Summary: The teaching of godly elders is contrasted with that of false teachers.

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” [1]

Paul charged Timothy to remain in Ephesus, indicating that the young man was considering moving from that location. Specifically, the young preacher was charged to remain in that port city so that he might confront one particular group of false teachers who were creating problems for the congregation. The anticipated confrontation was not to consist entirely of negative statements; Timothy was to provide, as it were, the antidote of “sound doctrine.” The membership of the congregation was to be inoculated against succumbing to error with “sound doctrine.” Sound doctrine, literally healthy doctrine, will serve to guard against error.

One great fallacy of contemporary church life is the effort to “dialogue” with error. Whenever false teachers spread their novel teaching, it has become de rigueur to endeavour to understand them—to understand why they feel the need to disseminate error and to understand what they are saying. Students of the cults expend considerable energies trying to understand the motivation for the cultists’ execrable work—energies that would be far better spent in studying the Faith. Consequently, elders who attempt to answer every false teacher will shortly discover they are incapable of keeping abreast of the plethora of strange new doctrines that seemingly multiply out of thin air. I must wonder whether Timothy was frustrated as result of attempting to reason with those promoting gross error. Nothing can be more discouraging, depressing, disheartening that attempting to reason with those who promote errant doctrine. Often, they have become so invested in the error that any attempt at change threatens them at a visceral level.

Paul’s charge was couched in strong terms precisely because the consequence of leaving the church to the devices of those promoting error was too great for the Apostle to contemplate. Thus, Timothy’s presence with the faithful in Ephesus was far more vital than the younger preacher could imagine. Should he leave, the congregation would be defenceless against the erroneous teaching that even then threatened the church. To permit the teaching to continue unchecked would assure that the church would shortly disappear from that community.

Before continuing into our study, I need to speak rather pointedly to problems resident among the churches of our Lord—problems bearing on the message. Whenever those holding to errant doctrine are threatened, they respond with choler, attacking the character of the righteous. When those so attacking the godly are themselves in positions of trust and authority within the congregation, the godly have but two choices—they may either submit to error, accepting the promotion of falsehoods as somehow honourable; or they may act with courage to quit the errant.

On other occasions, I have cited Charles Spurgeon as advising precisely the latter course. The great man has written of his withdrawal from the Baptist Union, “As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my one counsel has been, ‘Come ye out from among them.’ If I have rejoiced in the loyalty to Christ's truth which has been shown in other courses of action, yet I have felt that no protest could be equal to that of distinct separation from known evil.” [2]

The situation confronting Timothy, however, is that of an elder facing errant teachers. When challenged by such situations, the minister of Christ is compelled to take a stand. For the sake of Him who appoints to holy service and for the sake of His holy flock, the man of God must point out the error, standing firm until it is evident that the people of God refuse to follow. That is a different situation requiring a different response. However, when the false teachers are first infiltrating, then the man of God must stand firm in opposition to them.

Standing firm is not to be done with choler or malice in the heart of the elder. He must be motivated by love—love for the Master, love for the message of life, love for the people of God. The object of the elder’s love will be evident by the manner in which he responds to error.

THE FALSE TEACHERS’ DOCTRINE AND LIVES — There are several verses that are vital to understanding what it means to be righteous or to be unrighteous that are found in the first letter attributed to the Apostle of Love. Here is one such verse that is worthy of serious contemplation. “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” [1 JOHN 2:29]. Underscore that final clause in your mind: “You may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”

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