Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 12:41-48; 1 Timothy 6:1-6; Proverbs 5; Nehemiah 12
One of Paul’s reasons for writing to Timothy was to deal with the false teachers impacting the church in Ephesus. People teaching false ideas within the church have been a problem throughout its history, with serious consequences both for Christians and those outside the church. The problem was anticipated by Jesus with his warning that some servants would not be trustworthy (Luke 12:35-48). Followers of Jesus are to serve others, with some becoming servant leaders. With that privilege comes much responsibility. All Christians have received much, with God’s grace and forgiveness, and should be prepared to give much; for those entrusted with even more, like leaders, teachers, the wealthy, etc., even more will be asked as faithful stewards. The seriousness of the situation is reflected in the harshness of the punishments described in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:46-48).
Paul is applying Jesus’ parable to the situation in Ephesus and the problem of false teaching. Some doctrinal disputes within the church have been inappropriate, but some are necessary. Messages that go against Jesus’ clear instructions and godly teaching must be addressed. Paul’s writings elsewhere address the core teachings of Christianity, but here he points to characteristics of false teachers. They are often focused on the minutia and debates over disputed terms. True teaching leads to sound instruction, where the Greek word literally means healthy. Such teaching has a healthy impact on people and their relationships. It encourages the development of godly character traits which can be seen in people’s lives.
In contrast, false teaching leads to debates and arguments, often motivated by conceit and greed. The result is envy, strife, friction and other hurtful interactions between people. The false teachers view their influence as a means of gain. In Jesus’ parable, the false servants turn to alcohol and abusing those under their influence (Luke 12:45). Recent history in the institutional church shows exactly this pattern. People may seem to get away with all sorts of wrong-doing, but God sees what is happening and eventually the wrong-doing will ruin these people’s own lives (Proverbs 5:21-23). False ideas impact people’s lives.
Throughout his letter, Paul has been pointing to the positive impact of godly teaching, particularly on relationships. The truth should impact a person’s character, with one result being true contentment. This, Paul says, is great gain. Overall, Paul is saying that part of evaluating a message is to look at the life and relationships of the messenger. While this will not apply to some areas of instruction (like physics), it is particularly the case when someone is teaching how we should live our lives. As with the proverbs, this is a general guideline, not declaring cause-and-effect rules. The truth can be declared by those with little contentment in their lives, just as falsehood can be found on the lips of those contentedly living in comfort. But for followers of Jesus, their teaching should promote understanding of his teaching, and their lives should exemplify the characteristics of his life. That is part of the great privilege and responsibility we have as stewards of what God has entrusted to us.