I Timothy 6:20-21, "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen."
This morning, old and young alike have had to deal with controversies and differences of opinions. Little children on playgrounds learn – in many different ways – that people have different opinions and different methods for resolving those differences. Some like to talk, some like to fight, while others like to find an adult to intervene. As these children grow older, the plethora of differences does not vanish, but the methods for dealing with the differences rises. Some still like to fight, others still like to talk, but some like to politic, others like to spin webs of deception, and yet others prefer to reason through the maze of discussion to arrive at the truth. Unfortunately, as the methods of dealing with differences rises so also rise the stakes under consideration. No longer is the discussion about lunch money. In the realm of politics and leadership, the stakes can involve the lives and welfare of citizens. However, no matter how suitable certain methods might be in a worldly endeavor, many of those approved methods are not only unsuitable for dealing with problems in the kingdom sense, but most of them are wholly inappropriate.
As Paul finally closes his first epistle to a young minister, he finishes the brush stroke of this epistle by charging him on how to deal with differences of opinion and controversy that may arise. Paul has already touched on this some in the first chapter, and he will one day in the future touch on it again in the second epistle to this same minister. So important is this concept that Paul was impressed and inspired by the Holy Ghost to speak of it several times. As the old saying goes, "If it's in Scripture, pay attention. If it's in Scripture twice, take extra notice. If it's in Scripture more than that, by all means get the message." So, it behooves us today as well as Timothy then to get the message of how to deal with problems that trouble the kingdom. As with most Biblical discussions, there are many facets to consider which cannot be over-examined to the neglect of the others.
Before dealing with things that invade or offend, Timothy's first course was to keep that which was committed to his trust. What was Timothy given? What are we given today? In chapter 4 Paul reveals that Timothy was given a gift, and in like manner, God has been giving men gifts down through time to be apt to teach and instruct His people in the ways of truth and righteousness. Timothy's gift of preaching was committed to his trust, and further still, that gift was committed to him for the benefit of keeping the people that were also given in trust to him. (I Timothy 4:14-16) The phrase "committed to thy trust" literally means that someone has made a deposit. So, God had made a deposit to Timothy first in a gift of preaching and secondly in the sense of caring for a particular flock through that gift. Unless we understand this first expression, we will never conduct ourselves honorably in the spiritual warfare that we have been called upon to fight daily in the Lord's service.
Ministers, we have been given gifts to preach that must – repeat must – be used in the prescribed way that the Lord would have us serve. We cannot preach ourselves or conduct ourselves in the way that we feel best. Something has been committed to our trust, and that thing should be precious enough to lose ourselves if necessary to wield it in the way the Lord would have us go. Paul and others were prepared – and did – to lose their lives in the use of that very thing. Furthermore, we have been charged with the keeping and welfare of people that are not our own. As God's heritage, their welfare should come first to us, regardless of how we feel about any matter before us. Perhaps they are being troubled by problems without. That should be a concern to us. Perhaps the troubles are within. That should equally trouble us. As committed to our trust, we should value them more than we value ourselves.
Once this thought is firmly in view and ingrained in our very core, we can then honorably war a good warfare in dealing with differences of opinions. Paul's clear-cut advice to Timothy is to avoid those things that are offensive. Whether something is profane (immoral and unhallowed), vain (empty), or a false opposition to fundamental understanding, Timothy's course was to avoid it. Avoiding something is to simply turn away from it. Seems fairly straightforward, yet we perpetually repeat the failed cycle of history when we fail to apply these principles in our dealings with variance and error. However, to get to the point of avoiding something, how do we prove that it is is either unhallowed, empty, or a false declaration?
To investigate this further, we need to first understand that Paul dealt with different things in different ways. For example, when he applied the same principles that he charged Timothy to keep and perform, Paul sometimes spoke in one way and other times in another. Sometimes, he pointed out specifically what someone was doing and teaching (I Timothy 1:19-20, II Timothy 2:16-18), and at other times he went directly to the person face to face. (Galatians 2:11) How did Paul arrive at the decision of which course to pursue? In the case where he spoke face to face with Peter, it seems that the situation was rather fresh. In the cases of Philetus and others, it seems that the case had been rather ongoing as the teaching had led others away after the erroneous beliefs. In those cases, Paul may have laboured face to face with them when the idea was fresh or others may have as well, but it had gotten to the point that he felt comfortable to simply point out the false teachings.
To further investigate this matter, we also have to understand the difference of enemies under consideration. Paul encouraged God's people to love certain brethren for their standing with God but oppose them for their destructive pattern to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Romans 11:28) So, to begin our stance, are we talking about an enemy to the cross of Christ (God's enemies) or an enemy to the gospel of grace (child of God in error)? While we cannot look upon someone's heart the way that God can, we should despise the efforts of those that seek to stamp out the name of Christ in this old world. However, it would be injurious to the cause to simply say that since someone is obviously a child of God (bears much good fruit) that we should go along with all that they do. Such thinking, while noble in one sense, is soft-headed in its nature.
Defense of the truth requires that we sometimes oppose those that we would rather not have to. For example, most of my extended family – though good people – do not believe what we as Old Baptists believe the Bible to teach. As much as I would like to bend down to wash my great-uncle's feet (he is the meekest and one of the most honorable men I have ever met), his beliefs about the Bible and refusal to adhere and adorn the doctrines of grace and fellowship of God's church will not allow me to do so in a church fashion no matter how much I love him. My natural brother is also a yokefellow in the ministry. As a hypothetical example, should the day come, which I pray not, that he drifts off into major error, my brotherly affection for him cannot allow me to overlook the error that he is in. Personal preference and affection cannot trump the truth, as the jewel of truth must shine supreme in the discussion and reasoning through disagreements.
Having established all of that, how does one defend the truth? Even if someone tries to defend the truth against erroneous problems irrespective of the source, one can still do so in the wrong manner. Reasoning and defense of a principle can be done through debate or argumentation. One is a very fitting example of Christian warfare, while the other is an inferior counterfeit. Argumentation indicates that someone uses logical patterns and reasoned thought to arrive at the truth. Debate means that someone seeks to win the day. Just on the surface of the definitions we can see that argumentation – in its purest form – is the prescribed method for defending the truth as Paul did in his ministry by reasoning with people out of the Scriptures. Debate – while seeking to win – will many times stoop to logical fallacies that have nothing to do whatsoever with the discussion.
Logical fallacies are things injected into a discussion that have no real bearing and fact on the situation but are ploys used to seek to win the day. Maybe someone uses the red herring technique to draw people's attention away from the real issue at hand and keep the discussion shifted to a field of ground with nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion. Maybe they use the false dichotomy fallacy that seeks to lump the entire discussion into two camps. Two opinions are proferred as if to say, "Is it A or B? Pick one." There might be three, four, or more options out there, while options A and B are equally undesirable. No matter the technique, defense of the truth should never stoop to debate or logical fallacy as that mindset shows someone that is made up in their own mind and desires to win the day rather than argue the logic to arrive at a better understanding.
Now the inevitable question, "Preacher, what do all these things have to do or tie in with your text?" Ah, excellent question that we may now seek to answer. When Paul encouraged Timothy to avoid these things, he obviously must be acquainted with the thing to know to avoid it. To avoid something that is profane, vain, or false, Timothy must have first come to understand that it was either unhallowed, empty, or a lie. To do so required him to "prove all things and hold fast that which is good." Whenever we encounter an errant problem, we should seek to avoid it having proved that it is an errant point or position. Sometimes others have pointed out the problem already (like Paul did with Philetus and others). Sometimes we have to discover them ourselves. However, when we do discover them, we must – repeat must – avoid them not only for our own deliverance but also for those who have been committed to our trust.
To get to the point of avoidance, we first reason and discuss to discover whether we are dealing with an enemy of the gospel. In our discussion, we should argue rather than debate. In our labours, we should follow the Scripture and give two admonitions hoping fervently that they find fruitful ground. If they do not, we should Scripturally reject them in keeping with Paul's advice to avoid what they are promoting. (Titus 3:10) I have always found it interesting that Paul specifically lays out "first and second" when talking about this. I used to ponder greatly why he was so specific, and then two personal examples showed me one reason why. On two separate occasions, I have confronted men that I felt were promoting things contrary to the gospel of Christ.
In the first case, I went before the man and we reasoned together for several hours. At the end of the session, I was still convinced that he believed what he did before, but I was even more convinced that it was an essential error that could not be tolerated in the kingdom. When we sat down for the second discussion, he had digested some of our previous conversation. He had a few questions, and after reasoning through those questions, he was satisfied and changed his position. In the second case, I sat down twice with another man and each occasion was 6+ hours long. He was as entrenched after those sessions as before, but due to my personal affection and love for the man, I decided to have a third session. That last conversation ended up being one of the most miserable experiences of my life. My personal attachment to the man had led me to go further than Scriptures dictated. I found misery at the end. The first example showed me the wisdom of the instruction in a more uplifting way. Should we not labour more than once with a man, we might miss the renewal of fellowship, but if we press the matter – through a misguided idea of love or longsuffering – more than twice, we end up endangering ourselves or worse the flock to such erroneous ideas.
Finally, Paul did not encourage Timothy to avoid these things with the mindset of a legal eagle. Earlier, he told Timothy that we should try to live as peaceably as we can. (I Timothy 2:1-2) When it comes to those things we must avoid, we should not cease to pray that God would bless. Paul greatly desired that Israel be saved in their knowledge and understanding. (Romans 10:1) Whether that was his natural family, spiritual kindred, or departing brethren, Paul desired that they know what he knew. Even though some may be beyond our reach to reason with, we can still pray for them that God reach them even though we must avoid them. No matter how unsavory the situation or circumstance may be, we must be honorable and above reproach in all things. Why? God has made a deposit with us here below. His gifts and His people should be prized above all other things. May we earnestly stand fast, being quit like men, but doing all things with charity. (I Corinthians 16:13-14)