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Counterfeit Christianity (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 10, 2023 4:00 am

Counterfeit Christianity (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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May 10, 2023 4:00 am

Since the church’s earliest days, it’s been threatened by counterfeit Christianity—false teachers that arise from within the church. Discover the key necessity for any church to stay faithful. Join Alistair Begg on Truth For Life for a study in 1 Timothy.



Ever since the church was birthed, there have been counterfeiters, masquerading as Christians, false teachers who arose from within the church. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg begins a series in 1 Timothy. He shows what is absolutely necessary if a church is going to remain faithful. Can I invite you to take your Bible and to turn to 1 Timothy and to the opening verses of the first chapter. And I've chosen to begin here in 1 Timothy, which, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, comprises what we refer to as the pastoral epistles. These are a trilogy of letters written by the apostle Paul to two pastors, Timothy, who receives two letters, and Titus, who gets one, urging both of them to fulfill their responsibilities as pastors and to do so with moral integrity and with a measure of biblical authority.

Paul was concerned that Titus would stay in Crete and straighten out matters of unfinished business, particularly as it related to leadership within the church. That in studying 2 Timothy, we noted Paul's great concern in light of his impending death to pass carefully into the hands of his young lieutenant Timothy the truths of the gospel, and urging upon Timothy the responsibility to guard this good deposit which had been entrusted to him and to do so with the help of the Holy Spirit. Now, in writing 1 Timothy, Paul explains midway through chapter 14—I should say towards the end of chapter 3 in verse 14—that he is writing in this way, so that although he is hoping to come and see Timothy, if he happens to be delayed, he says, I am writing these instructions so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

His great concern, then, is for there to be true belief and right behavior. And he makes short work of launching into what he regards as the most pressing issue of all—namely, the existence of these false teachers who have arisen within the fellowship. And so, this morning, we're going to deal with these verses under the heading, Counterfeit Christianity. And Paul is addressing the distinction which exists between these false professors and a true commitment to the gospel, which, of course, he is urging upon Timothy and through Timothy upon others. Now, the age in which Timothy is living and ministering is a long way removed from our own, and yet it is not dissimilar, insofar as Timothy was operating in a time when men and women were prepared to grant plausibility to anything and, at the same time, to give certainty to nothing. And so it is that the apostle Paul is not bashful in confronting this problem. He wants Timothy to make sure that certain men resist the temptation to teach these false doctrines. And he addresses this in the opening chapter.

He returns to it, actually, in chapter 6, beginning in verse 3. If anyone teaches false doctrines and doesn't agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and a godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. When Phillips paraphrases those words, he says, if anyone tries to teach some doctrinal novelty which is not compatible with sound teaching, which we base on Christ's words and which leads to Christlike living, then he is a conceited idiot.

It's certainly not very politically correct, certainly not socially acceptable, and therefore, one must conclude that it was a matter of pressing urgency—and indeed, dear ones, it remains a matter of pressing urgency in the confusion of our times. Now, in verse 3, you will notice the geographical context—namely, the city of Ephesus with which we've dealt in the past. And if you turn for a moment to Acts chapter 20, you will find in the record of Luke the scene when the apostle Paul, having spent significant months in Ephesus, takes his leave of the Ephesian elders. And he says to them, in verse 25, Now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom, will ever see me again.

That's the context. If you're taking your leave of someone whom you will never greet again, whom you know you will never have the opportunity to say one more thing to, presumably you would think long and hard about what you're going to say in that moment. And Paul must have done so, and so he says, Therefore in light of this I declare to you today, first of all, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.

Reason? For I haven't hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Now he says, Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. It must have caused him great pain, having planted the church, having labored long and hard to see it up and on its feet, to have to speak prophetically in this way and to say, I will hardly be in the distance when there will be those who come amongst you, sheeplike in their gentle external demeanor, and yet wolves in their desire to ravish you.

And, sadly, verse 30, Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard. Remember that for the past thirty-six months I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Interesting verb, isn't it? I never stopped warning you. Warning you.

Isn't that part of the responsibility of parenthood? To be constantly warning those who are under our care? Our children weary under our warnings. Oh, you don't have to tell me to be careful again.

Yes, I do. And we warn them about making sure they don't involve themselves in wrong kinds of friendships. We warn them about all kinds of things, because we love them, we care for them, and we desire the very best. And Paul, in his ministry of apostleship over this fledgling church, has done just that. And that is why he has been concerned to declare to them the whole will of God. Now, in leading into this, will you just notice that the problem then, or the threat, which is before Timothy as he exercises pastoral ministry, is, first of all, an internal threat. It would appear that Paul's words had not been sufficiently heeded, and so there had been, arising within the fellowship, those who were doing just what Paul said would happen—namely, teaching all kinds of specious things with the express purpose of having their own little group.

So the threat was internal. The threat was also intellectual. These individuals were high-sounding in their speculative theories. They appealed to those who thought of themselves as the sort of theological intelligentsia, the ones who liked the special nuggets, the esoteric information, the little angle on the truth that nobody else necessarily fastened onto. And those whose minds were put together in that way were drawn to these characters, who began to draw around them folks who imbibed their speculative confusion. And it was confusion which marked the place—a confusion that was both moral, insofar as the people did not behave properly, and doctrinal, insofar as they did not believe properly. And it is imperative that men and women know how to believe, so that they in turn may learn how to behave. With an insufficient grasp of the truth, they would be susceptible to error. And therefore, it is imperative, as Paul understands, that they would be grounded in the sound doctrine to which he refers there at the end of verse 10, so that they will in turn be able to identify and to reject the counterfeit claims of the conceited, so that they would be alert enough, aware enough of the true article so as not to be taken in by someone who offers them a bag of three-dollar bills, as it were, theologically. Now, children may be interested in that.

You could find a little kid, and you could give them a million dollars in monopoly money, and depending on how astute they were, they might think that they had just become phenomenally rich and proceeded to go off down the high street, waiting their opportunity to buy everything they could get. But it would only be on account of their immaturity, making it impossible for them to distinguish between that which was true currency and that which was counterfeit currency. And what Paul is recognizing is this, that if a congregation, if a local church is not instructed regularly, faithfully in the truth, then they will be susceptible to people who come dressed up as sheep but with teeth like wolves, and they will be susceptible to individuals who will arise even from the very leadership of the church to draw away little groups after them and so ravish the church which Christ has bought with his own blood. Therefore, more than any other thing in all the church, it is imperative that those who name the name of Christ would be instructed in the truth of Scripture. Because it is imperative, if a subsequent generation is to arise beyond us here and hold fast the things of Christ, that we become grounded in the truth of the Bible.

And that is the apostles' great, urgent concern in writing all three of these letters and expressly this first letter. Because it was a time in which mythology was rampant. It was a time in which materialism was ruinous, as you will find when you read ahead, as I'm sure you will, these chapters. Therefore, its timeliness, I suggest to you, is unquestionable, given the condition of contemporary evangelicalism. As I move around a little, I am struck again and again by the prevailing confusion in the minds of men and women who ought by this time to have become teachers but who are susceptible to all kinds of specious nonsense. Therefore, we have always to pray, God, that when we read our Bibles, when we are instructed from the Scriptures, that we are enabled by the Spirit of God who leads us into all truth so that we become men and women of the Book. It's a necessary warning in Timothy's day, a necessary warning in our own day, in the modern age, to guard us against novelties in Christian teaching. Novelties in Christian teaching. Now, let me just try and weave a line through these eleven verses, if I may. First of all, will you notice that there is a chain of command here?

And the word command comes two or three times. And Paul wants Timothy, and in turn the church, he pastors, to understand that it is as a result of the command of God that he is an apostle. He's not a self-styled apostle. Apostleship is not something that has been invented by an individual. It was not that Paul volunteered for it and therefore was included in the group.

No, he knew that he had been added to the apostolic band as a result of the gracious command of the Lord Jesus. And that's why in Acts chapter 9, when you read the story there, the word of God to Ananias, who is helping Paul at the time of his conversion, is, I want you to look after this guy, Saul of Tarsus, because he is my chosen instrument to bear my name before the Gentiles. And apostleship in the Scriptures, in its central, most exclusive reference—because the word apostello means to send, and apostello is used in a number of ways for those who were involved in missionary endeavors or who were sent by the church. But the word apostle refers to a small, definitive, unique, one-time group of individuals who were chosen, called, and sent by Christ, who were witnesses of the risen Christ, who were endowed in special measure with the Holy Spirit, whose work was confirmed by signs and by wonders, and whose work extended to the totality of the church and was for the totality of their lives. And Paul says, Here I am, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. And there is a word of certainty, and he is speaking of the transformation that was brought about in his life and in the lives of others who are redeemed by the outstretched hand of God. Paul's authority, then, is Christ's delegated authority.

And it is vital that we understand this. The authority of the apostle was the authority delegated by the head of the church, Christ himself. The apostle's message, therefore Paul's message, is Christ's message. Therefore, as we have noted before, we cannot allow to ourselves the distinction which says, Well, I am prepared to accept the words of Christ, but I am unprepared to accept the words of Paul. Christ's words and Paul's words are possessed of the same authority. And so the command line goes from God to Paul, and from Paul to Timothy, verse 2, who is his spiritual son, and whom he address with tenderness, as we would expect, as he prays down upon him God's unmerited favor, which is grace, and the tender compassion of God, which is mercy, and all of the benefits and blessings of reconciliation, which is this shalom, this peace. And he says, Timothy, as I think of you, as my concern reaches to you, as I long to see you, if I don't get to you, know this, that as I pray for you, I pray grace and mercy and peace. Now, he says, having said that, as I urged you when I went to Macedonia, so I want to tell you again. This is what I want you to do, Timothy. I want you to stay there.

Stay there in Ephesus. Now, it's interesting. I don't know. We don't know what it was that caused Paul to speak in this way. Perhaps Timothy, because of his timidity, thought that the prospect of dealing with all of these wild and wonderful people was such that he ought to make a run for it. Maybe someone had come from another area and said, Timothy, there's a lovely place over here. We don't have these ravenous wolves that you have in Ephesus. And if you would come over here, then you could have a wonderful pastoral ministry.

Maybe that was in his mind. But Paul's not letting him off the hook. No, he says, Timothy, this is what you need to do. You need to stay at Ephesus.

Later on, in 2 Timothy 4-5, he says, I want you to stay there, I want you to endure hardship, I want you to keep your head, I want you to do the work of an evangelist, and I want you to discharge all the duties of your ministry. I think there's great advantages in just staying places. Because the longer you stay in a place—and this is not a plea for you to keep me—but as long as you stay in a place, people get to know the good and the bad and the ugly. I mean, you're old news pretty quick, as long as you stay home. Well, you may be Mr. Business Man when you fly to wherever you fly to, but when you come home, you're just Dad.

You're old news. And it's not a disrespect to you, but they're just comfortable. And there's great benefit attaches to that. And especially when those in pastoral leadership understand the clear directives they receive. Now, in Timothy's case, the reason that Paul demanded of him to stay there in Ephesus was in order that in this chain of command, Timothy himself may also start making some commands. And namely, in verse 3, to command certain men not to teach false doctrines, notice, any longer.

Any longer. He's not saying, Make sure these people don't start. He's saying, You better make sure they stop. It had already begun. They were already beginning to infiltrate the congregation with that notion of this and an idea of that and a little group here and another group there. And it was just ever so subtle, and they were gradually undermining the truth of God's Word. He says, I want you to stay in Ephesus, and I want you to go and command certain men.

Now, it's clear that Paul knew who these certain men were. Before the chapter is out, he mentions two of them. But perhaps it's simply pastoral wisdom which speaks in this veiled phraseology.

Perhaps it's grace. Whatever it is, he says, now, there are certain men—in parenthesis, at least he'd be saying, I know who they are, and you know who they are—and I want you to go to them, and I want you to command them, he says, not to teach false doctrines any longer. These individuals, we find, had become preoccupied with myths and with endless genealogies. That had become their focus. And because that had become their focus, the central issues of the faith had become peripheral, because the peripheral issues had become central. If their minds had been focused and filled with the great truths of the gospel, then they would have been able to identify how spurious it would be to get yourself all tied up in knots with these other things. And when the people of God do not have their minds filled with the great truths of the gospel, they will be susceptible to all kinds of silly ideas. It is maturity that prevents the child from running away with the stranger. Isn't it? So those tender little ones, you say, now, this chap comes and he does this or he says this or this, and you don't go away with that person.

No, you don't expect to be saying that to a twenty-seven year-old single who's still living in your house. Because you would anticipate that with maturity they had grown to an understanding, they had identified error, they were aware of truth, they could distinguish between them, they were on their feet. But these people, to whom Timothy was ministering, were susceptible to all of this confusion. And the people who were teaching them were lost in endless words. They were full of meaningless talk. They wanted to be teachers, but they didn't know what they're talking about.

Isn't that what he says there in verse 7? They want to be teachers of the law, but they don't know what they're talking about. They want to be professors, but they don't know what they profess.

They fill their blackboard full of charts and diagrams and symbols and theories and triangles and stars and glory, all knows whatnot, and the silly people are all sitting underneath a blackboard going, Wow, that is fantastic! Silly people always will. And we are by nature silly people. All we, like silly people, have gone astray.

We have turned every one of us to our own way. And unless our minds are constrained by truth, then as soon as my ears begin to itch, I will go and look for somebody to scratch me behind the ears in relationship to whatever tickles my fancy. And loved ones, do you realize what it took, for example, in the city of Ephesus? How soon after this there was mayhem and destruction where there had once been a church that had been founded by the Apostle Paul himself?

This is not an issue of marginal importance. It is clear from Scripture itself how important it is for us to know our Bibles and to be alert for false teaching. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.

We'll hear more from Alistair on this topic tomorrow. As a part of our mission at Truth for Life, in addition to the teaching you hear on this daily program, we work hard to select books that will help you grow in your faith. And today we want to encourage you to get a copy of a book called The Air We Breathe. This is a book that takes a helpful look at the values that much of our society describes as natural or innate.

Things like equality, compassion, freedom. But as you read this book you'll see how we can trace these values back to their starting point, back to the Creator. As you read this book you'll learn how many of the ideas that frame our human interaction are deeply rooted in Christianity. Request a copy of the book The Air We Breathe when you make a donation today. And keep in mind your financial support helps us distribute Bible teaching throughout the world so the gospel can be proclaimed across the globe. You can give a one-time gift at slash donate or you can become one of our monthly truth partners and set up an automatic monthly donation when you visit slash truth partner. Let me also encourage you again today to pray for the men who have been attending the Basics 2023 pastors conference which ends today. Pray that these church leaders will return to their home churches refreshed, recharged, and more ready than ever to preach the gospel with boldness. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Tomorrow we'll find out why you'll never really feel good until you first feel dreadful. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-10 05:08:56 / 2023-05-10 05:17:38 / 9

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