Another prominent themes in Paul’s pastoral epistles–1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus–is that of false teaching, false teachers, and the errors they foster. In fact, the entire New Testament rings with constant alarm about those who pervert the way of truth. Not surprisingly, then, we find the pastorals addressing teachers on their responsibility to both teach the truth and respond to error.
Below is a survey of Paul’s comments to Timothy and Titus:
“…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but htey do not know what they are talking about our what they so confidently affirm.” (1 Tim. 1:3-7)
“Some have rejected these [faith and good conscience] and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymanaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19b-20).
Deacons “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9).
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2).
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch you life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15-16).
“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
“Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10b).
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entruted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:16-18).
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:23-26).
“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres oppose the truth–men of depraved minds, who, as fas as the faith is concerned, are rejected” (2 Tim. 3:1-8).
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it…” (2 Tim. 3:12-14).
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep you head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
Elders “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of teh circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach–and that for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11).
“Rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14).
“You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1a).
Is the Apostle Paul a lover of controversy? Does he go out of his way to find a heresy under every rock?
Would he find a comfortable home in our assemblies? Would our “tone” and “emphasis” in the ministry match the apostle’s? Or, would Paul likely be cast off as “unteachable,” “hard-hearted,” and unkind?
How much attention should the pastor give to false teaching? How “worked up” ought we to be about error?
Perhaps a fresh appreciation of Paul’s instructions in the pastorals would be helpful in our day of polite-above-all attitudes. Though Paul warns the pastor not to be quarrelsome, in the same breath he says refute error. And it’s clear from the various kinds of effects false teaching has on the people of God that failure to refuse error and teach sound doctrine is simply dereliction of pastoral duty. It’s cruel neglect. No pastor should find solace in appeals to charity or tolerance or grace when facing false teaching. Be charitable, tolerant, and gracious–but reject the error! We have it on divine authority that this is the pastor’s duty.