1 Timothy 4:1-5 – Standing firm in a sea of false teaching
“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, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
In Chapter 3, Paul described the behaviour expected of the church and its leaders. Now, at the start of Chapter 4, Paul recognises that some will leave the community of faith. It’s not clear how “the Spirit expressly says that some will depart” (v.1), but it may have been a direct revelation or prophecy given to Paul.
The Church inherited from Judaism a belief that things would get worse before they get better. The present age is in the grip of evil powers, whilst the age to come will be perfect with a new heaven and a new earth. The coming day of the Lord would signal the shift between the two ages. The early church believed that the day of the Lord was coming imminently (we now know it wasn’t quite as imminent as they thought!) and so they expected persecution. Life in the Church wouldn’t be plain sailing as they came under increasing attack from demonic forces who would lead many astray by false teaching.
Today, we do not live as if the day of the Lord is imminent (although we should, as Paul says Jesus will return “like a thief in the night” in 1 Thessalonians 5:2), and we are not conditioned to think of demons infiltrating the Church. The reality, however, is that both God and Satan are looking for ordinary human beings to carry out their work. Who will we give our lives to? Are we nurturing our relationship with God and putting on the armour of God to protect us from the enemy’s lies?
Today, the false teaching infecting the Church may not be those affecting Ephesus – abstinence from particular foods or a forbidding of marriage (both considered to be part of Gnosticism) – but there is a gradual replacement of Biblical values by worldly ones. We suffer from a post-modern relativism, increasingly lax ethical standards (particularly when it comes to issues surrounding sex), and a desire to rationalise and water-down the miraculous and anything we cannot understand.
Paul wrote these words about the Church in Ephesus, where Timothy was working. May we follow Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian Church given in his earlier letter:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)