The Church in the Pastoral Epistles
T. Ernest Wilson, USA
Part 6 of 8 of the series The Church in the Pastoral Epistles
Having reviewed the teaching of these Epistles regarding the church, its constitution and the various forms of its testimony, we now come to look at certain perils which threaten its doctrine and its purity. These three letters are full of warnings against false teachers. One of Paul's chief objects in writing was to instruct Timothy and Titus how to deal with them. The emphasis in 1 and 2 Timothy is on doctrine, the healthy teaching, while that in Titus is on the necessity for good works. The two must always be kept in balance, the one flowing from the other. Paul had warned the elders at Ephesus that after his departure grievous wolves would come in, not sparing the flock, and that from within, men would arise teaching perverse things to draw away the disciples after them, Acts 20. 29-30. The attack would come both from the outside and the inside. Apparently that time had already come when Paul wrote. It was expressly to combat these influences that Timothy was left at Ephesus by the apostle, 1 Tim. 1.3.
An examination of the three Epistles will show what the false teachings were. It is clear that they were chiefly Jewish in origin, see 1 Tim. 1,7; Titus 1. 10,14. From the beginning of the church's testimony, Judaizers sought to turn Christian Gentiles into Jewish proselytes. It was for this reason that Paul wrote Galatians. In 1 Timothy 6. 20 he speaks of oppositions of knowledge falsely so called. Apparently this refers to Gnostic teaching which he deals with in Colossians. Then in 1 Timothy 4. 1-3 he refers to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. Evidently these false teachings were Satanically inspired. In Titus 1. 15 he says, "unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure". As is usually the case, evil teaching coincided with loose morals.
In these letters, Paul uses a series of vivid word pictures to describe the various forms of departure from God where discipline has to be exercised.
Shipwreck, I Tim. 1. 19. Faith wrecked on the rocks of blasphemy. This evidently was the result of erroneous teaching concerning the resurrection.
The cauterized conscience, branded like a slave with a hot iron. This was a result of apostasy from the faith, 1 Tim. 4. 1-2.
Denial of the faith, 1 Tim. 5. 8. In the domestic sphere, the believer who neglects to provide for his own is worse than the unbeliever.
Cast off first faith, 1 Tim. 5, 12. This operates in the social sphere leading to the danger of gossip and the idle tongue.
Wandered from the faith, 1 Tim. 6. 10 j.n.d. The context is a warning against the misuse of riches and could be applied to the business sphere.
Missing the mark, 1 Tim. 6. 21; 2 Tim. 2.18 R.v. marg. The archer whose aim is not true. This is the intellectual realm. The effect of this is like a gangrene, eating at the very vitals of Christian testimony.
Surely if these things were true in Paul's day, how applicable they are in our day! As well as describing the conditions, Paul instructs Timothy and Titus as to the methods of dealing with these heterodox teachers and their doctrines. There are at least four passages that speak of discipline in its various forms:
Excommunication, 1 Tim. 1. 19-20. First he mentions one case where he had acted himself. He singles out Hymenaeus and Alexander whom, he says, "I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme", what does this mean? We must refer to 1 Corinthians 5. 5 where Paul uses the same expression. Both passages indicate excommunication from church fellowship. If Hymenaeus is the same person as is mentioned in 2 Timothy 2. 17, the blasphemy had to do with the vital doctrine of resurrection. Not only did it affect himself, but others were associated with him in it, and it had the effect of overthrowing the faith of some. Paul calls this "shipwreck". While all discipline has as its object the ultimate restoration of the offender, in this case apparently it did not have this effect.
Open Rebuke, 1 Tim. 5.20. "Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father", 5. 1, is followed by "Against an elder, receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses", 5. 19. Evidently these admonitions preceding the instructions about administering an open rebuke are to give Timothy, the young servant of God, opportunity to pause and think before this serious step is taken. As in all discipline, it is not to be carried out in a hurry. It is only administered after godly exercise and consideration. "Them that sin (literally 'are sinning'; it is the present participle, i.e. those going on in a sinful course) rebuke before all, that others also may fear". The word "rebuke" means to convict, put to shame. The sinning here must be of such a nature that it affects the public testimony. It is possible that what is contemplated is one who will not submit to private admonition and is carrying on a course of action that is affecting the whole assembly. It has not gone as far as to merit excommunication, but yet is serious enough to warrant being publicly rebuked before the whole company.
Silencing the Unruly and Vain Talker, Titus 1. 10-11. "Unruly" means that he refuses to be placed under any authority. The same word is used in verse 6 of unruly children. Vain talkers are those whose talk does not accomplish anything; it is useless and futile. "To stop the mouth is epistomizo, to put something in the mouth, as a bit in a horse's mouth. The noun form is used of the stop of a waterpipe", Wuest. The word could also mean a muzzle or a gag in the mouth. How expressive all this is, describing the man who afflicts the assembly with unprofitable ministry, who is on his feet at every opportunity, stifling the true ministry of the Holy Spirit and driving people away. The remedy is very graphic, put a muzzle on him! Better to do that than to let the whole assembly suffer.
The Faction Maker, Titus 3. 10-11. The heretic here is not so much the purveyor of erroneous teaching, as the man who divides the saints with some one-sided interpretation of Scripture, often with a pretence of superior faithfulness to the "Word. Paul warns the saints at Rome, "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple", Rom. 16. 17-18. The faction maker is to be warned at least twice. If these admonitions are not heeded, he is to be rejected. Some would take this to mean, shunned or to have done with such. But the fact that Paul adds "knowing that such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself" might indicate that one who is continually dividing the saints should be rejected completely. Much would depend on the nature of his teaching whether it would demand excommunication. But certainly after the second admonition, if he persists in his activities, serious action must be taken so that the whole assembly may not suffer.
Published by Precious Seed (1969, Volume 20, Issue 5)