salvation is earned through good works, obedience to laws and ordinances, and faith in Jesus Christ.
There are many passages in the Bible that give us guidance on how to test whether these doctrines should be accepted or rejected.
Here are just a few from the New Testament. You, dear reader, might find it useful to try and match them against my list of false doctrines above to help determine where the error in their beliefs lies.
1 2 Peter 2:1-3 - "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute."
2 Jude 1:4 - "For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord."
3 Matthew 7:15 - "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves."
4 Colossians 2:8 - "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."
5 Galatians 1:6-9 - "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!"
These passages, along with many others, guide us and help us guard against false teachers and false doctrine and encourage us to be diligent in testing all teachings against the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.
They also emphasize the importance of holding fast to the truth of the gospel and avoiding any teaching that is contrary to it, no matter how appealing or convenient it may seem.
Jesus warns in his disciples (and us) that it is a ploy of Satan to twist truth:
“When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44 NLT
So let us guard our hearts and minds against these perversions of the gospel and, in love, guide our fellow believers into truth.
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black