The Battle cry of our time is that truth is relative. You can believe what you want to believe and as long as you believe it sincerely that's ok. However, truth by it's very nature is specific and exclusive. Two competing thoughts cannot be truth. Yet in churches all over the place this morning – there may be a rather large… variation in what is being proclaimed as truth. Not merely because the Bible is a big book but because false teachers and false teaching have not been restricted to the first century church.
On the heals of saying that the church is the pillar and support of the truth and in defining godliness as the person of Jesus Christ, we receive a warning from God himself. Times are coming (and I think are here) when people will fall away from the faith they've been instructed in. The source of their failure will be that they have believed the lies of the enemy. This morning I want you to listen carefully so that you may learn how not to depart from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
I want to help you Stay on the Straight Path.
Please open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 4:1-6 and read this together with me.
The Spirit's Warning
The entire passage is a warning to us all that the days are coming when some will fall away from the faith.
Notice if you will that the article "the" appears here in this passage. Throughout first Timothy1 whenever paul uses the phrase, "The faith" he is not talking specifically about personal saving faith but about "creedal faith." Creedal faith is the same thing as "the true teaching" about the faith.
For someone to fall away
from creedal faith means they deviate from teaching and believing the truth. To be certain there are severe consequences. As we've already learned at the end of the first chapter (1 Tim 1:19) – deviating from the faith can be devastating and painful. Hymenaeus and Alexander deviated from the truth of their faith to such an extent that they were blaspheming. And as a result they were handed over to Satan's authority. Without God's armor of protection they would suffer in the enemies domain until such time as they might repent.
Deviating from the truth of the faith is a repeated theme of warning in 1 Timothy. In the context it flows quite naturally. If the church is the pillar and support of the truth, than we the church need to know that the deviation is neither normal, nor is it harmless. Even when Paul was writing this, there were people deviating from the truth. (cf. 1 Tim 1:6).2
It is equally important to know that God is not the author of this confusion. The source of lies is both demonic and human.
Free Lies: Straight from the source!
First they are "paying attention to deceitful spirits." "Paying attention to" means more than just hearing it means choosing to believe it and following after. I want you to notice that in the first instance here he's talking about people listening to what demons have to say.
In our day the occult runs rampant. Even people who say they are Christians today read their horoscopes and know their "star sign". This is just one of the ways that demonic influence has in some places infiltrated the church. Sometimes it's intentional but I think it's usually accidental.
How many of you know that the devil likes to whisper lies to you already? He is the tempter and the liar and the deceiver so it is completely consistent with who that liar is to try to get God's people off the mark and he'll even misuse the Bible to do it. Don't forget that the devil quoted the Bible to Jesus when he was tempting him in the desert. One way to identify that the devil is trying to trick you is by exposing yourself to all of God's word and cross checking what you think you're seeing.
I once had a professor who warned us that whenever we see something in the text which no-body else has seen in 2000 years – it's time to pull out the Bible study fire extinguisher and call another believer who can help shoot down your heresy before you start spouting it.
Be aware that sometimes lies come straight from the devils themselves.
A Softer, gentler path to error
Yesterday I opened up my email and someone sent me a little meditation or something or other from the Dalai Lama. Now folks, I don't care what you happen to think about Llama's, that one is not following the path of Christ. And if you're not following Christ you're following the devil. So am I supposed to read that and get a boost for the day from it? I think not. I promptly sent it to the bit bucket.
Not every Christian will dabble in the occult (which is by the way like dabbling with pure plutonium). But a lack of discernment could easily expose you to doctrines of demons. Even though most Christians are not interested in the occult at any level, many times these same, people show little to no discernment when they go about picking reading material. I'm not even talking about reading material from the adult fiction section of the library, I mean the plethora of books available even from inside "Christian" bookstores and websites. Not to mention the assortment of preachers on the radio and television. Certainly not all of them are bad – I don't want to be mistaken that way, there are several that I willingly listen to. But even then we must listen to with a careful ear. One of the highest complements paid in the scriptures is to the Berean's in Acts 17:10-12 because they didn't just believe everything they heard, they opened a Bible to see if it was true!
Characteristics of False Teachers
Of course if you look back at 1 Timothy 1:6 and then here again at 1 Timothy 4:2-5 you find out that quite often false teachers are not somehow deluded and tricked into teaching heresy. In truth they are actively rebelling against God! 3 Sometimes people actually choose to leave solid teaching in favor of fluff and lies.
Notice that Paul calls them hypocritical liars. That's the kind of phrase that points to knowing the truth and not caring about it. He describes them in two very descriptive ways.
First of all he says that they are seared in their conscience. Now, we've all known people – or at least seen people on the news and you just have to ask yourself, "don't they have a conscience?" Well, yes they probably do in a sense. But they've ignored it's warnings so often that it's all but impossible for them to feel any remorse anymore when they do something against it. If you take a hot branding iron and hold it to your skin long enough to destroy the nerve cells underneath you won't be able to feel anything under the scar even after it heals.
Paul picks up just two of the doctrines which these teachers have been teaching. Number one they advocate abstaining from marriage.4 And second they tell you not to eat certain foods.5 The problem with both of those prohibitions is that they fail to account for the fact that God made both marriage and food. And he intended that we as Christians partake in them with thanksgiving towards God.6
The clear point of the matter at hand is that false teachers are often easy to spot because both their teaching and their life are going directly against what God's word actually says.
The Holy Spirit warned the church from the beginning that the truth of the gospel would be under attack. Demonic influences will attempt to lead believers astray and some false teachers will lie through their teeth in order to spread their own version of error.
Ok, all of that is true and it's a dangerous world out there. But, you say, "Pastor, I'm not a theologian – how can I be certain not to fall away? How can I be sure that I'm not buying a lie?"
That's an excellent question and I want to tell you. The answer to that lies in this text.
Don't put yourself into spiritual danger by venturing into demonic territory. I've warned you before about the occult. You might not be tempted to sacrifice on an altar to satan but dabbling in the occult can seem pretty innocent. You may think it's no big deal to just read your horoscope or call Madam whatever's mind reading telephone line for fun. Any fascination with the supernatural can open you up to direct demonic influence. God alone is the only acceptable source of power.
Consider the source of the teachings you take in. The bible tells us that Satan appears like an angel of light and his servants look nice too. Just because some teacher has a winning smile and quotes the Bible doesn't mean they teach the truth. Satan quoted scripture when he was testing Jesus. Remember that. Much of Paul's argument here regarded identifying some of these false teachers and it all boiled down to: "Do their lives measure up with God's word?" Be Like the Acts 17 Bereans. Check everything against God's word, which is the third answer.
Compare THE source. In other words: sound doctrine. Looking at the context which follows we see that Paul points out a few of the heretic's specific errors and then points to the solution: knowing the truth. If we realize that God created both marriage and food so that we might receive them both with gratitude toward God then we will be able not only to recognize false teachers who rail against such things but we will also be able to defend ourselves from error. Verse 6 has the answer here: "being constantly nourished on the words of the faith and the sound doctrine which you have been following."
Consult your pastor or someone else you trust who themselves exhibit sound doctrine.
Finally, not because it is the least important but because I want it to stay with you. Pray as you study the Bible and as you listen to teaching. The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth.
1The list may be divided between anarthrous (having no article)[1 Tim 1:2, 4, 5, 14, 19;2:7, 15; 4:12; 5:12; 6:11] and articular (having the article) [1 Tim. 3:9, 13; 4:1, 6; 5:8; 6:10, 12, 21]. (Though in 1:19 faith has no article it is otherwise specified as "their" faith and could be taken to indicate the creedal faith which they had.)
2Mounce, William D. Vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary : Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary, 235. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.
3Mounce, William D. Vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary : Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary, 235. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.
4Although Paul commended singleness as an estate in which one could give more time and energy directly to serving the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32, 35), he always insisted that marriage was not wrong (1 Cor. 7:28) and that God had indeed gifted many to marry (1 Cor. 7:7…). These errorists forbid marriage as inherently wrong. George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 190.
5These are not the only indicators of false teachers but even though these are spelled out for us in the pages of scripture there is no shortage of people and groups teaching these very things. The Catholic church still forbids it's priests to marry; and has through the centuries advocated abstention from certain foods. Even today many Christians are hung up on alcohol. They treat it almost as the unpardonable sin but it is not the consumption of alcohol that is the problem, it is getting drunk on it. Vegetarianism – while not a sin, is often touted as a superior level of spirituality.
6Where error springs from one side it's correction often creates another error so Paul defines what it means for these things to be good. 1) God created them. 2) They are to be received by giving thanks. 3) they are sanctified (Set apart for our holy use) by means of the word of God and by prayer. Which is the clear justification for praying for your meal. When you pray you are asking God to sanctify the meal, you are acknowledging God as the source of the meal and you are expressing gratitude that you get to share the meal.