This sermon was preached at Niddrie Community Church on April 22, 2018.
You can listen to it here (28 min.), or read the manuscript below.
Will this church exist in 25 years, preaching the same gospel you heard this morning? Will we be a true church next month? How about to the end of our lives, holding fast to faith and a good conscience here in this place?
God’s been generous to us, amen? How many times a week do we get fed good Bible teaching? 3 times on a Sunday. Every Wednesday and Friday. We are a blessed people.
But what do you think that means for our future? Do you think it’s smooth sailing to the end of time because we’re all on the same page with the gospel right now?
If we’re feeling confident in ourselves tonight, then 1 Timothy 4 comes at a good time. It tells us that we should not feel that way. This church is under threat.
Paul begins chapter 4 with a warning of judgment and ends with words promising salvation, words that I pray prove true for each of us in the room. If that will be the case, we must believe what God says to us and obey the good instructions he’s given us.
1. WHAT IS PAUL’S WARNING?
Look with me at verse 1.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith
Paul tells Timothy not a guess or impression, but exactly what the Spirit has said.
And, by the way, unless we’re talking about the Bible, the Holy Spirit hasn’t told you anything. Say what you want, but don’t blame it on the Spirit, because you ain’t Paul.
The Spirit told Paul that before Jesus returns some who claim to follow Jesus will fall away from the faith—they’ll commit apostasy. There will be folks who show every sign of being true Christians—they are baptized, they come to church in the morning and at night, they eat communion, they give generously, they evangelize—and it’s these folks, folks like us in this room, who will walk away from Christianity.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. This doesn’t mean that those who are truly saved can lose their salvation, for those who are called are justified and are glorified (where’s that in the Bible?), and nothing, not even our own stupid selves, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (where’s that in the Bible?). But men and women we love and call family will walk away from the faith.
Why? Why will they leave the faith?
They’ll pay, “attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
They’ll leave the faith because they’ll stop paying attention to the Bible’s truth. And they’ll start paying attention to demons, which is prime time stupid but really easy to do. Satan’s been lying from the beginning, and he’s good at it. His demons will do anything to trip us up, to get us to believe lies and disbelieve God, to pay attention to their own doctrines and not the Bible’s teachings.
How will these apostates come to pay 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
False teachers will lead them away from Jesus and to demonic doctrines. These wolves will rise up from inside the church. Paul calls them hypocritical liars, claiming to have truth and wisdom without having an ounce of it. They do what they know to be false with consciences branded with the fire’s hot iron, consciences marked as belonging to the Devil.
What kinds of things do these liars teach?
Well, they’re, “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.”
These false teachers forbid Christians from marrying and eating good food.
These two prohibitions show us something about Satan’s schemes. While Satan always promises a better way, he never delivers.
“Go ahead and follow God, but do it my way. Don’t enjoy the good gifts he’s given you. Didn’t even Jesus say deny yourself? Don’t be fruitful and multiply. Die. Don’t be justified simply through faith in Jesus. Add to it. Establish a righteousness of your own by following my rules ever changing rules, by championing the newest social justice focus. “
Well-meaning folks end up letting go of the gospel because some pastor told them they can’t just be Christians. They have to be up to date Christian activists.
No marriage. No sex. No gluten. No crispy bacon. No beer. No dancing. No cigars (which are 10 times better than the best fags). No laughing. No micro-aggressions. Fast for a month before Easter. Don’t say that. Do say this.
Good grief. False teachers in the church can make the Pharisees look like amateur hour. Their creativity in making up rules goes on and on. Their goal is to get you, based on false doctrine, to dedicate yourself to false worship, and to fall away from truly worshiping the One True and Living God.
That brings us to verses 4 & 5 and the problem with these prohibitions.
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.
These extra rules are not small matters. We can only receive and enjoy a relationship with God according to God’s Word. Anything else is idolatry. For men in the church to forbid marriage and bacon is to deny the goodness and wisdom of God. Whatever God has made is sanctified for our use by the Word and our prayer. This means that we are to use the things of God’s creation according to God’s instructions in Scripture; and we are to prayerfully use them in faith and gratitude.
Whenever we do something without any regard for what the Bible says about it, and without gratitude to God for it, we sin, blasphemously pretending to be gods.
So, do everything you do according to the Bible, not according to some stupid list of dos and don’ts that seem nice and spiritual but aren’t in line with Scripture.
If you can, get married, enjoy your husband, enjoy your wife, be fruitful and multiply.
And make sure to give God a prayer of thanksgiving anytime you eat, especially if your special lady makes the food.
2. WHAT IS PAUL’S SOLUTION?
If false teaching and falling away constantly threaten the church, what does Paul want Timothy to do to fight against the danger?
The answer’s in verse 6. Timothy is to be, ” a good servant of Christ Jesus.”
This is Paul’s answer to the demon threat.
It’s like an epic, martial arts movie. Bad dudes with dark powers are on their way to kidnap as many villagers as possible. What does the village need? Kung fu masters dedicated to their protection.
If the church in Ephesus is going to beat this demonic threat, it must have good ministers of Jesus, starting with Timothy. If we’re going to stay faithful to Christ as a church, we need good ministers.
Faithful pastors are God’s gifts to local churches to guard their salvation.
So, what makes a minister a good minister? How is some pastor supposed to help a church survive this threat coming from the devil?
According to Paul, a good pastor will dedicate himself to building up and tearing down, building up himself and the members of the church, and ruthlessly tearing down false teachers and what they push.
Starting in verse 6, Paul tells Timothy to build up himself by being more devoted to truth and godliness than the dedication level of the best Olympian. That means he needs to eat right and work out.
v. 6, be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”
Timothy is to eat one thing constantly, “the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine”. Scripture is to be Timothy’s food. It’s to be the food of every minister of Christ.
How often do you think our pastors should be meditating on God’s Word? They can’t do it enough. That’s a big reason it’s a good thing we pay some of our pastors so they can eat as frequently as possible. We need them to spend ridiculous hours in the Bible.
How about yourself? Dave? Stevie? Shabba? No brainer, right? NOTHING can nourish your soul like the words of your Heavenly Father. You have the Bible in your language. Take. Up. And. Read.
That covers the ministers eating. What about his workout? Look at verse 7.
Timothy, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”
Timothy is to work out a lot, but not with weights. Timothy’s training is to be in godliness. He is to beat his body in pursuit of full-on obedience to Jesus. This is to be his obsession as he serves Christ, far more than the physical training of an athlete. Verse 8 gives us the reason why.
8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things,
Physical training only has benefits in some areas of this life. But it doesn’t help you in everything. Look at Mike Tyson. That guy was a machine, but his life is a wreck. Neither does physical fitness benefit you for long. Get an injury or two and you lose what you’ve gained. Never lose it in this life, and this life proves itself to be as brief as the wind. We don’t live on this earth long. You’re going to die really soon. And whether you’re fit as a fiddle or fat as a walrus, we’re all just going to be eaten by worms anyway. Lean or marbled, these bodies all end up worm food.
Godliness, in contrast to physical training, is way better. Its payoff can’t be beaten. Look back at verse 8…
“since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”
Godliness is better in all things in this life. It’s what we were made for. To live like God wants us to live, knowing him, enjoying him, obeying him. This is the good life. It’s not found in our preferences or personal dreams. The good life is the godly life.
Godliness is better in all things for the life to come. It’s preparation for heaven. You won’t see glory if you ain’t godly. And this makes sense, right? We know that nothing we do is good enough to earn salvation. But we also know that the faith in Christ that God gives us actually changes everything about us. We end up wanting and chasing after what God wants. And his wants are made clear in the Bible.
Now, Timothy isn’t to just be personally absorbed in the Bible, and just personally pursue godliness. The never-ending responsibility of the pastor to the church is to teach and command the members in the same.
Look at verse 6 again: “In pointing out these things to the brethren”
And look at verses 11-13, “Prescribe and teach these things…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…Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”
So Timothy is to build, himself and the church, through learning, teaching, trusting, and obeying the Word of God. But his job isn’t just building. He also must tear down false teachers and their teaching. Pastors are servants of Christ, not Satan. And the church is the house of the living God, not a house for hell.
That’s why Paul writes verse 7, “Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.”
Pastors must not have the slightest respect for false teachers and what they teach. Worldly fables, fit only for old women and constipated demons, should not be treated delicately. They shouldn’t be allowed even a little space in God’s church. When they show up, pastors are must act like angry sheepdogs charging a wolf.
Matthew 18 is not a suggestion. It is commanded by Jesus. If men and women won’t repent of false teaching, even if they’re our friends, they must be removed from the church. And if pastors refuse to obey in this area, or themselves begin to teach falsely, it is the church’s job to remove them.
All of this is as true as God is true, which we see in verse 9.
And Timothy, being a good minister, dedicated to serving Jesus in these ways, has no cushy job. If a man is a coward, or lazy, or not willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the church, he will be unable to protect the church against the threat. His call is to labor and strive, which we read in verse 10.
Our pastors are to join Paul and Timothy in doing these things with their hope firmly set outside themselves, on the Living God.
God is a good, sure object of hope for pastors, and for all Christians, for he is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. No matter where you go in the world, God is the only Savior. Where can man look for salvation but to the One True and Living God, who perfectly and fully saves all who believe in him?
So, there’s a threat to the survival of the church? Of course a minister can throw himself with everything he’s got into his work, hoping in God, because God saves his people. He will not abandon us or abandon faithful pastors. The prince of darkness grim? We tremble not for him, for God is our Savior.
And with that, we come to the end of the chapter, warned that until the end of the age, our life as a church will be threatened by the very forces of hell. Men and women we love will fall away. And God has given us pastors for us to learn from and imitate in order for us to be saved from the lies of false religion.
Paul ends chapter 4 with these words for Timothy: 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 elders. 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
Pastors who’ve not chosen themselves but have been chosen by the Holy Spirit for the work, pastors who put the hard work in to be absorbed in all the words of God found in Scripture, who fight to have their lives shaped by those words, making progress in the faith as an example to those in the church, pastors who teach the church correctly from the Bible, who lead the church to do what God has told us to do…
These pastors can take heart and labor on.
These pastors are God’s gifts to us.
Because as they follow Paul’s instructions to them, they will, “ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
How will we conquer as a church—until we get to die and go be with the Lord? How will we maintain a faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus for decades and generations?
If God is pleased to give us good servants of Jesus, who lead us to know and obey Scripture, we’ll be just fine. The joy of salvation, not the bitterness of judgment, will be our fate. Amen.