Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer. (1 Tim. 1:3)

When Paul wrote to Timothy, Nero sat on the throne of Rome, and Christians were persecuted mercilessly. The Roman historian Tacitus told of Christians being burned alive as human torches to light Nero’s evening parties. Later, Nero would execute both Peter and Paul.

The church of the first century was painfully aware of the threat posed by outside persecution, but the New Testament also warns about the threat posed by false teachers within the church. Historically, persecution almost always has resulted in the growth and expansion of the church. Tertullian, writing about AD 200, famously reminded the faithful that the blood of the martyrs was seed, spreading the faith. False teaching, on the other hand, robbed the church of its power by corrupting its message. The issue is not differing interpretations of Scripture so much as it is a denial of its authority.

The false teachers in the church Timothy pastored promoted doctrines that sound strange to us—obscure Jewish myths, contrived genealogies (perhaps to create a family-tree connection to Old Testament heroes), and extreme forms of self-denial and even self-abuse. We’re more familiar with modern examples of pastors and scholars who reduce Jesus to no more than a great teacher and the Bible to no more than a human book.

The threat is the same, and so is its source. Beware of the enemy within.

Pray for the persecuted church and for misguided churches.

Bob Black is professor emeritus of religion at Southern Wesleyan University, where he served for thirty-two years. Along with Keith Drury, he coauthored the denominational history, The Story of The Wesleyan Church.

© 2019 Wesleyan Publishing House. Reprinted from Light from the Word. Used by permission.