by Mark Huey
It is readily recognized by most in the Messianic community of faith that a wide variety of teaching is currently available to those seeking instruction. The advent and proliferation of access to a virtual cornucopia of divergent thoughts, simply by typing a few choice words into any of the search engines on the Internet, has propagated an explosion in knowledge gathering. Some being beleaguered by the information overload believe that the age foreseen by Daniel, as related to him by an angelic vision, appears to be upon the world:
“But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:2-4, NASU).
However, rather than needlessly debate the possibility that intercontinental flights constitute a “going back and forth,” or that the Internet is exponentially increasing the availability of knowledge, there is one chatty matter that needs some serious scrutiny among those seeking truth. Apparently in these modern times, many of those in search of God have an innate propensity to engage in idle or foolish talk that lamentably has no redeeming value. This is not an apocalyptic phenomenon limited to the end of days as travel and technology expand, but rather symptomatic of a pattern since the time of the Apostles.
In Paul’s letters to his disciples Timothy and Titus, the Greek terms mataiologos, meaning “talking idly, at random” (LS), and mataiologia, or “empty, fruitless talk” (BDAG) are employed by him to teach them about the dangers of fruitless discussion or empty talk in the congregations they oversee. These terms are a contraction of two Greek words that are more prevalent in the Scriptures: metaios, meaning “vain, empty, idle, trifling, frivolous” (LS), and the verb legō, largely meaning “to speak.” Paul, a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), was certainly aware of the snares and troubles associated with idle, vain, and foolish talk. Simeon, the son of Gamaliel and a contemporary of Paul, warns against this in the Mishnah tractate Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers):
“Simeon his son says, ‘All my life I grew up among the sages, and I found nothing better for a person [the body] than silence. And not the learning is the main thing but the doing. And whoever talks too much causes sin” (m.Avot 1:17).
This understanding affirms the admonition communicated in the opening verse of the Book of Psalms that instructs human beings to avoid the counsel of the wicked by not standing in the path of sinners or sitting in the seat or listening to those that scoff or mock the Word of God with their mellifluous words:
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psalm 1:1, NASU).
Reading what Paul specifically tells Timothy brings to light considerable understanding of things that are categorically applicable to many modern Messianic controversies.
“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion [mataiologia], wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:3-11, NASU).
After making some opening salutary remarks to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:1-2), Paul instructs him to rebuke certain individuals for teaching strange doctrines that center on myths and endless genealogies that lead to nothing but speculation. Those teachings were impeding the Divine training that focuses upon faith in the completed work of the Messiah Yeshua. Throughout the rest of 1 Timothy, Paul summarizes some of the character traits a person that God has called to be a teacher of His Word should have, specifically teachers of the Torah. This list of objectives includes having: His agape love for others, a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith demonstrated among other Believers.
Paul concisely addresses the paramount goals of Torah instruction. Taking the time to consider each of these attributes, you should have them in mind when you are listening to or reading some of the teaching that is filtering into your heart and mind from your primary sources of instruction on the information highway. You might want to develop a mental checklist for discerning the origin of some of the instruction you are receiving. Consider asking yourself the following questions when you read or hear a teaching:
- Is this teaching encouraging unconditional love?
- Are these instructions helping me purify my heart?
- Is this information helping me develop a good conscience?
- Are these lessons increasing my genuine faith?
I believe that if you can do this, you will be able to mentally and spiritually construct a filter that discerns and rejects the idle talk of some who do not fully embrace—whether unknowingly or deceptively—the stated goals that Paul declares about proper Torah instruction.
Paul is forced to tell Timothy that some individuals will stray from these goals and succumb to fruitless discussion, even though they inadvertently think that they are Torah teachers who speak the Word of God with authority. After all, as Paul further expounds, the Torah is absolutely good when it is used properly to help lead the unrighteous, as listed, to faith in the Messiah. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul calls the Torah a tutor or pedagogue (Grk. paidagōgos) that is to show someone the need for a Divine Savior:
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24, NASU).
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he employs the term mataiologos in his description regarding a proper overseer:
“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers [mataiologos] and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7-11, NASU).
In this instance, did you notice the other two types of people that are coupled with “vain talkers” (KJV) that just might give you an indication of the character of those who engage in such fruitless discussion? These teachers are rebellious or not subject to God. Paul designates them as being a phrenapateis, either “a soul-deceiver” (LS) or “a mind-deceiver” (Vine). Their words are able to lead others away from the proper path of faith. To compound his warning, Paul adds that these people teach things for the sake of “base advantage and disreputable gain” (Amplified Bible). In other words, these teachers have motivations for teaching that are not pure, but rather are usually the byproduct of another negative attribute that Paul calls “selfish ambition,” something that he was very familiar with in his ministry:
“Some, to be sure, are preaching Messiah even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Messiah out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Philippians 1:15-17, NASU).
James the Just gives us a more complete definition of the sort of “wisdom” derived from selfish ambition consists of, as he compares it to true, godly wisdom:
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18, NASU).
As you can read, any teaching or instruction that is motivated by selfish ambition with the goal of sordid gain in reality is Earthly or unspiritual, natural or soulish, worldly-minded, and is demonic or from the Adversary. However, did you notice that James concludes this description by employing the agricultural example of good wisdom that bears the fruit of righteousness? My friends, if the instruction we embrace and consume is from the Holy Spirit, then it should be bearing the righteous fruit of the Spirit that in many respects, resemble the goals established for Timothy by Paul. Read this listing of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul writes about to the Galatians, and compare how it lines up with agape love, a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASU).
Do you understand how important these things truly are? For far too long, much of the Messianic community has been feasting on teaching that can generally be regarded as “fruitless discussion.” As a result, many Messianic Believers have become spiritually anemic by absorbing and retaining a great deal of spiritual junk food. In far too many cases, some have atrophied to the point of denying the Deity of Yeshua, and a number have left the faith and converted to Judaism. In some extreme cases, some have cast aside a belief in God and have turned toward atheism. This is a lamentable testimony, and we all have the collective responsible to see that it is deterred as much as possible.
For the past forty years, as the Holy Spirit has been giving people greater understanding about the restoration of all Israel, the enemy of our souls has been hard at work attempting to subvert the will of the Father. Considerable error under the monikers of “deeper truths,” “mystical understanding,” or “hidden messages in the Hebrew” have been taught without being challenged enough from those who should know better. The fruitless discussion on superfluous topics that do not advance the goals proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through Paul has led to considerable strife, dissension, and substantial division within the Body of Messiah. It has weakened us to be about the work of the gospel in today’s world.
But realistically, this pattern is one that has repeated itself certainly since the days of the Apostles, and was certainly present during the rebellious periods of Ancient Israel falling into idolatry. We have the advantage of reading about all of these things in Scripture—so we do not repeat them. Should we not have matured from little children to adults in the faith—so we can overcome evil and love of the world? Consider what the Apostle John says about this:
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:12-15, NASU).
One of the elementary understandings of the Bible, according to the author of Hebrews, is in understanding the superiority of Yeshua’s priesthood over that of the Levitical priesthood. Yeshua’s coming to Earth to die for us and His exaltation to the right hand of the Father have changed the spiritual economy of the Torah. Yet today, there are a few Messianic Believers who insist that the Levitical priesthood is still required for the atonement of sin—perhaps not understanding that some things have changed. They fail to see that the Levitical priesthood, as important as it was, was incomplete as it could never offer a permanent atonement for sin. Yeshua the Messiah today functions in the office of Melchizedek, and is ever able to intercede for us in Heaven. But notice how this is to be something that all of us already understand, and hopefully do not need to be told over and over again:
“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:7-14, NASU).
As a Messianic Believer, are you truly striving to mature in your relationship with the Lord? If you are, then I would encourage you to make sure that you are achieving the goals listed by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:5. The next time you expose yourself to some teaching, or type in a few key words on a search engine, ask God to strengthen and enlighten you as you discern whether that teaching or article is achieving these goals. If you are not learning more about being transformed by God’s love, being exhorted to purify your heart, having your conscience cleansed, and your genuine faith expanded, then flee from whatever “fruitless discussion” or “idle talk” that you are absorbing.
If you fail to do this, then I believe you may not only fall into the trap of repeating the fruitless teachings to others, but worse, be stymied in your own maturation process to the point of confusion and potential corruption of your faith. Consider the following proverb:
“Like a dog that returns to its vomit, is a fool who repeats his folly. Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:11-12, NASU).
The Apostle Peter appropriates this concept, employing the term mataiotēs, which fully means “state of being without use or value, emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness” (BDAG):
“For speaking out arrogant words of vanity [mataiotēs] they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Messiah Yeshua, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:18-22, NASU).
Do you want to be one who is found unusable—if not utterly worthless—to God, because you failed to allow Him to mold your character into a person who could impact the world around you? These are difficult words to consider, and they encapsulate the dilemma that today’s Messianic community faces. How are we to grow and find ourselves usable to make a difference in the lives of others?
In the days ahead, as the availability of information continues to increase and those who are seeking God proliferate, we will have to deal with increasingly more complicated issues. If we do not discipline ourselves with some parameters for searching out Biblical truths, we are going to watch as many individuals who are wise in their own eyes return to the vomit of the rotten fruit they have been dispensing. This is not a pretty picture to imagine. Let us be sure it does not happen, and continually focus ourselves on who Yeshua is in our lives—and most importantly how we can live like Him so we can change our society and share the gospel of salvation!
Until the restoration of all things…