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The Haggadot Distraction

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The Haggadot Distraction

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:3-5 (NIV)

Legalism threatens the positive advance of any gospel ministry. Christians who desire authentic Christian discipleship in the Church often take the shortcut of establishing a rule for everything. Purity in the Church is never realized when rules and regulations replace genuine and heartfelt obedience to God’s revealed word.

After detention in Rome (Acts 28:30-31), Paul set off to strengthen the churches he had founded. Along the way, he left Timothy to pastor in Ephesus. When later imprisoned, this for the final time, Paul sent his young apprentice two guidebooks of searing wisdom, 1 and 2 Timothy. He implored Timothy to root out bad theology in the church (v. 3). Should errors creep into the church, the whole ministry could be devastated.

The expression, “myths and endless genealogies,” probably referred to the Jewish haggadot, stories that gave rise to Pharisaical regulations, expressed as case law. In their efforts to cover every area of life with a rule, the Pharisees needed more than the Law and the Mishnah (the rabbinic commentary on the Law); neither of these was particular enough. The haggadot contained strict, complicated, and burdensome dress codes, Sabbath rules, and food laws. For example, instead of merely instructing women to dress modestly, the Pharisees told them precisely which clothes to wear.

Since this teaching could deaden the Church, Paul urged Timothy to rebuke teachers acting as intrusive and inflexible monitors. Their legalistic specificity divided and distracted the body of Christ, masked the good news of salvation by grace, recalled the life of bondage under the law, and promoted “controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith” (v. 4). God did not need their totalitarian oversight; He was perfectly capable of producing men and women who love “from a pure heart a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v. 5).

Modern Church leaders must beware of developing their own haggadot—intricately constructed codes for Christian “righteousness” based upon anecdotal evidence rather than biblical power. Men arrogantly construct new “laws” which detail “acceptable” Christian behavior down to the minutest detail, whether in the realm of courtship, the choice of Bible translations, or the use/disuse of neckties. This is to trivialize God’s great work on the heart by faith, which wells up in righteousness, faithfulness, and obedience.

Legalism distracts from the grace of God and convinces people that Christianity is simply another oppressive religion. Obedience comes through faith, not coercion, shaming, and intimidation. Grace and faith have never failed to produce a growing and vibrant church filled with believers who carefully order their lives by God’s Word. Such a church is one which cannot help but affect its culture for God’s glory.

GracePointe Baptist Church

2209 N Post Road

Oklahoma City, OK 73141

Phone: (405) 769-5050

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