Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightiest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,
Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. (1 Tim. 1:1-4)
When Paul went into Macedonia he left Timothy at Ephesus to resist those who preached "other doctrine." Paul here identifies himself as an apostle with authority from both the Father and the Son not for Timothy's sake, who would not have doubted such, but for those to whom this letter would be delivered after Timothy. Paul's name represented the authority conferred on him by the Father and the Son. Paul's name not only conferred authority on his own words, but on Timothy, his "son in the faith," to whom he had given instruction to warn against "other doctrine."
The admonition against "other doctrine" could have a double meaning. It can mean new doctrine and refer to the substance of what was actually taught. New teachings have often had as their intended purpose the redirection of the Faith when denial would be unacceptable. The term can also mean to teach in a different way. This would be a wider application. It is to say that there is not only one truth but one way to teach it. The problem with the doctrine in Ephesus may have likely come from the church officers themselves, as Acts 20:30 anticipated. "Some," not all, were at fault; and Timothy's presence and the apostle's influence was apparently to insure orthodoxy prevailed.
It is important to realize the necessity of orthodoxy. Heresy is not a rejection or denial of the Faith. That would be unbelief or apostasy, and can be easily identified. Heresy will be found only in the professing church. False doctrines can be far more pernicious than denied doctrines. False doctrines added to the Faith can give new priorities, new emphases, and lead to new and false assumptions or conclusions. Ideas have consequences, and many of both are not doctrinally legitimate.
The greatest problems Christianity has faced have been from within. Without we expect unbelief, denial, and even challenges. Within the church we often are urged to consider the wolves in sheep's clothing as "good, well-meaning Christians, too." As long as they look like sheep, sound like sheep, and profess to be sheep, we wrongly tend to consider the wolves in our midst to be "good, well-meaning sheep, too."
But wolves are never sheep. They are not interested in the good of the sheep, and if not recognized and challenged by those who are responsible for the flock will soon turn and devour. It is not without reason that Christians are called sheep in Scripture. Sheep are helpless and have no natural defenses. When predators sense the helplessness and panic of sheep, especially in confined quarters, they tend to kill repeatedly until the whole fold is destroyed. Exhausted by their killing spree, they sometimes leave the carcasses without so much as feeding on their kill.
Timothy says that men have a tendency to have "itching ears" and to give themselves to fables (2 Tim. 4:3-4). But fables may also refer to that which is good in its proper place and usage but which is easily abused by using it to detract from the Faith and the Word. Water is necessary and vital to life but we cannot overemphasize its importance to the exclusion of food. Likewise, when men take God's Word selectively and attribute to its parts an improper use, significance, or emphasis, it becomes falsified into the doctrines and commandments of men. Paul warned against "words to no profit" and "profane and vain babblings" (2 Tim. 2:14, 16; 1 Tim. 6:20). It is God's Word that we must heed and preach. When we distort it into our own message, God's truth is falsified into a fable.
Paul also warns of endless genealogies. Various Gentile groups delved into genealogies at great length. He more likely refers here to the practice of the Jews. We know in our Lord's day they were falsely confident of their descent from Abraham, as though their race made them righteous in God's sight. But it was also important to trace one's ancestry to the great men of the Old Testament, to rabbis, and to leaders of the synagogues. But many of the tribal distinctions were lost by the time of Ezra. At the return from captivity some families were declared to be pure and others mixed or even bastard (note Ezra 2:62). Still, they went to great length to keep careful records of ancestry and marriage. Families could be shamed by being declared of illegitimate origin. A prominent man could be brought to shame or specially favored by having his history either revealed or concealed. Herod made a point of having genealogical writings burned in order to hide his origins.
With pride or shame riding on geneologies, it is apparent how they would lead to endless questions and debates. But what was important in Ephesus was not one's birth, but one's rebirth. It was not the covenant to Abraham that was essential but the new covenant in Jesus Christ. It was not the history of the old man in Adam, but the regenerate new man in Christ.
Geneologies are not without their merit. Those in Scripture show us the faithfulness of our covenant God who fulfills all His promises. They are not there for vain or personal reasons. Geneologies may also strengthen the godly family, especially if they can see a heritage of faithfulness.
Too often such things detract from our service to God or they only serve to "minister questions." Paul says such love of questions and controversy over words leads to "envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputing of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth" (1 Tim. 6:4-5). We are to avoid that which leads to such foolish questions (2 Tim. 2:23; Titus 3:9) and to withdraw ourselves from those who engender them (1 Tim. 6:5).
Our goal is "godly edifying which is in faith." It is true doctrine, the Word, which builds us up in the Faith. Men are not sanctified by means of human words but by God's Word. That is to be the source of our message to one another. This edifying is in faith, both the grace of faith which saves us, and the doctrine of faith in the Word. We cannot improve on the Word of God, though, if we are not careful, we may detract from its presentation by polluting it with "other doctrines."