How to Avoid Vain Discussions in a Pandemic
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, 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, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 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, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. -- 1 Timothy 1:3-7
Seasons of stress combined with increased social polarization can create increased confusion and division. This is nothing new. Believers in the first century faced societal stressors and struggled to maintain a pure love, good conscience, and sincere faith (1.Tim 1:5). As we read the New Testament, Peter, John, and Paul took great pains to steer their beloved flocks back to a sincere faith. So important was this task that Paul instructed Timothy to correct certain leaders in one of the Ephesian churches for his fascination with “myths & genealogies.” Paul’s aim was clear. These dangerous fascinations only “promoted speculations rather than the stewardship of God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4). Myths and speculations promote fear. Fear hinders the mission of the church and overshadows the glory of Christ. Paul makes clear what Timothy’s goal was. He was to remind the church that their “charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Vain discussions that Christians, particularly those in leadership, were engaging in did not arise from a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5). With the firmness of a good father and the humility of a saved sinner, Paul makes clear what was really going on. These “teachers” wanted an audience. They wanted attention, and they would get it through controversy, hearsay, and conspiracies. As a result, their audience would be left without understanding and an insincere faith.
Sadly, this problem was not an isolated incident. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul called out “super apostles” who were terrorizing the church with vain speculation. They were engaging in malicious attempts to undercut Paul’s ministry in order to elevate theirs. Their actions did not point to Jesus, they pointed to themselves. They “measured themselves by one another and compared themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 1:12-13) They questioned Paul’s expertise in order to bolster their own.
In this season of pandemic, the Church would do well to be on guard for those who are simply seeking attention and not teaching true doctrine. “Vain discussions” centered on controversy or conspiracies do not comfort the afflicted, nor compel the unbelieving. With the advent of the information age, there is no shortage of “experts” in our world today. Friends, this is dangerous. `When we lose the ability to trust those who have worked hard to be experts in their chosen field by spending thousands of dollars on education and working for years in study and research, and trade it in for a smooth-talking man who has spent a couple of hours on Google, then we are promoting lawlessness.
Christians are not meant to be experts on everything. Even experts in medicine and science don’t claim to have all of the answers in their own field. In a recent Facebook post, Hannah Anderson is on point. Anderson states,
“Experts absolutely can be wrong, but the fact that experts get it wrong doesn't mean that we shouldn't listen to them. In fact, it's the exact opposite: The fact that EVEN experts get things wrong means that those of us who don't have the benefit of years of study and experience should be MORE humbled by what we don't know.”
In light of this, I am calling myself, and anyone who is willing to join me, to consider the following actions.
1. Let’s pray for Gospel-saturated humility.
In her post, Anderson concludes with this thought...
"The MOST important thing for us to share right now is humility, especially intellectual humility. If this virus is teaching us anything, it's the limits of our own minds and our inability to protect ourselves from suffering. The words we most need to hear right now are words of humility, repentance, and grief. And the experts we can most trust right now are those who say "we really don't know" and "our best guess" and "we hope."
I can only add, “Amen.” I need to remember the weight of the cross so that I might be humble in these dire circumstances instead of being prideful.
2. Let’s avoid vain discussion about myths and speculations.
There may be a deep state agenda behind this pandemic, but it’s highly unlikely. Even if COVID-19 is a smokescreen to cover illicit, deep state activity, what do hours of research on the dark web do to display Christ’s beauty? Or keep the Church’s doctrine pure? I suggest it adds nothing. I need the pure light of Spirit-inspired Scripture...only.
3. Let’s say no to more social media.
One danger of our present circumstances (social distancing) is that many of us will search for broader, not deeper community. Let’s seek to be edified by our church families and teachers with an unwavering gaze on Jesus!
4. Let’s allow Hebrews 12:1-2 to be our guide.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [true experts?], , let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Praise be to God!