At the close of 1 Timothy 3, Paul wrote these words:
Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith:
Christ was revealed in a human body
and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
and taken to heaven in glory.
In just a few short words, Paul has summarised the gospel for us. Jesus Christ was revealed in a human body. He died – and in his resurrection he was vindicated by the Spirit. His claims to being the Messiah were authenticated by God’s raising him to life again. Not only was he seen by angels – but also by a huge number of his followers, who announced his death and resurrection and kingdom to the nations. He has been believed in throughout the world, and has been taken to heaven in glory. And now we are awaiting his return! We are living in the “end times” – the time between Jesus’ ascension and his return.
But, writes Paul to Timothy here in 1 Timothy 4, there will be those who turn away from the truth faith. Those who follow “deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.” Paul is speaking of people who claim to be Christians, but who in actual fact are leading the church away from the truth of the gospel. People who sound all pious and super-spiritual – but who in actual fact are “hypocrites and liars”. People who seem to be more “religious” than other Christians in public – but who are in actual fact not. Paul describes these people as having “seared consciences”. That is, they are insensitive to what is right and what is wrong. They might say that something is wrong, but in actuality their lives are based around “whatever feels good to me”.
Paul highlights two areas of false teaching that such folk might disseminate. Obviously, these are just two examples. Paul says that they will say it is wrong to be married, and that it is wrong to eat certain foods. Now, Paul himself writes to the Corinthians that his personal opinion is that it is better not to marry. But he doesn’t say it is wrong to marry. In fact, he says that if you can’t control yourself, you should marry! Marriage is, after all, something instituted by God. Marriage reflects something of Jesus’ relationship to his church. Marriage ideally speaks to something of how God intends for us to live in community. To say that marriage is a religious “no-no” is inconceivable to me. And yet there have been many in church history who have argued exactly that! I would question, for instance, the Roman Catholic practice of celibacy based on this verse alone!
What about eating certain foods? I’ve actually watched a video of Joel Olsteen arguing that Christians shouldn’t eat prawns or pork. Really??? As Christians, we know that God made all the edible plants for us to eat. We should be thankful to God – not turn up our noses! What about the old testament laws? They are fulfilled in Christ. And now, all food is made holy because God says so, and because we thank God for it in prayer. Much as Jesus’ disciples could eat grain on the Sabbath, so too we can eat anything with thankfulness to God.
Paul urges Timothy to “explain these things” to the church. Timothy is to explain that there will be those who try to seduce them away from the truth with pious sounding falsehood. As he does so, says Paul, Timothy will be nourished by the message of faith and the good teaching he has followed. By strengthening the church with the truth, Timothy is himself strengthened in the faith. As a pastor, I know something of this. It’s an honour to preach, but the one who gets the most benefit out of it is often me!
There will be those who bring “godless ideas and old wives tails” into the church – these should not be entertained. They should not be given any oxygen. Rather, Timothy – and all who would seek to lead a church – should train themselves in godliness. Why? Well – Paul says that there are many benefits in this life and the life to come. For one, the more one grows in the knowledge of and into the likeness of Christ, the more one can speak the truth against falsehood. And the more we imitate God, the more we will appreciate him and his incredible grace, mercy and love! Says Paul, we continue to struggle and work hard because our hope is in the living God, Saviour of all people – particularly of believers. Godliness grows hope.
(An aside on that last bit… I don’t think Paul is preaching universalism – that all will ultimately be saved. What I think he is preaching is that when Jesus died on the cross and rose again, he did so for all humanity. But it is only believers who are actually saved. Just as in Numbers 21:4-9, those who refuse to look at Christ their Saviour will not live)
Paul finally urges Timothy to be bold in teaching these things. His age should not be a factor. Rather, with everything that he is, a pastor is called to model following Christ to his congregation. Every word, how one lives, how one shows love, how one trusts, how one deals with temptations and trials (that is, one’s purity) – should be an example to anyone looking. Timothy’s life is to be an open book. He is to “stay true to what is right.” My life is an open book. Jesus – please help me to be a good example. I know I’m not there yet, though I do want to be… please help me!
Timothy’s task: to read the Scriptures, encourage the believers, and teach them. Lord – help me to do exactly that.