Published: 2 May 2022

What 1 Timothy 1 Tells Us About False Teachers

False Teachers

There is no shortage of false teachers. False teachers abound today just as they did in the earliest days of the church. They have sown chaos and led people astray for centuries and will continue to do so. 

The term “false teacher” often gets thrown around casually today. Some people will accuse a person of being a false teacher if he holds to some trivial matter which disagrees with local congregational consensus. The New Testament doesn’t use the term “false teacher” the way many people do today. How does the Bible define a false teacher? Let’s make a few observations from 1 Timothy 1 and notice some traits of real false teachers.

False teachers deliberately reject truth

Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:5 CSB17)

The goal or purpose of Paul and Timothy’s teaching was to produce love. Sound teaching taught to a person with a good heart (Lk 8:15) produces sincere faith, a clean conscience, and a pure heart. This is the soil in which love can take root and flourish. Unfortunately, not everyone who hears sound teaching has a good heart.

Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, (1 Tim. 1:6 ESV)

Paul says that those who are leading the Christians in Ephesus astray have swerved away from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. They have swerved away from love!

Paul is making the remarkable assertion in 1 Timothy 1:6 that is easy to overlook. The false teachers in Ephesus did not adopt their counterfeit teachings because their doctrines were more intellectually appealing. In reality it was because they had chosen to abandon love. Their problem is not intellectual, but moral. If there is any doubt about this, Paul removes it in 1 Timothy 1:19 where he says that false teachers have rejected faith and good conscience. 

Rejecting (Greek: apōtheō) is a word indicating a conscious choice. It means to push aside or repudiate.[1]Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000: BDAG, s.v. “ἀπωθέω,” 126. It is not carelessness, or a gradual spiritual decline. Likewise, it was not something they had been misled or tricked about. This was a deliberate rejection of faith and good conscience.

False teachers crave the spotlight

desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Tim. 1:7 ESV)

These teachers were very confident and dogmatic in their assertions, yet had no idea what they were talking about. They desired to be teachers of the law, but more likely they wanted the prestige and reputation that came with such a role. Given their ignorance, it stands to reason they had no real interest in learning the law. 

A man who craves the spotlight would do well to ask himself what his true motivation is.  

Later in the letter of 1 Timothy, Paul tells us that false teachers are proud and conceited. They understand nothing and have an unhealthy craving for controversy resulting in chaos within the church. Their motivation is personal; it’s all about how they can profit by being in the spotlight (1 Tim 6:3-5). A man who craves the spotlight would do well to ask himself what his true motivation is.  

False teachers do what they do because it is all about them. Motivated by greed, they will exploit, manipulate and lie to get what they want. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat 7:15) and the false teacher’s flock is just a means to an end. Whether that end be money, sex, popularity, attention, or power. They will use their sheep, eat their sheep, or do whatever they want to their sheep, to achieve their goals.

False teachers bring reproach upon the church

False teachers are, of course, hypocrites. They do not have a sincere faith, a clean conscience, and a pure heart and therefore have no motivation to live a sanctified life. Eventually, a false teacher’s sins will come to the surface and the world will blaspheme the way of truth because of their hypocrisy (2 Pet 2:2). 

19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Tim. 1:19–20 ESV)

Those who oppose Christianity take great delight when circumstances expose the hypocrisy of someone who allegedly represents Christ. This damages the cause of Christ every time some fake self righteous televangelist, or the like, comes out as a fraud. Unbelievers consider Christians everywhere guilty by association or just poor idiotic sheep too stupid to know their leader is a counterfeit. People who need the salvation that Jesus offers may never find it because they consider Christianity to be a sham.

A false teacher isn’t really a teacher at all

The New Testament does not use the words “false teacher” the way a lot of us do. If someone has come to an honest, but incorrect, conclusion about some spiritual matter and teaches it to others this does not automatically make him a false teacher. Anyone who is growing in Christ has changed their mind about any number of topics as their knowledge of the Scriptures grows. 

A true teacher seeks to edify his students through instruction. In so doing, a person may teach something that is incorrect, but this doesn’t make him a false teacher! In contrast, a false teacher isn’t really a teacher; he is masquerading as one. This is why he is “false”. He is not interested in edifying his students; his interest is in how he may use them. His aim is not to edify the flock, but to use it for his own greedy purpose. May God raise up an army of sound teachers!

References

References
1 Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000: BDAG, s.v. “ἀπωθέω,” 126.