“A story is told of a man who, resisting the cost of oats he fed his mule, decided to gradually substitute sawdust in its diet. Everything went fine for a while but by the time the mule was satisfied with sawdust, he died. The same is true spiritually. The changeover from truth to error is sometimes a slow process, and the people don’t always know the difference. But, before you know it, they are dead.” 1
We live in a society where truth has been watered down and even abandoned in many cases. You may have heard the term postmodernism used in conversation in recent years. One of the basic beliefs of postmodernism as I see it-and I say that because no one can seem to define postmodernism-is that there are no absolute truths. In a culture that increasingly believes there is no absolute truth it is essential that followers of Christ guard and protect the truth.
The most effective way to confront a culture so deceived by Satan that it believes there is no absolute truth is to know the Truth of scripture and proclaim that truth. And you can defend God’s Word as truth best by proclaiming it-God’s Word is sufficient for it’s own defense.
Back in 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul described the church as the pillar and ground of the truth. That’s why we preach God’s Word in this church. That’s why we give so much time to teaching, preaching and proclaiming the Word of God. IT IS TRUTH. It is our responsibility as a church to uphold the truth. It’s the truth we all need to hear and live by. And it is through the proclamation of this Truth that the Holy Spirit moves the unrepentant sinner to repentance. That’s why we’re taught in Romans 10:14, How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And as we come to the conclusion of our study in 1 Timothy we’re going to see the importance of guarding and proclaiming the Truth.
Look at 1 Timothy 6:20-21.
20 O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge;
21 by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.
“O Timothy”, this is an emotional charge coming from Paul. Paul urges Timothy to guard what had been entrusted to his care. Timothy and we as believers can’t afford to be weak in the guarding of the truth.
It’s a sad fact that there are many churches that have compromised the truth through the ages and churches today continue to walk away from the truth of God’s Word, just as the man feeding his mule compromised the mule’s diet. A little error is mixed in with the truth until finally the truth is so indistinguishable that people are spiritually perishing.
It is a serious responsibility for those who teach the Word of God to be diligent in proclaiming the truth. We live in a society where there is a great deal of confusion about the truth.
A 1991 Barna report reveals the following
“The report indicates a great deal of ambivalence among Americans with regard to their beliefs. For instance, while 62 percent of the respondents said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, 65 percent said the term “born again” does not apply to them; fewer than 50 percent strongly agreed that the Bible is the written word of God and is totally accurate in all it teaches.” 2
This is amazing and disturbing about the church. Fewer than 50 percent strongly agreed that the Bible is the written word of God and is totally accurate in all it teaches? I’m here to warn you that if we fail to believe that the Bible is the written and infallible Word of God, then we are on shaky ground.
Ray Stedman in commenting on Paul’s charge to Timothy to guard the truth said the following…
“God has given us truth, truth never found in any hall of learning or great university in our country or in the world, and yet that truth is the view of reality that is absolutely certain. What a precious thing it is to be able to know the difference between right and wrong, error and truth, and to follow the truth! We “guard” it by using it, by living accordingly, and by not allowing anybody to take it away from us, or to water it down with false representation.” 3
Psalm 25:5 is a reminder to us be prayerful about God leading us into the truth of His Word. It says “Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.” God’s desire is for you to know the truth of His Word, to live by it, and gentlemen, it is your awesome responsibility to take the lead to instruct your family in the truths of God’s Word. I challenge you to make Psalm 25:5 a part of your prayer life-that God would lead you and teach you in His truth.
That should be the desire or each one of us as believers that God would guide us in His truth and teach us. We have a precious possession in the Word of God. We have been entrusted with the truth. It a great privilege for us to have the truth. And when we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word it will transform our lives and give us direction in how we live.
Dave Branon writes for Radio Bible Class and says this,
“Have you noticed that lies are being paraded before us in an endless, morals-destroying stream? Daniel Webster (1782-1852) predicted this when he stated, “If truth be not diffused, error will be. If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy. If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will. If the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land,… corruption and darkness will reign.”
We must proclaim the truth–truth found in the teachings of God’s Word. The psalmist declared, “The entirety of Your Word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Ps. 119:160). Those timeless truths are needed in our world today. For example, we must proclaim the truth that as sinful people we need God’s forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:6-7). We must proclaim the truth that Jesus is the only Savior (Jn. 14:6).
As we stand against the tide of corrupt messages being printed and broadcast without restraint, we must proclaim the truth, promote the truth, and live the truth.
Truth is undeniable. Proclaim it in love and watch it make a difference in people’s lives.” 4
Are we taking care to guard the truth entrusted to us by proclaiming, promoting and living it?
Have you noticed that people don’t always enjoy hearing the truth? How many in the public eye caught in scandal in recent years have come right out and said, “I was wrong – I made some sinful choices”? No-usually what we hear is “I made a mistake”. Sin is no longer sin. We have politically correct ways of defining sin these days. Sinful choices have been renamed as diseases, addictions or alternative lifestyles or a person’s right to choose. No one is responsible for their actions anymore.
Unfortunately those in the church are not immune to this either. Here in 1 Timothy, Paul is reminding Timothy to guard the truth. There must have been good reason for Paul to emphasize this in Timothy’s day.
About this John MacArthur says,
Like today’s church, the believers in first-century Ephesus also faced the temptation to compromise the truth of God’s Word. Ephesus was a fervently pagan city, site of the temple of the goddess Diana (Artemis), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Having ministered there himself for three years (Acts 20:31), Paul was well aware of the pressures and temptations to compromise or abandon the truth facing the Ephesian church. Not surprisingly, then, his two letters to their pastor (Timothy) are filled with exhortations to live, proclaim, and guard the truth. 5
It is as relevant to us today as it was in Timothy’s day. Many in Christian circles today have been duped by so called “Christian teachers”. We need to take great care that what we read that instructs us in the Christian life is written by Godly Christian authors thoroughly grounded in the truths of the scriptures. Likewise we must take care that the preachers in our churches and the ones we listen to on the radio and the ones we watch on television are teaching the truth of God’s Word.
MacArthur also makes this valuable observation about the importance of sound teaching,
“There were much better times in the history of the church when Christians were encouraged to think biblically, to think theologically, to test everything, to search the scriptures thoroughly, to distinguish carefully its truths. And when discovering what was true, to take a stand and be immovable. Today, those who take firm stands on biblical doctrine are very frequently criticized for splitting hairs and being unloving because the norm today is to gaze lazily at the surface of scriptural truth and then even justify such cavalier shallowness as the desirable generosity of spirit toward those who differ. This is rampant in the church. You sort of just scan Scripture and you don’t want to be too dogmatic because if you’re dogmatic that’s unloving to someone else who has a different opinion. And after all, we certainly don’t want to split hairs. Jay Adams writes, “Nowhere is this tendency more apparent than in Christian counseling.” He also writes, quote: “Self-styled experts in psychology, sociology and education who hold Ph.Ds in their fields and Sunday-school degrees in Bible pontificate on Christian teaching and life setting themselves up as spokesmen for God.” 6
Error can seep into the church and has crept into many. If it weren’t a concern Paul wouldn’t have had to remind Timothy to guard the truth.
We need to be vigilant in God’s church to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. It can be all too easy to rely on man’s opinion when trying to understand the truths of the scriptures. We must guard against error stealing into the church taking the place of the truth.
Not only was Timothy to guard what was committed to his trust, Paul also admonishes him to avoid the dangers of “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.”
Let’s understand what this means. Profane here is that which is ungodly, worldly-that which is outside the truth. Idle babblings is empty talk-it’s the kind of useless arguments that leads to that which is ungodly. And contradictions in this case are opposing arguments to the truth.
Timothy was to avoid the ungodly, worldly and empty talk of those who only want to pick verbal fights by opposing the truth. There’s a danger in getting caught up in useless arguments with those who only seek to oppose the truth.
And the danger is what we find in verse 21. We see that by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. By believing those who oppose the truth they stray from the truth, they’ve missed the mark-they abandon the truth.
It’s a sad reality. Many are lead astray by false teaching and by those who argue with the truth.
Chuck Colson shared the following on his radio program, Breakpoint that illustrates the importance of holding fast to sound doctrine and steering clear of false teaching…
This wasn’t your usual dinner crowd. Thirty-nine identically dressed people sat down for supper at a San Diego restaurant and ordered turkey pot pies. Then they went home and all 39 committed suicide in the bizarre hope of salvation aboard an alien spaceship.
…Why would seemingly normal, intelligent people give their lives for such a far-fetched set of beliefs? The answer is that for many people meeting emotional needs is more important than searching for truth.
Consider the views of Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist who studies cults. In U.S. News & World Report, Luhrmann writes that groups like Heaven’s Gate satisfy people’s “need for belonging… and the secret hope of finding an all-caring parent who offers protection and comfort.”
These needs are not bad in themselves. The problem comes if we put psychological needs ahead of questions of truth. If we let emotions take the lead, we’re vulnerable to being misled-taken in by ideas that are false and destructive.
Yet, ironically, most Americans define religion itself in purely emotional terms. As Luhrmann puts it, people enter cults because they’re “comforting and [it feels] like joining a religion.” After all, she goes on, “Magic, God, and a belief that one belongs on a different planet [all] fit into the same category of knowledge.”
This may sound outrageous, but unfortunately Luhrmann’s definition of religion is far too common-even among Christians. In many churches, the Gospel is “sold” like a consumer item: on the basis of the personal benefits it confers-inner peace, a sense of belonging or self-esteem.
This idea was illustrated by a Doonesbury comic strip that shows a young couple interviewing a minister. “We’re looking for a church… where we can feel good about ourselves,” the wife says. She adds: “I’m not sure the guilt thing works for us.”
“On the other hand,” her husband remarks, “you do offer racquetball.”
The humor works because so many churches today focus on offering a multitude of feel-good programs and activities. Yet the church’s primary mission is to proclaim the truth of the faith, no matter how it makes people feel. As David Wells puts it in his book No Place for Truth, our first concern should be “is the gospel true-objectively, absolutely true?”
Of course, once we address the question of truth, then the truth does lead to emotional and personal fulfillment. The issue is what comes first: Do we search out the truth-and let that heal our emotional wounds? Or do we look for answers to our emotional needs and ignore questions of truth?
If we lead with our emotions, we are just as prone as the 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult to fall into error-and even tragedy.
The consequences of straying from the truth are tragic. We need to be aware of the danger and take heed that we are not taken in by false teaching. There’s a lot of empty talk that passes for God’s Word in these days when many churches are looking for ways to make people feel good about themselves instead of teaching the truths of God’s Word and letting it do it’s work. We don’t have to look too far to find examples of this kind of empty talk or babbling in our own day. Ray Stedman observed,
“That is why Paul says to avoid the counterfeit, because there is in every age something called knowledge which is not knowledge at all. In that 1st century, such knowledge was what was called Gnosticism, a false philosophy that encouraged people to worship angels and to get special revelations for themselves. In our day it is secular humanism, which is exalted on every side and claimed to be the way of truth, the way of reality. But it too fulfills the characteristics Paul speaks of here — “godless chatter,” profane babblings, talking endlessly about man, his abilities and his wisdom, but never recognizing God.” 7
Bible teachers, Sunday School teachers, and preachers must be on guard that we aren’t taken in by false teaching-that we-as Dave Branon says-“proclaim the truth, promote the truth, and live the truth.”
But it’s not just those who teach the Word. Look at the last phrase of verse 21, grace be with you. Paul goes beyond just speaking to Timothy and speaks to the whole congregation at Ephesus.
All who follow Christ must be diligent to guard the truth of God’s Word and not be led astray even by those who call themselves “Christian” but are teaching error.
But how do we put this into practice? I want to give you, briefly, seven steps you can put into practice to guard the truth in your life and in this church.
First, [you guard the truth] by believing the Word of God. In John 5:24, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
Second, [you guard the truth] by honoring the Word. Job said, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (Job 23:12)
Third, [you guard the truth] by loving the Word. In Psalm 119:97 , the psalmist professes, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Fourth, [you guard the truth] by obeying the Word. In John 8:31 , Jesus said to those who had professed belief in Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”
Fifth, [you guard the truth] by proclaiming the Word. Paul charged Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
Sixth, [you guard the truth] by defending the Word. Jude 3 reads, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Seventh, [you guard the truth] by studying the Word. Paul commanded Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” ( 2 Tim. 2:15 ). 8
I want you to hear something John MacArthur has written that I feel is important we understand.
The most important yardstick by which a church can be measured is not how large it is, how good its fellowship is, or how interesting the pastor is. It is not how good the music is, how well the grounds are kept up, or how respected it is in the community. The most important measure of any church is how it handles the Word of God. Whether or not they teach and live out divine truth is the key issue, because the church’s responsibility before God is to guard and proclaim the truths of Scripture. Consequently, the most severe crime against God is to mishandle His revelation, thus portraying a false, idolatrous image of Him to the world. 9
2 The Barna Report: What Americans Believe, 1991, quoted in 9/16/91, Christianity Today
3 O MAN OF GOD! Ray C. Stedman (http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/timothy/3781.html)
4 Our Daily Bread, August 20, 1999 Proclaiming The Truth Dave Branon )
5 MacArthur, J. F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy (electronic ed.)
6 John MacArthur, A Call for Discernment 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 )
7 O MAN OF GOD! Ray C. Stedman (http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/timothy/3781.html)
8 MacArthur, J. F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy (electronic ed.)
9 MacArthur, J. F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy (electronic ed.)