1Timonthy 6:1-10 gives us incredible insight into the sinful motivations and hang-ups of false teachers and I welcome you to read it before continuing. We see first that they teach different or “new” doctrines, and do not agree with the words of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching leads to godliness, while their teaching and nature is conceited and puffed up, producing things opposing to godliness. Verses 4-5 says about the false teacher:
“He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
The false teacher has chosen a controversial and likely “special” revelation which he thinks he has had, and narrows in on it. Likely, he obsesses with one, or a few select topics, which do not point people to Jesus Christ for salvation. He chooses scriptural phrases which suit his message, and twists them, or gives them a whole new meaning, and if he is corrected he fights back. The products of his pride and error are envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.
The false teacher is motivated by money, plain and simple. He is “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” He is looking to Jesus for financial wealth, because money is his first love. He (or she in more recent times) will point their hearers to Jesus for the same thing.
The Christian, on the other hand knows that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment,” and should bear fruit consistent with sound doctrine and right motivations, primarily love for God. 1 Timothy goes on in fact, to tell us how the “man of God” must “Flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (verse 11).” A Christian should not bear fruit similar to that of the arrogant false teacher.
When I read this a few weeks back the words “evil suspicions” jumped out at me, and I have thought about them often since. I have become more aware and pained by the sin of evil suspicions in my own life, and the prevalence of the sin everywhere. But when was the last time you heard someone speak about the sin of being wickedly suspicious? I don’t know if I ever have.
It is a sin rooted in pride, yet also I think, in insecurity. And those two things most certainly co-exist. The prime example of that would be Saul, as John Bloom has written here. As we eventually see in his life, full blown pride and insecurity can turn a person murderous and self-destructive.
The prior sin listed in the text “slander” fits with evil suspicions, because how often do people keep evil suspicion to themselves? We are quick to speak poorly about someone or something we know little about, and have based off our own suspicions rather than plain facts. It is easy to do.
There are hundreds if not thousands of ways evil suspicion plays out, but it starts with assuming the worst of a person, group, or situation, and that suspicion entertained can move into slander or worse. Perhaps circumstances in life have hurt you and you feel the need to blame someone, and so you have set your eyes on a person, or even an establishment, and imagined all the ways they contributed to your pain. Maybe you feel threatened by someone and so their kindness becomes suspect to you and you question their motives. What if a friend lets you down or disappoints you several times? Maybe suspicion happens when you voice that all their excuses are fictional; that they are selfish and don’t really care about you or anyone else. Or do you ever just plain not like somebody? You need a reason to validate your dislike, so you look for the worst and finding it you exaggerate it in your mind, even though you don’t really know them. Couldn’t that be considered evil suspicion? What if someone had many needs, perhaps health issues, and it becomes inconveniencing to you, so you begin to suspect that their maladies are just excuses and that they exaggerate for attention? Certainly, that would be evil suspicion.
What about our stereotypes? Do we imagine certain “types” of sinners to be so much worse than ourselves in every respect, to the point that we have vilified them? Or do we lump everyone of a certain race or religion into one category so much so that we would assume we know them without even speaking to them? If so, we aren’t acting any better than those who hate Christians are we? And we are being ruled by suspicion rather than love, kindness, and grace.
The world loves digging for dirt on celebrities, but sometimes us more reformed Christians like digging for dirt on false teachers, don’t we? This can become unhealthy and even sinful. I suppose it depends on motive and purpose here, but certainly if we are taking things three steps ahead of facts, or quickly jumping to worst case conclusions about the most recent pastoral scandal, we could be guilty of even reveling in our suspicions.
Now the scripture doesn’t say we should be naïve or silent about wrongdoing that needs to be exposed. But it does say we ought to be wise. There are people to be suspicious of, for very good reasons. But evil suspicion comes with unfounded presumptions, black and white stereotypes, closed ears, a lack of charity, and more likely at the root of it is pride and disdain, even hatred. It is bleak and its’ ugly.
Don’t Be Like the False Teachers
These ugly attitudes and sins are trademark of the false teacher. Examine yourself and don’t excuse it away. “I’m really good at reading people,” can be a great badge to wear to cover-up your evil suspicion. “I’m practicing discernment” can be code for making snap-judgments and slandering people about things you actually don’t know anything about. Imagination is often what we use to “read between the lines”, and searching for the worst in people instead of believing the best. God cares about people, about truth, and about our words. As Christians we ought to be the most honest, openhearted, forgiving, and loving people. 1 Peter 3:8 says “love covers a multitude of sins,” and those are real, recognizable sins you can put your finger on, so imagine how much more love ought to cover vain suspicions without a footing.
I am not saying get walked on, ignore false doctrine (please don’t!), or become a flake. Scripture calls us to be cautious, wise, and discerning. But be on guard against slander and evil suspicion, before you start resembling a false teacher instead of portraying Jesus Christ to the world.
Lastly- if you are going to be suspicious, suspect yourself first. Could it be you are sinning in the manner of which you accuse others, and even that pride could be in the way? I can only talk about sin like this in an honest and particular way, because I am made of the same nasty stuff as the person next to me. Perhaps like me, after reading this, you will start to recognize this sin more in yourself. Thank God then, may He keep sanctifying us so we can reflect more closely the person of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.