1 - 5 Apostasy In Later Times
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 [men] who forbid marriage [and advocate] abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in 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 gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
V1. The last verses of the previous chapter form the introduction of this chapter. There you saw that everything in God’s house is about the Lord Jesus. When people abandon or ignore what is being informed there, there is apostasy. Apostasy means that the Person of Christ is not sufficient anymore. Then people still need to have something to be more ‘Christian’. That is a violation of His Person and that is what the first verses of this chapter are about. You may say briefly that in case people do not hold on to the truth of the last verses of chapter 3 (1Tim 3:15-16) then verse 1 of this chapter will be the result.
In the days of Paul we see the characteristics of apostasy appear. That’s why the apostle could pass on admonishments that are of practical use in his time. Those admonishments have become more and more urgent as the time has moved on. It is possible that Paul has received a special message from the Spirit regarding the “later times”. Because “the Spirit” says it, it is sure that it will happen like that. The word “explicitly” emphasizes especially what ‘the Spirit says’ about those ‘later times’ and that it is particularly advisable to take His words to heart.
The expression “the Spirit … says” is one of the proofs that the Spirit is a (Divine) Person and not just a power or influence. It is the Spirit that makes us hear these vehement admonishments, so that the saints will not be surprised. He speaks about times that were to come in those days, but now have come fully. That is what makes it a present-day issue for us.
These ‘later days’ are being marked by a certain character, that enables you to recognize those times. What particularly characterizes those times is “that some will fall away from the faith”. Here there is still mention of ‘some’. The evil has still not generally spread, what will surely be the case in “the last days” (2Tim 3:1; 2Pet 3:3; Jude 1:18), where we live now.
‘Fall away from the faith’ can only happen to those who are not true believers. The certainty of salvation is the part of all who have been converted to God, who have confessed their sins sincerely and who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior (Jn 10:27-30; Rom 8:38, 39; Heb 10:14; Jn 5:24). ‘Fall away’ is taking distance of an original position. People who depart from the faith consciously turn their back on what they first believed. This faith was only based on rational considerations (cf. Jn 2:23-25).
While the Spirit leads in all truth (Jn 16:13), these people deviate from the truth and deliver themselves to the influence of “deceitful spirits” and their doctrines, “doctrines of demons”. That’s what they are occupied with; they seek their assurance there and they cling to their ‘truths’. They are blind to the fact that they entrust themselves to demons; those are evil spirits, instruments of satan.
V2. Demons can present themselves in a very pious way, but it is just appearances that deceive. They play an acting role in piety, while what they say comes from the father of lies. “Hypocrisy” is a word that has to do with playing an act. Someone plays a role and pretends to be somebody else than himself. It is as the wearing of a mask that keeps the real identity to be hidden. In that way these deceivers wear the mask of piety as it is seen in the abstention of marriage and food (verse 3).
Such people have “seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron”. It is as it were that they put an ineradicable mark on their conscience with a hot branding iron that made them totally to be cut off from the gospel. They unscrupulously distort things that are given by God and give them another meaning. They present their doctrines as if those can lead people to a higher level of holiness, in order to honor God more.
V3. Paul mentions two of these doctrines, namely about marriage and food. Both are given by God as a blessing when He created man. In contrast to that demons present marriage and food as things that ‘only’ belong to the old creation, something that is from a lower order. They can indicate that a Christian doesn’t belong to the old creation anymore, but to the new creation. And there, according to their doctrines, things are of course different.
But there is nothing that can devalue the order of God’s creation. Marriage and food were already a part of the creation before sin entered. Devaluing these gifts means devaluing the Creator. On the contrary, God expects us as new men, to do justice in Christendom to the things He has given. Devaluing the gifts is also an attack on Christ. Celibacy (the obligation in the roman catholic church to a priest to renounce marriage) is a doctrine of demons. It is an attack on the truth of Christ and the church.
Regarding the second error, ‘to abstain from food’, the deceivers can appeal to the food laws of the Old Testament (e.g. Lev 11). The error is the commandment (they made up themselves) to abstain from certain food. In that way a person who becomes a vegetarian out of conviction and eats only vegetable food, because he doesn’t want to eat meat, is caught up in the doctrine of demons. Also this error is an attack on Christ, this time regarding His work. He who fundamentally refuses to eat meat, refuses to nourish himself with the death of someone else. The death of the animal with which man is allowed to nourish himself is a picture of the death of Christ through which a man can receive life.
Paul returns to the beginning. Everything that “God has created”, He has created with a purpose. That purpose is that man enjoys it and honors Him for it. False doctrines deprive people of this privilege and therefore hinder the giving of thanks that ought to be normal for the believer. By giving Him thanks for it you acknowledge that you have received it from Him.
Also unbelievers receive food (Acts 14:17), but they do not thank God for it. Only children of God are able to eat food as a gift from God. They are those “who believe and know the truth”, through which they will be kept safe from these lies of abstention. [The Scripture indicates that there can be reasons for a temporary abstention in marriage (1Cor 7:5) and with regard to food (fasting, e.g. Acts 13:2-3). But that’s another issue.]
V4. What comes from the good Creator-God cannot be otherwise than good. The limitations that the law had determined have disappeared by the light of the gospel (Acts 10:9-16). Still there is one exception in Christendom: the prohibition to eat blood (Acts 15:28-29).
While false teachers reject the good things from God with their doctrines, Paul contradicts that “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude”. The only condition to enjoy the good things created by God is that it goes together “with gratitude” to God Who has given the good things.
V5. Besides, that the food “is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” doesn’t refer to the custom (which is good of course) of giving thanks before or after the meal and to read a portion from God’s Word before or after a meal. The Lord Jesus always gave thanks also before the meal (Mt 15:36; Jn 6:11; Lk 22:19). Paul uses that as a general rule (Rom 14:6) and also lives up to that himself (Acts 27:35).
The point is that when you ‘sanctify’ food, you separate a portion from all food and eat and enjoy it in fellowship with God. That is what you do, because the Word of God has made clear to you what is the true relationship of the created things towards the Creator. You also enjoy in the ordinary things like food and drink fellowship with God. This fellowship with God you particularly enjoy also in prayer.
Now read again 1 Timothy 4:1-5.
Reflection: Why does Paul speak about doctrines of demons when it concerns everyday matters like marriage and food?
6 - 11 Discipline For the Purpose of Godliness
6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, [constantly] nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and [also] for the [life] to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 11 Prescribe and teach these things.
V6. Paul orders Timothy to present “these things” he just mentioned, to the believers. He doesn’t give this order as a command. He appeals to Timothy as somebody who wants to be “a good servant of Christ Jesus”. He neither says that Timothy must command the believers to consider what he has said regarding marriage and the consumption of food. He has to ‘point out’ them.
He ought to tell them with sensitivity about what God has meant with marriage and food and drink. It is not only about passing them on in words, but that he also makes it effective for the listeners. In that way he will lay a foundation under the teaching of Paul which in this letter is particularly about the conduct in God’s house. It also concerns about everyday matters like weddings and the consumption of food.
When he performs his duty in that way he ‘will be a good servant’, in whom Christ Jesus is being glorified. ‘Servant’ is not an official function, but it indicates an action. It is simply about a person who serves Christ. You can be that also. A good servant takes care of the saints.
He also takes care of his own spiritual health by feeding himself with the Word. “The words of faith” have “nourished” him; he has been and he is being nourished and formed by it. The words of faith are the words that the faith needs, words that strengthens the faith. Those are the words of God’s Word and those are the daily nourishment of the servant. I hope that God’s Word is also your daily nourishment.
By the “sound doctrine”, which implies the truths that are revealed in the Scripture, the servant is being kept alive spiritually. Timothy has, after a careful study of the good doctrine, appropriated this doctrine for himself and has “been following” it (2Tim 3:10; cf. Acts 17:11). That has become visible in his ministry. Only then is a person able to instruct others what he has learnt. It is also important for you to take in the doctrine of the Scripture first and to practice it before you instruct anything to others (Ezra 7:10).
V7. What contradicts the words of the faith and the sound doctrine are “worldly fables fit only for old women”. Paul orders to always reject and condemn this empty talk of silly old chatterboxes. It is in no way in accordance with the things from God and can therefore not nourish the believers. These foolish imaginations are nourishment for the gullible people who turn away from God and His Word. They nourish themselves with things that are no food.
After the order to reject something Timothy receives the order to exercise himself in something. Paul calls out to him: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” That means to exercise or train yourself in what pleases God. You concentrate to ask yourself in everything you do whether it is the will of God. With this exercise (literally: gymnastics) is not meant intellectual gymnastics to increase your memory, but how your heart and conscience are being exercised in God’s presence in learning to know His will.
V8. This is a learning process where the point is to bring everything, including the small details, to God and to make Him guide you step by step. This exercise will never come to an end on earth. That is different from the “bodily discipline”, which is “only of little profit”. The profit of bodily exercise is measurable and limited to a certain time. It in no way affects eternal life, the life after this life. Neither is it of any use there. However, the exercise in Godliness is not only profitable for the body, but also for the spirit and soul.
Paul doesn’t plea for an abstention of everything regarding the body. He only wants to put it in the true perspective. In the comparison between bodily exercise and the exercise in Godliness the balance must be completely tipped to the side of the commitment to get exercised in Godliness. His target is to show that the spiritual training has an immeasurable value, while the bodily training has only a very limited profit.
When there is Godliness things are seen in the light of God. Exercise in Godliness brings spirit, soul and body in God’s presence. God promises to show the true meaning of life to those who exercise in it and to give strength to implement this. The value of such a life on earth is already great to God and to the believer himself and this value will also remain in the future. If you focus on God and on doing His will He will fulfill His promise to you. Then you will already enjoy fellowship with God in “the present life” and you will continue to do so in “the [life] to come”. You take it along with you out of this life into eternity.
V9. You can be sure that it is like that. With the assertion “it is a trustworthy statement” and the encouragement “deserving full acceptance” the importance of the exercise in Godliness is underlined. Because this saying is that trustworthy (God has said it after all) it deserves full acceptance. He who doesn’t accept it, deficits himself tremendously. You can be sure that this saying is really profitable.
V10. It is in any case a saying that means everything to Paul. He has a right view of that promise. He knows that that promise ought to be the center in the life of each believer. Therefore he points out to Timothy his commitment “for this”. With the efforts of all his strength, right up to the edge of exhaustion (that is what the word “labor” means) he wants to convince the believers, including you, to excise themselves in Godliness.
It is really a tough job to ‘keep the minds’ of believers on this, because we all easily forget what our life is all about. When you occupy yourself with it, it will also cause battle. You will definitely face powers that want to guide believers the other way. Paul does not avoid the battle that goes together with it. I hope you don’t either.
Bodily exercise is often about the honor of men. In order to persevere in the spiritual labor and battle you should not focus on that, but on the honor of God. Paul puts his trust in “the living God”. That’s where he draws his strength from to be able to do his heavy duty and to fight the battle that goes together with it. Paul focuses on Him alone. There lies also the strength for the ministry that Timothy has to achieve and also for you and your ministry.
Of that ministry people are the object. God Himself gives the example of that ministry by being the “Savior of all men” as ‘the living God’. The purpose is that they will respond to what God asks of them: to live a Godly life. Only in a life with that quality man finds his true destination and satisfaction. Every other fulfillment of his life dishonors God and is damaging to man himself.
God is ‘the living God’. He, Who has always existed, is the source of life. All life originates from Him. Real life is the life He gives and that is lived for Him. There is no life outside of Him. People who live outside of Him are dead.
In a way all people do enjoy what the believers enjoy unlimited. Although unbelievers do not give thanks to Him for it, He feeds their bodies. He is the ‘Savior’ or ‘Sustainer’ of it. He is not the Savior of the unbelievers in the sense that they are eternally saved, but in the sense that He takes care of them by giving them food (Acts 14:17). God doesn’t despise anything of His creation, not the food nor marriage and nor also man.
Paul, who has no guarantees for a livelihood, knows for sure that God Who is the Savior of all men, is this “especially of believers” (cf. Phil 4:19; Rom 8:32; 1Pet 3:12). The assurance of the apostle applies also for you, whatever the test is that you may experience now. It is a good thing to look at the immeasurable privileges you may enjoy as a saved sinner and to be grateful to have eternal life and a heavenly hope. But also never forget the continual and loving care of God that He shows you in everyday matters.
V11. Timothy has to “prescribe” the previous matters. ‘Prescribe’ is a stronger word than ‘point out’ in verse 6. He ought to bring forward authoritatively that the negative things quoted, should be omitted and that the positive things should be done. He also ought to “teach these things”, which means that he has to explain what is being prescribed.
Now read 1 Timothy 4:6-11 again.
Reflection: How do you exercise yourself in Godliness?
12 - 16 Exhortations For the Servant
12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but [rather] in speech, conduct, love, faith [and] purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the [public] reading [of Scripture], to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be [absorbed] in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
Verses 12-16 are filled with exhortations. In a direct sense they apply to Timothy, but at the same time they apply to each servant in all times. Therefore also to you now. You also find in it the secret of the personal testimony. You will also find in it the power that you need in your service towards people. In these verses you read how the minister lives in the awareness of grace (verse 12), how he ministers with his spiritual gift (verses 13-14) and how he develops himself spiritually (verses 15-16).
V12. The first remark has to do with his age. Each age goes together with a certain pattern of conduct. As a young believer it is not appropriate to behave yourself as if you already know a lot of the Bible or as if you already have had a lot of experiences with the Lord. From an older believer a certain knowledge and maturity can be expected.
Now Timothy was, according to our conception, not that young anymore. Suppose he was about twenty years old when Paul took him along with him somewhere around the year 50 on his second mission trip (Acts 16:3). Then here he must have been thirty three years old, which was according to the standards of that time, still young. If Luke calls Saul a young man (Acts 7:58), he must also have been in his thirties.
Timothy ought to behave himself in a way that matches with his age, so that he doesn’t cause despise. This remark is also intended for those who were going to read this letter. His relatively few years of age could possibly cause a feeling of despise to the old class of believers when he would speak authoritatively. Because of his natural timidity (1Cor 16:11) he could be inclined to behave a little bit reticent. That would be damaging for the spiritual welfare of the believers.
But Timothy ought not to think that he could expect his commands to be obeyed purely on the ground of his authority. Paul points out to him that he also had the responsibility to be “an example”. His example will be of help for the believers. They could then see how they can manage to bring the commands into practice.
He ought to be an example “in speech” and “conduct”. Speech and conduct (or walk) encompasses the whole life. In his words there should not be found insincerity and no recklessness to be heard. That regards both the personal and the public speech. He must choose his words carefully and be careful with it. His conduct covers the whole way of his living. Wherever he goes or finds himself his conduct always ought to be that of a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus.
His contacts with the fellow believers must be “in love, faith [and] purity”. He must not deal out of an emotional impulse. His sincere interest in the wellbeing of the other person must be the result of his love for God that is poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). Thereby he can trust in God and in His Word. Others will be able to see the results of his faith in his life.
What is rooted in love and faith is also pure. It disgusts everything what is unclean. His contacts with others, especially with somebody from the other sex, must take place in purity. It is in the time we live not an unnecessary luxury to emphasize that. Keep yourself in purity in all aspects of your life. It doesn’t matter whether it is at school or on the working floor or with a certain service for the Lord, or whatever it is.
V13. The exhortation in verse 13 refers particularly to what Timothy has to do in the meeting and that persistently. He had to “give attention to the [public] reading” again and again. In those days not everyone owns the Holy Scriptures themselves. Therefore the attention to reading aloud was very important. The Lord Jesus also read aloud or public (Lk 4:16-27; Acts 13:15a; 2Cor 3:14).
The attention to reading aloud the Holy Scripture is the foundation of all Christian teaching. It was then the means of passing on the truth. The attention to reading aloud already gives, when it happens and is heard in a spirit of subordination, abundant fruit.
After the attention to reading aloud comes “exhortation and teaching”. The ‘exhortation’ is the application to the heart and conscience of what has been read (Acts 13:15b). That should lead to a certain conduct which is in accordance with that Scripture. It can be a correction of wrong behavior. It can also be an encouragement to continue in some way and not to change the conduct. The ‘teaching’ is the explanation of what has been read aloud so that it is understood. In a gathering where the reading of God’s Word is in the center both aspects are of great importance. As long as Paul has not come Timothy must continue with it.
V14. To encourage this service Paul points to the gift in him. It is not said which gift it is precisely. To have a gift, and each believer has one (so do you), implies the responsibility to use it. Here you read about the danger to neglect it. That can happen in different ways, for example by being indifferent, slackness or by considering other things to be more important.
Regarding Timothy, there is a danger in his timidity. Therefore Paul reminds him that according to the prophecies previously made, he was to be called for a special service (see 1Tim 1:18). Then he reminds him of another peculiarity: the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (or eldership) as a proof of their approval with his ministry. The laying on of the hands doesn’t mean a consecration or calling, but to identify oneself, to have fellowship (1Tim 5:22; Acts 6:6; 13:3; Lev 1:4; 4:4).
V15. By reminding him of these things Paul intended to encourage Timothy. Therefore when Paul afterwards says “take pains with these things; be [absorbed] in them”, that exhortation will receive a positive response. Prescribing these things (verse 11) to others is only effective when he takes them to heart himself. The heart must be involved. To do things as an obligation is not enough if you want your message to be received. It is essential to give yourself entirely to it, to immerse yourself in the message. All your thoughts, time and abilities must be focused on these things.
A walk in the Lord cannot remain unnoticed. It makes a profound impression and it radiates authority. Every criticism on your ministry or age will therefore fall silent. The progress you make in knowing the will of the Lord, in order to practice it in your own life and in the life of the listeners, is a matter that “will be evident to all”.
Making progress is not without exertion. The word ‘progress’ describes a vanguard that leads a way through a difficult terrain or jungle. But through these exertions you will gain more and more capacity to judge things according to the Scripture and to speak spiritually to the benefit of souls.
V16. Before you are able to serve others you will have to make sure that your own life is in accordance with the truth (Acts 20:28). Only then you are suited and able to make sure that only the sound doctrine is taught and to detect and reject every deviation. Therefore all that matters is perseverance not to deviate yourself on the one hand and on the other hand to uninterruptedly continue to teach the sound doctrine.
When you are spiritually active in such a way, it will have beneficial consequences for both yourself and others. You and those who hear you will then achieve the final goal safely. The salvation mentioned here is to remain safe through the many dangers on the road to glory. These dangers consist of evil doctrines and practices for which you are warned at the beginning of this chapter. You see that your responsibility as a servant is major, but there is also a major blessing attached to faithfulness.
Now read 1 Timothy 4:12-16 again.
Reflection: How many and which exhortations are there in these verses?