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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: April 02, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome to HBS and thanks for participating in our verse-by-verse study of 1 Timothy.
Please open your Bible at 1 Timothy 1:3-4 and we’ll get right to it.
Teach No Other Doctrine
Paul began this epistle by insisting on the authority of his God-given apostleship (1 Timothy 1:1), an apostleship that came with a new doctrine that God introduced with His new apostle. Paul then reminded Timothy that Pauline doctrine is the only church doctrine that should be preached in the dispensation of grace, saying, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightiest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do” (1 Timothy 1:3-4).
Paul the Beggar?
You know you’re a student of God’s Word when you ask questions and then seek answers from the Bible itself, such as, who the epistle (letter) you’re reading is addressed to, why was it written, and when for the “time element” is extremely important (See 2 Timothy 2:15). With this in mind, we begin our study of this passage by asking why Paul, God’s called apostle to the gentile nations, would “beg” Timothy to “abide at Ephesus” instead of ordering him to stay there? Based on last week’s Bible lesson we know many modern church denominations have a religious hierarchy wherein men at the top have the authority to determine many things, such as, where a church leader ministers, and for how long. But this is just another area wherein today’s spiritual leaders demonstrate a woeful ignorance of the way the ministry functioned under the risen Lord’s direction and Paul’s leadership. For instance, he told the Corinthians, “As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you... but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time” (1 Corinthians 16:12).
Knowing this, picture a denominational pastor, priest, minister, or whatever, telling his superior that had notified him he had been reassigned to a church in a distant city, “You know what, it’s not at all my will to change churches at this time and move somewhere else, but I’ll consider it when it is convenient for me!” Truth be told this individual will likely find himself washing dishes in a denominational half-way house rather than pastoring a church. In contrast, Apollos had the liberty (the freedom) to say no thank you when Paul “desired him to minister to the Corinthians.”
We recently touched on the subject of godly men and their different personalities and how God can use all those who are willing to be used by Him. For example, Titus possessed an assertive personality and there were situations where that type of person could be used in the ministry effectively. On the other hand, Timothy’s personality was markedly different. But don’t get the wrong idea. Even though many people read Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” and combine that with the fact that he was young and often ill, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23), and come away assuming Timothy was frail and timid; not exactly the exemplary type if you know what I mean. But nothing could be further from the truth. For Timothy was one of Paul’s right-hand men. When Paul had difficult situations, fraught with danger and conflict, he showed no hesitation in sending Timothy into the fray. One example is the church in Ephesus. It was an established church full of entrenched, sinful management and Paul sent Timothy. The persecutions in Thessalonica were intense, so who did Paul send? Timothy. What’s more, of no one else does Paul confidently say, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state” (Philippians 2:20).
Bearing all this in mind, notice that Timothy agreed to “abide at Ephesus” only after Paul begged him to do so. Clearly, the decision was his to make, which indicates that Timothy was not eager to remain behind in a city that had incited such a fearsome riot in an attempt to expel Paul from their midst (Acts 19:23-41). Timothy had originally manned up and agreed to accompany Paul on his 2nd missionary journey even after seeing him stoned by an unruly mob in Lystra (Acts 14:19), but apparently remaining behind in a volatile city was asking too much and I can certainly understand. But in spite of his anxiety, when Paul pleaded with him to become the spiritual leader in Ephesus that he needed him to be, Timothy overcame his unease and manned up again.
It’s not hard to understand why Paul would beg Timothy to remain behind in a city that had a school (Acts 19:9) and was known for its books (Acts 19:19), for it might be said that Timothy was something of a book worm. We know he had studied the O.T. Scriptures since childhood (2 Timothy 3:15), and it’s highly unlikely that Paul would have left his books and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13) with anyone but a studious student who would use them and treasure them as highly as he did. Thus, we learn that for every church there is a pastor that is a “good fit,” and Timothy was obviously the perfect choice for the academic types in Ephesus. But if the thought crosses your mind that Paul was stashing Timothy in a dead-end, out of the way ministry, you should be aware of the fact that the Ephesian ministry spearheaded a ministry that reached all of Asia (Acts 19:9-10). This fact reveals Paul’s confidence in the leadership qualities of Timothy, “his own son in the faith.”
A Serious Charge Indeed
Note that Paul “besought” Timothy to “charge some (people) that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). Please know a charge (command) is a serious thing in Scripture. When the Philippian magistrates arrested Paul and Silas, “they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison...” (Acts 16:23-24). The jailor knew if he didn’t keep them safely, if anything happened to them, or if they should escape, he would pay for that error with his life so any way you want to approach that truth it’s serious. It was also a serious thing when God charged Abraham to go to the Promised Land to be the patriarch of a new nation (Genesis 26:2-5), and when God later charged Moses to lead that same nation out of Egypt (Exodus 6:13). And if it weren’t an equally serious thing to bring that nation into the Promised Land, God would not have told Moses to “charge Joshua” to do it since he was disallowed (Deuteronomy 3:28). Lastly, it was an eternally serious matter to keep our Savior safe until He could finish His course before dying for all our sin, so God promised Him that He would “give his angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways” (Psalm 91:12; Matthew 4:6).
So when Paul told Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” we have to conclude that this God-given responsibility is equally as serious as any of the charges that came before it in the eyes of God. That’s because the doctrine committed to Paul was “the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery” (Romans 16:25), the preaching that revealed all that God is willing to do for us through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, if we would simply believe His message (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9), yet this is where most people falter even today.
How Serious Is This Matter?
How serious is it for spiritual leaders (church officials) to preach “no other doctrine? Well, how serious was it when God commanded Moses, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)? If God used that exact same phrase in both instances, we then conclude that He takes obedience to both of these “charges” to be equally as important. Yet Paul must have heard that “some” in Ephesus were teaching other doctrines than those he had handed down to them just as he’d predicted (Acts 20:29-30), or he wouldn’t have “begged” Timothy to remain behind at Ephesus to “charge them not to teach other doctrine.”
As some of you already know, in addition to teaching what the Bible says, I also teach what it does not say. Case in point, when Paul commanded the obstinate Ephesian elders “that they teach no other doctrine” than Pauline doctrine does not mean that church officials should only teach that which is found in Paul’s epistles; for Paul insisted that “all Scripture” (from Genesis to Revelation) is “profitable” for “doctrine” (2 Timothy 3:16). So if a spiritual leader fails to teach all Scripture, then God’s people are robbed of some of the doctrine by which they may profit. But if teaching “no other doctrine” doesn’t mean limiting your ministry to teaching Paul’s epistles, what does it mean? The only other time the Greek words for “no other doctrine” are used in the Bible is later in this epistle where Paul tells Timothy not to teach “otherwise,” i.e., other than what Paul had taught him (1 Timothy 6:2-3). Thus we learn teaching “no other doctrine” means to teach nothing that contradicts Pauline truth.
More Serious Charges
Paul also left Timothy at Ephesus that he might charge (command) some to give no heed to “fables and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 4:4). The word “fable” means a story designed to teach a lesson. When you hear the word fable you might think of Aesop’s fables, such as “The Tortoise and the Hare.” But it is doubtful that any of the Ephesians to whom Timothy ministered were forsaking sound Pauline doctrine to give heed to children’s stories. It is more likely that Paul is warning Timothy about the same “Jewish fables” about which he warned Titus: “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn (one’s attention) from the truth” (Titus 1:13-14).
But what sort of “fables” were the Jews telling people in those days? When Paul began to preach that we are not under the Law, but are under grace (Romans 6:15), many Jews found this truth impossible to accept, hence the reason for the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. This meeting of the apostles, the Pharisees, and other Jewish religious leaders of that day, along with Paul, Barnabas, and Titus in tow was held in Jerusalem circa 49-50 AD some 20-21 years after Jesus’ ascension (Psalms 110:1). So then, fourteen years after Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem, he “went up again” to attend what this council was called to examine, namely, “the revelation of the mystery” the message Paul had been preaching among the gentiles re: salvation by grace through faith (alone) apart from circumcision and the works of the Law (Acts 15:1-2). This was a radical departure from the doctrines/traditions defined in the Kingdom Program, where gentiles were required to become as a Jew, that is, submit to circumcision and keep the whole Law in order to be saved. The Pharisees reminded all those in attendance of this when the council convened (Acts 15:1-5). But even after the Jerusalem Council acknowledged and accepted the truth that God had given the Apostle Paul a new message, a new revelation that changed the way God is dealing with mankind in the Age of Grace, the Jews troubled the Galatian assembly with the Law (Galatians 1:6-10). So, to re-enforce this false teaching the Judaizers told “fables” to prove their point, stories designed to teach the Galatians they must become as a Jew, meaning, they are to keep the 613 charges found in the Mosaic Law (the Torah) in order to be saved.
Disabling the Misguided Fable With The Truth
I say again, Believers today are not under Law we are under God’s Grace (Romans 6:14, 7:6, 10:4; Galatians 2:16, 5:18), and I remind the group these are two separate programs of God and they are not to be merged together (2 Timothy 2:15). So then, knowing this, we cannot depend on God to bless us with material things such as financial success as a reward for trying to be good. For on your best day ever you are not able to meet the requirements of the Law (Acts 13:39; Galatians 3:10, Romans 8:3). But if a Jew in Paul’s day wanted to prove that gentiles are still under the Law, it would be a simple thing for him to come up with “fables” i.e., stories that teach God is still blessing those who obey Him. Fast forward to today and an example of this errant teaching follows. One Sunday morning you hear your church leader say, “Look at our brother Alexander; he is good in the eyes of God, for He has prospered him greatly.” Believe me when I say this is nothing more than a story and Paul has a word for fairy tales like that; he called them “fables,” that is, a story meant to teach that we are still under the Law.
This is highly significant because we live in the day where prosperity preachers (I won’t name names but there are many of them leading church groups one of which is the Mega Church located in Houston, TX) have picked up where the Jewish storytellers have left off, and they are never hard-pressed to produce supposed success stories to show that God is still honoring this promise that He made to the Jews under the Law. This is reminiscent of what happens when you tell someone that no one today has the gift of healing. What do you always hear when you share that truth? “But Brother John went to a healer last weekend and was healed!” More fables! Stories that are told to teach the lesson that the gift of healing is still being given today when in fact it is not; note Paul’s words on the subject: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come (the completed Word of God, a.k.a. The Holy Bible), then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
But if a man begins to feel better after seeing a healer today it isn’t because he healed him. And if a man is prosperous today, it isn’t because of any covenant he has with God, despite all the fables that prosperity preachers might tell to the contrary. All such stories fall under the category of what our courts call “anecdotal evidence,” i.e., evidence collected in a casual or informal manner and relying heavily or entirely on personal testimony, and in a court of law “hear-say evidence” is inadmissible because the story can’t be proven.
Shaking the Family Tree, As It Were
“…Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do” (1 Timothy 1:4).
Of course, if the “fables” in our text are Jewish fables, it stands to reason that the “genealogies” mentioned here are Jewish as well. Especially since we know from the many genealogies in Scripture that the Jews kept careful records of who was born to whom, and for good reason. First of all, genealogies were needed to determine who was a Jew, a child of the covenant that God made with Abraham (Acts 3:25). After that, priests in Israel had to come from the tribe of Levi, and were “put from the priesthood” if they could not verify their lineage “by genealogy” (Ezra 2:62). Next, kings in Israel had to come from the tribe of Judah (Psalm 60:7), so this important office also had to be reckoned by genealogy. Finally, Israel’s Messiah had to stem from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), making it easy to see why God’s earthly people would maintain meticulous genealogies. But all Bible genealogies are part of the Law of Moses, and the only “lawful” use of the Law in the present age is to convict unbelieving sinners (1 Timothy 1:8,9). After using the Law for this, it is supposed to “perish with the using” (Colossians 2:21-23). It’s “not made for a righteous man” to help him be good. And when it comes to the genealogies in the Law, the need for these has perished as well. There is no need to identify who is a Jew in the Grace Age, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12). Likewise, there is no need to distinguish who is a priest in an age where there is no priesthood (the Jewish Temple was destroyed in 70AD), there’s no call for identifying who is a king at a time when Israel has no king, and there’s no purpose in identifying Israel’s Messiah now that He has already been identified.
So once the genealogies in the Law had been used for these ends, the use of these genealogies was supposed to “perish with the using,” for they are now of no further spiritual value. But Jews who thought they were saved simply because they could trace their genealogy back to Abraham (Matthew 3:9) were still around in Paul’s day, and were no doubt citing genealogies to substantiate their claim to eternal life, simply because they were Jewish. Jews like this are still around today. We also know there were Jews who felt that they were better than other Jews because their genealogy gave them a better pedigree, for Saul/Paul was one of them (Philippians 3:5).
It is because Bible genealogies no longer serve a spiritual purpose that Paul warned about “endless genealogies.” The word “end” can mean purpose or goal, as when you might ask someone, “To what end are you doing what you are doing?” All Jewish genealogies have an end; they end in Abraham. But none of them serve a purpose in the dispensation of grace. So these endless or pointless genealogies today can only “minister questions” (1 Timothy 1:4), questions like who is a Jew, who is a priest, who is a king, who has a better pedigree, but none of these things matter in this present age.
A Better Stock of Believer
If you want to be a “better stock” of Believer, Paul said the alternative to these questions is “godly edifying.” The word “edify” means to build up, and Paul says that “the word of His grace” is “able to build you up” (Acts 20:32), i.e., the Word that is found in Paul’s epistles. This grace is available to edify gentiles as well as Jews. Paul calls the message of grace “godly edifying which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:4) because “as ye have therefore received Christ” by faith, so we are “rooted and built up in him” (Colossians 2:6-7).
Let’s look at what Paul had to say about edification of the Body of Christ, a.k.a. the Church, in the Grace Age: “And he (the Lord Jesus Christ, a.k.a. the Head of the Church) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Summing up, Paul had predicted that “after my departing” serious heresy would assail the Ephesian church, both from within and without (Acts 20:29-30). Indeed, for a period of 3 years he had not ceased to “warn” them, “night and day, with tears” (v 31) as to the dangers of departure from the truth, i.e., the doctrines he had handed down to them. Despite all Paul’s earnest warnings, his prediction was realized. Heresy and false doctrines were now widespread at Ephesus and the churches of Asia. Thus the reason for Paul’s plea and charge to Timothy, his right-hand man, “As I besought thee… so do” (1 Timothy 1:3-4).
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