Commentary by Walter Albritton


January 22, 2006


A Good Example is the Best Way to Defeat False Teachers


1 Timothy 4


Key Verse: Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:16


          Shallow teaching is deplorable. False teaching is evil. Sound teaching is imperative if people are to understand God’s truth. This Paul makes abundantly clear to Timothy. The young church was in grave danger of being destroyed by false teaching before it even got started, and Paul meant for Timothy to oppose it with all his might.

          Paul leaves no doubt as to what sound teaching is. It is truth that came from Jesus. It is the faith that has been handed down from Jesus and which now must be guarded against profane myths and lies. It is teaching that honors Jesus Christ as the Savior of all people.

          For Paul any teaching that was hostile to the Christian movement was demonic. Opponents of the Christian faith were deceitful liars whose false teaching must be strongly rebuked. Paul would have laughed at the idea of compromising the truth for the sake of peace with these false teachers. They were not merely troublemakers; they were evildoers opposed to God.

          Perhaps we can learn from the Apostle’s stringent attitude. The culture of our time, like that of the first century, is hostile toward Christianity. In the face of this hostility some people counsel Christians to give up their inflexible beliefs. Bend a little for the sake of peace. So we are tempted to water down the gospel to make it more acceptable to those who object to our teaching that salvation is available through Jesus alone.  

          Some false teachers try to persuade us to believe that the other major religions have something to offer so Christians should be open to a more syncretistic approach. The basic idea of syncretism is unity. The best beliefs of the major religions would be unified to create a new religion that would be more palatable to the human race. Paul would not mince words about such a proposal. He would say, “Have nothing to do with it! Let the demons take it back to hell where it was conceived!”

          Paul was convinced that the church must stay connected to the faith that God had “entrusted to the saints.” To embrace false teachings would be disastrous to the followers of Christ. For Timothy to instruct wisely his brothers and sisters in the faith would make him “a good servant of Christ Jesus.”

          Right belief affects our conduct. Paul knew it was not enough to believe the truth; we must demonstrate the truth by the way we live. So he calls upon Timothy not only to teach the pure gospel but to back up his teaching by living an exemplary life before believers.

          We really cannot overestimate the value of a good example for Christian teachers. We need to “hear” the Spirit imploring us with the plea Paul made to Timothy: “Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

          The power of our example is extraordinary. Many people are Christians today because of the example of their parents. Drayton Nabors, Jr. is one such Christian. Now the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Nabors credits his mother’s example for his faith in Christ.

          In his recent book, The Case for Character, he praises his mother for her example in teaching her children the faith when they were small. He describes her as a humble, faithful, praying woman, full of patient hope, who modeled in her life the two keys to virtue – self-denial and perseverance.

          His mother read to him and his two sisters every night. She enlisted his dad to read to the children also. The result of this reading is not surprising. Drayton observes, “We heard stories about virtuous people from the Bible and from classic children’s stories and fables. These, too, modeled and engendered a desire for a morally good life.”

          Albert Schweitzer, the most famous Christian missionary of the 20th Century, once said: “There is one way and only one way to influence others, and that is by example.”  Would you suppose he was influenced by the character and example of his parents? Consider this: On Sunday afternoons young Albert’s devout parents sat with him on the front porch and read stories of missionaries to the lad!

          Winston Churchill was a man recognized for his strong character and Christian faith.  For decades he influenced nations by his example and decisions. I learned of Sir Winston’s strong Christian principles in a book on his life written by Stephen Mansfield. The book is titled The Character and Greatness of Winston Churchill.

          Mansfield tells of the influence not so much of Winston’s parents but of his nanny – Elizabeth Everest. Churchill said he loved his mother “at a distance,” but he adored Mrs. Everest. She taught him the Scriptures. She taught him to pray. She taught him to trust God. In times of trouble as an adult, on the battlefield when his life was in danger, he found himself praying prayers he had learned at his nanny’s knee. Throughout his life a picture of Mrs. Everest sat on his desk. When he died her picture lay at his bedside.

          Little wonder that Paul urged Timothy to pay close attention to himself and his teaching. He knew that what we teach, and the way we live, will encourage others to embrace our Savior and become followers of the truth or, God forbid, persuade unbelievers to ignore the faith and our Savior.

          As United Methodists we have a good example in our founder, John Wesley. He abhorred watering down the gospel. He insisted that our primary source of truth is the Bible, not the traditions of the church or the teachings of its finest theologians. We shall be wise, like Wesley, to be people “of one Book, the Bible.” We endanger the church if we stray from its sacred, God-breathed teaching in our conduct or our beliefs.

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