"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 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work - which is by faith" (1 Timothy 1:3-4 [NIV]).
These words were the FIRST words written after the greeting in the FIRST letter from Paul to his faithful apprentice, Timothy. I'd say that makes them pretty important for Timothy and for the church. I find it interesting that Paul writes about both myths and endless genealogies. A myth is a story that is false, so it obviously should be avoided. But genealogies have to do with fact-checking and the tracing of actual history. Yet, Paul tells Timothy and the church not to be devoted to these things. Why is Paul so firm about this so early in his letter to Timothy? The answer is given right away - because he knows that such pursuits lead to controversies which ultimately cannot be resolved when God's work is a matter of faith.
The phrase for this week is "circular reasoning". For those of you who love to evaluate things using logic, circular reasoning can either trick you or drive you completely insane! The basic meaning of this phrase has to do with attempting to prove a theory to be true and even claiming you have proof when the reality is that your proof is dependent upon a piece of evidence that only exists if your theory is true. That may be difficult to wrap our brains around, so let me share two examples that typically oppose each other. Science often uses circular reasoning to claim they have figured out the dates of a rock and a fossil (for example) that were found near each other. Their reasoning is circular because they use their own determined date of the fossil to calculate the date of the rock; and the date of the rock to calculate the date of the fossil. In the end, nothing is really proved; but their theories can't be disproven either. They simply convince people that they have proof when in fact they have nothing. It's like the classic question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
On the other hand, many opponents of the Bible claim that Christians use circular reasoning to defend the position that Scripture is inerrant (a fancy word for "without error). When asked how we know this, most Christians would probably respond, "Because it says so in the Bible!" We cannot prove our position to be true, but it can't be disproven either. Thus, people with opposing views find themselves wrapped in controversies and disagreements that have no end. In my opinion, this is exactly what Paul was getting at with our opening Scripture. There's no point in using circular reasoning for matters of faith because we wind up pretending we have proven something which we cannot prove.
This is not an excuse to be lazy in our pursuit of understanding. Because we cannot get caught up in trying to prove a matter of belief, we should be all the more devoted to growing and strengthening the faith. You might ask how this is even possible. Well, the beginning of the Gospel of John gives us our answer. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1,14a [NIV]). The Creator of the whole universe came to this earth and dwelt among us so that we could have a personal and intimate relationship with him. Our faith is strengthened not by circular reasoning, but by personal experience and relationship with a LIVING God. That relationship is not possible in science. You cannot have an experiential relationship with a rock or fossil. While science would never admit this, its theories require just as much faith (and maybe more) as Christian theories do. I don't know about you, but I'm very thankful that my beliefs about God and His Word, which cannot be proven beyond all doubt to all skeptics, are proven to me through my experience and relationship with him. I can assure you, if you're still waiting and looking for proof, you WILL NOT FIND IT until you enter the relationship based on faith and experience the proof for yourself.