“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)
These words from Paul to Timothy have been consistently running through my head over the past few days. Paul packs a lifetime of wisdom into two small sentences. These sentences sum up Timothy’s situation in Ephesus. Some people began teaching doctrine that was contrary to the gospel. Paul leaves Timothy in Ephesus to pastor and protect the fledgling church from “myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4). As he wraps up the letter, Paul warns Timothy not be caught up in the “silly myths” himself. Silly is a good word for some of the things we see put forth in our day. Most of the novelty items found in the average Christian bookstore is silly (cross shaped mints, “car will be unmanned in case of rapture” bumper stickers, the empty tomb paper weight, etc.). Relativism is a silly idea. Many people will argue that there is no absolute standard of truth until they have been wronged. I think it is more honest to say that there are competing claims of absolute truth. A person claiming to be both a Christian and a Muslim is silly. The two belief systems are fundamentally opposed to one another on the basis of Jesus Christ. A brief introduction to both religions will make that blatantly clear. And of course, I cannot talk about “silly myths” without touching on the health and wealth gospel.
The health and wealth “gospel” promises everyone exceedingly good health and more financial gain than a person can possibly handle for the relatively small price of greater expressions of faith found in lavish giving or showy trips down the “miraculous” aisle. Touch the screen with the freshly anointed prayer cloth that you received based on your generous donation and begin to experience healing for your (insert any and all ailments that exist in the world today that are now being called out specifically for you). Sound silly? Yes. Is there any truth to what is being said? Yes. The sliver of truth that exists throughout the prosperity teaching provides just enough connection to lull people into a position of trust. Can God heal your disease or ailment? If he can raise people from the dead then he is more than capable of healing your cancer. Is God pleased and honored by generosity and expressions of faith? Definitely. Christians are exhorted to extend hospitality liberally (Heb. 13:1) and give to all who have need (Acts 2 & 4). God is glorified and exemplified by such acts. However, Scripture does not say that greater faith and generosity will lead to greater finances and health. Paul warns about the deception that comes from the love and desire for money (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth so that our efforts will be spent on eternal purposes that do not pass away. Furthermore, the prosperity teaching looks extremely silly in the face of centuries of Christian history where men and women lived in extreme states of poverty, ailment, and persecution despite tremendous faith in God (the Apostle Paul, Polycarp, John Huss, Jim Eliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, etc.). Did they not have enough faith to spare them death and disease as they experienced it? It is quite the opposite. Men and women who have battled through persecution, disease, and poverty tend to show greater maturity in faith as a result of such struggles. Their faith has been galvanized and refined by the fire of trials.
Trials test our faith and breed perseverance. They are a greater measuring stick for our faith than anticipated blessings of health and wealth. Earthly materials and personal health will eventually pass away but the benefits gained from the testing of our faith through trials of many kinds have benefits for this life as well as the life to come. The gospel proclaims the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He paid the price for our sin by dying on the cross and defeated death by rising from the grave. No matter what happens in this life, Christians have hope in the accomplishments of Jesus. We will die sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus and rise again to live eternally with him. Paul’s use of the word silly is appropriate for everything that takes precedence over Jesus in light of this good news. So…look to Christ and leave behind the silliness.
More to come on the latter part of the verse…