Nature of Doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3-11)

Let’s see if you’re a heretic. Answer true or false to the following questions:[1]

  1. God is one person who manifests himself as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.
  2. God exists eternally as three beings, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
  3. God is one being, existing eternally as three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If you answered True to anything but the final question, I’ve got some bad news for you … you’re a heretic.[2] Now, you probably didn’t mean to actively promote an erroneous understanding of the Trinity (though this is a call for increased theological education!). However, Paul and Timothy were starring down the barrell of false teachers who were coming into young churches in Ephesus and actively affirming heretical teaching. Paul’s worst fear came true, and Timothy was floundering. They needed to protect the sheep.

In this post, we’ll explore what our doctrine is not, what our doctrine should be characterized by, and how we should live.


Error

We’re not quite sure what error swept into the church. Since we’re listening to one side of the conversation and know where the situation is taking place, we can only piece together bits and pieces from the conversation.

That being said, it seems that these false teachers promoted error from the lives of others[3] that it was okay to live how you wanted. Essentially, they were drawing these young Christians into sin by negating the effects of the law by personal testimony.

Quite frankly, this is an appealing ethic. “What, I don’t have to be concerned with how I live? I don’t need to evaluate every action and motivation? Sign me up!” That “liberty” seems freeing, but it leads right back to the bondage that Jesus rescued these new Christians from.

They didn’t know that, though. How could they? They were beginning to get their theological and ethical bearings right before Paul left, and now these interesting teachers arrived and sound pretty convincing.[4]

What is Timothy to do?


Love

From the context, the best thing Timothy was supposed to do was to teach more diligently and lovingly than ever.

You see, the false teachers came in and, promoted by their own pride, they led others astray. Their thought life, character, and actions all pointed to exalting themselves.

However, Timothy (and Paul) were not concerned about promoting their own brand, nor were they concerned about drawing masses of followers unto them. They were motived, by their love for people, to proclaim the gospel of God’s redemption of all things. Their entire being—thoughts, character, and actions—all pointed to exalting God and his salvation above all things.

Interestingly, those who aspired to be teachers, disqualified themselves by their own pride. Love should characterize our discipleship of the church.[5]


Goodness

Now that Paul has sufficiently rebuked the false teachers and exhorted Timothy to faithfulness, he now corrects the error that seeped into the church in Ephesus.

As mentioned before, it seems that the false teachers promoted liberality from the law. The basis of their argument resided in the moral nature of the law. Namely, the law was evil because of how it weighed down those who tried to keep the commandments.

However, they missed the point of the law entirely.

Often, people have argued for a threefold use of the law:[6]

  • Pedagogical: Proclaims what God values.
  • Civil: Declares punishments for infringements.
  • Normative: Guides how one should live.

Yes, the law has condemning value before one is saved. Even after one is saved, there are consequences for actions. However, the law no longer stands in condemnation over the Christian. Therefore, the pedagogical and normative use of the law is still valid for the Christian. Rather than seeing it as a burden, it should be seen as formative, shaping our life through our actions to reflect God’s character.

You see, before salvation, the law is a weight as its words reflect how sinful you are. After salvation, it is true that we are no longer condemned by those words. However, they do exemplify an ethic that God expects us to keep. Therefore, the right response is not to cast it off or slander it because we can’t keep it. Instead, it is increasingly to rely on God, by Jesus, through the Spirit, to sustain us and encourage us to live lives that look more and more like him.

Living as Exiles

So, what does this mean for us today?

Care about what you believe.

We should be precise in what we believe. By knowing what we believe, why we believe, and being precise about it, we can be confident that when false teachers invade our churches (whether physically or online) that what they proclaim is wrong. We won’t be led astray by their false teachings.

Examine your motivations for discipleship.

Some have the gift of discipleship that leads them to disciple more than others. However, all of us are called to pour into each others lives (formally and informally). As a result, we should evaluate our motivations for doing it. Yes, we are commanded to disciple others. But what about that underlying motivation? Are we doing it because we want (in my case) mini Austinians running around, furthering our teaching, and amassing a following? Or are we doing it because we desire to see others grow in the knowledge and love of God and neighbor?

May we rely on God to preserve his people from error, Jesus to defend us from error, and the Spirit to equip us to remain steadfast in the faith.


Endnotes
  1. Adapted from Dr. Joseph Kim’s Prelude to Biblical & Theological Studies class I took at Lancaster Bible College in 2016.
  2. Modalism, Tritheism, and Orthodoxy respectively.
  3. Towner, 1-2 Timothy and Titus. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.
  4. This raises the interesting question of whether Paul should’ve moved so frequently if this waywardness continually happened. Specially, this concerns the office Paul inhabited (as it relates to missionary). Additionally, we wonder about the theological training Paul and Timothy employed (it was probably robust since Paul had an esteemed education). These are questions for another day, however.
  5. This should serve as a warning for those of us who aspire to, or currently are, teaching. What is our motivation for teaching? To sate our pride, or to proclaim Jesus? Food for thought.
  6. An excellent summary can be found at Third Millennium Ministries.
Categories: Tags: , , ,