They say that when you are driving you shouldn’t take your eyes off the road for more than a second. I remember learning that in Drivers Ed. The sad thing is I don’t always do that. That’s because I get sidetracked pretty easily.
She knows how bad I am at this. There is always the potential that I can have something serious happen to me.
One time was with my brother. Michael asked me if I could drive him to a friend’s house. And we came to a light where we were going to cross main street. I saw the light was red, so I started slowing down. The bad thing was I didn’t see the car in front of me. For some reason my brother and I were looking at the BP station there on the corner of Union and Main. I don’t remember if I was looking for something in particular or not (It might have been the price of gas or looking for an air pump). I do remember thinking how stupid it would sound to the guy now getting out of his car when I said, “I’m sorry, I just wasn’t paying attention.”
Thankfully I wasn’t going that fast and there wasn’t any damage to either of our cars. Being sidetracked though can be serious. There is potential for a great deal of harm when you’re not paying attention. And the same can be true of the church.
A church can loose her focus. We can become sidetracked. And if that happens there can be serious consequences. How can I say that? Because it almost happened to the Ephesian church.
The passage before us addresses a church that was in danger of imploding. They had become sidetracked. It was so bad that Paul had to send Timothy special directives on how to deal with the problem.
I want us to remain a healthy church, so it is important that we resist becoming sidetracked.
But how do you know when you have become sidetracked? Well, that happens when we …
I. Focus on the most insignificant matters
The Ephesian church had become intrigued with just these types of things. Paul says that Timothy should teach these people not to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
Now we don’t know exactly what had captured their attention. And certainly I am not going to speculate about what they may have been speculating. What we can say is that the Ephesians were delving into maters that had absolutely no grounds in reality. For sure they were not merely discussing their own genealogy. There is nothing wrong with tracing your family tree. These were fictional things. Things of no real importance. They delighted themselves in playful theories, meaningless rumors, and frivolous conjecture: All things of no real significance.
And these are the things that can harm our church the most. When we get sidetracked from biblical doctrines, and our minds are tickled by fanciful ideas we become sidetracked. We loose our focus on God and his glorious work.
In seminary the students were required to fill pulpits on occasion. These assignments would take us all over the country. On one occasion I had the opportunity to preach at a church in Wisconsin. These were loving people of God and my wife and I were warmly welcomed into their midst. After the service I was talking with various congregation members. One of them came up to me and introduced himself. We began a delightful conversation about different bible topics. But just as quickly as the conversation started it took a very odd turn. The man asked me who I thought the white horseman in the book of Revelation was. At first I thought he was merely testing the extent my Bible knowledge. I responded by saying, “If I know what passage you are talking about, I think it is Jesus.”
He said, “That’s what a lot of people think, but I think it is Satan.” Surprised by his conclusion I said, “Oh really.” Then for the next 20 minutes he began to talk about all the commentaries that he has read on this one subject and how he disagreed with them all.
It turns out that he had devoted himself to proving this fanciful idea. Countless hours had been spent trying to confirm his proposal. And that is all that he talked about with people! He was so entrenched in this that I had to be rescued by another congregation member so that I could go have lunch.
Now, there is nothing wrong with diligent study of scripture and interacting with commentators on bible scripture. But when this subject overtakes you to the point where your conclusions have no grounding and it is all you think about, you can be sure that Satan is smiling.
That church can be commended in that everyone else thought this fellow was a bit kooky, but imagine if it were contagious. Imagine if others began to join in the idle debate. The church would become encumbered with nonsense. As a result people would cease to grow in faith. The enjoyment of unprofitable trifles would suffocate the love and vitality of a otherwise vibrant church.
If we are to maintain a healthy church we must resist the temptation to delve into meaningless matters. For churches suffer when they are sidetracked with insignificant matters.
But not only should we note what we can get sidetracked with, but we should know what we get sidetracked from. A sidetracked church not only focuses on the most insignificant matters, it turns from the most supreme goal.
II. Turns from the most supreme goal
Paul says to Timothy “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
This is the tragedy of frivolous discussions (and any false teaching for that matter): We fail to develop what God wants us to develop. The Bible was given to us that we might cultivate love for God and love for our neighbor. More than a desire for a particular kind of preaching, or interest in special doctrines, God wants us to manifest true and undefiled love. And he spells out just what kind of love we should be aiming for. He says it should be a love that issues from…
A. A pure heart
By a pure heart we mean a heart that has been cleansed, a heart that has been purged of sin. So the love that God wants is love that springs from a true believer. A person who does not believe in Jesus Christ is not going to have a pure heart. His heart is still polluted with sin. The Bible says that their lives are still in direct opposition to God. Nothing they do can please him in any way.
In order to love as God wants us to love, our heart must first be changed. The filth of sin must be washed away. A corrupt heart (that is, the heart we are born with by virtue of our sinful condition) cannot please God.
But we aim for love from a pure heart and …
B. A good conscience
People can be true Christians and yet not be loving out of a good conscience. We can be motivated to do things out of a heart that is ridden with guilt. Pastors can teach in such a way that people come to labor for the lord out of fear rather than in response to his grace. This is how it was for the great Reformer, Martin Luther.
Before Luther came to the Protestant understanding that one was justified by faith, he was stricken with fear. Roman Catholicism prescribes that you must do certain things in order to be relieved of your sin. Martin Luther knew that God was a just God, demanding full and complete righteousness. And Luther took his sin very seriously. He spent hours examining his life, and he would always find sin. He was so thorough that when he went to confession with the priest, the priest would actually become annoyed with him.
His sin haunted him so much that he would sometimes be terrified when he would partake of the Lord’s Supper. When he would take the break he would actually shake in fear that the Lord would strike him down dead for his profane life.
Christians today can be like that too. Maybe not to that degree, perhaps in a lesser way. Nevertheless, Christians can be motivated to do good works not out of grace, but out of guilt and fear.
That is why, when I spell out your responsibility to God, I always try remind you that even though you will fail, Jesus Christ has not. Your conscience can be guilt free because in Jesus Christ you are forgiven. And, it is my hope, that you will be motivated to do works of love out of a sense of gratitude, out of love for your Savior.
The Bible say that we should aim for love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and …
C. A sincere faith
No doubt though, if you have a pure heart and a good conscience, you must have a sincere faith. As I have just shown with the example of Luther’s life, it is only through faith that you can have a good conscience. When you receive and rest upon Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven and your conscience can be cleared. And we can express faith only after the Spirit cleanses our hearts. A sin filled heart would never respond appropriately to the gospel. It would only resist and reject that holy offer. But a pure heart willingly accepts and happily rejoices in the grace of Jesus Christ.
That’s a sincere faith, and it is different from a fake faith. People can be hypocrites. They can profess faith in Jesus Christ, but it is not really sincere. They can come before a congregation and say they trust in him, but in their hearts they really don’t.
And an insincere faith, a fake faith, misses the mark. It doesn’t manifest true love. Sure it can do some things that seem like good works. They can strive for social justice, they can help meet needs in the community, but their actions are still don’t measure up to true love.
And may we take this as a divine note concerning false teaching in our day. A lot of people teach that we should love. Their whole aim of their teaching is directed to good works, but their love doesn’t meet God’s standard of love. It is not the kind of love, the true love, that God wants. Any love that does not involve purity of heart, a good conscience and sincere faith only masquerades as true love.
Our aim can’t be like that, it must be true love. God’s word is intended to directed us to a specific goal, the supreme goal of love. And we must not be derailed from that. Because if we do, our church will look like a train wreck.
Have you ever seen pictures of a train wreck? When a train is derailed it crumples up like an accordion. The front slows down, but all the cars continue to push ahead. And they get derail and their pointing every direction except the way they are supposed to be. Moreover they aren’t even moving.
That’s what can happen to our church if we get sidetracked. Their can be a lot of activity, but it isn’t headed toward the goal. If we become sidetracked we stop moving toward our goal.
We can’t become sidetracked with insignificant matters because it will derail us from our ultimate goal. But as we seek to resist becoming sidetracked, we must also keep in mind that churches can become sidetracked…
III. Listens to the most fool-hearty people.
You see that in verses 6-7. Paul says that the ones who sidetrack a church are themselves sidetracked. And not only that, their speech is condemned as vain, meaningless. Their words have no value because they are not aiming at the God ordained goal of teaching. Moreover they think themselves teachers of the law. They exalt themselves into a position of authority.
Remember the gentlemen that I told you about who was the so-called expert on the great white horse in Revelation. He thought he was just that, an expert. But he spoke of things that he really knew nothing about.
That is the epitome of foolishness. And it’s these foolish people who can sidetrack a church.
Keep in mind that the fool is never for lack of words. Multiplied speech can be a good indicator that you are talking too a fool. Proverbs 15:2 says “the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” He is like a faucet that pours forth water. Fools think themselves so wise, and they think that they must enlighten the world with their foolishness.
I was watching a special on TV about the Pope and the Vatican this week. They were talking about who should be elected as the next pope. One of the wise sayings that the cardinals keep in mind as they think about the next leader of the Catholic church says this, “One who knows nothing talks much, but one who knows much speaks little.”
We have to beware of these fool-hearty people because they could end up crippling our church.
Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan is a pastor of a PCA church in Jackson, Mississippi and professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. I heard a message he gave about a year ago where he recounted how dangerous this sort of fool can be. He said that this man, when he would introduce himself would introduce himself as the “the Leading expert on the little horn in the book of Daniel.”
Dr. Duncan said that it turned out that the man had gotten mixed up in some Seventh Day Adventist literature. As a result, the little horn of Daniel began to create quite a big problem within the church. The man was leading a Bible study where he was touting the things, and he began to develop no small following. The church was seeing itself being torn away from right doctrine and it was becoming sidetracked.
It was only when the elders stepped in and commanded the fellow to stop teaching these errors that the dissension within the church was quelled. Had they not took action the church may have been wracked with discord and further sidetracked.
If we are going to remain on track as a church, we must watch out for these fool hearty people. As Proverbs 14:7 says, “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” In other words, you won’t meet words that are in any way profitable. They will only sidetrack you.
A number of years ago my daughter got terribly sick and we had to take her to Akron Children’s Hospital. When we got there the place was just packed full of parents trying to get their kids in to see the doctor. You have probably been in this kind of situation. We had been sitting there for a while, and we were beginning to wonder how long it was going to take to get in. A few minutes later someone came up to the person at the window and said, “We’ve been here for two hours already, how much longer is it going to be?”
I began to think, what did we get ourselves into here?
But it was just a few minutes later that Katelyn began showing signs of distress. She began to wail and cry out for something to eat and drink. Her duress caught the attention of the nurses and they came to check on her right there in the waiting room. Because she wouldn’t calm down the nurses began to see that she needed immediate attention. Determining her to be a priority, they moved her right into a room. All the other patients were bypassed because this child need special attention.
You could say that this subject that we are studying here needs to take special priority in our church too. Paul has a lot of things to say about how a church should run. But he bypasses everything else that he is going to say in order to place this one before us at the very first. He knows that frivolous matters can be detrimental to a church.
And so we must resist being sidetracked. We must refrain from following fool-hearty people. Their defective teachings put us in critical condition if they sidetrack us. That is why we must guard our little fellowship. We must never allow such things to derail this church from its God intended aims.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.