“I believe the best way to teach the Bible is word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, and verse-by-verse.”
This was the message I received most in my pastoral life. It comes from the idea that by dissecting the Bible, Christians will know what to do with its content.
Perhaps you’ve heard this, too. Most of my readers are active in their congregations; if you’re not yet, you might not have heard of this. Maybe you’ve heard it under the title of “Expository Preaching” or even “Exegetical Teaching” (While these two are related, they’re not synonymous.).
Does the Bible speak to this? It does! And it starts talking about it in today’s passage as we journey through 1 Timothy. In 1 Timothy 1:5-7 the Apostle Paul writes under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration:
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
1 Timothy 1:5-7
New International Version
After the Apostle’s directive to his protégé, Timothy, in verses 3-4 (last week), he lays out the goals of this correction Timothy is to give to the Ephesian Christians.
The first goal is love. While Paul isn’t specific on the exact direction of this love, it’s including love for God and love for other Christians. This isn’t a new command; Jesus told us the world would know we’re His disciples by our love (cf. John 13:35).
The second goal is steering them away from useless teaching. The (Greek) word Paul uses in verse 6 implies the teaching some are doing has content, but it does not lead Christians to holy living. If teaching doesn’t lead us towards Jesus, then it’s pointless.
Apparently what was happening in these congregations is some teachers began to consider themselves sages and would try to expound some kind of deep truths. But they really didn’t understand what they were so definitely proclaiming (cf. verses 6-7).
There’s a powerful warning for us who teach. While Paul is going to return to this later in this letter to Timothy, it’s introduced here.
Don’t depart from the point of Biblical teaching to get caught up in “meaningless talk”. Remember, this “meaningless talk” possessed content, but it was empty of conviction and application.
Sadly, there are a lot of sermons, lessons, talks, and preaching today in the same place. We have content, but we really don’t know what we’re talking about. And we don’t really know what people are supposed to do with it.
Before you’re tempted to click unsubscribe, hear me out.
I could have taken 1 Timothy 1:5-7 and impressed you with the Greek text underlying our English translation:
I then could’ve broken down each interesting verb and given you definitions—I used to teach that way: endless lists of definitions and pronunciation of original language words.
But when I finished that exegetical work, what would you have gained? Would it have changed your life? Would you resemble our Master Jesus any more when I was done? Maybe…but probably not.
But what if I did my homework, made my notes, prayed over the passage, and tried to actually help you see the point of 1 Timothy 1:5-7? Would you gain anything from that? Would that change your life? Would you resemble our Master Jesus any more when I was done with that? I believe so.
1 Timothy challenges us as church leaders. Through the ink and quill of Paul, the Holy Spirit isn’t done challenging us.
May the Lord help us to avoid the “meaningless talk” masquerading as life-changing, Biblical teaching and help people focus on loving Jesus best and acting like Him.
Joel just started a podcast! Addressing church leadership issues, Joel dissects what he’s been taught and experienced. Subscribe below.
Interested in more like this? Consider my book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, I walk readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life.
The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.