Paul had left Timothy behind in Ephesus to provide leadership in the church as his representative (v.3). There were things to be sorted out. One of the emerging problems was the presence of dubious teachers in the church. These men, for various reasons, had “wandered away” from the faith (v.6). They had become proud and thought too highly of themselves. They were in fact ignorant teachers who “[did] not know what they [were] talking about” (v.7).
These teachers were not just dubious but also downright dangerous. They were spreading false doctrines and misleading Christians. In focusing on such unhelpful subjects as myths (perhaps Jewish and pagan fables) and “endless genealogies” (perhaps laborious or mystical Jewish genealogies), they were bringing about much confusion and controversy in the church (vv.3–4). The gospel of Jesus was being forgotten as such false teachers led people away from the true path of Christian discipleship into dead ends.
One way to test whether a teaching is in line with God’s truth is to examine its outcome. Belief determines behaviour, and that is why Paul insists that those who taught false doctrines must be challenged and rebuked. Believing God’s truth leads to true godliness. Here, (v.5) it is characterised by a “pure heart” (holiness of life), a “good conscience” (clean motives) and a “sincere faith” (lack of hypocrisy). Contrast this with the ill effects of false doctrine: “controversies” (v.4), “meaningless talk” (v.6), and apostasy (v.6).
Faithful teachers of the Word aim to bring about divine love in their hearers (v.5). Their ministry is aligned to God’s work, not against it. False teachers, on the other hand, do not produce godliness in their lives or ministry.
We can identify false teachers and false teaching by examining them in the light of Scripture, and by assessing their content, motives, and results. We should also examine our own lives—whether the teachings and doctrines that we are feeding on are producing true godliness in us. This is a necessary task in the Internet age, where almost anything and everything can be seen on websites and in chain emails.
Can you identify some modern versions of “myths” and “genealogies” in the church? Why are they harmful?
How do you think a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith are connected with the manifestation of divine love in a person?