This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:18-20
At the end of Chapter 1 Paul restates his charge to Timothy that opened his letter, “…remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies…” – 1 Timothy 1:3-4. As previously stated Paul is entrusting Timothy with the work of dealing with the false teachers and those who teach a “different” doctrine. He also makes it clear that this is a divine calling. God called and gifted Timothy for ministry and this was recognized and affirmed by the council of elders in the church. Churches today do something similar when they license or ordain people to ministry after recognizing God’s call in the lives of these individuals. Paul’s charge to Timothy still rings true to those who are called in our day. False teaching, faulty thinking, and poor theology abound in the church and therefore those who are called to be the shepherds of the church must be ambassadors for truth.
Unfortunately the battle for truth is an enormous task because there is so much to overcome. In the early church Judaism was prevalent and Christian Jews were attempting to break out of their previous religion and traditions. Many Gentiles were also coming to know Christ and becoming a part of the church. The city of Ephesus had a fascination with magic and the occult. The gospel was quickly spreading and new churches were attempting to honor God in this environment. Confusion ensued as the truth of God’s message began to challenge the doctrines and traditions of men. Much of the false teaching and false doctrines came from religious syncretism which is the amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought. For example many Jews were becoming Christians but still living and thinking like Jews who followed Judaism.
The evangelical church in America has some similar issues to overcome. The church is filled with people of all ages and different walks of life with a variety of religious backgrounds who have become Christians and yet they are still attempting to live by the world’s standards. Tradition, culture, and religious pluralism still wage war with truth. As a result of faulty theology, poor leadership, and false teaching many churches of our day have become so melded with culture and tradition that it would be hard to tell them apart. In the church the spiritual world and the business world have become intertwined. Many churches have a system of church government that deeply resembles the same democracy that is prevalent in our own society, forcing the spiritual leaders of the church to become politicians. What’s worse is the members of churches often see very little difference between their pastor and their politicians. Ever wonder why pastors rarely remain in any one church for an extended period of time?
In order for there to be unity in such an entity there must be a central source that brings Christians together under the authority and kingship of Christ. The truth contained in the Word of God is that central source. Churches whose central focus is not the truth of the Word of Christ being lived out in the lives of believers to the Glory of God have given up the truth for a lie. Much like Timothy, pastors are charged with the seemingly impossible task of overcoming years of tradition and cultural influence in the church to attempt to bring about a more Biblical and God honoring model. In fact one might say that this task is impossible apart from God and I couldn’t agree with you more. God has equipped and called people to serve in such a capacity in our churches, people who are called to be representatives for truth in the midst of people who have “made shipwreck of their faith” by rejecting their conscience and falling away from the faith they originally professed.
Paul mentions two false teachers of whom he claims he has “handed them over to satan”. This is a reference to church discipline. To be handed over to Satan was to be excommunicated from the church. The idea is that if you are removed from the church you are more exposed to Satan. Paul goes on to say that he has excommunicated them so that they will “learn not to blaspheme”. The purpose of church discipline is to bring about a spirit of repentance in those who are being disciplined. Once again as a result of false teaching, faulty thinking, and man made traditions, many churches fail completely at church discipline. Instead of seeing themselves as the Body of Christ whose spiritual responsibility is to honor Christ, many churches falsely see their spiritual responsibility as tolerance. Somehow our culture has taught us that love and tolerance will lead people to repentance, wherease the Bible teaches that love is discipline, not tolerance. The purpose of removing the false teachers from the church was two-fold. First, it protected the church by removing these false teachers that were bringing about disunity and confusion. Secondly it was to help the false teachers see their faults, repent of their sins, and return to the church in unity.
False teaching in a church is like termites in a home. Beneath the surface and often unbeknownst to the inhabitants they are eating away at the very core of the structure. Once the core is gone the structure will collapse. Healing cannot occur until the truth is recognized and embraced. Timothy was sent to Ephesus to reveal the truth, expose the lies, and revive the church.