I think almost every week as I preach, I somehow find a reason to quote the words spoken by Jesus found in John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” That statement by Christ is closely correlated to another He made in prayer to the Father, which is, “Your word is truth.” And that statement finds it’s consummation in the words of Jesus found in John 8:32, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Now when He says make you free, He is not speaking of political freedom, or freedom from tyranny, but freedom from the captivity and condemnation of sin. And we have been saying that in our church practice and worship it must be according to the truth of God’s word. Paul has written this letter to Timothy according to chapter 3 vs 15, so that we might know how we are to conduct ourselves in the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. So when Paul lays out qualifications for leadership, for pastors, for deacons, and so forth, it is a matter of being obedient to the truth revealed by God. There are not multiple ways of doing church depending on the culture you live in, nor multiple ways of interpreting scripture, nor multiple possibilities in regards to pastoral qualifications. There is the truth, period, which we are to adhere to without deviation. Some aspects of church conduct are not stated, but things that are stated are not negotiable.
But now in this manifesto for church conduct, Paul turns his attention to the enemy of the truth, which is apostasy. Apostasy simply means the abandonment of the truth. And that has been something which the church has had to deal with since the very beginning. Paul says it is in the latter days, but he is speaking as if he is in the latter days. The latter days, or latter times is a reference to the church age, which began at Pentecost and continues today, and will come to its conclusion at the second coming of Christ. So Paul was living in the latter days, and we are living in the latter days.
Notice what he says in vs 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.” Now there are two primary ways that you can understand faith. There are maybe more than two ways, but these are the two major ways to understand faith. One is our faith which is believing unto salvation. Believing and trusting in who Christ is and what He has accomplished through His work on the cross. The second way is understanding faith is the faith, that is a reference to the body of truth which we hold and practice. And that is how Paul means it here.
So who is he speaking about here when he says some will fall away? I would suggest that it is people who are at least in some way physically attached to the church. They profess to be Christians. That doesn’t mean that they are truly Christians. I don’t believe that the Bible teaches that a true child of God can cease to be a child of God. So Paul isn’t saying that people who are truly saved have fallen away unto perdition. But they can fall away from the practice of the faith into spiritual and physical shipwreck. But more than likely what he is primarily speaking of here are people who have professed to be Christian but are not really Christians. And because they did not believe the truth so as to be saved, they were led astray further by believing false doctrine, which makes it almost impossible for them to be saved.
And that is the goal of the devil. His goal in purveying false doctrine is two fold; to cause those who are saved to suffer spiritual shipwreck and ruin their testimony, and secondly, to cause those who would possibly come to be saved, to become so deceived by false doctrine, or so confused by false doctrine, that they can not come to believe the truth so as to be saved. That’s why Paul attributes this apostasy to the doctrines of demons. Because the architect of apostasy is the devil and his angels.
Notice the end of verse one, these who have fallen away were “paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Jesus said concerning the devil in John 8:44 “You are of [your] father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [nature,] for he is a liar and the father of lies.” So the architect of false doctrine is the devil. He is a liar and a murderer, and he twists the truth into a lie so as to deceive the world and lead them to destruction.
We should remember that John said in 1John 4:1 that we aren’t to believe every spirit, but we are to test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. It amazes me how gullible people are. Anything that is said or done in church or in the name of Jesus is automatically assumed to be true and of the Holy Spirit. And yet we are warned again and again in scripture that from within the church false teachers will arise and deceive many. And yet some crazy thing happens in a church building that you can not find even suggested in scripture, like angel dust falling from the rafters, or being slain in the spirit, and automatically people attribute it to a great work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a spirit alright, just not the Holy Spirit. It’s evil spirits, doctrines of demons and deceitful spirits at work in the church.
Now these spirits make use of men who speak their lies. These men are false prophets, false teachers and preachers in the church. Look at verse two, “by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” Their consciences are cauterized so that they no longer feel the pangs of their guilt. They become hardened in their rebellion. Grieving the Holy Spirit has led to resisting Him, which has led to quenching Him. So their conscience no longer bothers them when they tell their lies. Do you know it’s possible to tell a lie so often that you start to believe it? I think that sort of thing happens a lot. Especially in politics, it would seem. But the thing about a lie is that there is usually a germ of truth in it but it has been perverted into something that no longer is the truth.
Now what I think is really interesting is what Paul gives as examples of this demonic deception that leads to apostasy. You would think that it would have to be some great evident heresy, like saying Jesus is Beelzebub or something to that effect. But that is not what Paul identifies. Instead he choses to illustrate this principle with two doctrinal errors that really don’t seem that big of a deal. Just a difference of opinion perhaps, not a matter of doctrine.
But notice what he identifies in vs 3 as examples of doctrines of demons. “[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.” Forbidding marriage and abstaining from certain foods. These are the two great illustrations of apostate doctrine. Now I don’t think for a minute that Paul is saying that these two are the only possible means of apostasy. I think there are numerous possible false doctrines that can lead to apostasy. But Paul chose these two probably because they were prevalent at that time in Ephesus, and because they were so subtle that Timothy might not have been aware of the danger.
These particular doctrines more than likely came from a philosophy known as asceticism. In many ways asceticism had a lot in common with Gnosticism which the Apostle John warns about at the end of the first century. But it was a belief that matter was bad, and spiritual was good. So they made a big deal out of restricting the physical in the belief that it would accentuate the spiritual. We see that in pagan cultures today, such as in Tibetan Buddhism. But certain aspects of asceticism has also been practiced in Christianity, for instance by monks, particularly in the Middle Ages. It’s the idea that refraining from certain physical comforts helps one attain a degree of spirituality or holiness.
The problem was that in practice asceticism did not keep one from sin. In fact, in Gnosticism they believed that you could participate in sin without any repercussions, because it was only the spirit that was important. And so they actually advocated that you could overcome the flesh by indulging in it. The flesh and the spirit could lead opposing lives and that was ok. And perhaps that spirit of Gnosticism is still working among the sons of disobedience today by saying we live in a age of grace and not law, and so therefore, we are not under condemnation but under grace, so there is no sin, no need to repent, and not to worry when they walk after the lusts of the flesh.
But my purpose here this morning is not to try to teach about asceticism or Gnosticism or Antinomianism, or any other ism. What I would like to show you though is that false doctrine may be something we might consider relatively minor, of not any real consequence. And yet the culmination of small deceptions can end up taking one far from the faith.
Now in regards to both marriage and food, Paul adds, “which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” In other words, God created marriage for man and woman to be enjoyed, to be a mutual comfort and support for both, and something that we are to be grateful to God for. God said in creation that it was not good for man to be alone, and so He made woman to be a help mate for him. So we should thank God for that, and our gratefulness to God for marriage should make us honor marriage and the vows we made to God. But instead, these false teachers had said that by forbidding marriage they were accomplishing some spiritual achievement.
But as Paul said in Col 2:23 “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence.” In fact, in one particular church denomination today where they forbid marriage, there is ample evidence that practice has not prohibited fleshly indulgence, but has probably induced gross fleshly indulgence. And yet they persist in teaching this false doctrine as a means of achieving holiness.
The other thing that was popular among the ascetics was abstaining from certain foods. We still see that in certain religious circles today. There are certain denominations that say that you need to practice vegetarianism, or that you need to follow the Jewish dietary laws.
But they clearly haven’t read what God revealed to Peter in Acts 10:9-16 “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all [kinds of] four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice [came] to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no [longer] consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” So at that time God declared all foods clean.
So Paul says if food is received with thanksgiving, with gratitude towards God, then it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. It is blessed by God, and given thanks for by us, and thus it is good, given by God to nourish us and strengthen us for our life. God has provided for us physically as well as spiritually, and we should receive such blessings with gratitude. Not believing the lies of demons that try to twist the truth into a false means of righteousness.
Instead, Paul indicates that a good pastor will teach the truth, and the truth will be spiritual food for the church that gives them spiritual life. Remember Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” So rather than give heed to the word of false teachers, Paul says in vs6 “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.” Some translations say you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus. Either way, he is talking to Timothy, who is a pastor in Ephesus. And he indicates that the truth of God’s word and sound doctrine is the spiritual food that nourishes the soul.
That verse also indicates that it is the faithful pastor’s job to point out false doctrine and expose those who teach it. Now I could spend a lot of time here this morning naming names and calling out apostate churches and televangelists and fake healers and so forth. But I don’t think that is necessarily profitable. However, when I do call them out by name, it doesn’t mean that I am being unloving or unnecessarily combative. It means that I take my job seriously. I take the truth seriously. I believe that the devil is real and he is working. And I value the spiritual and physical lives of those in our church enough to warn them when the wolves are in the hen house.
I was in the Post Office the other day and noticed that they have these bulletins on the board in the lobby showing the pictures and names and address of people that have been convicted of being sexual predators, who are now living in the community. Does that seem mean to you? No, if you have kids and you live next door to that person, it seems prudent that you would like to know if your neighbor is a convicted sexual predator. I’m sorry if some people find in offensive, but I think the same principle applies to spiritual predators, that cause children of God to suffer shipwreck in their faith. They need to be called out. And I would be happy to give you the names of some if you want to see me afterwards.
So the pastor is to contend for the faith. But as in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul warns about these teachers who have concocted spiritual doctrines from vague Biblical references which they combined with asceticism. And so he says to Timothy in vs 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; 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.”
You know, we could make too much or too little out of his statement that bodily discipline is only of little profit. We could take that to mean that we all should practice bodily exercise in moderation. That it does have some profit. And certainly, that is practical advice which is backed up by science.
Or on the other hand we could emphasize the fact that there is only a little benefit to bodily exercise. And therefore use that as an excuse to say why bother – eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. But what I think Paul is really saying here is physical exercise has only physical, temporal benefits, but spiritual discipline has eternal benefits.
The kind of discipline that Paul advocates is that which restricts the lusts of the flesh. He says in 1Cor. 9:25-27 “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” So we do exercise discipline in regards to the lusts of the flesh, so that we may walk in the Spirit.
We discipline ourselves to walk in the Spirit, so that we might attain godliness, and godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. And to that he says, “It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.” In other words, this is the truth of God, which is to be accepted and believed and practiced by the church. The false teaching that these men were teaching wasn’t the truth, and it did not produce godliness, just self righteousness.
And that truth of God, Paul says in vs 10, is that for which “we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” We serve the living God, and we have our hope in Him. There is no hope in science, or philosophy, or physical fitness, or any degree of education or knowledge. We cannot save ourselves. Salvation is from the Lord, and there is salvation in none other than Jesus Christ. He is the Savior of all men, who believe in Him and in HIs word.
I don’t know what hope you have for life after death. I hope you are not trusting in anything other than in the atoning work of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection. The Bible says it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment. The only way to escape the judgment of condemnation which has been passed to all men -for all have sinned – is to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, as the One who took the wrath of God upon Himself. It’s only by the transference of our sins upon Him, and His righteousness upon us, that we might be able to stand spotless and blameless before the throne of God.
If you’re here today and have not believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, then I urge you to make that commitment today, to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and receive the gift of new life.