A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 6:3-21. Material possessions.
Money and property continue to be matters of conscientious concern to all committed Christian people. This is partly because of Jesus’ challenging teaching on the subject, and partly because of the gross economic inequality between North and South, and between groups within each country and region. Approximately 1,000 million inhabitants of the world are destitute, lacking the basic necessities for survival, while a small minority of people live in contrasting luxury. What should be a Christian’s attitude to material possessions?
Having given Timothy instructions about three groups in the church (widows, elders and slaves), Paul comes to a fourth (false teachers), whose baneful influence is at the back of his mind throughout this letter. In 1:3-7 he has noted their speculations about the law, and in 4:1-5 their denial of creation. Now in 6:3-5 he characterizes them as deviating from sound doctrine, dividing the church, and being motivated by avarice. It is this last characteristic of theirs which leads Paul to give vital instruction about covetousness and contentment (7-10), and wealth and generosity (17-19), and which imparts to this chapter its distinctive emphasis, namely the place in Christian discipleship of material possessions. The apostle issues a series of five charges: first, to or about the false teachers (3-5), secondly to the Christian poor (6-10), thirdly to the ‘man of God’ (11-16), fourthly to the Christian rich (17-19) and finally to Timothy himself (20-21).
The bridge between the previous section of the letter and this new section is the apostle’s terse announcement: ‘These are the things you are to teach and urge on them’ (2b). Some translators (e.g. NIV) regard this sentence as concluding the former section, while others (e.g. RSV, REB) see it as introducing the new one. It surely does both. On the one hand it looks back to the whole of the letter thus far. ‘These things’ are what Paul has taught Timothy and what Timothy is to pass on to the churches. On the other hand, the connecting sentence anticipates what Paul goes on immediately to write, namely that there are heretics teaching a different message. *If anyone teaches false doctrines…* (3a). Thus two kinds of teacher are seen in sharp antithesis to one another – the true and the false, the orthodox and the heterodox, Timothy teaching ‘these’ things (*tauta*), which the apostle had taught, and his opponents teaching ‘other’ or ‘different’ things (*hetera*), which deviated from the apostle’s instruction.
1). A charge about false teachers (6:3-5).
The apostle evaluates the false teachers in relation to questions of truth, unity and motivation. His criticism of them is that they deviate from the faith, split the church, and love money. They are heterodox, divisive and covetous.
a). The false teachers are deviating from the faith.
Once again Paul implies that there is a standard of Christian belief which in this chapter he calls the ‘teaching’ (1, 3b), ‘sound instruction’ (3), ‘the truth’ (5), ‘the faith’ (10, 12, 21), the ‘command’ (14) and ‘what has been entrusted’ (20), From this norm the false teachers have turned aside. Paul individualizes them for emphasis: *If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to (‘does not loyally adhere to’)….sound instruction…* The first of these verbs is *heterodidaskaleo* (as in 1:3), in which *heteros* means ‘other’, ‘different’ or ‘some doctrinal novelty’ (JBP). It is false because it deviates from apostolic teaching, which is *sound (healthy) instruction*. Paul characterizes his healthy teaching in two ways.
First. it consists of sound words (literally) *of our Lord Jesus Christ*. Some think that this genitive is objective, meaning that the teaching is about Christ. But Paul’s instruction did not focus exclusively on Christ. Others take the genitive as subjective and suppose that Paul is referring to words spoken by Christ, perhaps to an already published gospel or a collection of the sayings of Jesus. But Paul seldom quoted Jesus’ words, 5:18 and Acts 20:35 being exceptional.
The third and most probable explanation is that Paul regarded his own words as the words of Christ. ‘He who listens to you listens to me,’ Jesus had said when he sent out the seventy (Lk.10:16), and Luke implied that the ascended Christ would continue to act and speak through the apostles (Acts 1:1). This was certainly Paul’s conviction. He could command and exhort in the name or with the authority of Christ (E.g. 2 Thess.3:6, 12). He claimed that Christ was speaking through him (2 Cor.13:3), and he even commended the Galatians for having welcomed him as if he were Jesus Christ (Gal.4:14). As Chrysostom put it, ‘Thus says Paul, or rather Christ by Paul’.
The second characteristic of ‘sound instruction’ is that it is *godly teaching* (3b), literally, ‘the teaching which accords with godliness’. A similar expression occurs in Titus 1:1, which the NIV translates ‘the truth that leads to godliness’. Here then are two essential marks of sound teaching. It comes from Christ and it promotes godliness. Anybody who disagrees with it, therefore, *is conceited and understands nothing* (4a). Or, putting the two phrases together, he is ‘a conceited idiot’ (JBP) or ‘a pompous ignoramus’ (REB). This is strong language. But then the false teacher is guilty of a serious offence. For to disagree with Paul is to disagree with Christ. Indeed, in the end there are only two possible responses to the Word of God. One is to humble ourselves and tremble at it; the other is to harden our hearts, stiffen our necks and reject it.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:3-5. b). The false teachers are dividing the church.
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.