A couple of weeks ago I began a personal study through the pastoral epistles. I set out with the intention of finding out what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of souls. With that focus in mind, I started reading slowly through the first chapter of 1 Timothy. Paul opens his letter to Timothy in typical fashion. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” That’s enough to get me fired up already. Paul was chosen as an apostle by God our Savior and Christ Jesus our hope. That’s beautiful! Paul finds his identity in Christ who for the love of mankind died on the cross to be our hope.
Alright, that was a good start to my study. There is no better way to think about pastoral leadership than to begin with Christ. So I moved into verse 3 looking for that first bit of insight specifically concerning pastors. Paul tells Timothy, “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus.” For what purpose? If I were Timothy I would want to follow my mentor. But Paul’s reason is “so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. We need to stand up and protect the flock from false teachings and superstitions. We need to tell those false teachers to knock it off! This is part of the responsibility of being a pastor or leader in the church.
Then my thinking was steered in a totally unexpected direction. Just when I was feeling all Braveheart, Paul goes on to explain the goal of such an action. He says in verse 5, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Can you hear that? Ah yes, that’s the sound of a humbling. That’s the sound of my war armor hitting the ground. That’s the sound of Jeff falling to his knees. Why? The goal in confronting false teaching is not to belittle such men or to promote our own goodness. It’s not even to be looked upon as a hero for the faith. The goal in confronting false teaching is love. Love is the root of who we are as Christians. We are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). We are to be a people of faith, hope, and love with the greatest of these things being love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). By the words of Jesus we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27).
Then I began to think, “Who are my enemies?” My first thought…TV evangelists. I began thinking of all the men I had seen on TV who prey on the innocent and feed on the hopelessness of the afflicted. I began to think of all the false gospels that I have heard preached. Some of these false gospels teach a comfortable Christianity and emphasize methods of self-help. I get so angry about it all because many people are being deceived and taken advantage of by these men. In fact, my wife has banned me from watching such programs because I nearly break everything in the house in the process.
As pastors and teachers we are called to confront such men, commanding them to stop teaching false doctrine. As Christians, we should be able to recognize the scent of a spoiled gospel. However, all of this must be done with a heart of love and not spite. And we cannot confront such men and false teachings with merely an external love or a facade of love. Verse 5 says that love “comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” The foundation of true love in deed is true love in the heart and conscience. It must begin with a sincere faith in Christ and the gospel. Sincere faith will then lead to a purification of the heart which in turn leads to a good conscience.
So this confrontation must take place in the context of true love for God, for people both lost and saved, and for those men who are teaching false gospels. Do you love your enemies? I am learning.