1 Timothy 4:1-5 – “The Link Between False Teaching and Apostasy”
“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, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 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. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”
One cannot walk into these verses without taking a minute to reflect on what has come before it. Paul has been writing about one single topic for a very long time; namely, the church. This letter to Timothy begins with a call for Timothy to protect the church from outside error (1:3-20). Then Timothy is urged to consider the function and form of the local church (2:1-3:13).
As Paul’s representative in Ephesus, Timothy’s purpose is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort the overseers, deacons, and members of the Ephesian church so that their local body would exemplify Christ’s bride. Paul is writing so that Timothy (and the overseers) will obey their commission as they stand upon their confession (3:14-16).
Ministry has very few guarantees. There is no guarantee that your church will grow numerically. There is no guarantee that the pastor’s salary will remain steady. There is no guarantee that the people will repent or submit to God’s Word.
There are, however, two guarantees that come to mind. First, people will only repent and submit when they hear and understand God’s pure Word. So while we cannot guarantee that people will knock down our doors begging for the pure milk of the Word, we make sure that they receive nothing but sustaining Scriptures if and when they do come.
Second, it is a guarantee that people will leave a faithful ministry.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith
The term here translated fall away (ἀποστήσονταί) is where we get the word apostate. It describes one who distances themselves from someone or something. A person purposefully withdraws from a situation or group. Paul is not ambiguous about what these people are drawing away from. They will purposefully separate themselves from the faith. That simple term encompasses all that is Christianity (belief/trust in God through Christ’s person/promise/work).
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that a mark of a faithful ministry is a high attrition rate. That’s not at all the case. But we are told very plainly in Scripture that people will leave or fall away. If your church is faithfully teaching and preaching God’s Word, there will be stepped on toes and exposed sin. As a result, there will be more than a few empty pews.
It’s important to realize that sound and deep teaching never causes apostasy. People don’t decide to turn their back on Christianity once exposed to the truth. Rather they are revealed by the truth and can no longer keep up the facade. Biblical teaching only exposes what was already there.
So what enables these un-regenerates to remain comfortable in the pew so long? The answer is simple: weak and/or false teaching.
To emphasize the serious need to refute strange teachings and promote pure preaching, Paul draws four links between weak/false teaching and apostasy.
Apostates Are Drawn to Error
“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”
We’ve already explained the first half of this verse, but notice the second half. These individuals will fall away/apostatize as a direct result of paying attention to deceitful spirits and the doctrine of demons.
The word here translated as paying attention (προσέχοντες) implies that one is consumed with the thought of something. It describes someone who cares a great deal for or has concern for something/someone. You might be thinking that description sounds familiar. You would be correct because this is the exact same word (right down to its parsing) as the word used in 3:8 to describe the deacon as someone who is not addicted to much wine. Those who fall away from the faith are drawn to error like a wino is drawn to his bottle.
Paul is never one for ambiguity. He states very plainly what these apostates will give their attention to:
Deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons
These terms are certainly connected, but they are not referring to the same thing. A deceitful spirit should be understood as a deceitful teacher. The NT speaks of false teachers in this manner elsewhere (1 John 4:1-6) and it certainly fits the context here. If the spirits indicate the human false teachers, please note what they are teaching: the doctrine/teaching of demons. That is not to say that these false teachers are teaching about demons (the Word of God speaks on this subject with some frequency) but that the teaching itself is demonic. The teaching comes from demons.
Every false teaching on the planet, whether we’re talking about Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, or secular humanism is more than misguided human ideology. These are in fact the teachings from demons placed in the mouths of men who deceive untold millions. Apostates are drawn to these men (and women) like a moth to a flame.
Apostates Glory in External Piety
“By means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 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.”
There’s a lot going on in these verses, but let me see if I can highlight Paul’s line of argument for you.
By means of links this thought to the paying attention in v. 1. This describes how these apostates will be lured away. There is a direct connection between their desire/concern/care for demonic teaching and their own hypocritical lies.
To be a hypocrite (ὑποκριτής) is to wear a mask. The picture here is of an ancient actor who hides his identity behind a mask. Thus a single actor can easily play more than one part. Thus a hypocrite pretends to be someone other than who they really are.
Paul lists two actions that flesh out the significance of these apostates who are drawn to demonic spewing deceivers. The first action is that they sear their own conscience. The word indicates a burning as with a hot iron. The term is used of branding, but the sense here is not to mark the conscience so as to identify it, but to state that the conscience is cauterized, seared, rendered insensitive. The passive verb indicates that this action is self-inflicted. Apostates cannot feel conviction because they’ve taken the necessary precaution of destroying their conscience.
The second action is found in v. 3.
Men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods
The action here is the word forbid. All of this is still connected to the lure of deception. Apostates are hypocrites who love the idea of outward piety and religiosity. Always one for rule keeping so that they have something to point to and no suspicion comes to their inward rottenness.
On this very phrase, John Calvin wrote: “People who do not abstain from self-seeking, hatred, avarice, cruelty, and similar things, try to attain a righteousness for themselves by abstaining from those things which God had not forbidden. Only hypocrites do this, so that they can sin with impunity against the inner righteousness that the law requires.”
In other words, deceivers, hypocrites, and apostates love to move the goalposts. They focus on arbitrary standards that cannot be found in Scripture so that no one will notice their own unrepentant rebellion.
Demonic teaching is tantalizing to them. Hypocrisy is attractive to them. Arbitrary morality is appealing to them. Yet they are all of them blasphemers.
Apostasy is Blasphemy
“Which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude”
You have to understand that once again Paul has Genesis in mind. A quick reference to the front of your Bible will reveal that God created everything and that God deemed everything that he created as good. God created food to eat and marriage to enjoy. God provided a good means of strength and stability. God made sure that man was able to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. These are good gifts given by a good God. Why would we abstain from them?
Do you understand what it means to come along and demand that people abstain from God’s good creation? To call marriage “evil” or to render some foods as “not good” is to call God’s very character into question. Yet this is exactly what demonic teaching does. It calls into question all that God has said. What did the serpent ask the woman? “Did God really say…” (Gen. 3:1). The role of a false teacher is to undermine and call into question everything that God has said. What is an apostate if not a person who has come to the conclusion that Christianity is utterly false and wants nothing to do with Christ’s bride or Christ the bridegroom? Seemingly small lies have gigantic implications. Do not call unholy what God has made holy. To disregard this is to question the holiness of God himself.
All of God’s wonderful creation was made to display his glory for his people. Adam was given the task of ruling and subduing of the earth. Yet when he rebelled he no longer ruled for God. Yet as joint heirs with Christ, we can partake of the fruits of the earth because our rights have been restored through Christ. We receive these good gifts with thanksgiving because they are given, not earned. There is no need to reject anything that God has made good, only to receive it with thanksgiving.
Apostates are Devoid of God’s Communion
“for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer”
“It” refers not only to the food to be obtained from, but also marriage. The two form a collective that stand for everything God has called good. To sanctify is to make holy or recognize that something/someone is holy. It is this second understanding that Paul intends here.
The meaning is this: Reject nothing that God has made good because it is recognized as holy by His revelation and by your thanksgiving in prayer.
Do not call unholy what God has called holy. How do we know what is holy? He has told us in his Word. How do we recognize and reveal our gratitude for such good gifts? By offering thanksgiving in prayer. In his Word, God connects with us. In our prayer, we connect to God in a very deliberate and conscious fashion.
The apostate will never enjoy the fruit of marriage or the fruit of the earth to the potential that God intended. How can he? Only the Christian can enjoy any and all food knowing that it is God who created it and called it good. Only the Christian can approach his wife knowing that God created her for him and called all that he made good. Rather than enjoying God’s good creation, the apostate would much prefer to spit in God’s face by declaring the good creation to be something far, far less.
In the last days (in which we are in and have been since Pentecost) apostates will come. There will be some who fall away and reject the faith. There’s nothing we can do about that. But there is something that we can do: Preach the Word. Apostates will soon be revealed for who they are under the constant and persistent rays of God’s Word illuminating sin and displaying righteousness. Apostates are very much like mushrooms; they thrive in dark, warm environments feeding on manure.
In this sense, weak teaching is more dangerous than false teaching. Teaching that is blatantly false can be pointed out and avoided. But teaching that is just vanilla enough to not raise any alarms yet not really expose any sin is able to fly under the radar and relax the mushrooms within into lethal lethargy. Before long, a whole generation of apostates are raised up and ready to depart from the faith.
We have no control who comes and fills our pews. We have no control if they come or if they go. But while the pulpit is ours to fill, we can and we WILL teach the full council of God. We will teach it deeply, passionately, completely, and unapologetically. For the love of Christ and his bride, we will preach the Word.