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Prelest At the Door

1 Timothy 1:3-4

Timothy Copple

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia; remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, {4} nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. (1 Tim 1:3-4 NKJV)

St. Paul gives St. Timothy an opening admonition as he begins his letter. Properly, it is also the first thing of which a spiritual father would wish to direct one under their care, and in the case of St. Timothy, to "urge" him to direct those under his care.

St. John Chyrsostomos tells us what this other doctrine was which St. Paul was referring to.

"There were in that city certain false Apostles of the Jews, who wished to oblige the faithful to observe the Jewish law, a fault he is everywhere position to him. This is meant by ‘teaching another doctrine.’" (Homily on 1 Timothy)

For St. Paul, the danger of these other teachings was that they focused one’s mind on rational disputes that moved one away from the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, and contentment. Instead, one gets involved with "endless" disputes since by human reason one can never come to the end of a matter. For human reason, all truth is relative. For the Christian, all truth is relative to Jesus Christ. Thus, revelation becomes the foundation of our faith, and the ultimate revelation of God is in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus says that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Disputes, the endless quest to answer all our questions, only brings about a lack of faith. This is one of the primary points which St. John Chrysosotom brings out of the passage:

Let us not then give heed to questions. For we were called Faithful, that we might unhesitatingly believe what is delivered to us, and entertain no doubt. For if the things asserted were human, we ought to examine them; but since they are of God, they are only to be revered and believed. If we believe not, how shall we be persuaded of the existence of a God? For how knowest thou that there is a God, when thou callest Him to account? The Him without proofs and demonstrations….The tenets of the Greeks indeed are rightly questioned. For they were of that nature, being but disputes, conflicts of reasonings, and doubts, and conclusions. But ours are far from all these. For human wisdom invented theirs, but ours were taught by the grace of the Spirit. Their doctrines are madness and folly, ours are true wisdom. In their case there is neither teacher nor scholar; but all alike are disputants. Here whether teacher or scholar, each is to learn of him from whom he ought to learn, and not to doubt, but obey; not to dispute, but believe. For all the ancients obtained a good report through faith, and without this everything is subverted.

St. John is not talking here of honest questions of trying to understand something. His translation has "questions" for "disputes." The thought behind this word is that one has their "faith" so based upon a need to understand it, that it is actually a faith in one’s own reason, and pride is the result. Rather, St. John is calling us, along with St. Paul, to humbly submit to that which has been revealed, to that which has been handed down through the history of the Church as the Gospel. In so doing, we find true peace, joy, contentment and love in the Lord.

Jesus Christ said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15 NKJV) He also said "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (John 14:21 NKJV) The Jews had gotten the commandments of God turned around. They argued over the minutest details on how to obey the Law. There were volumes written on this subject. It became obedience based upon merit and pride because the obedience originated within their own frameworks of what was right and wrong.

To this St. Paul says it all starts with faith rather than reason. Reason is not excluded, but it is not the foundation. Without faith in Christ there is no foundation. Without obedience there is no faith. Without love there is no true obedience.

Therefore, St. Paul urges St. Timothy to teach no other doctrine but what had been delivered to him. The Greek word used here is transliterated "heterodidaskaleo" which literally means "to instruct differently:--teach other doctrine." How easy it is for us to allow our own reason to began to deduce things, to begin to work teachings and the Scriptures into our own framework! But the task of the bishop, the priest and yes, even the layman, is to transmit to others that which they have been given without morphing it into one’s own opinion and doctrine.

It is for this reason that St. Paul tells St. Timothy to stay away from these fables and endless genealogies. Often, what happens in a "dispute" is that one person takes one side and another takes the other side. Polarization happens. In an effort to prove one’s point, one often goes too far in attempting to explain things. In the process, doctrine, even correct doctrine, begins to get changed here and there. Satan accomplished one of two things in this. Either one’s doctrine shifts from that which it should be because the other person’s point of view begins to make some sense, or one makes one’s point well but alienates the other person. In your pride you have created division rather than unity; hatred instead of love.

There is a place for rebuke and correction. But note that later St. Paul tells Timothy that this is what the Scriptures are for. It is the revealed faith that reproves and corrects not our rational ability to jump through theological hoops. There is also a difference between a rebuke done from love and a rebuke done from pride. Love calls one to that faith which has been revealed and not changed. Pride calls one to accept something based primarily upon a reasoned argument.

While we must always be ready to explain in a reasoned way the faith delivered to the saints, we must avoid getting involved with disputes which draw us into a faith based on our rational ability. This is the danger that St. Paul saw in both the Jew’s insistence of following the Jewish Law to the letter for all Christians and the Greeks who worshipped all sorts of pagan gods and constructed their lives around various philosophies. Rather, he simply instructs St. Timothy to teach no other doctrine than that which was given to him. Applying that to ourselves, we also should focus on the doctrine as Jesus taught in the Gospels, as the Fathers have expounded and clarified, and as it has been given to us wrapped in an ethos which smells of the incense of heavenly revelation. Seek that which brings peace, joy, contentment and most importantly, love one for another as befits a true follower of Christ.

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