Paul Gives Us Advice On False Teachers That’s Still Relevant Today

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

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The Pauline letters to Timothy are written late in Paul’s career. Timothy is a much younger man who had joined Paul in his missionary work around 49 AD. In many ways, he is one of those to whom Paul is passing on the reigns of his ministry. Though Timothy is young, it is clear that his faith is strong.

Paul, and the young Church, is facing a new challenge already by this time. It is no longer the challenge of the “Judaizers” that he writes about in his letter to the Galatians, rather, it is a challenge from false teachers within the new Christian communities. They are the gnostics, who stress the possession of a particular kind of special “knowledge,” rather than the Gospel. Paul is directing his comments here, not to particular communities, but to those who, like Timothy, shepherd the many congregations.

Timothy, a young man personally converted to the faith by Paul was of mixed Jewish and Gentile parents. He was Paul’s traveling missionary companion on the first and second missionary journeys undertaken by Paul. At the time of this writing he is the “administrator for the entire Ephesian community.” (1 Tm 1:3) Paul is giving him his best pastoral advice for how to deal with this new challenge from the gnostics. It serves as the best advice for each one of us as well.

Sometimes words are not sufficient, either in argument, or in conversation. To hear the words of another one must first listen. Often in argument, we get caught up in forming our own next point, and on being victorious, rather than truly listening with our ears, our eyes and our hearts to what the other is saying to us. Because of this our arguments go nowhere, or end up creating even more tensions between us and those with whom we are “arguing.” Paul is telling Timothy, and by proxy ourselves, that sometimes the best way to preach and to teach is by our actions. Our actions really do speak louder than our words. Hence his advice to Timothy is the perfect advice to us as well. “…set the believers [and the non-believers] an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” We are to walk the talk of our Gospel faith. We are to live the Gospel openly with our daily lives in all that we say and do. This will be our best preaching, our best teaching, to those who wish to challenge our faith. Some may be impressed with words, but only for a time, for words are often like mirages in the distance. Think here of the parable of the sower. But our good conduct, our love, our living faith and purity will speak much louder that any words, for they are evidence, in and of themselves, of our our faith in Jesus Christ. As Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach always and, if necessary, use words.”

Lord, help us to be good examples of faith, love and purity. Give us the wisdom to always speak your truth with kindness and confidence. Help us with your grace to love as you loved, to be strong in our faith, and to remain pure in mind and body. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.