Presented in many Ugandan locations 2003, 2006
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain in Ephesus in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering Godís provision which is by faith.
Since I began coming to Uganda in 2002, I have been asked many questions. ďDr. Williams, someone is telling me that we are sinning if we do not worship on Saturday. Someone is telling me that Jesus was not eternal. Someone is telling me that she is a prophet and has the Word of God for today, even above Scripture. Someone is telling me that his church is the one true church and mine is of the Devil.Ē These teachings are troubling the faithful because into the great spiritual hunger of Uganda is rushing every false cult ever devised by the perverse imagination of Man.
There are two problems in trying to deal with all of these false teachings. One is that there are so many of them. There is no way I or your pastor or any other teacher can deal with them all. And the bigger problem is that almost all of these cults come quoting Scripture. That is why their teachings are so troubling. We sense that there is something wrong with themóthat is why I get asked questions about themóbut we are worried that they might be true because, after all, they seem to have Scripture behind them. I commend you for your sense of the authority of Godís Word. But it is Godís Word to which we must bow, not to Manís interpretation of it. And here then is the critical question: How do we tell the difference? The great need of the hour is to be able to know with confidence when Scripture is being used correctly and when it is being twisted. We need to understand and to be able to explain why one use of Scripture is faithful and legitimate and another is not. We need Scripture, but our need is not just to read it but to understand it, not just to memorize it but to comprehend it, not just to be able to quote it but to explain it and thus to be confident that our doctrine is based on Godís Word rightly interpreted. We need to be able to tell when a Bible teacher is rightly dividing the Word of Truth and when he is not.
That is why we need 1 Timothy 1:4. In this passage, the Apostle Paul gives us an important principle that will help to meet this need. He gives us a rule by which to examine any teaching, a guide by which to evaluate any interpretation, a way to prove or disprove any doctrine, a question by which to test any teacher. In other words, if you truly grasp what the Apostle is saying here, you will have a trustworthy criterion by which you can tell, by which you can reliably judge for yourself, when Scripture is being used correctly and when it is not,. This is a test by which you can know of the doctrine whether it be of God. Of any interpretation of Scripture that is presented to us, we must always ask this question: DOES IT FURTHER GODíS PROVISION WHICH IS BY FAITH? This test is reliable because I did not make it up. The Lordís Apostle himself is giving it to us. Let us take it and learn to use it!
All right, we are to ask of every teaching whether it furthers Godís provision which is by faith. Well, what is Godís provision which is by faith? It is the Gospel. It is the good news that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was raised on the third day, and that on the basis of His sacrifice for sin God has provided forgiveness, justification, acceptance, and eternal life as a free gift provided by grace alone and received by faith alone in Christ alone. It is the good news that because of who Jesus is and what He has done, if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It is the good news that Godís work through His Son, not our works, is the basis of our salvation. It is the good news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. It is the good news that by grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God that no man should boast. It is the good news that if we confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead, we shall be saved. Salvation is not something we must earn or indeed can earn; it is something God has provided through the finished work of Christ, and which we receive by faith. And so we are taught to ask of every teaching: Does it further Godís provision which is by faith, or does it obscure and hinder it?
If we understand what Paul is saying here, it gives us two great gifts: a Question to ask, and a Savior to exalt.
It gives us in the first place a question to ask of any teaching, any interpretation, and teacher. It gives you a question which you not only may ask but should ask, not only should ask but must ask, of your own pastor and of me. Does this teaching and this teacher further Godís provision which is by faith? In other words, is it teaching me to trust in Jesus alone? Is it teaching me to trust in Jesus as my only Savior, my only Provision, my only Lord, my only Hope, my only King? That is what furthers Godís provision which is by faith! That is the infallible identifying mark of sound teaching, of the Word of Truth rightly divided. If it is teaching us to do that, showing us how to do that, encouraging us to do that, then we should believe it, embrace it, and live by it. For by furthering Godís provision which is by faith, it helps us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of that provision, our Lord Jesus Christ.
But what if this teaching is doing something else? What if it is doing anything else? False teaching is teaching that wants you to trust in anything else instead of Jesus. Anything! And it might be more subtle than that. It is also false teaching if it wants you to trust in anything in addition to Jesus. If it is teaching you to trust in anything instead of Jesus or anything in addition to Jesus, it is not furthering Godís provision which is by faith, but furthering something else. Indeed, it is not furthering but rather hindering Godís provision. It does not matter what it is, offered instead of Jesus or in addition to Jesus. It could be the works of the flesh, keeping the Law, a ritual, the church, or (most dangerously perhaps) the teacher himself that we are asked to trust instead of Jesus or in addition to Jesus.
Now, do not misunderstand me. We should do good works; we should keep Godís law; we should be baptized and receive the Lordís Supper; we should be faithful members of a local church that stands without compromise for the Gospel and the truth of Scripture. But we do not put our trust in these things; they are not things we do in order to be saved but things we do because we have been saved. The moment anything, including good and necessary things, gets in the way of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, it is no longer furthering Godís provision which is by faith but hindering it, obscuring it, covering it up, stopping it, thwarting it, pushing it away. Sound teaching will never do that. Never! Therefore, we must ask: Is this message teaching me to trust anything instead of Jesus or even in addition to Jesus? That is the infallible mark of false teaching, the sure sign of Scripture being twisted, not truly expounded.
Do you understand? By following this one simple rule every believer, any believer, can tell sound teaching from false doctrine. Every believer can tell sound teachers from false prophets. And every believer is commanded to do so and is held responsible to do so. Does it further Godís provision which is by faith? Now that is a very good question indeed!
So we have a very important question to ask of every teacher and every teaching. But it does more than simply help us to discern sound doctrine and false teaching. Even more gloriously, it focuses our reading and our understanding of Scripture on the one thing necessary, the one thing altogether lovely, the one Person worthy of all our worship and praise and devotion and of all glory, our all-sufficient Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. All teaching is to further Godís provision; therefore, all teaching is to center on Godís provision, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. Well did the great Reformer Martin Luther stress that the whole Bible is about Christ only everywhere. The Old Testament prepares for His coming, the Gospels narrate it, the Epistles explain it and apply it. And therefore all our teaching and all our living should bring Him glory and exalt his holy name.
Indeed, the whole Christian life is nothing but Christ. It is Christ in me that is the hope of glory. It is Christ in me that brings joy for today. It is Christ in me that is greater than He who is in the world. It is Christ in me that gives me the power to live a godly and righteous life. It is because of Christ in me that the love of God is shed abroad in my heart. It is because of Christ that I have joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is in Christ that I have overcome the world. The question, does it further Godís provision which is by faith, is a valid test of sound teaching because of the sufficiency and the centrality of Christ in Scripture, in the cosmos, and in life. Christ gave everything for us; Christ did everything for us; Christ is everything to us. How can we then not give everything for Christ? Let us read Scripture, teach it, and live it in such a way as to further Godís provision which is by faith.
This then we have learned. All our teaching must further Godís provision which is by faith. All of our living must do so too. Then men and women will learn to trust Jesus alone and love him supremely. May God make it so in our lives, our families, and our churches. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams