Avoiding spiritual distractions
We are spiritual beings. That’s how God made us. So naturally, we gravitate toward the spiritual aspect of life. We look at design in nature and recognize that there must be a designer. We observe the happenings around us and acknowledge that there is more going on than only what we can see with our eyes. We read history from God’s perspective and marvel at His-story.
However, since we are also fallen and sinful, our understanding of spiritual topics is easily knocked off course.
Human history is littered with wrong ideas about God, what He is like, and how we can know Him. Before we came to know Jesus, our internal desire for “spiritual things” led us down all sorts of paths. The difficulty, then, becomes what we will do with our old understandings in light of our relationship with Jesus?
The believers in Paul’s day had the same issues. Ephesus was a magnificent, melting-pot metropolis. In that town there were numerous Greek gods and goddesses – the people not only worshiped them, but also told stories, explained their history, and held festivals in their honor. The Jewish community had many fantasy stories of angels and how to manipulate them, as well as various speculative “biographies” of Biblical characters.
These are the kinds of topics Paul wants Timothy to tackle head-on.
1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.
These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.
The Greek word for pay attention was used to convey the word picture of bringing a ship to land. It was also used to describe how a person is attached to someone or something, with a level of devotion or even addiction.
One of Timothy’s goals was to weed out these false ideas about God and correct the people’s fascination with myths and endless genealogies. It wouldn’t be easy. Some of these myths were quite popular in the culture. Some Jews would trace their tribal heritage as proof of personal importance or value to God.
However, Paul nails down the problem with focusing on these things – they promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan. Paul knew they couldn’t walk with God while deceiving themselves with feel-good stories or puffing themselves up with information about their lineage. The mythical stories detracted or even contradicted God’s story. The genealogies put the focus on them, rather than on God. Instead, the Ephesian believers were in danger of missing the point – our relationship with God and our ability to live rightly before Him only comes through a faith that is focused on God.
However, on rare occasion, Paul would reference that a philosopher correctly identified a spiritual truth (Acts 17:28), yet this acknowledgment was stepping stone to point others toward Jesus. He didn’t dwell there. To continue the word picture – Paul didn’t dock his ship on the philosopher’s point. Instead, as he continued on in his message, Paul then dropped anchor on the truth of the resurrection (Acts 17:31).
We see this same tendency toward distraction in the modern church as well. There’s a fascination with stories of people who have gone to Heaven and come back. There’s wide-spread speculation about angels and an abundance of feel-good stories. We look for “Bible codes” and try to match up prophecy with the newspaper.
Whenever the next “big thing” comes through Christian-living literature, we must ask ourselves: Does the author promote empty speculations or God’s plan? Where will we choose to drop our anchor?