Weeding out ErrorBrian Watts
Error is nothing new. It’s as old as the Garden of Eden. Its weeds grew in the best early churches. They still keep spreading today in the Garden of Evangelicalism as much as any other corner of the globe.
What do we do when the truth is challenged in our garden as subtly and subversively as it was in Adam’s garden? We do what Paul did when error reared its ugly head in his garden, the church he planted in Ephesus. Consider 1Timothy 3:14-4:6.
Paul wanted to come and do some weeding there himself (3:16). But for now, he instructs his head gardener in Ephesus: Timothy. Some particular errors had cropped up that were bearing fruit in wrong behaviour: errors related to diet and sexuality (4:3). These are still red-hot issues in the church. Taboos about what to eat. Notice Paul viewed this practical issue as rooted in spiritual warfare (“deceitful spirits”) and bad theology (“doctrines of demons”) [4:1]. Distorting biblical sexuality. Today’s issue is promoting inappropriate excess rather than inappropriate abstinence. But either way, the beautiful truth of biblical marriage as a life-long covenant between a man and woman as God’s exclusive gift for the expression of sexuality is challenged.
In Ephesus, as today, error came in two dimensions. Firstly, false ideas in the world. The Ephesian church was planted in the middle of the conflict that erupts whenever the Gospel meets the ideas and practices of a culture (see Acts 19). We must stand up for truth in the public square. But secondly, sadly, the world’s ideas permeated the church and mutated into heresies taught even by elders Paul had set in place in Ephesus. Bad teachers in the church needed to be silenced, for they had taken on the form of the serpent in the ancient garden (2Tim 2:16-18; 3:6-9).
So how did Paul tell Timothy to weed out error? That’s where our passage is helpful. As Paul highlights the problem (4:1-6) he demonstrates that bad behaviour is the result of bad theology. The fruit of how we act grows out of the root of what we believe. He dœsn’t snip the heads of the flowering weeds: he gœs for the roots. There’s much bad doctrine around in the church, some so bad it can be called “teachings of demons”. Paul’s solution is good doctrine. Timothy had been trained in good doctrine, and he was to present that to the church (4:6). That’s dealing with the root of the problem.
This is how Paul thinks. He dœs not come with a list of what to eat or not eat. He declares truth. The church is to be the place where the truth is held up (3:18). How do we do that? Paul gives us an example in 3:16 where we see how “we ought to behave in the household of God”, the church. What do we do in church? We “confess… the mystery of godliness.”
Mystery, for Paul, is not some secret insight known only to the initiated. Mystery is what was hidden but is now fully revealed – the truth revealed in Christ and recorded in Scripture. The Truth who is a Person. And that Person reveals
2 Timothy 2:15 commands believers to be involved in hermeneutics: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Since the Bible teaches that God is not the author of confusion [1 Cor. 14:33], how can the many disagreements today between Christians and the proliferation of the cults be explained since all, or nearly all, claim to use the Bible as the basis of their doctrines? Nearly all false doctrines taught today by Chris- tians and cultists alike can be traced to the distortion of the meaning of Biblical words. The purpose of biblical herme- neutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible.
Brian Watts is the pastor of The King’s Community Church in Langley, Canada. He taught for many years at the “Antioch Training Centre” in Mumbai, and at Salt & Light’s “King’s Bible College” in the UK, and teaches some courses in “King’s Online Bible School”. He has written several books, including “The Treasure in the Field”, “What do you learn in School?” and “Pupils who can See”. He and his wife Rosalind have 2 married daughters and 4 grandchildren.