“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
These are some pretty tough words by Paul. He really doesn’t leave much off the table when it comes to calling out those folks who teach doctrine that doesn’t agree with his own which he is confident is absolutely consistent with what Jesus and the rest of the apostles proclaimed. And, given that 13 of his letters got included in the New Testament, I think he has a pretty good case to make that he’s on target. Still and again, these are tough words. What are we to make of them?
Well, Paul basically lays out the fact that folks who teach false doctrine (which he appears to define as anything which deviates from the Scriptures at any point) are doing so for one of three reasons.
First, they are puffed up with conceit and lack even a basic understanding of what they’re talking about. The fact is, it takes a fair bit of humility to proclaim as truth something somebody else said. This becomes particularly true when what they said contradicts what you might want to say about a certain subject.
When someone professing followership of Jesus proclaims as truth something other than what Jesus said (keep in mind that Jesus affirmed the Old Testament as Scripture and the Holy Spirit affirmed the writings of the apostles as consistent with His message), what they are really saying is that they know better than He did what’s true and what’s not. In other words, they are conceited in their knowledge, thinking they know better than Jesus Himself does what is the mind of God. And, if someone believes that, he or she really doesn’t understand anything about the nature or identity of God.
Second, such a person has an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels about words. Think about it: What happens when someone who proclaims to be following Jesus teaches something that doesn’t jive with what Jesus said or the rest of the New Testament seems to affirm? Controversy and quarrels about words ensue. Paul is saying that if you are teaching false doctrine, the reason must be that you like such controversy. Why else would you say things that generate it so consistently?
And let’s go ahead and draw a line of connection here. There are some folks who are willing to plunge headlong into rounds of controversy. Do you know who they are? They’re the folks who are convinced they’re right about something. Well, if you’re constantly generating controversy by saying things that don’t quite line up with what Jesus did, you must think you’re right and He’s wrong. But if you think that, you’ve got a lot of nerve (and by “nerve” I mean ego) because Jesus is God in human flesh and is thus never wrong. About anything. So if you think Jesus is wrong then either you’re wrong or you think you’re God. Either way, you’ve got issues.
Third, these false teachers think godliness is a means of gain. The connection here is pretty easy to make. Why would someone claiming any kind of allegiance to God provoke controversy by taking a position on something that deviated from Jesus’ position on the matter? Either she has the kind of personality that thrives on conflict and debate, or she thinks she is going to somehow benefit from it. He’ll put on a big show of godliness and proclaim truths that vary just a little bit from what Jesus said, but in ways that play nicely into his favor. Eventually, if he gets it right, that favor plays out in dollars. Lots of dollars if she’s really good.
No matter exactly the reason for the false teaching, though, the results are the same. We can see these just between the second and third reasons Paul gives here. He says the quarrels about words happen among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth. Who are these folks? Well, if they’re minds are broken and they don’t have the truth, that’s a pretty good sign they’re lost. And if these lost folks are focused on the controversy and quarrels sparked by these false teachings, they aren’t ever going to tune into what’s actually true.
In other words, they’re going to stay lost. False teachings, that is, keep lost people lost. That’s why the Scriptures makes such a big deal out of them. False teachings keep people separated from God. He’s really not a fan of that happening. Ever. Jesus’ prescription for this was rather graphic. He said it’s better to tie a boulder around your neck and toss it in a lake than teach something false which might result in someone being led away or otherwise kept from Him.
The bottom line here? Truth matters. A lot. Truth leads us into life. Things which keep us away from it keep us mired in death. It may be a death that shines brightly as it burns out, but the end is darkness no matter how we get there. The only solution is to soak ourselves in the Scriptures and to do so in the context of a whole community of Jesus followers who are doing the same thing so that together we can keep each other on track. In other words, if you want to get the life of Christ right, you have to be in the Scriptures daily and be actively engaged with a community of faith. Anything less than that is a recipe for getting off track, first in what we believe, and then in how we behave, the result of which is both us and other people being separated from God. Let’s not take that path.