“Distracted by Talk”: How to Recognize False Teaching

“Distracted by Talk”: How to Recognize False Teaching June 19, 2024

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Not everything that sounds biblical is biblically sound. How can we avoid being “distracted by talk that doesn’t mean anything”?

Scripture:       

2 Kings, chapters 1-3; Psalm 82; 1 Timothy, chapter 1

1 Timothy 1:3-11 (CEB):

When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Because they have missed this goal, some people have been distracted by talk that doesn’t mean anything. They want to be teachers of Law without understanding either what they are saying or what they are talking about with such confidence.

Now we know that the Law is good if used appropriately. We understand this: the Law isn’t established for a righteous person but for people who live without laws and without obeying any authority. They are the ungodly and the sinners.  They are people who are not spiritual, and nothing is sacred to them. They kill their fathers and mothers, and murder others. They are people who are sexually unfaithful, and people who have intercourse with the same sex. They are kidnappers, liars, individuals who give false testimonies in court, and those who do anything else that is opposed to sound teaching. Sound teaching agrees with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that has been trusted to me.

Observations: Distracted by Talk

Paul dives right in. His purpose in writing to Timothy is clear: so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching.  These individuals apparently taught in the church in Ephesus. After all, why would Paul direct Timothy to instruct those who were outside the church? And why would he expect people outside the church to listen to Timothy’s instruction?

So teachers within the church in Ephesus were spreading wrong teaching, and wrong teaching within the Church is dangerous. We want to believe that those who are teaching in the Church are grounded in Christ and Scripture. Surely the Church would make sure that teachers were qualified and trustworthy? Unfortunately, the Church is susceptible to false teachers. Anybody can claim to be a “teacher of the Word.” Unfortunately, bad teachers can mislead those who don’t know Scripture simply by sounding “spiritual.”

Wrong Teaching

The first type of wrong teaching that Paul identifies is “myths and endless genealogies.” Paul doesn’t identify specifically what types of myths and endless genealogies he means. Instead, he explains why this sort of teaching is dangerous: it only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. In other words, good teaching is that which promotes faithfulness to God’s way of doing things.

Paul then points out the evidence of such good teaching: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. These qualities reflect God’s work in every part of our lives – our emotions, our thoughts, and our actions. Good teaching focuses our attention on God and his kingdom. Wrong teaching focuses our attention on anything else. In verse 6, Paul laments the fact that some people have been distracted by talk that doesn’t mean anything. Satan doesn’t try to attack believers by making them evil; he attacks by trying to distract us from God.  “Let’s…fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Application: Distracted by Talk that Doesn’t Mean Anything

In our day, every issue is existential. We can no longer disagree agreeably, because everything is a matter of life and death. That is most evident when people talk about politics. Both parties warn us, “The future of America is at stake!” But is that the most important thing?  Jesus reminds us that it is not: “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33, NASB).

I’ve commented numerous times on the ways that politicians use fear to try to motivate us. (See, for example, “Do Not Be Afraid” or “Don’t Call Everything a Conspiracy” among others.) The reason they do is the same reason Satan uses fear on us: fear leads us to react rather than to reason. In other words, fear causes us to ignore what we’ve learned – sound teaching.

But fear is not the only danger. We need to recognize talk that doesn’t mean anything. Such teaching threatens our spiritual health. As I noted above, becoming fixated on things that sound biblical but are contrary to Jesus’ teaching can cause us to lose focus, and ultimately lose our way. Rather than trying to identify the different types of “talk that doesn’t mean anything,” Paul tells us how to recognize good teaching: that which develops love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Pay attention to Scripture, and reject distracting talk that doesn’t mean anything! 

Prayer:

Father, many voices seek to “teach” us. You have given your Church teachers who enlighten us. The Holy Spirit also teaches us and leads us into the truth. Give us the wisdom and discernment to distinguish between good teaching and “talk that doesn’t mean anything.” And help those of us who teach to stay grounded in You and your Word, so we don’t distract people from hearing and seeing You. Amen.

 

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