Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 4:1-5 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/05/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 4
“Now the Spirit Expressly Says”
What a contrast! Last week’s passage spoke of that amazing mystery of godliness that has been revealed to us! It spoke of Christ’s victory and glory in our salvation! Now we have this passage. Paul immediately switches from talking about such glory that the church has, to speaking of apostasy and heresy. I like how Philip Ryken described the contrast here. He said that the previous verse was about revealing the mystery of godliness. This passage is about revealing the mystery of ungodliness. How true that is.
And Paul starts out by telling us that the Spirit has expressly said this. In other words, the Holy Spirit has very specifically told him and now us that this apostasy and heresy was coming. At the time, Paul says that the Spirit predicted it for the future. The Spirit said this was surely coming in latter times. Well, those latter times have arrived. We have seen and continue to see this evil being realized in the church. As we have come to the 500th anniversary since the start of the Protestant Reformation, we remember that what Paul predicted for the future is now our past. And yet clearly it is something that we continue to be confronted with in the present as well. As we look at this passage then, let us be reminded of the threats that face the church today.
Let’s begin by talking about apostasy. We see at verse 1 that there was a prediction of apostasy. It says there that some will depart from the faith. That word in the Greek for departing is where we get the word for apostatizing from; that’s how the word in Greek is pronounced. So, this is very literally talking about apostasy. And that is what apostasy is. It’s abandoning your Christian faith. Now to clarify, we would say, doctrinally speaking, that such apostates never really had true faith. We would say that because of other Scriptures that speak of how a true believer will be kept in the faith by the Lord. Yet, the Bible also speaks of apostates. And we understand then that some who outwardly have come to know and confess the true faith later turn away from that faith. It is a reminder to all of us that beware if you think you stand less you fall. That is not meant to scare you or unnecessarily unsettle you. But it is meant to call us to spiritual vigilance.
Why is it that these people have departed from the faith? Well, the main reason, Paul says, is that they have given heed to the wrong things. They’ve given heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. These are obviously two labels for the same ultimate source. The source is the enemy. These apostates have given heed to the enemy, to Satan and his demonic forces. But I think it is interesting to consider the two descriptions here. The first being deceiving spirits. Why would you want to listen to a deceiving spirit? Someone who is out to deceive is out to lie to you. You wouldn’t want to give heed to a deceiver and a liar! But then again, the reason you do is because they have deceived you. They don’t come to you with a sign on their forehead that says “Deceiver.” No, they come in some attractive way to try to trick you. The second description here is the doctrines of demons. Here again we see the importance of doctrine. Doctrine is never neutral. Christianity has lots of doctrine that we should look to know and affirm. Doctrine is necessarily inherent to Christianity. Christianity has its doctrine. But this reminds us that so do the demons. And so, the devil has his false doctrines which he looks to deceive you with.
We saw this at the very beginning. Satan came in craftily to Eve and deceived her with false doctrine. Satan contradicted God’s doctrine in the garden. God’s doctrine said that if you eat of the forbidden tree, you would die. Satan’s doctrine said that you wouldn’t die. Well, we know how listening to Satan there turned out. Not good. Satan has used that strategy ever since. He uses deception and a different doctrine to turn people away from God and from truth. So, when people have fallen away from the faith, we should see that this is Satan at work. This is the design and work of the enemy.
This passage goes on to talk about another reason why these people fall away from the faith. In verse 2, it talks about them having their consciences seared with a hot iron. It doesn’t say here who does the searing, but in light of chapter 1, it seems that these apostates were doing the searing themselves. In 1:5, it speaks of some who were straying from a good conscience. Again, in 1:19, it speaks of some who reject a good conscience. So, chapter 1 surely helps explain this verse. The idea seems to be that such apostates have so long ignored their consciences that they no longer affect them. They have so burned away their conscience that it is no longer sensitive to their sin and their false doctrines that they have come to embrace.
Here is another practical warning to us in this topic. When someone who knows the Christian faith first starts to give heed to these deceptive teachings of Satan, they probably at first have their consciences speaking to them. Their consciences are surely telling them that what they are hearing is wrong and they should not listen to it. But as the person repeatedly ignores their conscience they become hardened more and more to the truth. A similar application can be made to any sin we struggle with it. The more we commit that sin and do so ignoring our conscience can cause us to be more hardened in terms of that sin. We become more and more at home with that sin because we have rejected what our conscience has been trying to tell us about it. That is not a good thing of course. This passage would remind us of this danger. There is a great danger of ignoring your conscience. We should instead look to grow our conscience and inform our conscience with God’s word. We should then start giving heed to our consciences instead of to these other evil doctrines or sinful practices.
Let’s turn next to see what Paul says these apostates would do. Basically, starting in verse 2, Paul says they will speak lies. They will begin to speak heresy. In their own hypocrisy, or maybe in their own insincerity, they begin to tell other Christians of the false doctrines that they have embraced. Evidently, for the apostates that Paul has in mind, it is not enough for them to just leave the faith. They want to also convince others to join them too. Here these apostates are becoming agents of the enemy. They are taking these deceptive, demonic doctrines, and teaching them to others.
Paul mentions two of the evil doctrines that they would be teaching. One, they would forbid marriage. Two, they would require people to abstain from certain foods. Paul is saying that such doctrines are a departure from the faith. That these people were holding these doctrines showed that they were no longer holding the Christian faith. Let me clarify something here. It is not inherently wrong to not get married or to not eat certain foods. In fact, there can be religious reasons, Christian reasons, why you might not get married or why you might not eat certain foods. For example, we know from Scripture that if someone forgoes getting married for the sake of the kingdom of God, then that can be a good thing (e.g. 1 Corinthians 7). It is a good thing if they have the gift of singleness and that by not marrying they use the extra time and energy to serve God with less distraction, then the Bible says that is a good thing. Similarly, we know that there is a time and place to fast from food. In the face of some great need or big prayer request, you might fast in prayer before God. Or as an expression of humility and sorrow over your sin, you might spend time in prayer and fasting from food. There is even precedence for fasting from just certain foods, as we see Daniel doing in Daniel 10. Again, there with Daniel, it was an expression of repentance during a special season of prayer. So, there is certainly biblical teaching that would say it is not wrong to not get married or to abstain from certain foods for religious reasons.
But you see the problem here became when these apostates required this of Christians. That’s what this is talking about. By requiring all Christians to abstain from marriage and from certain foods they had imposed something unbiblical upon them. Given the context, these people were surely saying that if you want to be right with God, you have to give up these things. But hopefully you see how that betrays the gospel. It makes our faith into our works, works which aren’t even required by God. That gets people to put their hope in the wrong place. We need to put our hope in Christ and the gospel. We need to see that we become right with God as a gift, because Christ died on the cross for our sins. To get people to take their focus away from this is heresy.
In history, we have seen various fulfillments of these advocates for heresy. At Paul’s time, they were just starting to deal with some of the Gnostics. Surely, an immediate fulfillment of this prophecy was the growth of Gnosticism infecting the church. You see, a big teaching of the Gnostics back then was that all physical matter was evil. These ideas crept in among the church and began to pull some people away from the Christian faith. Sadly, many of these apostates thought they were still holding to the Christian faith, thinking they could mix the Gnosticism and the Christianity together. The result would be to do things like reject marriage and certain foods, because from their thinking those things were physical and thus evil.
Well, as history continued, other forms of these false teachings sprang up in the church. In the middle ages, the rise of monastic living often fell into this trap. In the name of Christianity, too many people would make the faith into self-deprivation of all sorts of physical pleasures. We see some of that same idea reflected in how the Roman Catholic church began to require its priests to forgo marriage. Similarly, Lent in the Roman Catholic Church obligated their members to fasting. Those practices in the Roman Catholic Church continue today. In fact, technically, Catholics are supposed to fast from meat each and every Friday according to the current laws of the Roman Catholic Church. And so, the concern that Paul raises here were realized quickly in the church and have continued even to this present age to be a problem. Again, this is why our remembering that this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is not simply a historical note. It’s a reminder that the fight against deceptive spirits and doctrines of demons continues.
Turning then to our third point, we see the response given here as to why it is wrong to across the board forbid marriage and certain foods. Look at verse 4. He says that every creature of God is good. That word “creature” is a holdover from the KJV. It is better translated in modern English as “created thing”. “Everything created by God is good.” Paul is saying that no food is inherently wrong. Remember that under the old covenant there were lots of food ceremonially restricted from God’s people. But Paul says that now under the new covenant, there is no restriction on food. We are not to inherently refuse certain specific foods. Paul does add a qualification though. We are supposed to receive the foods with thanksgiving.
Paul goes on to further explain in verse 5. He says that our food is sanctified by the Word and prayer. That’s a rather interesting statement. What does he mean that our food is sanctified? You could translate “sanctify” as “make holy” though I’m not convinced that would be the best translation here. Here the nuance of “consecrate” might be more applicable. In other words, I don’t think Paul means that when we pray for our food that it suddenly makes it holy like how we would think of the bread and wine that we enjoy during a communion service. And yet remember that in the old covenant there was this description of certain foods being clean and unclean. That is spelled out a lot in the book of Leviticus along with many other ceremonial laws. Leviticus 10:10 helps them to understand these kinds of laws. It says so that the people could learn to discern between the holy and the unholy and the clean and the unclean. The idea is that God’s people were in general “holy.” Under the old covenant there was some holy food that was connected with the religious worship, such as the Showbread, that only the consecrated priests could partake of. Not all Israelites could eat that special holy bread. Yet the Israelites as a whole were a holy people to the Lord. Thus, that meant that God wanted them under the old covenant to reflect that fact visibly in what they did and didn’t eat. It was this notion of holiness and cleanliness that was expressed in their eating. There was a general sense of holiness or consecratedness to all the food the Israelites ate in general under the old covenant.
So, I think that’s the idea here. That God now under the new covenant for the Christian is making all our food as holy and clean in this sort of way. It’s what allows us a holy and cleansed people to be able to eat it. It’s not holy in the same way that the Showbread was in the old covenant or the way the bread is in the Lord’s supper. But it is set apart and fit for us to eat as holy people. And how is it consecrated in such a way? By God’s word and by prayer. God’s Word has declared that all foods are clean now for us. So, that sets it apart for us to eat. And then in our prayer we thank God for it and ask his blessings upon our meals. That too sets it apart for us as a holy people to eat of it.
This response that Paul gives in verses 4-5 only addresses the matter of food. But certainly, there is an implied application to marriage too. God gave food for us to be a blessing. He gave it to us so that we would thank him for it. Similarly, marriage was given to us as a blessing. This too is clear from Scripture. Marriage should also be a reason to thank God.
And so, Paul’s point in verses 4-5 shows us that the physical, material aspect of our existence is not inherently evil. The Gnostics got it wrong on this point. The application that comes here is to appreciate the physical blessings we have in our lives. We shouldn’t think we are doing something wrong if we have them or enjoy them. Rather, we should thank God for them. Yes, in the new covenant, we have especially come to appreciate the spiritual. But don’t fall prey to the lies of the enemy that would want to make the physical to be something evil. That would not be biblical. As a further example, that is even why the church has a diaconal ministry. It shows that God is not only concerned with your souls and your spiritual wellbeing, but he is also concerned with your bodies and your physical wellbeing.
In conclusion brothers and sisters, let us beware the temptation to apostasy that comes to us from apostates. In other words, this passage says that there will be people who fall away from the faith, and that those people will try to get us to follow them. Beware of them. See their evil goal. See the demonic influence in it all. It’s all a part of Satan’s strategy against God and we find ourselves in the midst of this battle as those who are on God’s side.
As we think of the specific form of demonic doctrines that Paul talked about in this passage, we recognize that those kinds of false doctrines still exist today. There are people who in the name of Christianity try to get us to beat up the body and make self-denial what Christianity is all about. But those who advocate that in the name of Christianity are actually advocating something other than Christianity.
That being said, there is another trend in the world today of the opposite sort. Today, the culture tends to not be so hostile against the physical. Rather, many in the culture want to only be concerned about the physical. Some even think there is no such thing as the spirit. And so, there is a trend in our culture to emphasize the physical and material, which would be quite the opposite of what we see in this passages’ description of false doctrine. Yet, sadly, there have been people who have departed from the faith in an embrace of the physical and the material. I’m thinking of apostates who have then again spoken lies and heresies in these new false doctrines. Isn’t that what the health and wealth gospel is? It is saying that Christianity is about how to have your best life now. It’s about how you can reap the most physical, material blessings in this life. Instead of forbidding marriage and calling us to abstain from certain foods, they commend these things. But in their false teachings they again lead people astray from Christ and the true salvation he came to bring. In a similar but different way, you have the social gospel. There, you have apostates saying that Christianity is about ridding the inequalities that have kept certain peoples from having the same physical and material blessings that others have enjoyed. There again, they want people to enjoy more and more physical blessings, and make Christianity about the delivering of those blessings to the world. But again, this is a perversion of the Christian faith and takes our eyes off of the kind of salvation Jesus did come to bring.
Let us not give heed to such false doctrines in our days. We knowing that whether there is an embracing of the physical or a denial of the physical, both can be used to turn us away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. See that behind all these false doctrines is the ongoing strategy of the enemy to turn us away from the truth.
Am I just preaching to the choir here today? Hopefully everyone here is not at all tempted by such false doctrines of any sort. But if I am not preaching to the choir, if there are some here today who’ve been tempted to give heed to some of these other teachings, I hope you heed this warning of Scripture today! As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ I again submit these things to you today. See the beauty in the one true gospel. Put your hope in him who died on the cross to forgive you of all your sins. And then by his sufficient grace strive to live for him all your days. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.