Have you wondered if what you were teaching or learning about in your group was actually biblical? The early church wondered that too. Thankfully, Paul gives us at least two ways to sniff out false teaching in the church in 1 Timothy 4:3-10.
The Doctrinal Test
This is the simplest and most obvious way to test whether or not what you hear or read is false. It is to ask the question, “Is it consistent with accepted biblical doctrine?”
Timothy battled asceticism in Ephesus: a strict self-control of basic human appetites as a means of spiritual discipline (1 Tim. 4:3-5). False teachers encouraged new believers to refrain from sex (a basic human appetite) and from certain foods (hunger being another basic human appetite) in order that they may reach a particular level of spirituality.
To this teaching, Paul applied a doctrinal test. Did God not create a world full of food to be enjoyed and to satisfy our hunger? Did God not create the institution of marriage so that we can multiply and exercise dominion? Is marriage not a picture of Jesus’ relationship to the church? Why, then, would God ever forbid these things that He created for our good and His glory?
Again, it may sound simplistic, but sometimes when we are listening to teaching that is false, we presume that the person wouldn’t teach anything false because the person has a platform and some semblance of recognition. Therefore, we never apply a doctrinal test.
The Godliness Test
This test is also simple, but perhaps a little more subjective. It is to ask the question, “Does this teaching urge me to worship and glorify God?”
In 1 Timothy 4:6-10, Paul emphasizes the necessity of training in godliness, for it is the only kind of training that holds promise for this life and the life to come. If the teaching we hear does not encourage this, we are right to suspect something about this teaching. Granted, there may be something wrong with us (unconfessed sin, etc.). But we must also hold up the teaching we are listening to and ask the question, “Does this teaching urge me to worship and glorify God?”
A Case Study and Application
After years of pastoring, I found myself volunteering to teach an adult Sunday school class in the church where I am a member. In seeking wisdom about teaching in this church, current and prior Sunday school teachers all said the same thing: “You better have your stuff together, because that congregation knows its Bible.”
What a wonderful testimony: a congregation full of Timothys, ready and willing to sniff out and extinguish false teaching!
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for nearly 15 years. They have four children: Trey (10), Jonathan (9), Abby (1), and Luke (born April 10). He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at LifeWay Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.