Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 11:45-43; 1 Timothy 4:1-9; Proverbs 3:13-26; Nehemiah 7
The passage in 1 Timothy addresses the importance of carefully examining other teaching and addressing error. This topic is addressed in several passages, with this one highlighting the spiritual influence on false teaching. Evil spiritual beings had somehow gained sway over some people, impacting both their characters and their claims. Since the examples Paul raises here were not about esoteric spiritual practices, this suggests the importance of prayer and spiritual discernment when engaging with any claims that differ from biblical teaching, especially various ethical claims.
Paul gives two examples of the false teaching Timothy had confronted. Some were saying that marriage and certain foods were immoral. Exactly why, we don’t know. The emphasis here is not on the details of the error, but how to respond. Paul reminds Timothy of what was said in Genesis 1: everything that God created is good and should be received with gratitude. Some plants are poisonous, some people must avoid specific foods, and some need to reduce how much they eat. But no food is inherently wrong to eat; and marriage is a gift from God.
Timothy is then given two general principles for addressing false teaching. One is Timothy’s exposure to the truths of the faith and good teaching. The verb translated ‘brought up’ more literally means ‘nourished.’ In the Greek, it is in the present tense. This captures the idea of daily sustenance in biblical teaching. On-going study of the Bible and Christian teaching is key to recognising error.
The second principle is that of character. Both the head and the heart are involved in discerning truth. Godly character does not come automatically or easily. Physical training and spiritual development require effort and consistency. But while physical training has value for some things, training in godliness has value for all things. For those who engage actively in exercise and sports, do we put as much time and effort into godly development as we do physical development? Occasional physical exercise brings little benefit, and so too we need on-going engagement in character development.
We admire the effort of the athlete straining for the line or leaping for an amazing pass. Behind those glorious moments are hours of training. Up and down the pitch, drill after drill, over and over again. Do we engage likewise with prayer, study and serving others? Athletes choose to train and must say no to other things. But the athlete who constantly says ‘I must not miss’, ‘I must not slow down’, will rarely have victory. Their focus is on their goal, the prize they hope for. Pursing godliness, we should focus on good teaching and godly character, not what we need to avoid.
The analogy also raises an important difference. Athletes train their bodies in their own power. Their hope is in their own strength and skill. They trust that their training will improve them. Godly character formation is the very opposite. To the degree that we think our godliness comes from our own effort, we will be frustrated. Effort is involved, but our hope is in the living God (v. 10). Hope is not wishful thinking, but patient dependence on the Lord (Rom 8:24-25). Our confidence is in God, who he is and what he does for and in us (Phil 1:6). We trust in him to develop godly character traits in us as we set our hope in him (Rom 5:1-5). This is foundational before Paul moves into the specific instructions in the following verses.