Renewing Our Values: "A Place for Truth" – 1 Timothy 4

phoneAs I sat down to put this lesson into final form I got a call from someone with whom I am in the middle of an important business arrangement. She called in a panic to leave a message on my voicemail, when I picked up my phone – she was flabbergasted. She almost couldn’t get her words together. She stammered, and I said her name and asked, “Is that you? Is there a problem?” My mind was rushing through what could have been wrong with her… Was she being assaulted and hit her speed dial on her cell? Did she mean to dial a woman and was surprised to get my voice? I had no idea what the problem was. In a few seconds, she recovered and began to speak, “Dr. Smith… where are you?” I answered: “Sitting in my office at my computer. Why? Are you ok?” She said, I called very upset with you because the bank officer told me that you were cancelling our appointment together with them because you are out of the country. I couldn’t believe you would LEAVE like that and NOT tell me! I called to really let you have it!” I sat puzzled. I replied, “Well, I didn’t tell you I was going anywhere because I WASN’T going anywhere. I am not sure where the wires got crossed here, but I was planning on the meeting just like you were. I think I should make some calls and find out what is going on. I will get back to you.” When I did, I was even more disturbed. The bank officer I spoke to stammered a bit, and spoke in the way you speak when you are trying to make something incredibly clear sound fuzzy. They were caught with hand in cookie jar. In a few minutes they went from passing blame to the other party, then trying to blame me for a delay I played no role in. They suggested I was holding out crucial documents. Unfortunately for them, I keep copies of most everything digitally, and have records of most all that I do in business. It is a reality of modern business and leadership.

At long last, the banker as much as admitted in a round-about way they did not tell the truth and the postponement was because they could not be prepared for the meeting. Putting off the meeting was going to cost me some discomfort with the other party, but it was nothing insurmountable, if they had told the truth. The problem is, in spreading stories that weren’t actually the facts they made me look irresponsible in a relationship that can only be maintained with TRUST. They undermined my negotiating position. I wasn’t impressed, but I was STUNNED. I couldn’t believe two things: 1) that someone would make up something rather than simply explain they got behind and couldn’t get everything done as agreed; and 2) that someone would make up a story so easy to check and confirm. Obviously I wasn’t overseas as they said, and it wasn’t going to be hard to figure that out!

I think we all understand the desire to hide when we don’t get something done and we feel like we dropped a responsibility that we had. We alI recognize the temptation to lie to cover actions that were wrong or would cause us trouble. These tempting circumstances exist in all of our lives. Yet we are called to tell the truth. We are not to lie to protect ourselves from the consequences of our own wrong behaviors. What I find significant today is the brazenness with which even public personalities will say things that are cover up the truth, even when we have solid evidence they are lying. It seems like truth has been a commodity traded for lie when the price for truth is felt to be too high. Deals that are forged in a five inch pile of signed papers don’t seem to keep the erosion of truth at bay.

We cannot win in a fight to get fallen people to speak the truth even to their own hurt – and we shouldn’t waste our time trying to do it – unless we work in a law enforcement office charged with the responsibility to do so. What we can do is look within our own hearts and ask the Spirit to shine a light on any lie that may be lurking within, standing guard over our laziness and protecting our inflated ego. After that, we are to can look to the body of believers and make sure we understand what the truth is, and WHO the Truth is. That is what today’s text is all about.

Key Principle: Believers must cherish the truth, and unite behind it. The hallmark of the church must be to train people to recognize truth and walk in it.

You will, no doubt, recall that the letter to Timothy is not an evangelistic one – for Tim knew Jesus and led a group that knew Jesus. The letter was chiefly directed at RENEWING PROPER BEHAVIOR AMONG BELIEVERS. It is important to recognize that the ENEMY of the church is NOT NEW. The issues of SIN are NOT NEW… and the solutions for the problems we face as believers is NOT NEW. Even though the problems aren’t new, we have to admit the resurgence of the enemy’s old strategy is laying gloves on us these days. A study in 1 Timothy offers an opportunity to examine eight specific problems that believers have faced through the centuries, and apply God’s prescription for both preventative care and serious correction of each. This is our sixth study out of eight. As we look over the book:

• We started the series by talking about the kind of faith that changed how we live as recorded in 1 Timothy 1.

• We saw that living that kind of transforming faith makes men able to stop being stirred by struggles on earth, and see a Sovereign God that is at work above them and pray confidently in 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

• We recognized the need for affirmation in our wonderful women, and saw how a transforming faith works to bring happiness to Christian women and fulfillment to that need as recorded in 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

• We saw the important role character plays in leadership in light of God’s Word and His work of transformation in us in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

• Then we saw how that character shows itself in service in the body as recorded in 1 Timothy 3:8-16.

Now we want to grab hold of the heartbeat of the church, and allow the number one priority in these days to emerge clearly. We want to realign the priorities of the church to one important and elevated task – to guard the Truth as Paul reminds in 1 Timothy 4.

The passage helps us directly confront the assault on truth and deliberately and measurably take a stand again the erosion of truth that is hindering our society from recognizing basic principles that will lead them to God. The text of 1 Timothy 4 can be easily split into two parts: the first addressed the problem the church faced and will continue to face in increasing ways before the King comes (1 Timothy 4:1-5). The second part related the prescription (as a medicine sometimes prevents and at other times treats illness) God offered to inoculate the church against a slide into error, or to help it recover when she stumbles (1 Timothy 4:6-16). Each of these sections deserves a few minutes of explanation…

The Problem the Church Faces (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

Paul made clear to Timothy the days ahead would be challenging in regard to truth. He wrote:

1 Timothy 4:1 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, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 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. 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.

The Fact of Deception (4:1)

These aren’t words about people who DON’T believe – but the departure of people and institutions that ONCE PROFESSED BELIEF! The first words of Paul concerning this subject are emphatic – the Spirit has made this perfectly clear – the time of failing away from the truth is a CERTAINTY. It is NOT based on the work that Timothy was doing – it would happen regardless of his effectiveness. I find those words helpful, and somewhat comforting. Why?

I could fill my desk with articles, books and editorials about how the church has failed. Twenty-somethings are abandoning the church! Morality in America is dying! Atheism and agnosticism is rising! Americans are flocking out of the traditional church… we ought to be ashamed. We have been doing this “oh so incorrectly” and now we have lost our place… Wait a minute! I know of literally hundreds of solid Pastors and Youth workers that are pushing as hard as they can to bring the truth of the Gospel. I know some that could walk into this room and light up the place with their love for the Savior. They are doing the work well, and many of them are still finding fields white unto harvest. As Americans hurt more in an uncertain economy, more doors open to serve Jesus by serving people. Some of my friends are doing that incredibly well.

Are we losing the cultural blessing? Probably, but that isn’t just because we didn’t do as much as we could have or should have. God told us that defection from truth would come, and he took the time to say it so clearly that Paul could only point out that it was “explicitly communicated”. This is not to offer an EXCUSE when we do things badly, but let’s be open to the idea that the SKY IS NOT FALLING, it is PREPARING TO BRING A PRINCE WITH A TRUMPET. We aren’t DONE yet, but we are promised that at some point in the life of the church of Jesus Christ, there will be those who abandon truth for deception – that is just a fact.

Let me remind you there are only a few appeals a church can use to get people to follow God, including obligation, fear and love.

• Perhaps the Puritan church used fear in days when preachers like Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) spoke to the people of Connecticut as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. He cried out: “…let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

• The post-revivalist generation of the World War II returnees used “obligation” in a Wilfred Brimsley “Oatmeal. It’s the right thing to do!” sort of way. Messages from the church in the fifties made sense to fathers that had served in war, and mothers who helped at home to keep the effort going. There was DUTY, and that is what kept church people serving and preachers preaching.

• Our churches must focus on the supreme calling of love for our Savior. This is the message for our time. We don’t obey the Word of God from a mere fear of judgment or sense of obligation. People won’t respond, on the whole, to those calls. We call upon the church to follow God’s Word out of a sincere love for the One Who gave Himself for us. We want the world to behold a PEOPLE SMITTEN WITH LOVE. Jesus loved us first, and still loves us best. No other motivation will is stronger than a love for Him, and no other people will be more pleasant than those who serve the Lord out of such a love, not just of His approval, but of HIM.

Yet, in spite of the fact that we know many in love with Jesus – the defection was explicitly prophesied by God’s Spirit, and Paul made it clear. We need to be settled in the process. That is not a call to laziness. We need to fulfill our responsibility and reach out in love, but not accept responsibility for everyone else’s decisions as to whether they will walk in truth. Our role is to love them, share with them and care for them. Their role is to find and follow the Christ that motivates us. It is THEIR decision. Don’t be defensive in spirit when offering a cogent defense of the Gospel. Jesus isn’t less Lord in a room where He is NOT believed.

The Force Behind Deception (4:1b)

If the deception is a certainty, WHO will bring it in? Where will such a deep deception have its origin? What will fuel an exodus from truth? Why would people trade truth for a lie? These answers have also been clearly revealed in the end of verse one (4:1b): “paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons”.

The rooms where a departure from truth has occurred, if carefully examined, give evidence of cast off scaly skin from the serpent of old – because he has been there. The fingerprints of various demons can be found behind the lesson plans of false teaching. People are wooed away by the common and sympathetic rebellious tones played by demonic sirens.

The term deceitful spirits is “pneuma planos” – or “wandering or straying spirits” and may refer to demonic presence, or could equally mean a “spirit” within a person to wander. To make sure that we wouldn’t be confused, the text clarifies the meaning to be DEMONIC instructors.

The church does not merely wrestle with the state. The believer does not merely wrestle with an immoral educational establishment. The seminary doesn’t merely fight the influence of poorly formed doctrine. There is a concerted effort, a demonic plan, behind these forces. Knowing that will cause us to focus our energy as MUCH ON PRAYER as on protest, and as MUCH ON INTERCESSION as on apologetic debate.

The Fellowship of Deception (4:2-5)

YES, they have a club and a “motto”!! Who will be the human tools of this demonic power? Where will I see deception at work in my daily world? These opponents of truth have been clearly revealed (4:2): “…by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron…”

The text reveals that most often the voices of those who have been used as “puppets of dark thinking” will offer arguments that are both factually misleading and don’t match their own lifestyle. They will proclaim themselves victims of discrimination, and then create discriminatory laws against those who hold truth. They will fall victim to the mentality that because they have a STRONG OPINION, they must have the RIGHT OPINION. I am seeing it more and more – evangelists for evil. These are people who insert themselves into conversations to share falsehood, all the while complaining about how Christians keep bothering them with attempts at outreach. Let me illustrate what I mean…

Pastor Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek Church in Chicago tells the story of an encounter he had with a young woman: “I recall one time being in a restaurant studying for a message, and a gal looked over from her table and saw me reading my Bible. She said, ‘Why do you study that stuff?’ And I thought, just to stimulate a little discussion, I’d try to knock her off balance. So I said, ‘Because I don’t feel like going to hell when I die.’ I was going to be really blunt, but I took the edge off it a little bit. And she said, ‘There is no such thing as heaven or hell.’ I thought, Well, I got something going now. So I turned in my chair and I said, ‘Why do you say that?’ She said, ‘Everybody knows that when you die your candle goes out — Poof ’ I said, ‘You mean to tell me there’s no afterlife?’ ‘No.’ ‘So that means you must be able to just live as you please?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘Like, there’s no Judgment Day or anything?’ ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s fascinating to me. Where did you hear that?’ She said, ‘I read it somewhere.’ ‘Can you give me the name of the book?’ ‘I don’t recall.’ ‘Can you give me the name of the author of the book?’ ‘I forget his name.’ ‘Did that author write any other books?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Is it possible that your author changed his mind two years after he wrote this particular book and then wrote another one that said there is a heaven and a hell? Is that possible?’ ‘It’s possible but not likely.’ ‘All right,’ I said. ‘ Let me get this straight. You are rolling the dice on your eternity predicated on what someone you don’t even know wrote in a book you can’t even recall the title of. Have I got that straight?’ I was playing a little Columbo act with her. She looked me right in the eye and said, ‘That’s right.’ And I said back to her, ‘You know what I think, sweetheart? I think you have merely created a belief that guarantees the continuation of your unencumbered lifestyle. I think you made it up, because it is very discomforting to think of a heaven. It is a very discomforting thought to think of a hell. It is very unnerving to face a holy God in the day of reckoning. I think you made it all up.’ We had quite a conversation after that.”

Our world is filled with people who believe themselves to be experts. They are all for tolerance, as long as it agrees with their point of view. The caricature people of faith, and rehearse their rebellion with eloquence. Where do you see it?

The battle ground has been clearly revealed (4:3-5): 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. 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.

Notice the first place you see it is in teachings concerning the redefinition of relationships like marriage, and move to the placement of new moral restrictions unsupported by God’s Word and real spiritual life.

• The first area, that of relationship boundaries, is clearer in the original language of the text. The terms “forbid marriage” is actually ko-loo-o – to prevent or hinder. This isn’t simply that they “stop people from being able to marry” (though that can be included). It is literally that they hinder the proper form of marriage by offering other rules concerning the practice. They blur the lines on what is RIGHT in God’s sight, so that they can spread a new moral code and rewrite the definition of FAMILY to conform to their own cause.

• Next, the deception moves to restrictions on foods that God has not forbidden. They reframe moral issues away from God’s Word and place them in areas that suit them. They create religious sounding “absolutes” that substitute themselves for the Word of God.

In summary, God warned beforehand that individuals and then whole communities, churches and even nations would defect from the truth, even when living in the truth brought great benefits. The enticement to rebellion, the magnetism of baser instincts and the downward demonic pull would drive men to become darker – a term they would cynically call “enlightenment”. They would carefully construct lies out of a desire to do as they please and reframe morality on the basis of their fallen tastes. When they did, they would teach a defiled view of the world from a sincere and yet wholly rationalized perspective. Calloused and tough to anything of the spirit, their hearts being deadened by rationalized morality, they would set out to redefine relationships and societal boundaries, creating new religious sounding moral restrictions that fit their newly made code, even when in direct violation of the Word of God. Shamelessly, they will declare their new ethic, though founded by men who violated even the nature’s laws of decency, as superior to the antiquated morality of the Bible.

The Prescription God gave (4:6-16)

God offered a recipe to inoculate the church against a slide into error, and to help it recover when she stumbles (4:6-16):

It required the constant challenge of the Word from the church’s pulpit (4:6)

4:6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, [constantly] nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

• The process was in verbal instruction: “pointing these things out” is a way of noting that Tim was to teach them, and others were to hear what he said (4:6a). Note that it was to be done “constantly”, not just occasionally.

• The standard was found in the Word: Mature believers calling attention to the God’s Word among those who come behind them is not a luxury, but a requirement (4:6a).

• The practice was to include example: Timothy was to be continuing to live the practical relationship principles and truths in his daily life (4:6b).

In short, Tim was to live consistently, speak directly and gauge his words by the truth of God’s previously revealed Word. That wasn’t all…

It required deliberate distance from nonsense (4:7a).

4:7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.

Because right thinking requires focus, we must learn to clean out the constant fouling of nonsense that clogs up our thoughts and lives (4:7a). Many people in our society have too much time on their hands (in the ancient world it was old women). Perhaps we should look in another direction now!

Many young people seem to have hours and hours to wander the web and find distraction there. I know some who can spend hours with nothing of consequence to show. They cannot vacuum, and they do not know how to bake something and bring it to someone in need – but they have HOURS to offer armchair philosophy to those they haven’t met in person. I want to call out anyone who is doing that kind of thing and ask you directly: “Are you willing to be involved in caring for people in life, or are you content to sit on the sidelines and sling advise at passers-by?”

Godliness requires saying NO to impulses and deliberately turning away from continual nonsense. It requires staying out of nonsense discussions in favor of actively caring for someone. Lack of discipline in life is a sign of an uncontrolled, unruly and rebellious spirit.

It required regular exercise of godly disciplines (4:7b-11).

4:7b”…On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and [also] for the [life] to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 11 Prescribe and teach these things.

Paul called for Timothy to discipline his body for the work ahead (4:7b-11). Note the commands:

• The Discipline is Personal: “discipline yourself” (4:7b) – a simple statement to remind us that no one is responsible to do it for is! I am supposed to take on the responsibility of my own healthy growth in the Lord!

• The Discipline is Purposed: “for the purpose of godliness” (4:7b)- a reminder that disciplines for the sake of gaining prominence, securing health, wealth and prosperity are all set aside. My purpose is “eusebia”: reverence. If I discipline my life to gain anything but a greater sense of God’s ownership, even this is going off in a wrong direction. It is not for my affirmation or comfort. I walk in disciplines of life for HIS PLEASURE. Don’t forget, relationship with God is worth the sacrifice involved. There is an old story that may help:

In a Japanese seaside village over a hundred years ago, an earthquake startled the villagers late one autumn evening. Being so accustomed to earthquakes and not feeling another follow, they soon went back to their activities without giving it another thought. An old farmer was watching from his home on a high plain above the village. He looked out at the sea and noticed that the water appeared dark and was acting strangely, moving against the wind and running away from the land. The old man knew what that meant. His one thought was to warn the people in the village below. He called to his grandson, “Bring me a torch! Hurry!” In the fields behind him lay his great crop of rice that was piled high in stacks that were ready for the market; it was worth a fortune. The old man hurried out to the stacks with his torch. In a flash the dry stalks were ablaze. Soon the big bell pealed from the temple below: Fire! Back from the beach, away from the sea, up the steep side of the cliff came the people of the village, running as fast as they could. They were coming to try to save the crops of their neighbor. “He’s mad!” they said when they saw that he just stood there watching them come and staring out toward the sea. As they reached the level of the fields the old man shouted at the top of his voice over the roaring of the flames while pointing toward the sea, “Look!” At the edge of the horizon they saw a long, thin, and faint line – a line that grew thicker as they watched. That line was the sea, rising like a wall, getting higher and coming more and more swiftly as they stared. Then came the shock, heavier than thunder; the great wall of water struck the shore with a fierceness and a force that sent a shudder through the hills and tore the homes below into matchsticks. The water withdrew with a roaring sound. Then it returned and struck again, and again, and again. One final time it struck and ebbed, then returned to its place and its pattern. On the plain no one spoke a word for a long while. Finally the voice of the old man could be heard, saying softly, gently, “That is why I set fire to the rice.” He now stood among them just as poor as the poorest of them; his wealth was gone – all for the sake of 400 lives. By that sacrifice he will long be remembered, not by his wealth. He was not saddened by what his sacrifice cost him; he was overjoyed at what was saved. (from A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

• The Discipline is Promising: Note the phrase “promise for the present life and life to come” (4:8-10)- We live the truths of God’s Word for His honor and pleasure, but we do so with the absolute and unshakeable promise that these truth WORK in this life and are REWARDED in the life to come. We don’t do them for the reward, but we celebrate that they are rewarded with life now and life then!

• The Discipline is Passed: “prescribe and teach” (4:11) – the terms “paraggel’o” and “didasko” are terms that share how the disciplines will be instilled in those who follow after us. They literally share the idea “mark out the trail before them with truth” by verbally sharing each idea and concept. The truth is, words aren’t enough! Paul followed up this idea with “don’t let them discount you because of your youth – live so they will see your example (4:12). To pass the truths of the Word we must verbally rehearse them, but also outwardly live them. Modeling is essential for the words to have life!

Charles Swindoll wrote, “To walk by faith does not mean that we stop thinking. To trust God does not imply becoming slovenly or lazy or apathetic. What a distortion of biblical faith! You and I need to trust God for our finances, but that is no license to spend foolishly. You and I ought to trust God for safety in the car, but we’re not wise to pass in a blind curve. We trust God for our health, but that doesn’t mean we can chain smoke, stay up half the night, and subsist on potato chips and Twinkies without consequences. …Faith and careful planning go hand-in-hand. They always have.” [Charles Swindoll. Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication. (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999) p. 27]

Paul continued with other encouragements about the disciplines of the faith Tim was to exercise as he closed the chapter:

12 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. 13 Until I come, give attention to the [public] reading [of Scripture], to exhortation and teaching. 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 presbytery. 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, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

• The Discipline is Public: As a teacher of the Word, Tim would face the attacks of men. Some would try to diminish his words based on some lack in his resume (4:12). There was a way to combat those detractors – by living out truth in an exemplary way.

• The Discipline is Powerful: Look at the terms “give attention”. This could be rephrased “put your energies into”. In other words, Timothy was to openly read the Word (4:13) – because the power of the Word was to be given prominence. Believers must always remember their persuasiveness is nothing compared to the sheer power of God’s truth. By reading it aloud, he allowed the audience to hear it as God revealed it, and to test whether he was telling the truth about what it said. He was also to give attention to “exhortation and teaching”. Exhortation is the term “paraklesis”: to summon or persuade to action. It is sometimes used as “encouragement” and other times in the sense of warning to return.

That wasn’t the only source of power. He was also EMPOWERED with gifts, and he was called to use them openly (4:14)

Step away from the last part of the chapter and look for a moment at the broad sweep of what Paul told Timothy. He listed some things that should be the priorities of the younger believer that was called to lead others:

• Read the Word in front of the people (4:13).
• Encourage, persuade and instruct the people (4:13).
• Work the gift God put inside you and prophesied over you (4:14).
• Meditate and ponder (take pains is melatao: to deeply ponder – 4:15) The term “absorbed” is not in the text, but a comment to help you see the Greek says “be all about this”.
• Pay close attention to yourself (4:16)
• Watch your teaching (4:16)

One cannot read these reiterations and fail to understand the weight of what Paul was saying. The truth is in the Word. Know it, share it, work it, ponder it, watch out for it, teach it, trust it. Without it you will fall. Without it you will become confused and stare at the churning of men’s false ideas and opinions. In confusion you will stumble, and those you carry will fall in with you. The truth is worth standing up for, but we must first truly pull in our hungers for other things…

Believers must cherish the truth, and unite behind it. The hallmark of the church must be to train people to recognize truth and walk in it.