Some Will Depart from the Faith
4 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 4:1–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Falling Away from the Faith
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. (4:1–5)
Since creation, the earth has been the battleground between God and Satan. God calls mankind to respond to His Word, and Satan tries to lure them to follow lies. Some claim satanic perversions to be the truth from God. Sadly, even some who profess to follow God’s truth turn away from it.
Such deviations from the true faith are nothing new. Among the many examples of apostasy in the Old Testament was King Amaziah of Judah. Second Chronicles 25:2 says of him, “he did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.” His religion was mere external behavior; in his heart he did not know God. Soon he was lured away into idolatry. Second Chronicles 25:14 tells the tragic story: “Now it came about after Amaziah came from slaughtering the Edomites that he brought the gods of the sons of Seir, set them up as his gods, bowed down before them, and burned incense to them.” At the close of his life, his epitaph read, “Amaziah turned away from following the Lord” (2 Chron. 25:27).
The New Testament also has its share of apostates, men like Judas Iscariot (John 6:70–71) and Demas (2 Tim. 4:10). The church at Ephesus had seen Hymenaeus and Alexander depart from the faith (1:18–20). Church history from New Testament times until our own day is replete with examples of apostates. They have turned aside to follow deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. It is fallen angels, those demonic beings, who energize all false religion. Like their evil master, Satan, their deception is effective because they disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
When men worship idols, they are in reality worshiping the demons behind those idols. Leviticus 17:7 says, “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot.” Deuteronomy 32:17 laments that Israel “sacrificed to demons who were not God,” while Psalm 106:36–37 shows the depravity of such worship. Israel “served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons.” “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “they sacrifice to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20).
The presence of apostate false teachers at Ephesus is indicated from 1:3–7, 18–20. In chapters 2 and 3, Paul dealt with some of the ramifications of their false teaching and corruption of the church. He countered their deceptions with the divine design for men and women in the church, and the spiritual qualifications for true church leaders. Chapter 3 closed with a creedal statement affirming what apostates most directly deny and what is the central truth of the Christian faith: the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In chapter 4, Paul returns to his discussion of the false teachers themselves. The battle lines are thus sharply drawn. While not always popular in our day of toleration and “love,” there is a biblical mandate to deal directly and firmly with false teaching. Any tolerance of error regarding God’s revelation is a direct form of dishonor to Him. “For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name” (Ps. 138:2). Professing believers who would not speak a blasphemous or degrading word against God Himself out of reverence for His name will nevertheless readily misrepresent and pervert His Word, which is to be equally exalted.
The Certainty of Apostasy
some will fall away from the faith, (4:1c)
The key to unlock this passage is the phrase in verse 1, some will fall away from the faith. There will be those, like Judas, Demas, and the false disciples of John 6:66, and those often warned in Hebrews, who abandon the faith. Fall away is from aphistēmi, which means “to depart from,” or “to remove oneself from the position originally occupied to another place.” It is a stronger term than either the word translated “straying” in 1:6, or the one translated “suffered shipwreck” in 1:19, and refers to a purposeful, deliberate departure from a former position. This term can refer to a simple geographical leaving (cf. Luke 2:37; 4:13; Acts 5:37; 12:10). But in the spiritual sense, it refers to those who come very close to the truth that saves, only to leave. Jesus used this verb when He described some who hear the gospel as being like seed falling on soil that has rockbed below the surface: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away (aphistemi)” (Luke 8:13). Here it is used to describe apostasy, to identify the tragic reality that some will act like Judas and turn their face from eternal joy to choose hell.
An apostate is not someone struggling to believe, but one who willfully abandons the biblical faith he had once professed. As already noted, the faith refers to the content of divine revelation that constitutes what Christians believe (cf. Jude 3). This phrase, then, describes an apostate, a rejector of Christ from within the ranks of the church.
In this passage, Paul gives us six features of apostasy: its predictability, its chronology, its supernatural source, its human purveyors, its content, and its error.
The Predictability of Apostasy
But the Spirit explicitly says (4:1a)
Whereas apostasy should sadden and outrage believers, it should neither shock nor surprise them, because the Spirit explicitly says that it will occur. This prediction is part of His ongoing revelation in Scripture on the subject of apostasy. In the Old Testament, He warned of the consequences of apostasy (Deut. 28:15:ff.; Ezek. 20:38), and gave numerous examples of apostates (Ex. 32; 1 Sam. 15:11; Neh. 9:26; Ps. 78). The New Testament also warns of apostasy, particularly at the time of the end just before the Lord’s return. Our Lord warned of false christs who would deceive many (Matt. 24:4–12). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the wholesale departure from the faith that will take place during the future time of tribulation (2 Thess. 2:3–12). Peter and Jude warned of mockers, who, in the end time would depart from the faith (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18). The apostle John cautioned that “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18; cf. 4:1–6). But apostasy, though escalated in the end time, is not limited to that era. The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers, “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12; cf. 5:11–6:8; 10:26–31).
Paul knew that Ephesus would not be spared efforts to deceive people into abandoning the truth. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29–30 he said, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
As the revelation from the Spirit in Scripture shows, apostasy is predictable, and inevitable. There will always be those who make a temporary response to the gospel, but have no genuine faith in God. We should not be surprised when they leave, and should remember the words of John, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
The Chronology of Apostasy
that in later times (4:1b)
Paul defines the time frame in which apostasy will take place as the later times. The later times include, but are not limited to, the eschatological future. The first coming of Christ ushered in the later or last times, which was the Messianic era. First John 2:18 supports this fact when it says simply, “Children, it is the last hour.” First Peter 1:20 states that Christ “has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” The writer of Hebrews informs us that God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2), and “now once at the consummation of the ages [Christ] has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). From the first coming of our Lord to His return, through all this age of the church, apostasy will occur and escalate toward the end when “most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
The Source of Apostasy
paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (4:1d)
As already noted, apostasy is generated by demonic beings. Ephesians 6:12 says that the battle for the truth and the kingdom of heaven is a struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Paying attention to is from prosechō. The verb expresses more than merely listening to something. It means “to assent to,” “to devote oneself to,” or “cling to something.” The present tense of the participle shows that apostates continually cling to demonic teaching. They understand the facts of the gospel intellectually, and outwardly identify with the Christian faith. Since their hearts are not right with God and they do not have the Spirit to teach and protect them (cf. Jude 19), however, they are lured away by deceitful spirits. Planos (deceitful) comes from the root word from which our English word “planet” derives. It carries the idea of wandering, and thus came to mean “seducing,” or “deceiving.” Demons are called deceitful because they cause men to wander from the orbit of the truth. The Holy Spirit leads people into saving truth (cf. John 16:13), while these unholy spirits lead them into damning error.
Apostates are not actually the victims of sophisticated university professors, false religious leaders, or wickedly clever writers or speakers. They are the victims of demonic spirits, purveying lies from the depths of hell through such humans. False teaching is thus something far more than a human aberration, it is nothing less than the doctrines of demons. The subjective genitive indicates this is not teaching about demons, but teaching done by them. Satan and his agents have concocted all manner of lying theologies to confuse and deceive. To sit under false teaching that contradicts the truth of Scripture is to be taught by demons, and to put one’s mind and soul in jeopardy. It is no wonder, then, that the Bible cautions against exposing oneself to false doctrine.
In his second epistle, the apostle John wrote,
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (vv. 7–11)
We are to rescue those under the influence of false teaching like we would snatch a stick out of the fire, being careful not to get burned ourselves (Jude 23).
Deuteronomy 13:12–18 gives us a very straightforward warning about apostasy:
If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods” (Whom you have not known), then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. And if it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword. Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt. And nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers, if you will listen to the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God.
That sobering warning shows how seriously God wants us to view apostasy. It was to be cut out of the nation of Israel like cancer from a human body.
The history of demonic seduction dates back to Satan’s successful tempting of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Throughout human history, culminating in the terrible influence of demons in the Tribulation (Rev. 9:2–11; 13:14; 16:14; 18:2, 23; 19:20; 20:2, 3, 8, 10), deceitful spirits will ply doctrines of demons. Through God’s mercy, however, true believers will not succumb (Ps. 44:18; Heb. 6:9; 10:39; Jude 24–25).
The Purveyors of Apostasy
by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron (4:2)
Demonic false teaching is purveyed through human agents. While the source is supernatural, the agents are natural. The phrase the hypocrisy of liars translates two nouns in the Greek text and could be rendered “hypocritical or deceitful lie-speakers.” To purvey their hellish teachings, demons use human deceivers who speak their lies. They may be religious leaders, and appear outwardly good and devout. They may teach in an ostensibly Christian college or seminary. They may pastor a church, or write theological books or commentaries. Though they wear the mask of religion (even Christianity) and wear a mask of piety, they do not serve God, but Satan. They blaspheme God. Sitting under such teachers has no redeeming value, and it results in being exposed to spiritual gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17–18).
The false teachers are able to go about their devilish business without restraint because they are seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. Some argue that Paul’s metaphor here is that of a slave branded with his owner’s mark. The false teachers, according to that view, carried Satan’s brand in their consciences. It seems better, however, to understand this as a reference to the burning or numbing of their consciences. Kautēriazō (seared) was used by the Greek medical writer Hippocrates to speak of cauterization. The false teachers can carry out their hypocrisy because their consciences have been destroyed. Conscience is the faculty that affirms or condemns an action (cf. Rom. 2:14–15). It is the sensitivity to right and wrong that controls behavior. Paul looked to his conscience as the divinely given witness to the condition of his soul (cf. Acts 23:1; 24:16; Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:3). The apostle has already stated that false teachers reject “a good conscience” (1:19), which is the very goal Paul pursued (1:5). The false teachers’ consciences have been so ignored and misinformed that they have become like scar tissue burned senseless, which cease to function. With scarred consciences, they feel no guilt or remorse as they purvey their false doctrines.
The Content of Apostasy
men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, (4:3a)
Anything contrary to Scripture can be the entry point of demonic teaching. We might have expected the apostle to follow his severe comments about demon doctrine with examples like denying the Trinity or the deity of the Savior, or rejecting salvation by grace. But Satan is so subtle and seeks to gain a foothold on territory more easily yielded. Paul gives a sample of what was being taught at Ephesus. The deceivers there were focusing on two seemingly minor teachings: that spirituality demanded avoiding marriage and abstaining from foods. As is typical of satanic deception, both of those teachings contain an element of truth. There is nothing wrong with singleness, and such a state may aid spiritual service. First Corinthians 7:25–35 honors those designed by God to be single. Nor is fasting wrong; it is an important accompaniment to prayer (cf. Matt. 6:16–17; 9:14–15). The deception comes in seeing those as essential elements of salvation. The devising of human means of salvation is a hallmark of all false religion.
The teaching that self-denial on the physical level was essential for true spirituality characterized the Essenes. They were a Jewish sect that appeared in Palestine as early as the second century b.c.. They formed the Qumran community, near the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. They practiced asceticism, denying marriage and enforcing special dietary regulations. It is possible their influence was being felt in Ephesus.
Another possible influence was the philosophic dualism that characterized much contemporary Greek philosophy. That view held that matter was evil, and spirit good. Marriage and food, being aspects of the evil material world, were to be shunned. Such teaching may have influenced the Ephesians, as it did the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1–7, 28–38; 15:12). In the second century, this false teaching developed into the dangerous heresy known as Gnosticism. Gnostics boasted of a secret, hidden knowledge. They believed they were the initiated ones, who had transcended the mundane and touched the reality of God. They rejected the body as part of the evil, physical world. Gnosticism was to pose a serious threat to the orthodox faith for several centuries.
The emphasis on externalism that marked the Ephesian apostates is typical of all satanic false religion. From the animism of primitive tribes to the sophistication of major world religions, men rely on good works, outward ritual, and self denial. William Barclay comments,
This was an ever-recurring heresy in the Church; in every generation men arose who tried to be stricter than God. When the Apostolic Canons came to be written, it was necessary to set it down in black and white: “If any overseer, priest or deacon, or anyone on the priestly list, abstains from marriage and flesh and wine, not on the ground of asceticism (that is, for the sake of discipline), but through abhorrence of them as evil in themselves, forgetting that all things are very good, and that God made man male and female, but blaspheming and slandering the workmanship of God, either let him amend, or be deposed and cast out of the Church. Likewise a layman also” (Apostolic Canons 51). Irenaeus, writing towards the end of the second century, tells how certain followers of Saturninus “declare that marriage and generation are from Satan. Many likewise abstain from animal food, and draw away multitudes by a feigned temperance of this kind (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 24, 2). This kind of thing came to a head in the monks and hermits of the fourth century. They went away and lived in the Egyptian desert, entirely cut off from men. They spent their lives mortifying the flesh. One never ate cooked food and was famous for his “fleshlessness.” Another stood all night by a jutting crag so that it was impossible for him to sleep. Another was famous because he allowed his body to become so dirty and neglected that vermin dropped from him as he walked. Another deliberately ate salt in midsummer and then abstained from drinking water. “A clean body,” they said, “necessarily means an unclean soul.” (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 93–94)
Such teaching is both false and dangerous. Paul rejects it in Colossians 2:16–23:
Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 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.
Believers are complete in Christ and do not need to practice physical self-denial to gain salvation from sin and righteousness before God.
The Error of Apostasy
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. (4:3b–5)
The fundamental error of such apostate teaching is that it rejects divine revelation. All false teaching is a denial of God’s Word. All through the Pastoral Epistles, Paul confronts false teachers for their treatment of Holy Scripture (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3–11; 6:3–5, 20–21; 2 Tim. 2:14–18; 23–26; 3:13–17; 4:1–4; Titus 1:9–16; 3:9–11). Contrary to the false teaching plaguing Ephesus, God created both marriage and food and pronounced them good (cf. Gen. 1:28–31; 2:18–24; 9:3). God created marriage and food to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. How then can it be right to deny them to men? God made marriage and food for the same reason He made everything else—to give man joy and to bring Himself glory (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31). Unbelievers, while they enjoy marriage (“the grace of life”—1 Peter 3:7) and food, do not fulfill that ultimate intention and praise God for them. So in the truest sense, God made marriage and food for those who believe and know the truth, because they are the ones who will glorify Him for such gracious goodness. How foolish to abstain from his kindness and thus deny God the right to be glorified for their enjoyment!
The Ephesian deceivers refused to recognize that everything created by God is good. They flatly denied the goodness of God’s creation, which would have led them to understand that nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude. Paul once again emphasizes that God’s purpose in giving good things to men is so that, in their enjoyment of those gifts, they would praise Him. By gratefully receiving God’s gracious gifts, believers fulfill that noble intention for which those things were created. The doxology of Romans 11:36 sums up this perspective: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
At the close of creation week, God pronounced everything He had created “good” (Gen. 1:31). Those good things from God that believers gratefully receive are sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. To be sanctified is to be set apart for holy use. The means by which that is accomplished are the word of God and prayer. Prayer obviously refers to the thanksgiving that expresses gratitude. The word seems to refer to the very word in Genesis 1:31, that everything God made was good. There is a double sanctifying, or setting apart from all that is sinful. But it is also possible that Paul has in mind more than Genesis 1:31, namely, the New Testament gospel.
In the Pastoral Epistles, the word of God refers to the message of salvation (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9; Titus 2:5). Through that message, believers have come to know the truth in Christ. Part of that truth is that Christ has abolished the dietary laws. According to Mark 7:19, our Lord “declared all foods clean” (cf. Acts 10:9–15; Rom. 14:1–12; Col. 2:16–17). The dietary regulations were temporary, intended to teach Israel the importance of discernment and to isolate the nation from the pagan societies around them. To reimpose them now would be to manufacture a works righteousness system that denies the work of Christ and dishonors God. If believers understand that the gospel has abolished the dietary laws, and in prayer offer God thanks, they can receive all His good gifts, and He will be glorified.
Mandatory celibacy and abstinence from foods in general or particular is the teaching of demons. It denies the goodness of God’s creation, and robs Him of the glory and praise He is due for that goodness. It also is a denial of God’s truth, as revealed in His Word. Mere externalism neither pleases God nor promotes genuine spirituality.
Apostasy is an ever-present danger to the church. Believers can avoid the false teaching that feeds it only by giving heed to God’s Word. They would do well to pay attention to the warning issued by the writer of Hebrews: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefitted” (Heb. 13:9).
Where Bad Theology Comes From
1 Timothy 4:1–5
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared. (1 Tim. 4:1–2)
The world is full of bad theology. On television a preacher of prosperity says, “Be healed! Jesus died for your disease on the cross!” On the radio a teacher presents such a distorted view of Calvinism that it would cause the most stable Christian to doubt his or her salvation. In the magazines leading evangelicals are confused about whether justification comes by faith alone or not. Then add all the errors of non-Christian religion: the fanciful speculations of the New Age; the dangerous views about Jesus in the cults; the mindless, godless philosophies of the consumer culture. The world is full of untrue, unsound, unbiblical theology. Where does it all come from?
Having explained the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), Paul explains the mystery of ungodliness, telling Timothy and the church to expect bad theology: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). This is not simply Paul’s analysis of the church; it is a prophecy of the Holy Spirit.
Paul does not specify when the Holy Spirit said this. This unhappy news may have been revealed to Paul as he wrote to Timothy. More likely, the apostle was referring to some earlier prophecy, perhaps one uttered by a prophet in the early church. Similar prophecies do appear elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul may even have been recalling the words of Jesus Christ: “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10–11). The parallel with 1 Timothy is close because Jesus speaks of people “falling away.” Or the apostle may simply have been reminding the Ephesians of the warning he gave their elders when he said farewell to them at Miletus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).
The living voice of the Holy Spirit testifies in no uncertain terms that although Christians may be saddened by false theology, they should never be surprised by it. Timothy was well acquainted with the dangers of unsound doctrine. He knew, for example, that Hymenaeus and Alexander had made a shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19–20). At that very moment, he was contending against false teachers in the Ephesian church. Like Timothy, the church can take the Spirit’s word for it: “in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).
The technical theological term for abandoning the faith is “apostasy,” which comes from the Greek noun apostasia. Here the related verb appears: to “depart from the faith” is to apostatize (1 Tim. 4:1). One scholar defines such apostasy as “the serious situation of becoming separated from the living God after a previous turning towards him, by falling away from the faith.” Apostasy does not mean that believers who have saving faith can lose it. This would be an impossibility, since every sinner who receives the gift of saving faith is preserved by the Holy Spirit until the day of Christ (see John 10:28; Phil. 1:6).
What apostasy does mean, however, is that someone who once claimed to be a Christian has renounced the gospel. Here again, as he does throughout this epistle, Paul refers to Christianity as “the faith.” He has in mind those central doctrines that rest on the solid foundation of Holy Scripture and are necessary to saving faith: the sovereignty of God the Father, the deity of God the Son, the reality of God the Holy Spirit, and redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, received by faith. Sad to say, some who profess to believe these doctrines later deny them. Indeed, one of the distinguishing marks of the later times is that people who call themselves Christians will forsake the Christ of authentic Christianity.
Since human beings are curious about the future, we are bound to ask, “When will these later times be?” There is an important clue in this passage. In verse 1 the Holy Spirit speaks about the future: “in later times some will depart from the faith.” Yet by verse 3 the apostle is speaking in the present tense about things happening in the Ephesian church at that very moment. This indicates that the later times of the final age have already begun.
The same shift from the future to the present occurs in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, where Paul warns Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim. 3:1). He then proceeds to explain how people will behave in the end times: they will be insolent, violent, and arrogant. Thus he warns Timothy to “avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:5). In other words, Timothy himself knew some of the wicked people of the last days. They were already living in Ephesus!
When someone asks, therefore, “Do you think we are living in the last days?” the answer is always, “Yes!” These are the later times. These are the last days, which, as John Wesley said, “extend from our Lord’s ascension till His coming to judgment.” George Knight helpfully defines them as “the days inaugurated by the Messiah and characterized by the Spirit’s presence in power, the days to be consummated by the return of Christ.”3 The end times thus encompass the whole Christian era from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to his second coming in power and glory.
If these are the later times, then apostasy is to be expected. From time to time Christians will hear news of former church members who have abandoned the faith. Some will fall into grievous sin. Others will gradually drift away from the church. Still others will reject Reformation truth for the falsehoods of other faiths. As sad as these things are, they should not surprise us. When someone abandons orthodox Christianity it should not throw our faith into question. Rather, it proves the truth of Scripture “that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).
The Scripture goes on to explain that such apostasy comes from bad theology. In verses 3 through 5 Paul will proceed to explain what the false doctrines are. First, however, he explains where they come from. Bad theology has two sources, the first of which is positively diabolical. Those who abandon the faith do so “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). Bad theology comes from seductive spirits and deceptive demons. The Revised English Bible thus identifies their teachings as “demon-inspired doctrines.”
There are two errors to avoid when thinking about demons. The first is to give the devil more than his due. Some Christians think there are demons lurking behind every door. They assume they are under spiritual attack every time they get a headache or miss the bus. Others attribute most of their own sins to demonic activity. Still others become so obsessed with demons that they live in unholy fear. But the truth is that Jesus Christ defeated the devil and all his lackeys on the cross of Calvary. The Son of God became a man so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). On occasion, God may allow fallen angels to manipulate the physical universe or to tempt human beings to commit sin. But demons do not and cannot have control over anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
The opposite error is to deny that demons exist. As Baudelaire once said, “The devil’s cleverest ruse is to make men believe that he does not exist.” But the devil does exist. Spiritual warfare is as real today as it was in the days of Jesus Christ. We continue to “wrestle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). This struggle will continue until the day of judgment, which is why the Lord Jesus instructs his disciples to pray every day for deliverance from the evil one (see Matt. 6:13).
The main reason Christians need daily spiritual protection is the deceitfulness of the devil. Jesus called Satan “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Elsewhere Paul speaks of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11) and bewitchments (Gal. 3:1). His work is said to be “displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9 niv; cf. Rev. 13:14). Believers are thus warned not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits “to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Satan was a deceiver from the very beginning. When he came to Eve in the form of a serpent, his appearance was deceptive, and he asked a deceptive question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). Satan was putting words in God’s mouth because God had said nothing of the kind. Then he made a deceptive claim: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Satan told one lie after another. This is his modus operandi, his standard operating procedure. When he hinted to Eve that God was stingy, he was denying God’s goodness. When he told Eve that she would not die, he was denying God’s justice. Satan was the first liberal theologian. It is his particular aim to persuade people that true theology is false and false theology is true.
In addition to lying about creation, the devil also lies about redemption. Consider the words of Martin Luther:
When God’s holy Word arises, it is always its lot that Satan opposes it with all his might. At first, he rages against it with force and wicked power. If that promises no success, he attacks it with false tongues and erring spirits and teachers. What he is unable to crush by force he seeks to suppress by cunning and lies. This was his strategy at the beginning. When the Gospel first came into the world, he launched a mighty attack against it through Jews and Gentiles, shed much blood, and filled Christendom with martyrs. When this did not succeed, he raised false prophets and erring spirits and filled the world with heretics.… And we must be prepared for this, and by no means allow it to disturb us, for so it must be.
If Satan’s favorite strategy is deception, it follows that the church is in real danger of being fooled by false doctrine. Some theology is so bad it can be spotted a mile off. But most false doctrines contain enough truth to resist detection. The most dangerous heresies often sound the most like authentic Christianity. Consider a few examples. The distortions of the signs and wonders movement hide behind the truth of the need for people to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. The distortions of Roman Catholicism hide behind the truth of the value of good works. The lies of Mormonism hide behind the truth of family values. The lies of the International Church of Christ hide behind the truth of the necessity of baptism. Every false doctrine tries to find some truth to hide behind.
The deceptiveness of false doctrine teaches every Christian to be wary. A man once told me that after he committed his life to Christ he listened to every program on Christian radio. As he matured in the faith, he learned what a mistake that can be. The discerning Christian does not listen to every so-called Christian radio program, read every so-called Christian book, or enter every so-called Christian church, but is wary enough to be on guard against diabolical deceptions.
Through Lying Leaders
If bad theology comes ultimately from demons, it comes more immediately through human beings. It comes, in fact, “through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). This is the second source of bad theology. It comes from lying leaders as well as deceptive demons.
This is not to say that every theological error comes from someone who is demon-possessed. However, false doctrine is transmitted from false angels through false teachers. The word the Holy Spirit uses to describe such a teacher is “hypocrite” (hypokritēs)—a word that comes from the Greek theater. It means to assume a role in a dramatic production, to play a part.
Hypocrisy explains why heresy is so deceptive. Many false teachers are good actors. They know how to play the part of a Christian. This, too, is part of Satan’s master plan: “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14–15). Or as Hamlet put it, “The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil: and the devil hath power / To assume a pleasing shape.” False teachers often play the part of Christians, pretending to be followers of Jesus Christ. They call themselves Christians. They seem to be committed and sincere. They are thoroughly convinced of their orthodoxy. They go to church, and they may even preach from a pulpit. Heresy always wears the mask of Christianity.
It is all a lie, however. False teachers are sincere all right: sincerely wrong! Neither they themselves nor their doctrines are true. There may even be something intentional about the way they distort the gospel. John Stott says that “hypocrisy is a deliberate pretence and a lie a deliberate falsehood.” There is a grave warning here for Christians who try to seem more godly than they actually are!
Eventually, liars start to live their own lies. They do not even realize they are lying any more, for their “consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). There is some disagreement about what Paul means by this expression (kaustēriazō). Some take it to refer to the branding of cattle or slaves to establish ownership, in which case the point is that false teachers are tools of the devil. It may be better, however, to take this expression in its medical sense, of coagulating live tissue with a burning instrument to stop bleeding. Sometimes when skin is burned it becomes insensitive, almost as if anesthetized. Once the nerves have been deadened, the skin is no longer able to feel pain. The same thing can happen to the human conscience. It can become cauterized by sin. The more a soul sins, the less painful sin seems, until finally the conscience becomes dead to all feeling (cf. Eph. 4:18–19). At that point, it is no longer able to warn the soul against sin.
To use a different analogy, the conscience is like an alarm clock. The first time a man commits a particular sin the alarm bells ring all over his conscience. But the next time he commits the same sin, it is not nearly as alarming. “This isn’t so bad,” he says to himself. “I’ve done this once or twice before.” The man carefully locates the snooze button on his conscience so that next time he is able to disarm it more quickly. Eventually, he unplugs his conscience altogether and slumbers unto death.
Unless Christians are careful, this self-destructive pattern can be repeated anywhere:
The grim sequence of events in the career of the false teachers has now been revealed. First, they turned a deaf ear to their conscience, until it became cauterized. Next, they felt no scruple in becoming hypocritical liars. Thirdly, they thus exposed themselves to the influence of deceiving spirits. Finally, they led their listeners to abandon the faith. It is a perilous downward path from the deaf ear and the cauterized conscience to the deliberate lie, the deception of demons and the ruination of others.
Apostasy is the inevitable result of hypocrisy. So do not wound your conscience by committing outrageous sins or by excusing lesser ones. Guard your conscience so that it remains sensitive to the least offense against the holiness of God.
By now it should be obvious why Paul so frequently reminds Timothy to keep his conscience clear. His goal is for Timothy to have love which comes from “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). He urges him to keep “holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:19). Similarly, he tells deacons to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). In short, Paul wants every Christian to be as conscientious as he himself was. For as the apostle later testified to Timothy, he served God “with a clear conscience” (2 Tim. 1:3), and as he told Felix, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16). One reason Paul was such a good theologian was that he was such a holy Christian.
A clear conscience is always highly to be prized, but is most necessary of all for the pastors and teachers of the church. A theologian who grows comfortable with sin is well on his way to becoming a heretic, while a tender conscience preserves orthodoxy.
The Ascetic Life
Up to this point, Paul has been speaking about bad theology in general terms. In verse 3 he finally starts to get specific by telling us that the false teachers in Ephesus believed that celibacy and vegetarianism were necessary for salvation: they “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created” (1 Tim. 4:3). Given what Paul has said in the previous two verses, this surely is a surprising summary of what the false teachers were saying. We might well have expected the apostle to say that these men were denying the deity of Jesus Christ, or adding works to faith as the basis for justification, or advocating some other heretical doctrine. But before talking about their theology, Paul first locates their heterodoxy in two areas of everyday practice.
There is nothing wrong, in principle, with being a single, or a vegetarian, or both. God calls some individual Christians to remain unmarried or to refrain from certain foods for a time. In fact, the apostle Paul himself was called to both. He himself was a bachelor, and he encouraged other Christians to value singleness (1 Cor. 7:8). He also followed the biblical practice of fasting with prayer (e.g. Acts 14:23).
The trouble comes when these or other matters of relative indifference are treated as essentials of the gospel. This legalistic mindset is often a problem in the church. A group of Christians discover something that helps them grow in the Christian faith. They rediscover a forgotten doctrine, take up some political cause, follow a new method for family life, or commit themselves to a ministry, which is all well and good. But then they decide that what is good for them ought to be mandatory for others. Soon they go around trying to get everyone to adopt one style of Christianity. They assume that anyone who does not do what they do is less spiritual than they are.
This is exactly what the false teachers in Ephesus were doing. They had committed themselves to one particular diet and one particular lifestyle. Fine. There is nothing wrong with remaining single or with fasting. Nor is there anything wrong in principle with private vegetarianism (although Romans 14:2 hints that this lifestyle may come from spiritual weakness). The trouble came when the false teachers decided that what was good for them was good for everyone. They tried to require every Christian to adopt their practices for abstaining from sex and food.
Apparently, these false teachers taught that meat and marriage were inherently sinful. This passage mentions “foods” without specifying what they were. Perhaps this is a reference to Jewish dietary customs which came from the Mosaic law. Yet elsewhere—especially in Rome (Rom. 14:2, 21) and in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:13)—the controversy in the church concerned eating meat. Whatever the precise practices may have been, the single best word to describe this kind of theology is “ascetic.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an ascetic is “a person who practices severe self-discipline and abstains from all forms of pleasure, especially for religious or spiritual reasons.” By forbidding marriage and changing their diet, some members of the Ephesian church were denying the pleasures of sex and food, and at the same time saying that physical self-denial was essential to a person’s standing before God.
What lies behind forbidding meat and marriage is the Gnostic idea that there is something sinful about the body. According to this line of thinking, the physical universe is a hindrance to spiritual life. Souls are all that matter, and physical appetites only lead to sin. John Stott explains the ascetic mindset like this: “From the beginning of church history some teachers … have argued that sex and hunger are themselves unclean appetites, that the body itself is a nasty encumbrance (if not actually vile), and that the only way to holiness is abstinence, the voluntary renunciation of sex and marriage, and, since eating cannot be given up altogether, then at least the renunciation of meat.”
Asceticism has a long history. The Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls refused to marry. So did the Manichaeans, who lived in the east from the third to the tenth centuries. Similarly Irenaeus reports that the Encratites of his day “preached against marriage, thus setting aside the original creation of God, and indirectly blaming him who made them male and female for the propagation of the human race. Some of those reckoned among them have also introduced abstinence from animal food, thus proving themselves ungrateful to God, who formed all things.” There has long been an ascetic tendency in Roman Catholicism. This explains the existence of monasteries and why Catholic priests are forbidden to marry. It is also the reason why orthodox Catholics refuse to eat meat during Lent.
A more contemporary example of asceticism is the Straight Edge movement, which takes its name from a 1981 punk song by Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat: “I’m a person just like you / But I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around and smoke dope.… I’ve got a straight edge.” As the song suggests, Straight Edgers refuse to smoke or use drugs—so far, so good. However, they are equally opposed to marriage. Sex, they say, is only for having children. It is immoral for human beings to eat anything that comes from an animal, including dairy products. Straight Edgers are willing to use physical violence against people who disagree with their views. Thus, even to the present day, there are people “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods” (1 Tim. 4:3).
The Ingratitude of Asceticism
What is wrong with a little asceticism? After all, John the Baptist lived on honey and locusts (Mark 1:6). Jesus had nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20). Paul even talked about disciplining his body to “keep it under control” (1 Cor. 9:27). Besides, sex and food so easily lend themselves to sins of the flesh.
One problem with self-denial is that it is often used as a way to become self-righteous. Calvin accuses the false teachers in Ephesus of trying “to acquire righteousness for themselves by abstaining from those things which God has left free. The only reason why consciences are burdened by such laws is that perfection is being sought apart from the law of God.” Another problem with ascetic Christianity is that it rejects God’s good gifts. When they are used in a lawful way, both food and sex are meant for joy. God himself created them “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3).
Consider marriage. Paul spends less time defending that institution here, perhaps because family life receives positive mention elsewhere in this epistle (see 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; 5:14). Remember, too, that Paul’s other letter to the Ephesians included a good bit of teaching about marriage (Eph. 5:22–33). But what the Bible teaches about marriage is that it is a divine gift, ordained by God the Father (Gen. 2:24) and blessed by God the Son (Matt. 19:4–6). Therefore, marriage is to be received with thankful joy. Chastity in marriage is no less holy than virginity in singleness.
The Puritans offer many good examples of how to appreciate the gift of marriage. Contrary to popular opinion, they were not puritanical about sex. They prized marriage, including its sexual aspect. In his Book of Matrimony, the Puritan Thomas Becon defined marriage as the
high, holy and blessed order of life, ordained not of man, but of God … wherein one man and one woman are coupled and knit together in one flesh and body in the fear and love of God, by the free, loving, hearty, and good consent of them both, to the intent that they two may dwell together as one flesh and body, of one will and mind, in all honesty, virtue and godliness, and spend their lives in equal partaking of all such things as God shall send them with thanksgiving.
Like marriage, food is one of God’s good gifts. Christians are allowed to eat whatever foods they please. Paul’s reasoning is very straightforward: what God has made, we may eat. This is one very practical consequence of the doctrine of creation: “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). Throughout the first chapter of Genesis, God describes everything he made as very good; among other things, what God has made is good to eat.
The proper way to receive the good gifts of creation is “with thanksgiving” (eucharistias), which is Paul’s favorite term to express gratitude to God. Gratitude is so important that it is mentioned twice in three verses: God created these things “to be received with thanksgiving 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 thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:3–5).
There are two important qualifications here. The first comes from the doctrine of redemption: followers of Christ must be the most grateful people of all. Christians are here defined as “those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). To believe is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It is to trust in his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave for salvation. True gratitude is a response to saving grace. It begins with thanksgiving for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The other qualification comes from the doctrine of creation. Paul does not say that everything is good; he says that “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). What God made is good, but there is always the danger of corrupting what God has made. Christians are to enjoy life to the fullest, but it is not “anything goes!” Although the right use of food and sex have God’s blessing, lechery and gluttony fall under God’s curse.
One way to test if God’s gifts are being used properly is to ask this question: “Can I thank God for what I am doing right now without being ashamed of myself?” A sensitive Christian will find it impossible to thank God for gross excess. Furthermore, true gratitude always leads to generosity. Christians who keep their food to themselves—or keep the benefits of family life to themselves, for that matter—are not receiving God’s gifts with thanksgiving at all.
When Paul speaks about thanksgiving, he may be referring to the practice of saying grace before meals. One way to receive food with thanksgiving is to do what the Lord Jesus did: offer a prayer of thanksgiving before and/or after eating it. In the Gospel of Mark we overhear Jesus giving thanks for the loaves and the fish (Mark 6:41; 8:6), as well as for the bread and the wine of the Last Supper (Mark 14:22–23). This was also the practice of the apostle Paul, who speaks of sitting down to his meals “with thankfulness” (1 Cor. 10:30). The way to receive any gift is with a word of thanks. The Scripture further describes giving thanks for food as a consecration: “it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5). Praying before a meal does not make the food any more holy than it already is, but saying grace is a way of acknowledging that daily bread is a sacred gift. According to Calvin, “the only recompense we can make to God for His liberality is a testimony of our thanks.”
It is hard to say for certain what Paul means here by “the word of God” (1 Tim. 4:5). Various commentators have suggested that it refers to the gospel message (Paul sometimes equates “the word of God” with the gospel), or to the Lord’s Supper, or even to the first chapter of Genesis, where God said over and over again that everything he created was very good (an interpretation that fits in well with Paul’s emphasis on creation in these verses). Still others point out that the Jews often used Scripture when they said grace. The last suggestion is a good one. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner may all be consecrated to God. Every meal is a dialogue with heaven. As Fairbairn says, the Bible is “God’s word to man warranting him to use the creation gift,” while saying grace is “man’s word to God, acknowledging the gift, and asking his blessing on it.” Christian singles and families ought to dedicate their meals to God through prayer and the reading of Scripture. Table devotions have been the standard practice of God’s people throughout history. The fact that they have gone out of fashion in some Christian circles today makes them all the more necessary.
Giving thanks, however, is not just for mealtimes. Gratitude is a whole way of life. Christians ought to give thanks to God for every good thing. G. K. Chesterton wrote something helpful about this in one of his personal notebooks. Chesterton was an English essayist and biographer. He was also a Catholic, but not of the ascetic kind, as one can tell from what he wrote:
You say grace before meals.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
Chesterton’s point is that God is to be praised for everything he has created. I am in a good position to appreciate this because I am writing these words one fine spring morning. As I walked the streets of Philadelphia early in the day I saw a starling in a tree. Starlings are not the most attractive birds. They lack the bright colors of song birds and they have trouble carrying a tune. Yet the starling I saw was almost melodic. He was inspired, no doubt, by the fresh buds on the tree and the bright sun in the sky. As I paused to look and to listen, I joined him in grateful praise to the God who made us both. Everything God made is good and is to be received with thanksgiving. Even starlings.
A Grateful Theology
The last thing to be said about the origins of bad theology is that gratitude is essential to sound theology. Thanksgiving is so important to daily Christian life that anyone who rejects God’s good gifts runs the risk of abandoning the faith.
A good example of the way sound theology depends upon a grateful heart comes from the early days of the Swiss Reformation. Shortly before Easter in 1522, several printers scandalized the city of Zurich by eating meat during the traditional Catholic fast for Lent. The printers decided to do this for two reasons. One was practical. They performed such hard physical labor that they felt they needed to eat meat to keep up their strength. But the other reason was theological. The printers wanted to eat meat in order to make a public declaration of their commitment to the doctrines of the Reformation.
To understand this, it helps to know that the Lenten fast in Zurich had become a form of works-righteousness, a way of earning favor with God through self-denial. But the printers knew where bad theology comes from—and where it leads. They believed that they were saved by grace, not by works. They also understood that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). Therefore, they ate their meat to the glory of God, which of course is the way every believer ought to do everything.
Learn to discern
After being taken to the mountain top at the end of the last chapter, we come down to earth with a bump when we read: ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in the later times some will depart from the faith’ (4:1). The ‘later times’ do not refer to a period at some time in the future, but to the era that both Timothy and we live in. It is the final phase of God’s plan that has been ushered in by Jesus’ death and resurrection and was initiated on the day of Pentecost.
The Greek word translated as ‘now’ in verse 1 connects the great statement made in chapter 3:2 with the practical issues Paul is going to raise in chapter 4. The ‘mystery’ has been revealed to us: God’s Son became a man, has been raised from the dead and has ascended into heaven. But there are still heart-breaking problems with which Timothy has to deal.
This has been revealed to Paul by the Holy Spirit and it should be familiar to the elders of the church in Ephesus. When Paul last spoke to them he said, ‘The Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me … I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock’ (Acts 20:23, 29). A wolf is a symbol of a false teacher who divides and destroys, just like the men who were creating so many problems for Timothy.
The source of the problem
The most dangerous element of the kind of teaching circulating in Ephesus—such erroneous teaching is still in existence today—was that it did not always appear to be wrong. It is possible that Timothy had not realized how dangerous it was until God had shown this to him through the letter Paul had written. Although these ideas were taught by men, they originated from ‘deceitful spirits’ and ‘demons’. This does not excuse the teachers themselves; they were ‘hypocritical liars’ (v. 2, NIV). The word ‘hypocrite’ is a term which has emerged from the theatre and it describes a person who gives a false impression, pretending to be something he or she is not. These teachers knew how to present their teaching so that it had appeal to as many people as possible. They were able to do so because they were ‘seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron’ (NASB). Hippocrates, the Greek medical writer, used the word ‘seared’ to describe cauterization, and the image here is of a conscience that has been destroyed.
The substance of their teaching
Having read that their ideas originated from deceitful spirits and demons, the description of their teaching may seem a little surprising. Paul says that they ‘forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth’ (v. 3). At first, this does not seem so serious, but when given more thought, it will become apparent how harmful their teaching was.
- it separated christians from god. By forbidding marriage and saying that people could not eat certain foods, they rejected God’s gifts. That is why Paul goes on to remark that ‘everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer’ (vv. 4–5).
- it caused divisions among christians, creating an elite group of people who considered themselves to be ‘spiritual’ and who looked down on those who did not follow their rules and regulations.
- it caused them to be preoccupied with themselves and made them neglect evangelism. Remember that this teaching originates from ‘deceitful spirits’ and ‘demons’ whose purpose it is to discourage people from following Christ and to destroy the local church. That is why it is essential to use discernment and to ‘test everything’ (1 Thes. 5:21).