Can you picture walking away from truth you now find so precious? Or imagine false doctrine being taught in the assembly you’re a part of – in the next five years? Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders may have sounded over the top to some at the time (Act 20:29-32). But Paul was right! Five years later, Timothy is in Ephesus dealing with these problems, and Paul is writing about believers “abandoning their former faith” (1Ti 5:12) and instructing Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1:3).
As Paul confronts false teachers, he is also concerned about faltering saints. It becomes clear in the letter that not everyone walking away from what they believed was doing so because of wolves among the flock. What caused men and women in Ephesus to depart from the faith? Paul points to five problems.
Masks: Shipwrecked Faith
“Integrity” is living consistent with our principles and values. Paul warns Timothy that a believer’s integrity – holding both “faith and a good conscience” (1:19) – is essential. When we don’t live in private what we profess in public, we’re wearing a mask. We know, and our enemy knows, that we are holding up a good face but we’re hiding a bad conscience. These are dangerous waters. Paul warns that all who push away the morality that their beliefs demand are off course and drifting towards the “shipwreck of their faith” (1:19). All inconsistency needs to be confessed and corrected, or we’ll end up on the rocks of ruined testimony or stuck on the shoals of a shallow, joyless Christian life.
Mutations: Apostatized Faith
Paul warned that a time was coming, after the letter’s writing, when some who professed would “depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (4:1). What a solemn reminder, that Satan sets his sights on local assemblies of God’s people for insidious attacks! While these false teachers have “departed” or “apostatized” the faith, they haven’t departed from influencing God’s people. They, too, are wearing masks (4:2), and with demonic direction they promote their mutations and mutilations of God’s truth. Paul gives two examples of their false doctrines, showing that they teach in direct opposition to the Word of God (4:3-4). Timothy must put these things out in the open for the saints to see. And as the false and the falsehoods are unmasked, Timothy must keep himself fit in the faith with a healthy diet of good doctrine (4:6). Paul reassures that by keeping “a close watch on yourself and on the teaching … you will save [preserve] both yourself and your hearers” (4:16).
Must-haves: Abandoned Faith
A third group is in danger of departing from the faith. While Paul writes specifically about young widows in Ephesus setting aside their convictions in the pursuit of remarriage (5:11-12), the general principle applies to us all! Are we pursuing personal goals at any price? Could it be said about us that “their passions draw them away from Christ” (5:11)? When my will no longer bows to His, I can make choices and commitments that I never imagined making. What believer has ever planned to “abandon” or “cast off” what they once held so firmly (5:12)? Yet my unyielded will and unchecked desires could lead me to do just that.
Money: Forgotten Faith
While Paul warns that the love of money can lead to all kinds of evil, he zeroes in on one: “wandering away from the faith” (6:10). We may not be guilty of extortion or fraud, and all our transactions and tax returns might be above board. Perhaps we skim comfortably over the previous verse: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (6:9). But all the while, a striving after wealth may be nudging us, ever so slowly and subtly, off the pathway of our faith. How many have looked back, “pierced with many pangs” of regret, wondering how they wandered so far from what they knew to be true (6:10)? Cravings for material things consume lives, even the lives of some believers who start their journey with every intention of living for God’s glory! Are we wandering away?
Muddle: Missed Faith
The letter finishes with one last warning: “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (6:20-21). Marcion, a second-century philosopher and heretic, entitled a book he wrote “Contradictions,” defiantly taking the word from this verse. In it, he outlined supposed “contradictions” between the Old and New Testaments. Though claiming to be a follower of Paul, Marcion rejected 1 Timothy altogether. But much more importantly, 1 Timothy rejects Marcion – and all like him who twist and chop portions of God’s Word, claiming superior insights and “knowledge” over the plain teaching of Scripture. Paul’s warning is as relevant today as when he wrote it: avoid all such irreverent babble. Don’t let the musings of today’s “enlightened” divert your aim, and keep your mind from their muddle, lest the arrow of your life swerve and miss the faith!
With five clear dangers at hand, Paul’s closing command sounds more relevant than ever: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20)! What will be said of the faith and your life – deposit guarded, or departed?
 All references from here onward are from 1 Timothy, and quotations are from the ESV.