1st Timothy 4
We are living in unsettling times. Certainly, I am finding them unsettling. As I write this, various issues dominate the news and our culture:
- The horrifying shootings in Orlando;
- The rise of varying forms of extremism;
- The knee-jerk response to this in the form of extreme secularism;
- The pressure to conform to these various agendas.
I find these things unsettling as a Christian. The worldview I hold to is coming under increasing attack, and I find myself being put under increased pressure to abandon my views and conform to what the world thinks. I find this unsettling, and I expect this: I cannot imagine how difficult this must feel to older Christians, who are used to the Biblical Christian worldview being the majority held in society.
Even more unsettling is the fact that some professing Christians are going along with some of these agendas and modifying what they believe, not in the light of God’s Word in the Bible, but to conform to what the world wants or expects.
These things are unsettling, and may cause us dismay. One thing we shouldn’t feel, however, is surprise because at various points in the Bible, there are predictions that this very thing would happen! 1st Timothy 4 is one of those places.
1. Abandon the Truth (v. 1-5)
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Paul predicted these things happening. Paul, quite rightly, points to God as the inspiration for this prediction:
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. (v. 1-2)
It would have taken a great deal of foresight for Paul to make this prediction (although, knowing what he knew about God and the world, I’m sure Paul could have deduced the direction the world would take). I therefore think it must have been God who spoke through Paul, and gave him a real sense of what we, today, are experiencing.
Why does Paul suggest that those who are not following or teaching God’s ways are in fact following and teaching things from deceiving spirits or demons?
In the Christian faith, the overall emphasis of God is to put the world to right. God ultimately achieves this through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since this is God’s emphasis, we can conclude (and indeed see!) that the enemies of God are working to disrupt and destroy God’s attempts to put the world to right.
Therefore, whenever a person believes, teaches or works for something which is contrary to God, His plans and His desires, they are actually contributing to the cause to destroy all that God is working to achieve in setting the world right. I believe there are a minority of people who will actively pursue this, but the vast majority will be contributing inadvertently. Many will be unaware that their actions are contrary to what God wants. It is for this reason that verses 6-10 are so important.
2. Be the Example… (v. 6-10)
Although Paul has changed subject to speak more about culture, he refers back to the first three chapters in this section. He encourages Timothy, and by extension, us:
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (v. 6)
We are all called to point out to others (but especially our fellow Christians) when they are not living in a way which fits with what God requires of us. This can be difficult at times, as not everyone may readily receive our prompting. This is why, if we ever are to correct fellow believers, we must do so in a spirit of love and gentleness.
It is in this section we find some interesting verses which relate to salvation:
This is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe. (v. 10)
In this verse, we see two things:
- Clearly, God has a desire for all people to be saved: if this were not the case, He could not be described as the Saviour of all people;
- This is not the same as saying all people are saved: if all people were saved, Paul would not need to make the distinction between God’s desire to save all from sin, and those who end up being saved.
This is a complex piece of theology, and there isn’t the time to go deeper into these issues here. But it is still worth noting, and we can return to it later.
3. …Even Although You’re Young (v. 11-16)
So, Paul foresees the direction the world will take, and encourages Christians to stand out and stand up for the way God would have things. He offers this encouragement in this letter to his young friend, Timothy, so these next verses shouldn’t come as a surprise:
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (v. 12)
I personally find this a very encouraging verse. As a young man training for pastoral ministry, I sometimes feel I lack either the wisdom or necessary experience to be an effective Church leader. I, and I hope other Christian young people, take this as both an encouragement and challenge that we should set an example to all followers of Jesus, no matter their age or stage in life.
There is no better conclusion to this section that to simply allow Paul to speak for himself. The encouragement he gives us in the final two verses are far better than anything I could come up with myself!
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. (v. 15-16)