Okay, I have a bit of a test. I'm going to read four statements for you, and I want you to tell me what they have in common. Ready?
- Dogs are really the same as cats.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs are a great football team.
- We are all descended from pirates.
- Left socks always have to go on before right socks.
So let's see who knows what these statements all have in common. Anyone?
The biggest thing that these statements have in common is that they are wrong. All of them are flat out wrong. Dogs are not the same as cats; they're much smarter! The Leafs are not a great football team; they're not even a great hockey team. We are not all descended from pirates, although there's a chance that I am. And you are allowed to put on your right sock first if you want to. Nothing wrong with this.
Let me give you four more statements to see if you can find out what they have in common.
- It really doesn't matter what you believe.
- We all worship the same God.
- I get to decide what's right for me.
- Nobody knows what happens after we die.
Anyone know what these statements have in common? They actually have a lot of things in common. They're all pretty popular. There are probably people in this room who believe at least some of these things. If I say that they're wrong, then someone will probably tell me that this is just my opinion. Besides being popular, they're also wrong.
The reason that I bring these four things up is because the passage we just read from 1 Timothy tells us three things that are important for us to know. Here's the first:
We're going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.
That's the first thing we need to understand. The passage we just read teaches us that we are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain persons not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God's work--which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-5)
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
Here's what Paul is saying in these verses: you are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things. People are going to stand up in church and teach them. They are going to be believed by some people. The people who believe these things are essentially going to walk away from the faith. We are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.
Nobody is really sure what wrong things were being taught in Ephesus. People have some ideas. It's called the Ephesian heresy. In a way it's not important what the exact heresy was. It is important, though, to realize that we face our own heresies in our own day. And the Bible says you're going to be tempted to believe some wrong things.
The reason I bring this up is because a lot of people don't even think there is such a thing as wrong beliefs. A lot of us are tempted today to think that it's all a matter of perspective, and that all of us see different parts of the truth, and nobody sees the whole picture. We may even think it's arrogant to say that one view is right and other views are wrong.
But there are all kinds of problems with this. For one thing, the minute you say that it's true that there's no such thing as truth, you've contradicted yourself. The minute you claim to have universal insight into the fact that universal insights are wrong and arrogant, you've become wrong and arrogant yourself. Not only that, but nobody lives that way. If the bank accidentally takes $50 out of your bank account, I don't know anyone who would say, "Well, you have your perspective and I have mine." No, you'd say, "Give me my $50 back!"
So the Bible tells us that we're going to be tempted to believe some wrong things. Here's the second thing that it tells us:
Some of these wrong things are going to be dangerous.
You see what this picture is? A shipwreck. A friend of mine found a map of Newfoundland that showed all the shipwrecks. He couldn't believe how many there were. I went on Wikipedia this week and counted 48 shipwrecks in Ontario alone. Each one involved danger, loss of wealth, and loss of life. You can lose everything in a shipwreck.
Paul writes to Timothy that some have believed false teachings and "so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith" (1 Timothy 1:19). Do you know what Paul is saying here? You're going to be tempted to believe the wrong thing, and this is dangerous. It doesn't matter if you believe the Leafs are a great football team or not. It doesn't matter if you think you're descended from pirates. It's weird, but it won't really hurt you. But believing the wrong things about God and what he teaches in the Word is dangerous. It could lead you to shipwreck your life. It could change your eternity.
If you go to a drugstore and pick up a prescription, it comes with all kinds of warnings. My favorite was from a drug I was asked to take twenty years ago. One of the possible side-effects was black hairy tongue. I'm not kidding. You can look it up. It's a fungus. In case you're wondering, I never took the prescription.
There ought to be warnings about what we believe. What you believe can be dangerous. If you believe the wrong thing about God and about the gospel, it can be fatal. Children in the Netherlands dug up this really cool thing in the ground. They actually played with it for months before somebody realized what it was: an unexploded shell filled with explosives from World War II. The authorities came in and blew it up before it could hurt anyone. They didn't know the danger of what they were dealing with.
We're going to be tempted to believe wrong things, and some of these things are going to be dangerous. They can shipwreck your life. They can explode on you. They're far more dangerous than you realize. This is a huge danger for churches.
Paul tells us what to do about it.
So the church must devote itself to Scripture.
Every week, somebody gets up here and opens the Bible and teaches. Why do we do this? Because this is how Paul teaches us to handle the danger of false teaching, of believing the wrong things:
- If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (4:6)
- Command and teach these things. (4:11)
- Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (4:13)
- Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (4:15-16)
Let's try to follow what Paul is saying here. We are going to be tempted to believe some wrong things. Some of the things we're going to be tempted to believe are not only wrong, they're dangerous. They could kill us. And yet people right inside the church are going to try to get us to believe them. And the way to respond to this is to focus on God's Word as a church. Point out what the Bible teaches. Command and teach what the Bible teaches. Publicly read the Scripture as a church. Preach and teach the Bible. Be diligent. Continually grow, and persist in doing this. And if we do this as a church, we can save ourselves and also those who listen to us.
This is Paul's prescription for us. The best way to make sure we are believing the right things, and avoiding the wrong things, is to focus on God's Word as our authority. That's why every Sunday someone stands up here, and open God's Word. It's not because I have anything to say. It's because the Bible has something to say to us. It's not only that we read it; it reads us. It reveals things about us that we need to know. It makes us wise for salvation. It teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us so that we become competent and equipped for every good work.
It's also why it's our authority. Do you know what a norm is? A norm is the standard by which everything else is measured. A couple of hundred years ago, people knew what a meter was. It was one ten-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the equator at the longitude of Paris. But if you wanted to decide what a meter was in real life, that definition wasn't too useful to you.
So in 1799, they made a platinum bar. It became the international standard for what a meter is. It became the norm by which everything else was compared. If you wanted to find out what a meter was, you had to compare it to this bar.
In a sense, that's what the Bible is for us. It's the standard by which everything else is measured. It's how we know what is right and wrong and what we should believe. It's why we preach. Because we'll be tempted to believe wrong and dangerous things, focus on God's Word. As someone has said, "Preaching is not sharing or chatting but rather proclaiming with authority and passion the truth of God's Word about Jesus."
So let's close this off this morning. Do you realize that you're going to be tempted to believe all kinds of wrong and crazy things? Do you realize that what you believe actually matters? If you believe the wrong things, it can actually shipwreck you.
If you do, I hope you'll see why we preach every week. And I hope you'll also see the one we're preaching about, the one that all of Scripture is about: Jesus, who is the Word , who offered his life for us. Paul says that if we do these things, and persist in doing them, that the preacher will save both himself and his hearers.
So let's review. You'll be tempted to believe what? Wrong things. These wrong things will be what? Dangerous. And the solution? Focus on the Bible, and on Jesus who is revealed through the Bible.
Father, thank you for your Word. Most of all, thank you that your Word corrects our wrong beliefs and leads us to Jesus. May we be a church that uses Scripture as our norm, that is devoted to God's Word. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.