Last time, when considering I Timothy 3:14-16 we saw two things:
(i) the true nature of the church, the household of God, … the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
(ii) the true nature of the great Saviour of the church,…manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. “
This is indeed the way God sees the church, and it is wonderful to behold. God sees us as His household, His family through His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who became a man for our sake, who lived and died for the sake of His sheep, His people. After He had done the work that the Father gave Him to do, He ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of His Father in glory, from where He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. It is important that we should keep this picture always in mind, for as we look at the shocking state of our world and the state of the church in the world today, we need to always remember that the last page has not been written. Thank God that He has given us insight concerning what must happen and what will be in future. This is what constitutes our Christian hope.
This is important to know as we now come to the fourth chapter in which Paul reminds Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith…”. I became a Christian in June 1978. I shall never forget how God changed my life forever on a Thursday evening. On that same evening, my roommate Allen, from room 520, Leo Marquard Hall, confessed that he had become a Christian. I remember reading the Bible together, and going to St James Church, Kenilworth together for the next 6 months. Then, after the Summer holidays, returning to UCT in the January of 1979, Allen told me that he no longer considered himself a Christian. And that was that! It came as a great shock to me, and I struggled to understand that, until I saw that this had also happened in the Bible. Paul makes mention of this in 1 Tim.1: 19, 20 ; 2 Tim. 4: 10,14. He mentions people who had abandoned the gospel : Hymenaeus, Alexander, Demas… .
Over the years I have sadly seen a number of people from our midst departing from the faith, some who had been very close to me at one time. And it always starts this way: they were “devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” and following their capture by such deceitful spirits, it did not take long before they abandoned the faith altogether.
So what do we make of this? I am thankful that the Scriptures speak into this confusing and perplexing and painful situation. Such situations also help us not to have idealistic expectations of the church as she battles her way through this sinful world. Jesus apostolic team included a Judas. If you expect life in the local church to be perfect, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. And so Paul, after describing the local church as the household of God, the church of the Living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth, wants us to understand that the local church on earth, however faithful she aims to be, will always face challenges. There will always be apostasy.
So, as we follow the logic of these 5 verses we learn at least three things :
V. 1 That there is such a thing as apostasy from the gospel.
Vv. 2 & 3 That there are false teachers and false teachings to be resisted
Vv. 4 &5 That there is an antidote for false teaching
I. THERE IS SUCH A THING AS APOSTASY FROM THE GOSPEL
The Apostle Paul is saying to us , “don't be surprised when that happens. The Holy Spirit has expressly said that such things would happen! Where did the Holy Spirit say this? The Holy Spirit said it through Jesus in passages such as Matthew 24: 3-12. Paul also warned the Ephesian church concerning this in Acts 20:28-31, when the church was first founded. He also warned the Colossians in 2:16-23. Peter and Jude warn us also in their letters.
But over and above that, I know what you are thinking, and it may trouble you. Does this mean that true believers can lose their salvation? No, that is not what Paul is saying here. Paul is speaking about a people who make an outward profession of faith, but who do not last and fall away. The parable of the sower and the seed helps us to understand this (Matt. 13: 1-23). In that same teaching Jesus explains that weeds and wheat grow together in this world (Matt. 13:24-30).
The point is that if you are not deeply rooted in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if you do not bear fruit you will not last as a true Christian. You will not be inclined to listen to Jesus. You will be inclined to listen to teachings of demons and deceitful spirits who will lead you away from the gospel. And so I John 2:19 puts it into a nutshell: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
So, Paul is not suggesting that these have lost their salvation. The fact is that they never had it, and the way in which it is seen is that they did not continue to cling to Christ, the Rock and Foundation of our salvation, our true and final authority. They were listening to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons… to the insincerity of liars ...”.
When do you really expose yourself for what you are? How do you move from being someone that professes faith in Jesus to becoming an apostate? Here is the answer. By listening to false teaching! And notice who is behind the work of that false teaching: deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. It is the work of Satan himself. I remind you that by listening to him, Eve was deceived. This is happening all the time, and it is appalling to see how much this is happening in our time. I have often warned you, and I will do it now again. Do not hang your hearts unconditionally on to fallible people, but hang on to the infallible Jesus!
2. BE AWARE THAT THERE WILL BE ALWAYS FALSE TEACHING AND FALSE TEACHERS WHICH MUST BE RESISTED (vv. 2&3)
False teaching : The fact that Paul can speak of false teaching indicates that there is such a thing as right teaching. In a day and age when many do not believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth, we are saying resolutely, No! There is absolute truth … the truth as it is in Jesus (Eph.4:21). Do not let post modernistic thinking, which is very hip and very modern and very chic at this time confuse you. There is absolute truth. Jesus in His high priestly prayer said to the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 ). Psalm 119:160 says : “The sum of your Word is truth…”. Jesus said : “I am the Way , and the Truth and the Life. No one come to the Father except through me.…” The Bible is rooted in certainty. The Bible does not agree with postmodern thinking.
False teachers : How do we discern them? Paul gives us an insight here. He points us to their character and their teaching. Words are an extension of one’s character. So what do we learn from their words, and what do these words point to?
Here is what they teach in v.3 : they “… forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
They are making demands which are in conflict with the word of God. God has pronounced marriage to be good (Gen. 2), but these people turn God’s Word on its head and they say that if you really want to be spiritual, you will abstain from marriage. And they do the same with food. They tell you what you may not eat, but the truth is that there is no unclean food. Whatever is received with a thankful and prayerful heart is clean (see Acts 10:15 – note, make a distinction between legalism and not liking the taste of something). There was, of course a host of man- made ideas behind this.There was the influence of Greek Gnostic teaching, which believed that matter was evil and only the spirit was good. They taught that by abstaining from worldly pleasures such as food and sex these you could escape into the higher world of the spirit. That is not God’s view.
It may also be the way that Judaism had developed with all its additional rabbinical teachings that they had added in addition to Scripture. Some supposedly converted Christian Jews were arguing that the Old Testament ceremonial laws (food laws) were still binding. The New Testament had made it clear that all foods were now clean to Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10)
These false teachers were putting their own opinions above that of Christ and His Word. Jesus said that marriage is good and food is good . When you begin to forbid what God allows, soon you will begin to allow what God forbids. The new sexual revolution and the LGBT issue are an illustration of this. And false teaching will lead you in one of those two directions, every time. It will be either be narrower than the word of God, or it will be broader than the word of God. In the final analysis these false teachers set themselves up in the place of God.
3. THE ANTIDOTE FOR FALSE TEACHING (Vv. 4-5)
Paul shows us that we combat false teaching with the truth of Scripture. Whatever they say is not good, we must show them from the Scripture what God has said. Therefore, listen to God, and not to these false teachers–however persuasive they may be in their speech. Go back to the biblical foundations in Genesis and stay there !
In v.5 Paul encourages us that we are to use everything rightfully, according to the word of God and with prayer. All that God has made is good and useful if consecrated by the word of God and prayer. Listen to what he says: “...for it is made holy ( sanctified) by means of the word of God and prayer.”
Paul wants us to watch out for false members, for false teachers, and for false teaching. And he wants us to resist that teaching by holding on to the truth of the word of God, and to use God's good gifts with thanksgiving and prayer . That is the simple lesson that Paul is teaching us today.