Summary: Good news for weary soldiers of the faith. (19th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C)
It is war—not a war fought with conventional weapons, but one that can only be fought by sound teaching and godly living. The early church was in a for its life against those who were trying to combine God’s truth with popular human ideas. (This deadly mix that would later result in something called Gnosticism.) There were people who taught “false doctrines”, devoted themselves to “myths and endless genealogies”, and promoted “controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.” For us, the situation hasn’t changed. The fight has continued right down to this very day. Paul wrote, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”
To help Timothy, a young church leader in the front lines of this battle, Paul passed on a series of dependable truths:
- Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1:15)
- For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men. (2:5-6)
- He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (3:16)
- We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (4:10)
This is a “good confession”—it glorifies God and is beneficial to our neighbor. Why would anybody want to deliberately teach anything that goes against it? In other words—have you ever wondered why there are so many deceptive cults and false religions in the world today?
A) In our text, Paul uncovers an underlying cause of why false teachers knowingly distort the truths of God’s Word. People often do this simply because they are overcome with a desire for worldly wealth. In so doing they rob themselves of God’s true heavenly treasures, both in this life and in the life to come. They also rob all who believe their lies. Their kind of “godliness” is merely a false front that they put up in order to benefit themselves. Do you know someone who goes to church just to “look good”—to gain better standing in the community or advance a career? Are there churches that only seek those who can afford to pay big offerings? It is this kind of two-faced unbelief that leads to false teaching.
If there is any doubt that greed motivates false teaching, just look at television.
1) It often undermines the preaching of the Gospel by portraying pastors, churches, and Christians as being ignorant and out of touch. For example, if a Christian leader is caught in a moral lapse, it’s on the news.
2) In the name of cultural diversity and tolerance, it often promotes religious pluralism and relativism. It denies the unique nature of Christ, and the universality of the salvation he came to bring.
3) It often diminishes the seriousness of sin, either numbing us to it or actually promoting it as an alternative lifestyle. It makes sin look good, because, as they say, “sin sells”.
4) In commercials and in programming, it promotes the values of materialism, constantly flashing material wealth and possessions before our eyes as an essential ingredient of “the good life.”
Don’t be deceived by that appliance sitting right in your living room! There is a war going on. There are people who are actively engaged in using television (and other media) to shape our popular culture, and they are doing so with one goal in mind: to gain wealth for themselves—no matter what the consequences for themselves and others might be. The cleverness of this plan is that they can do so without anyone seeing who they really are. In such a world, it is more important than ever to heed the warnings in God’s Word to avoid not only the teaching of the false teachers, but also their lifestyle. Just as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife, and Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah—and just we also are to flee from idolatry and sexual immorality—God tells us to flee from false teaching and the sinful love of earthly riches.
False teachers, on the one hand, corrupt the faith to chase after worldly riches. God’s people, on the other hand, are called to pursue the true treasures of heaven! Some of these are listed in our text. If I can pass these things on to my children, I’ll know I’ve done a good job. Worldly wealth is temporary and quickly disappears, but God’s kind of riches stand the test of time and hardship: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
B) There is a problem, though. False teachers aren’t the only ones with a sinful desire for money. I was born with the same desire, and so are you. It is part of our sinful nature! A “sweet” little two-year-old daughter and a “cute” little six-month-old baby girl are not always so sweet and cute. These qualities disappear very quickly when they both decide they want the same toy. When that happens—look out! There is plenty of screaming, hitting, and sometimes even crying in the end—not a pretty picture. St. Paul describes for us a progression, or cycle, that is deadly serious—and one that we all can get caught up in: