Teach and urge these things. Some have wandered away from the faith. These phrases act as bookends to everything that Paul says in verses 3 – 10. In our study of 1st Timothy, Paul has consistently drawn our attention to the issue of false teachers, shipwrecked believers, departed disciples and now wandering heretics. And he says: teach and urge these things. Paul’s message to us in this letter regarding those who apostatize from the faith is an urgent matter.
In chapter 1 Paul instructs Timothy to confront false teachers and to instruct them not to teach different doctrine and not to be devoted to mythology or the study of endless genealogies because it promotes speculative conversation rather than the stewardship of the gospel. He literally tells Timothy that these false teachers have swerved off the highway of gospel centered doctrine into the ditches of worthless discussion because they desire to be seen as competent teachers despite the fact that they actually know nothing about anything. (1:3-11)
Later in the same chapter Paul instructs Timothy to pick a fight with shipwrecked believers by anchoring his soul to an authentic faith and a clean conscience. He warns Timothy that many believers have already shipwrecked their faith because they have unhitched or deanchored their hearts from the historic teaching of the gospel, which in turn made their consciences as fried as their filthy lifestyles. False faith makes your conscience filthy and a filthy conscience fries your faith. The only hope for these shipwrecked believers was to turn them over to Satan in hopes that they would taste the consequences of their sinful wandering and repent. (1:18-20)
Then in chapter 4 Paul comes back to the topic when he says that some disciples will depart from the faith because of their devotion to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. These departed disciples were insincere liars whose consciences were burned beyond recognition to the extent that they even taught people to abstain from things that God does not forbid. The only remedy for dealing with departed disciples like this is to protect ourselves by knowing the gospel, treasuring the gospel and protecting the gospel as we keep our noses in God’s Word, our minds set on prayer and our hearts full of gratitude towards our Father for all of his good gifts. (4:1-5)
So Paul has not missed a beat when it comes to giving straightforward warnings and precise instructions regarding false teachers, shipwrecked believers and departed disciples in the first few chapters of this letter. But he sees now that it is important to address the topic once again under the banner of people who have wandered away from the faith and have apostatized or in my summary, have become wandering heretics.
So what is a wandering a heretic? How would you know one if you met one? How would you know if you were in danger of becoming one? And what is the remedy for a wandering heretic? According to Paul in these verses, a wandering heretic doesn’t teach sound doctrine, he has a sick character, he produces spiritual corruption, he believes that godliness is a means of gain and he doesn’t believe that greed leads to loss. Look at these one at a time with me.
#1: A Wandering Heretic Doesn’t Teach Sound Doctrine (3)
Paul says that a wandering heretic is anyone (who) teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness. Paul knew who these heretics were and Christ was not at the center of their teaching or their character, which lead to their corruption. The teaching of Jesus had been marginalized by the their asceticism and their legalism and their Gnosticism and their sensualism. They didn’t teach godliness. They taught foolishness that lead to outright heresy and rejection of the gospel.
These heretics didn’t teach sound doctrine. They taught things that contradicted the plain teaching of the Scriptures. This still happens all over the church today. And it happens not just in churches out there. We are in danger of this happening in our church right here. All throughout the centuries wandering heretics have taught what ought not to be taught. They normalize sin. They sensualize the gospel. They demonize godliness. And they minimize what is good, right, pure and true. A wandering heretic doesn’t teach sound doctrine.
#2: A Wandering Heretic Has A Sick Character (4)
Paul says that a wandering heretic is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarreling about words. These wandering heretics were literally pompous ignoramus’ and they had a sick craving for things that made them sick. They had a sick character. These heretics were like a rotting, festering wound within the body of Christ.
They refused to submit and to be healed by the gospel because they rejected the gospel. They were like tiny little infections that were full of puss and poison. Their character was not full of the fruit of the Spirit. Their character was full of the poisonous puss of selfish conceit and foolishness. They weren’t known for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
They were known for their sick cravings for controversial and quarrelsome conversations about anything and everything that would deceptively undermine the gospel of Jesus Christ. They didn’t possess the character of Christ. They possessed the sick character of their sick charades. A wandering heretic has a sick character.
#3: A Wandering Heretic Produces Spiritual Corruption (4-5)
Paul says that a wandering heretic engages in conversations and teachings that produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth. These wandering heretics were becoming known for being settled in their decay with rotting minds. They were like dead corpses with lipstick on. The fruit that was being produced through their lives and through their ministries was spiritual corruption not spiritual health. According to one author the symbol of the church was becoming not the cross but a mushroom cloud of controversial and corruptible conversations.
If you look back at verses 4 – 5 you’ll see 7 points of corruption. The first 5 points of those 7 points are points of congregational corruption that were being produced by the ministries of these wandering heretics. The fruit of their labor was a congregation that was full of envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions and constant friction.
A church family that is full of envy is constantly jealous of what others have. A church family that is full of dissension argues divisively about every new social fad that comes across their social media feeds. A church family that is infected with the fruit of slander constantly questions and mischaracterizes other people in their attempts to get ahead or to win the fight. A church family that is full of evil suspicions is too enamored with their own judgmental attitude towards anyone who doesn’t fit in their little sand box. Finally, a church family that has wandering heretics running around in their hallways will be full of constant friction rather than the godly character of gospel centered, peace-filled, unity.
And that’s not all. After Paul lists the 5 points of congregational corruption that is produced by these wandering heretics, he lists 2 points of personal fruits of corruption. He says that a congregation that has wandering heretics running rampant throughout its hallways will produce disciples who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.
A person with a depraved mind takes the plain teaching of the Scriptures regarding sin and salvation and they twist it into some grotesque object for their own personal advancement. They minimize their own sin and they make things acceptable that God plainly says are unacceptable. And then they construct new ways of salvation such as legalism or socialism or sensualism or spiritualism or capitalism or nationalism. These heretics do this because they do not have the truth. They rejected Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. They could talk about Jesus when they had to but they did not know him. And the outcome of this is that they sow spiritual corruption into the church family and they infect disciples with their spiritual sickness. A wandering heretic produces spiritual corruption.
#4: A Wandering Heretic Believes That Godliness Is A Means Of Gain (5-8)
Paul says that the wandering heretics in the Ephesian church were going from bad to worse because they imagined that godliness is a means of gain. According to one author, the fleece had become more important than the flock and fleecing the flock for material wealth had become the measure of professional competence.
And Paul responds to this atrocity in verses 7 – 8 by saying that godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. The kind of gain that the Bible talks about is spiritual gain not financial or material gain. Godly contentment is true gain. Real contentment and prosperity have nothing to do with one another. Paul underscores this truth by reminding us that birth and death are the bookends to physical and material wealth. The reality is that greed for the Christian makes no sense because we have everything we need in the cross and the resurrection and the ascension and the promised return of Jesus Christ.
This truth is what leads Job to say: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21) This personal knowledge of the goodness of our Heavenly Father is also what led the apostle Paul to say: I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11;13) A wandering heretic cannot say these things. A wandering heretic believes that godliness is a means of gain.
#5: A Wandering Heretic Doesn’t Believe That Greed Leads To Loss (9-10)
Paul says that wandering heretics are people who desire to be rich (and) fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. Many people learn the price of everything only as they lose what is most valuable. For the wandering heretic the things that once were unthinkable have become natural and desirable. These wandering heretics are the wannabe rich and they impale themselves with grief upon grief upon grief in their greedy pursuit of financial and material gain. One author says that they are leaders who move up and out of the faith because of their greed and their lack of contentment in Christ.
These wandering heretics have fallen into the temptation of the greedy pursuit of what they do not have. They are caught in a trap of the devil and they cannot get out. They do senseless things because of their destructive desires. Their hearts and their lives have taken the deep plunge into the filthy waters of ruin and destruction. They love money more than they love God or his church therefore their lives are characterized by all kinds of evils. Their unrestrained cravings have driven them mad and they have wandered off the trusted path of the gospel-centered life into the ditches of painful, self-delusional, greed-filled, wheel-spinning life of self-advancement. A wandering heretic doesn’t believe that greed leads to loss.
How Do We Apply This To Our Lives?
We’ve learned that a wandering heretic doesn’t teach sound doctrine, he has a sick character, he produces spiritual corruption, he believes that godliness is a means of gain and he doesn’t believe that greed leads to loss. It’s easy to look outward and see these things in the American church today. Wandering heretics seem to abound throughout the history of the church. But it’s much harder to take a cold hard look at ourselves and see where we are in danger of becoming wandering heretics. As I think through these truths I am prompted to ask the following questions of my own heart.
#1: Where have I begun to minimize sin and reconstruct the path of salvation? My heart is far too prone to minimize sin in my own life and even in the lives of people that I care about. I desire acceptance so I am prone to live in silent fear. Comfort becomes my security and self-protection becomes my savior. And even as I confess that I am reminded that Jesus is clear about sin and he unflinchingly confronts sin as he compassionately gives himself away in death at the cross for me. What a beautiful Savior we have in Christ Jesus that he would die for wandering heretics.
#2: In what ways is my life characterized by ungodliness? My character is weak and worthless without Christ. Without him I am unloving, I am full of despair, I am overflowing with anxiety, I am impatient, I am not kind, I am prone to evil thoughts and desires, I am unfaithful, I am harsh and I am controlled not by the Spirit of God but by my out of control desires. But because I have trusted in Christ I know that there is therefore now no condemnation for me. I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind as I put on the mind of Christ and as I take every thought captive to the Word of Christ. I am not a worthless wandering heretic. I am a priceless adopted child of God. The cross of Christ has so captivated my heart and my mind that I now live for him who gave himself for me a recovering wandering heretic.
#3: Where do I see spiritual corruption taking root in my heart? Is there any evidence of envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, constant friction, depravity of mind or deprivation of the truth in my heart? It is far to easy for me to give into envy when I hear of guys just starting out in the ministry making $20k more per year in salary than I do after 13 years in vocational ministry. But then I am reminded by the Spirit of the living God that I serve him who gave away everything so that I could have the only thing that’s worth having. I have Jesus and he’s all I need. I will not be dominated by envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, constant friction, depravity of mind or deprivation of truth.
#4: How have I begun to see the church family as a place of consumption rather than a bride to contribute to? I already dealt with the money side of greed in the last question. But aren’t there other things we get greedy for that we believe we can gain from the church? What about popularity, influence, power, friendship, acceptance, success or comfort? Aren’t these all some of the things we could join a church for? Wouldn’t we all be deceived if we said we weren’t influenced at all by greed for these things and more? I’m so thankful that we serve a Savior who gave himself away on behalf of the bride of Christ. I’m so thankful that his limitless love has been poured out on wandering heretics like you and I.
#5: Where has my heart become shackled in the snare of greed? Knowing that I have been set free from the snare of greed is one thing. But it’s an entirely different thing to walk in that newfound identity. When I find myself comparing myself with others or competing with others or being envious of others, then I know that I once again need to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to my heart and get up out of my self-made cage and walk in the freedom that I have in Christ. His blood washes my sin stains away. His broken body pays the price for my war crimes against him. His resurrection fills me with his victory over Satan, sin and the grave. His ascension reminds me that he is the only king forever. His promise to return in glory is the hope of Heaven that kills my lust for earthly gain.
Greedy false teachers abound. Shipwrecked believer’s liter the sides of the oceans of grace. Departed disciples haunt the hallways of my heart. Wandering heretics are everywhere I look. I used to be one of them and sometimes I struggle with acting like one of them. But the promise of this passage is that godliness with contentment is great gain. The Lord Jesus Christ is all I need! In him I will be content. As another author said: If I keep him at the center of the Bible, at the center of history, at the center of salvation and at the center of my life then I have gained everything. In Christ alone I shall be content!