Warnings About Organized Religion
[1st Timothy chapter 4]
Last week as we closed out 1st Timothy chapter 3, we found the apostle Paul giving Timothy, his former understudy and pastor-in-waiting, additional pointers about church administration as well as the fine points of choosing those who were to be serving under him. The qualifications for such men (since women were not allowed to serve until the 20th century charismatic movement came along, but that’s another topic) are spelled out in unmistakable clarity. But there is also an prophetic warning about the End Times that we are living in today, and it reads as if the apostle Paul was prophesying about the future church that he could only see from a distance. So let’s begin our study starting at verse 1.
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the teachings of the truth and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives tales; rather, train yourself to be Godly. For physical training is of some value, but Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy chapter 4, verses 1-8, NIV)
Paul pulls no punches from the very start, and he was speaking in the Spirit when he wrote, “… in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons”. What was Paul writing about here? For the answer to that we only need to look 2 sentences down, where Paul wrote, “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving …”. Let me be clear that Paul wasn’t writing about any particular religious denomination or teaching or faith. Paul was writing about the newly planted seeds he saw all around him that would later become organized religion as we know it today. For example, Jews, Muslims and at least a few Christians don’t eat pork. I will decline to comment on that one way or the other, but the Catholic church says their faithful must abstain from meat on Friday, and on and on it goes. In modern times we have, as another good example of what Paul wrote about, the “prosperity gospel”, which I have written about at length in the past. For my newer readers (and thank you so much for taking time out to read this, by the way), the “prosperity gospel” basically says, “If you want anything from God, you must plant a seed because believers reap only what they sow. So if you’re finances are in a bad way, send me/us a love offering of ‘x’ amount of money and God will bless you for it in such-and-such a way”. What this “teaching” actually amounts to is a perversion of the true Gospel. Certain elements are correct and quite Scriptural, such as the part where ‘we reap what we sow’. Jesus did say that (in all 4 Gospels to the best of my recollection), but it was in a completely different context. In this instance, Jesus wasn’t talking about money, he was talking about our deeds and how we treat other people. Therefore, this amounts to a twisting or warping of the true gospel of Christ, which is the cleansing from all sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. This false gospel won’t cleanse anyone, it will only make them worse, because Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money” (Matt. Chapter 6, verse 24 NIV).
“If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus…”. Paul was writing these things at a time when the illiteracy rate was well over 90%, so the only way to teach about the Way – as Christianity was called back then – was verbatim from memory. Paul is telling Timothy to keep up the good work, and to never slack off the pace of his work in the Lord knowing, as we know today, that by doing so he was building up an eternal reward for himself in heaven. “ …Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” This is confirmation of what I just wrote above, and on further thought that works both ways. Cling to Christ, the only hope of those who believe! As these Last Days unfold before us, the world around us is perishing before our very eyes. We are entering into the tumultuous “end times” that have been prophesied about for at least the last 3,000 years, and possibly as much as 4,000. After pausing to consider that pertinent fact, let’s now finish our today’s study beginning at verse 9.
“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4, verses 9-16, NIV)
“…we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.” Christians are people who have no confidence in the world that surrounds them. There are those who put their hopes in stocks, bonds, money markets, futures and other investments, others who put their hopes in their careers (I freely confess that I was once one of these individuals), or in their houses and estates, and still others in just plain useless junk made somewhere in China. First of all, for all those people who go to the mall and pay retail prices for everything from shampoo to a winter coat – you are spending way too much money! Get a grip already! Reject the empty pursuit of wealth and possessions and embrace Christ instead! Our only real hope is in the living God, whose only Son was crucified, died and was raised from the dead on the morning of the third day. Jesus is our only hope and our only salvation. Besides Him there is no other – period.
“…set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Here, in just one chunk of a sentence, Paul spells out with crystal clarity how Christians should carry themselves and conduct themselves in an exemplary way. We are supposed to be setting a standard by the way we talk, how we live, by our unconditional love of others, and by our uncompromising purity – in this context meaning that we have pure motives – and the strength of our faith. “Do not neglect your gift…”: Evidently Timothy’s gifts were preaching and teaching. But what is your gift? What talent, ability or specialty do you have that you can contribute to your church or community? For me, it’s writing and music in no particular order. For others, their gifts are what Paul called “helps” in his Corinthian letters, meaning people who do pretty much whatever needs to be done, such as cleaning, or baby sitting. For others there is the gift of administration, or still others being a singer or other musician. The most important gift we have besides the salvation of Christ is prayer – that’s one thing everyone can do. Whatever gift you have, give freely to God through the Prince of Peace just as God has freely pardoned all our sins through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” When in the Lord’s service or not, guard your heart with your life, and your life with your “shield of faith” that we studied back in Ephesians chapter 6. Those of us who teach and evangelize Christ are charged with the duty to watch what we teach and how we teach it closely and at all times, because we are being watched more closely by God. But if we persevere, as Paul wrote, we will save not only ourselves, but more importantly those who we are teaching and evangelizing. Pastors are charged with the duty to save their entire congregations, and evangelists their viewing audiences, by watching closely to make sure the real and true Gospel is being made to known to all who can see and hear. Rest assured that this is something that I take very seriously as I write and blog each week, so as for me let it always be. Next week we will finish up with chapter four. Until then, be blessed in Jesus’ mighty name.