1 Timothy 6:1-10: Heresy and Greed
August 9, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Paul is teaching Timothy how to deal with the false teaching that was challenging the orthodox faith at Ephesus. In this section, he first tackles one of the trickiest challenges for any Christian at the time – the institution of slavery – and then returns to the root cause of the false teaching that Timothy must confront.
The slavery teaching that Paul gives at various points in his letters (including here in verses 1 to 2) needs to be contextualized in various ways. First, slavery in the Roman system was not the same as the antebellum slave trade. That does not mean it was ethical; far from it. But it did not have the same racial basis. And there were slaves whose condition was far from unpleasant. Some of the professions, such as doctors, were even slaves.
But, that said, Paul does elsewhere tell Christians to get their freedom “if they can” (1 Corinthians 7:21) and urges Philemon to accept Onesimus now as a free man. In these instructions, however, Paul is teaching about slavery in such a way that the actual practice of slavery is transformed by Christian values. No abuse is acceptable, and the principle of relationships is that we are now “fellow believers.” That principle undermines the hierarchy of slavery in its entirety.
But then, in verses 3 to 10, Paul addresses the question as to why there is false teaching. Paul gives several reasons.
Partly it is through (it seems wilful) ignorance: they “understand nothing.” So false teaching is not a greater intellectual sophistication; it is born of ignorance. Often those who attempt to undermine Christianity position themselves as bringing greater intellectual insight. But the reality is that typically their understanding of the Christianity they oppose is woefully fallacious.
But also there is often an “unhealthy interest in controversies.” We see that a lot these days: it is almost the definition of what is successful in some social media circles. The more controversial the better. So part of what fuels false teaching, Paul is saying, is a desire to say something that creates a buzz through generating a controversy.
The other reason, though, is purely financial. The way the thinking works is this: if I can gather a following around a distinct (and because distinct, different; and because different, no longer orthodox) doctrinal message, then I can gather a following, and if I gather a following, along will come in due course the financial rewards that I am actually seeking. Part of what motivates the false teaching is simply financial reward. Again, it is pretty obvious currently, and throughout church history, that financial reward motivates false teaching.
That thought about financial gain causes Paul to pivot in his teaching to the more general temptations related to greed. Famously, he says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” This is probably one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. Often it is said as “money is the root of all evil.” But that is not what Paul says. He says that the love of money is the issue (not money itself). He says that it is a root (not the only root) of evil. And he says that it is a root “of all kinds of evil” (not of all evil). Money, in other words, is to be our servant, not our master. We are to use money for good and for the generous advance of the kingdom, not to enrich ourselves. A fool is mastered by money; a wise man generously masters money to the good of the kingdom of God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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