1 Timothy 6:2-5
The Source of True Teaching
Anyone who has been around churches very long will see it, especially around young men or seminary students. Granted, men tend to be naturally competitive, but there are places where such shouldn’t show up. I’m talking about quarreling over words and arguing over minutiae—insisting on a particular millennial view, honing the doctrine of election down to particulars that would make a hyper-Calvinist sweat, describing the furniture in heaven or the temperature in hell—in short, by majoring on minors and minoring on majors, these wreak havoc on a church by robbing her of peace. And why do men do this? I mentioned the competitive nature of men—in this case, the desire to win an argument and appear “smarter” than others. There is also the erroneous idea that this ability to argue over words and prove one’s theological prowess is a measure of godliness, thus making godliness a means of gain, that gain being either esteem or even financial, if the practitioner of such pretentious theological bombast can impress those who could improve their position. It generally doesn’t.
Now this must be nuanced. On the other hand, a pastor is a practitioner of words. He studies the words on the pages of Scripture which often means the meticulous operation of parsing Hebrew or Greek words and weighing them with other words. He’ll consult a commentary for the historical context of the passage and pull a theological tome down from his bookshelf to shed more light on the doctrine that is being taught. After all this, he will craft a sermon using words, not just any words but certain words, to convey the message he has derived from his Spirit-led study of the text. If he consults with another pastor about the passage under study and the sermon he is crafting, they will inevitably discuss words and they will seek precision in that discussion—not to impress one another but to clarify meaning so that God’s word may be proclaimed in all its fullness but with simplicity and without confusion or ostentation.
This is an entirely different process than the one described above and by Paul in this passage. The Apostle is talking about people who have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words.” And what drives this craving? Is it to encourage believers in the faith or contend for the faith (Jude 3)? No. It is strictly to impress. Such a one is “puffed up with conceit,” “depraved in mind and deprived of truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” You’ll know the difference by their ungodly attitude and demeanor. Godliness and true doctrine always go together.