1 Timothy 6 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Opposing False Teachers
The Christian leader must not forget the responsibility to protect the faith. Those of Paul's readers who fell into this category, including Timothy, were to discharge this duty by teaching and urging the true faith (v. 2). The command that sets Timothy in this mode again (see also 3:14; 4:6, 11; 5:7, 21) also reminds them that in this operation the Christian leader is not unarmed. Paul has given specific teaching (these . . . things) for confrontation with the false teachers.
Having repeated the command, Paul issues a kind of "wanted poster." It is the counterpart to the "job description" given in chapter 3. Notably, each begins with the general if anyone (compare 5:4, 16; Tit 1:6). Here, verses 3-6 consist of one long sentence in the Greek, beginning with the "criminal" and the "crime" and going on to give identifying characteristics in a list of vices. By using the list (compare 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-4; Tit 3:3) Paul meant to create a strong stereotype or caricature of the false teacher that would communicate primarily two things: an authoritative denunciation and a solemn warning. Readers, after seeing this "poster," would not be likely to form or maintain casual attitudes about the false teachers or their doctrine.
Paul first categorizes their ministry. As in 1:3, he charges them with, literally, "teaching different doctrine." False doctrines were determined on the basis of divergence from the approved teaching of the church. The remainder of verse 3 defines the approved canon or standard. Sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ is a reference to the gospel about Christ which Paul himself introduced. It produces soundness or spiritual health in those that receive it (see 1:10). The approved teaching is that which can be measured by "godliness" (the NIV godly teaching is too vague; compare Tit 1:2). The true gospel announces and produces a genuinely transformed lifestyle.
What characterized the opponents? First, verse 4 tells us they were conceited. They felt that they had special knowledge of God, better knowledge than the apostle had. In fact, they did not, and the arrogant air about them betrayed their unregenerate nature; gentleness, a quality of true spirituality in the Pastorals (6:11; 2 Tim 2:25; compare 2 Cor 10:1), was totally absent.
Second, they were ignorant. Paul's phrase (literally, "understanding or knowing nothing") recalls the tone of 1:7. These teachers were not simply misguided, they were totally ignorant. This was apparent as their doctrine was measured against the apostle's and as their conduct was measured against true godliness. Moreover, from the context it seems that this condition was a culpable one, for it came about as the result of decisions made about the apostolic gospel which they knew (compare 1:13).
Third, they took perverse pleasure in controversy and quarreling. This so marked their behavior that Paul describes them as "sick with" (having an unhealthy interest in) disputes. As this dangerous sickness spreads, it produces poisons that destroy relationships and church unity.
Paul lists several. Envy is a discontented thirst for advantage and position that breeds distrust. In Galatians 5:21 it stands in opposition to the joy and peace that the Spirit produces. Strife refers to an atmosphere of constant struggle. Malicious talk and evil suspicions, rumor-spreading and distrust, are the offspring of envy and strife. This list closes in verse 5 with the graphic summary constant friction.
Ultimately, the disease spread by the heretics would result in a kind of spiritual mental illness. Paul makes the same connection in verse 5 between corrupt behavior and rejection of God that he did in Romans 1. There, rejection of the knowledge of God is seen to spawn a corrupt life (Rom 1:28-32). Here, the corrupt mind and being robbed of the truth amount to the same thing. The heretics could no longer apprehend God's truth because their mind, that organ of rational discernment, had been corrupted by false teaching (2 Tim 3:8; Tit 1:15).
It is little wonder, then, that missionaries of the cults are so resistant to the gospel and so easily angered in theological discussions. Corrupt minds and argumentative dispositions go hand in hand with opposition to the gospel.
This poster caricature of the heretics concludes with the main point Paul wishes to develop. These false teachers were "selling" their teaching. People in that day were often suspicious of the motives of teachers of religion and philosophy. Paul apparently had to deal with similar allegations himself (1 Thess 2:5), and Christians were warned about peddlers of the gospel (Rom 16:17-18; 2 Pet 2:2; 1 Pet 5:2). Here godliness may refer to one of the errorists' own catchwords (see 2 Tim 3:5), their special knowledge of the divine (6:20). As they taught certain things that people wanted to hear (2 Tim 4:3) and offered initiation into an elite club, the false teachers discovered a lucrative business (compare Tit 1:11). In reality, this was the result of corrupted minds that had broken from the truth of the gospel.
As much as we would prefer to avoid this warning, we must not allow Paul's concentration on the motives of false teachers to deflect this word's relevance for those in Christian vocations today. While there is no easy rule to apply, we must constantly evaluate the influence of "financial packages" and "fee structures" on our motives, and be willing before the Lord to make radical adjustments.