Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy. Today, we will be looking at chapter 4, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions for church leaders.
If you were to write a job description for your pastor, what would it contain? How would it compare with the description he might write? A pastor preaches regularly, performs weddings and other Christian services, visits the sick, and counsels the distressed. But what is his ministry, and what kind of person must he be to fulfill his God-given ministry? In this section of his letter to Timothy, Paul emphasized the character and the work of the minister himself; and he listed three qualities he must possess if he is to be successful in serving God.
A Good Minister Preaches the Word (1 Tim. 4:1–6)
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 and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed.
Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would invade the church (Acts 20:28–31); and now they had arrived. The Holy Spirit had spoken in specific terms about these teachers and the prophecy was starting to be fulfilled in Paul’s time. Certainly, it is fulfilled in our own time!
False teachers were and still are a threat to the church. It is not enough that a teacher appears to know what he is talking about, is disciplined and moral, or says he is speaking for God. If his words contradict the Bible, his teaching is false. We must guard against any teaching that causes believers to dilute or reject any aspect of their faith. Such false teaching can be very direct or extremely subtle. We can recognize false teachers by the description Paul gave in this paragraph.
They are energized by Satan (v. 1a). This is the only place where demons are mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles. Just as there is a “mystery of godliness” concerning Christ (1 Tim. 3:16), there is a “mystery of iniquity” surrounding Satan and his work (2 Thes. 2:7). Satan is an imitator (2 Cor. 11:13–15); he has his own ministers and doctrines, and seeks to deceive God’s people and lead them astray (2 Cor. 11:3). The first test of any religious doctrine is what it says about Jesus Christ (1 John 4:1–6).
It comes as a shock to some people that Satan uses professed Christians in the church to accomplish his work. Satan once used Peter to try to lead Jesus on a wrong path (Matt. 16:21–23), and he used Ananias and Sapphira to try to deceive the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5). Paul warned false teachers would arise from within the church (Acts 20:30).
They lead people astray (v. 1b). Their goal is to seduce people and get them to depart from the faith. This is the word apostasy and it is defined as “a willful turning away from the truth of the Christian faith.” These false teachers do not try to build up the church or relate people to the Lord Jesus Christ in a deeper way. Instead, they want to get disciples to follow them, join their groups, and promote their programs. This is one difference between a true church and a religious cult: a true church seeks to win converts to Jesus Christ and to build them spiritually; conversely, a cult proselytizes, steals converts from others, and makes them servants (even slaves!) of the leaders of the cult. However, not all apostates are in cults; some of them are in churches and pulpits, teaching false doctrine and leading people astray.
They are hypocrites (v. 2). “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15–20). These false teachers preach one thing, but practice another. They tell their disciples what to do, but they do not do it themselves. Satan works “through hypocritical liars.” One of the marks of a true servant of God is his honesty and integrity: he practices what he preaches. This does not mean he is sinlessly perfect, but he sincerely seeks to obey the Word of God. He genuinely tries to maintain a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9).
The word seared means “cauterized.” Just as a person’s flesh can be “branded” so that it becomes hard and without feeling, so a person’s conscience can be deadened. Whenever we affirm with our lips something we deny with our lives (whether people know it or not), we deaden our consciences just a little more. Jesus made it clear it is not religious talk or even performing miracles, which qualifies a person for heaven, but doing God’s will in everyday life (Matt. 7:21–29).
An apostate is not just wrong doctrinally; he is wrong morally. His personal life became wrong before his doctrines were changed. In fact, it is likely he changed his teachings so that he could continue his sinful living and pacify his conscience. Believing and behaving always go together. Right belief and right behavior are critical for anyone who desires to lead or serve effectively in the church.
They deny God’s Word (vv. 3–5). The false teachers in Ephesus combined Jewish legalism with Eastern asceticism. We find Paul dealing with this same false doctrine in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 2:8–23 especially). For one thing, the false teachers taught an unmarried life was more spiritual than a married life, which is contrary to Scripture. “It is not good for the man to be alone” are God’s own words (Gen. 2:18). Jesus put His seal of approval on marriage (Matt. 19:1–9), though He pointed out not everybody is supposed to marry (Matt. 19:10–12). Paul also affirmed the biblical basis for marriage (1 Cor. 7:1–24), teaching each person should follow the will of God in the matter.
Beware of any religious teaching, which tampers with God’s institution of marriage. And beware of any teaching, which tampers with God’s creation. The false teachers who were infecting the Ephesian church taught certain foods were taboo; if you ate them, you were not spiritual. The fact God called His own Creation “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25) did not interest these teachers. Their authority to dictate diets gave them power over their converts.
Those who “believe and know the truth” are not impressed with the do’s and don’ts of the legalists. Jesus stated all foods are clean (Mark 7:14–23). He taught this lesson again to Peter (Acts 10) and reaffirmed it through Paul (1 Cor. 10:23–33). A person may not be able to eat certain foods for physical reasons (an allergy, for example); but no food is to be rejected for spiritual reasons. We should not, however, use our freedom to eat and drink to destroy weaker Christians (Rom. 14:13–23). The food we eat is sanctified (set apart, devoted to God) when we pray and give thanks; so the Word of God and prayer turn even an ordinary meal into a spiritual service for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).
The emphasis in a minister’s life should be on “the Word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5). It is tragic when a church keeps its pastors so busy with menial tasks that they have hardly any time for God’s Word and prayer (Acts 6:1–7). Paul reminded young Timothy of his great responsibility to study, teach, and preach the Scriptures, and to spend time in prayer. As a “good minister,” he must be “nourished on the truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 4:6). Timothy had certain responsibilities in the light of this growing apostasy:
Teach the church the truth (v. 6a). God’s people need to be warned about false doctrine and religious apostasy. A minister must not major on these subjects because he is obligated to teach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27); but neither should he ignore them. As we travel the streets and highways, we see two kinds of signs: those that tell us where we are going (“Boston 45 miles”) and those that warn us of possible dangers (“Bridge Out!”). A pastor must teach positive doctrine, so people will know what they believe and where they are going. But he must also expose false doctrine, so people will not be seduced and led astray.
He must nourish himself in the Word (v. 6b). Of course, every Christian ought to feed daily on the Word (Jer. 15:16; Matt. 4:4; 1 Peter 2:2); but it is especially important a pastor grow in the Word. It is by daily studying the “good doctrine” and meditating on the Word that he grows in the Lord and is able to lead the church.
The “good minister” preaches the Word he himself feeds on day by day. But it is not enough to preach the Word; he must also practice it.
In Part 2, we will see the good minister not only preaches the Word, but practices what he preaches.
1. Jesus warned us that “false teachers” would come and lead many people astray (Mt. 24:23-27; Mark 13:5-6; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 17-18). How can we be discerning as we face the issues of our day, so we are not deceived?
2. What are the ideas and teachings that are leading people astray today? How can we counteract them?
3. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to “test everything.” How should we put this into practice?