Theme: Knowing Your Enemy
In this week’s lessons, we see that the Christian life is one of warfare, in which we are called to flee from unrighteousness, and pursue that which is pleasing to God.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:11, 12
Now one thing about warfare is that you’ve got to know your enemy. If you think your enemy is Country A and your real enemy is Country B, you are going to be marshalling all your forces against the wrong enemy when the real enemy is going to get you from another direction. The only way to wage a successful battle is to know who your enemy is and know who your allies are. And so it’s no surprise that Paul turns his attention to that against which Timothy is to wage this warfare, and against which he’s to stand.
It’s interesting that, as Paul begins to develop this theme in verses 3 through 10, he’s not talking primarily about the world, as I see it. Certainly he is not excluding the unbelievers of the world from the enemy Timothy is to wage war against. But Paul appears to have a different enemy in mind here. The people he’s talking about are not believers, while, nevertheless, they function under the umbrella of the apparent church. They come along, pretending to be teachers of Christian doctrine, while actually they are undermining that doctrine. Or they come across as those pretending to help the church, when actually they’re in it for their own advantage.
In verses 3-10, we can see three different kinds of enemies. First is the false teachers, and Paul certainly had experience with people like this in his ministry. In verse 3 Paul writes, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.” People like this come into a church and claim to be great teachers, but actually they are teaching that which is not Christianity at all.
Secondly, there are people whom I suppose we would just call “troublemakers.” He describes those who have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and arguments that result in envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” Paul had experience with people like this as well. You’ll recall that when he was in prison in Rome and was writing his letter to the Philippians, he pointed out that there were people there in Rome who were stirring up all kinds of trouble. Perhaps it was even this kind of thing that led to Paul’s execution. First Clement, one of the early books of Christian writing, though not a book of the biblical canon, alludes to envy and friction, causing the death of Peter and Paul. If Clement was writing in Rome, perhaps he had firsthand evidence of what had happened after Luke’s account in Acts ends.
Now as long as even troublemakers like these were preaching the gospel, what did Paul say to the Philippians? He said, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (1:18). But if they were not preaching the gospel, then they fall under the kind of warning that Paul is giving Timothy here. Such people cause divisions and disunity in the church, which dishonors Christ and is detrimental to the expansion of the gospel.
Paul talks about a third thing that Timothy is to be on guard against, which is seen in the last phrase of verse 5, describing those “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” He then picks up on this idea in a fuller way beginning in verse 6, saying, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” He continues this theme by adding, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”
We don’t know the situation that Paul must have had in his mind as he wrote this, but I would imagine that he was thinking back over people he had known, and perhaps even people he had known in the churches, who seemed to be most interested in getting money. Maybe Paul is even aware of individuals where Timothy is ministering. They were trying to use Christianity as a means to becoming richer. And as he’s warning Timothy to be on guard against such people, he expands his instruction to talk about the danger of riches in general.
Certainly when we look at Scripture, we have many examples of the dangers of wealth. This is not to say, of course, that God doesn’t give great wealth to Christians to be used in a proper way. But there’s certainly a danger in wealth. We think of Achan, for example, in the early years of Israel’s history at the time of their invasion of the Promised Land. They had conquered Jericho, and the walls had fallen down. God had told them not to take any of the things for themselves in this first conquest; he was going to give them the whole land, after all. Rather, they were to take what they found in Jericho and dedicate it to the Lord.
But Achan did something different. He went into a house, and saw things he wanted—gold, silver, and a lovely garment made in Babylon. Rather than collecting them and turning them over to the Lord, he instead took them for himself and hid them in his tent. As a result of that, judgment came on the people, and they lost their next battle. Having wondered what had happened and why they had lost, it was pointed out that there was sin in the camp, and Achan was found out. Consequently, Achan and his family were stoned in order to maintain purity among the people of Israel. In this case, it was greed that brought about Achan’s disobedience, and the subsequent outpouring of God’s wrath in judgment.
For Further Study:
What are the three kinds of enemies against which Paul warns Timothy as coming from within the church?
Explain how each kind can inflict damage in the church?
Application: What can you do to better familiarize yourself with false teaching when you hear it in order to reject and refute it?
Reflection: Do you know anyone who might be described by Paul as a “troublemaker,” one who seems to enjoy controversy and arguments? How can you, or someone else, lovingly admonish them to stop being divisive?