A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 6:3-5. b). The false teachers are dividing the church.
In addition to being arrogant and ignorant, the false teacher is divisive. *He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words* (4a), or ‘a morbid enthusiasm for mere speculations and quibbles’ (REB). It is noteworthy that Paul portrays him as ‘sick’, whereas he has called apostolic teaching ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’. The false teachers’ relish for profitless argument is positively pathological.
Petty quibbles and quarrels of this kind lead to a complete breakdown in human relationships. Five results are listed: *envy* (the resentment of other people’s gifts), *strife* (the spirit of competition and contention), *malicious talk* (abuse of ‘rival teachers’), *evil suspicions* (forgetting that fellowship is built on trust, not suspicion), *and constant friction* (The fruit of irritability). These evils characterize *men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth…* (5a). When people’s minds are twisted, all relationships become twisted too.
c). The false teachers are lovers of money.
Another symptom of the false teachers’ depraved mind and loss of truth is that they *think that godliness is a means to financial gain* (5b). They have no interest in godliness itself, but only if it proves to be financially profitable.
Precisely how the false teachers whom Timothy had to combat were exploiting godliness for gain is not divulged. But we do know that Ephesus enjoyed great opulence, inflated by the trade which the cult of Diana brought to the city. On Paul’s second visit there it was a silversmith and his craftsmen who were his main opponents. Their sale of silver shrines of Diana had brought them ‘no little business’, but now their income was dwindling under Paul’s polemic against idolatry (Acts 19:23ff.). So it is not surprising that in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul needed to warn them against greed (Eph.5:3).
The history of the human race has regularly been stained by attempts to commercialize religion. It was when Simon Magus thought he could buy spiritual powers from the apostles that the term ‘simony’ was coined, to denote the purchase and sale of spiritual privilege or ecclesiastical office. Paul himself found it necessary to declare that, unlike many, he did not peddle the Word of God for profit (2 Cor.2:17), that he had never coveted anybody’s silver, gold or clothing (Acts 20:33), and that he had never used religion as a clock for greed (1 Thess.2:5).
Yet the church was discredited during the Middle Ages on account of the disgraceful sale of indulgences; religious cults still charge exorbitant fees for personal tuition in their particular tenets; some evangelists appeal for ‘love offerings’ which are never publicly audited; and some television preachers promise their viewers personal prosperity on condition that they send in enough ‘seed money’.
Looking back over verses 3-5 we note that Paul has given us three practical tests by which to evaluate all teaching. We might put them in the form of questions. Is it compatible with the apostolic faith, that is, the New Testament? Does it tend to unite or divide the church? And does it promote godliness with contentment, or covetousness?
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:6-10. 2). A charge to the Christian poor.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.