Distracting from the Real Issue
Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies . . . The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion . . . 1 Timothy 1:3-6
In clinic, it’s not uncommon for someone who smokes to come to me to discuss something like vitamin supplementation. This always surprises me a little. It’s not that vitamins are necessarily bad, but the benefit to our health is questionable and if a smoker is really interested in his health, then he must start there. For the smoker, stopping smoking is the most important thing he can do for his health. It seems though that the vitamin is in some way meant to balance out the bad or maybe even distract from the unhealthy things the smoker is doing to his body.
I don’t mean to pick on smokers. I’ve been there too. In my drug addiction, I tried to be healthy – physically, spiritually, and mentally. I ran. I dieted. I went to church. When I was depressed, I went to see my doctor, not to talk about my drug use, but rather to get an antidepressant. My problem was my addiction, but I tried to address everything except my addiction. If I could focus on anything else, then I could distract myself from the real problem. I did this because it was far easier to go for a run or take an antidepressant than it was to stop using drugs.
In today’s passage, Paul addressed pointless distractions. In it, he instructed Timothy to confront those in his church who devoted themselves to myths, endless genealogies, and vain discussions. There were apparently those in Timothy’s church who avoided the real issues by focusing on unimportant, but distracting, debates. Paul taught that in following Christ, those in the church must seek a sincere faith, a clean conscience, and a pure heart. Whatever these distractors were teaching, it was being done at a cost to the real purpose of the church.
This remains a temptation for the church today. Particularly, if we can focus on the struggles of others, then we can distract ourselves from our own failures. It’s so seductive to point to the sins that we don’t struggle with, while ignoring our own. We may even crusade and rail against the big sins of others, while tolerating our own little ones. In doing so though, we’ve done nothing useful. If we want to follow Christ, then we must daily look inward, seeking sincere faith, clean consciences, and pure hearts.