1 Timothy 4

1 However, the Spirit has also revealed prophecies about ungodliness. Paul used emphatic words when saying the Spirit has clearly revealed that during the latter times, that is, the time between the first and second coming of Christ, there will be a falling away from the Christian faith. The Greek word used here for "fall away" is where we get the English word "apostasy." Paul further explains that this means some will listen to spirits other than the Holy Spirit, but these spirits will mislead them. People will begin to follow the doctrines of demons, which are fallen angels. These doctrines, in very general terms, are contrary to God's doctrines, and the consequences are profound. God's doctrines are the only ones that can help humanity, but demons want to deceive people into believing that there are other ways to be "saved" from judgment, harm, uncertainty, etc. The people who follow false doctrines not only seal their own fate, but they draw others into their deception. Paul is not merely be speaking of practices like pagan idol worship, astrology, and necromancy, since all of these were practiced before Christ came. The implication is that these and other doctrines will be practiced in the disguise of Christianity. For those who know God and His doctrines, the differences are usually obvious, but those deceived will still incorrectly consider themselves Christians.
2 Angels rarely appear in material form in the Scriptures, and there are no clear indicators that demons have this ability. Thus, these deceptive spirits do not teach false doctrines directly, but can influence the human mind. This in no way absolves humans for their behavior, for while the conscience is the battleground for the influences of the Holy Spirit versus the deceptive spirits, each individual is ultimately responsible for the choices he or she makes.
In this context, the obviously easy targets for the teaching of false doctrines are those who are already practiced in deception and hypocrisy, easily motivated by pride, and have resisted believing the core doctrines of Christianity. In all kinds of people groups in all walks of life it is not hard to find those who have exceptional public charisma, but whose personal lives are completely corrupt - although some hide it much better than others. There are any number of scenarios under which such a person might decide to leverage Christianity to assert influence over people. These people develop their own agendas and make it look like a form of Christianity. They most likely fill some niche that the local Christian community does not or can not fill (or it appeals to some sinful behavior rejected by Christians), and are able to lure a congregation of people who either know little Christian doctrine, or who are influenced to join the group for other reasons. This is not to say that these false teachers do not start out with some good intention in mind, but it usually becomes obvious that the social or political agenda becomes more important than the worship of God. It is important to remember that the doctrines of demons are not so much concerned about directing people to Satan as it is to turning people away from God. Since Satan knows that only belief in the Gospel can save people from his influence, anything that distracts people from it will leave them in his clutches.
There are two schools of thought on the "seared conscience" mentioned here. One indicates that this may be an allusion to the practice of branding slaves and criminals at that time. Just as a physical brand would let everyone know that the marked person was an outcast of some kind, so this "spiritual" brand would be obvious to God as one who is guilty of spiritual crimes. Perhaps a better explanation is from the fact that a cauterized piece of skin is far less sensitive to touch or pain. The meaning here would be that the hypocrite's conscience has become insensitive to both positive influences of the Holy Spirit, and the negative consequences resulting from his sins. Thus, once the part of the being that drives the moral and spiritual activity becomes biased away from God or essentially disabled, the deceptive spiritual influences have a much easier time directing that person.
3 Paul gives two specific examples of the kinds of teachings that come from deceptive spirits. The first is the false notion that people should not get married. Paul himself advocates remaining single in 1 Cor 7:25-38, for instance, but it is also clear that he does not forbid marriage. In fact, he encourages it for those who really want it. Abstinence, he indicates, is only for those who truly have the matter settled in their own minds. One example of where this has frequently becomes a hypocritical issue in modern times is with the priests who proclaim to be celibant, but when out of the public eye, they have an active, and sometimes perverted, sex life. It should be clear that celibacy has nothing to do with one's salvation. In addition, the prohibition against marriage is more likely to result in a sexually frustrated congregation, and unnecessary feelings of guilt. God created people to be joined together in marriage, and people should be grateful for the joy and pleasure that such a union can have. Prohibiting marriage for those who wish to be joined does more spiritual harm than good.
The second false prohibition is from eating certain foods. While people are most often concerned about matters of animal flesh, the Greek word is a general term used for all kinds of foods. The Mosaic Law has many dietary restrictions in it, but obeying all these laws does not result in salvation. These laws were given to Israel for good reason for a certain time, but when Christ came, He rescinded those restrictions to make it clear that faith in Him was the only necessary and sufficient thing people could do to find favor with God. However, the judaizers were not the only ones attempting to restrict Christian dietary freedoms. In Gentile lands, animals were slain before idols as sacrifices, but their meat was sold in the public markets. There was great concern in those areas concerning whether Christians should eat these meats. Paul writes about this matter in several of his letters. In short, he only advocates abstaining from certain meats if 1) the Christian knows it has been sacrificed to an idol and 2) if he feels that eating such meat will weaken someone else's faith. Besides this, he indicates that those who choose to or not to eat certain foods should not judge the other group. Paul may have been exasperated that church groups were being disrupted by squabbles over unimportant things like food! He makes it very clear that food is not a spiritual issue for Christians, and condemns those people who cause divisions over such trivial matters. In modern times, there are groups that abstain from eating certain foods on certain days or seasons. Again, it is easy to see that the dietary restrictions are incorrectly associated with holiness, when in reality they become a hindrance to one's relationship with God. Christ is to remain at the center of the Christian's attention. Not food, not marriage, and not anything else that would draw our attention away. The realistic Christian approach is to recognize that God created all kinds of foods for us to eat. We should accept this with gratitude and thankfulness. We should also feel free to share our food with our fellow Christians without fear of offending them, since there is nothing to be offended at.
4 Paul reemphasizes that when we gratefully accept what God has given us for food, there is no reason to reject it.
5 God had given Noah's descendents both plants and animals to eat after the Flood (Gen 9:3). In the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed all foods good to eat (Mark 7:18-19). Thus, we have been given permission to eat all kinds of foodstuffs without prohibition. God has sanctified, or "set apart," both plants and animals for the nourishment of people. Furthermore, we can sanctify food through prayer by acknowledging that God gives us everything we have and thanking Him for it.
6 Timothy, as a good servant of Christ and Paul's appointed leader for the church, was to point these things out to the members of his congregation. He would explain the difference between true and false doctrines either as sermons to the group or in less formal gatherings. Timothy himself was to remain "nourished" by the Christian instruction he had received and was following.
7 Timothy is to reject activities, traditions, and superstitions that come from peoples' imaginations (similar to 1 Tim 1:4). Paul likens these things to fables that only old women would listen to. The illustration is of idle, gossiping women who will naively believe and pass on anything they hear. Many pagan religions are based on mythological fables, but many preposterous fables had infested the Jewish religion as well. Trying to understand or practice these things is worthless and counterproductive to a Christian's spiritual life. Instead, he is to train himself in ways that lead to godliness.
8 Just as the Greeks embraced physical exercise in the pursuit of the perfect body, some religious people feel that following various physical disciplines could lead to spiritual perfection. However, this passage makes it clear that no form of celibacy, diet, physical deprivation, or asceticism has any inherit spiritual benefit. It is easy to find ungodly people who practice all these things. The wording indicates that there can be some benefits, but people have a tendency to overemphasize the physical because it is easier to monitor and measure than spiritual well being. Unfortunately, we also have the tendency to make up our own definitions of righteous behavior and then exalt them to the same authority that God's word has. Both these activities take God out of the picture, causing people to neglect real spiritual issues.
Godliness, the God-centered world-view and the appropriate selfless and charitable behaviors that spring from it, has benefits both now and eternally. Temporally, the individual has, through faith in Christ, full confidence of God's favor and hope for the future. The Christian also affects the world for the better, not only through good deeds, but also by sharing the message of the Gospel with those they meet. Eternally, God promises eternal life, an unhindered relationship with Him, and the removal of all evil and its effects.
There is also the point that the human body will die and people will be given new bodies in the afterlife. While the Bible advocates proper treatment of the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is also clear that the body is tainted by sin and must ultimately be destroyed. Thus, whatever people might do to their bodies under the assumption of righteousness is all for naught because the real object of their attention, their own bodies, will return to dust.
9 Paul emphasizes that what he has been speaking of is a true doctrine of Christianity.
10 Paul and his companions both worked and suffered to nurture godliness in others. This effort and endurance sprung from their hope in God, who is very much alive and involved, unlike the idols of pagan religions. God has offered salvation to all people through Jesus, but only those who believe in Him will fully benefit from it. Thus, Paul wanted to spread the Gospel and the sound doctrines that should accompany their faith.
11 Thus, he encourages Timothy to teach the sound doctrines of Christianity to the Church there.
12 Timothy was apparently very young for a missionary; possibly younger than many of those he was ministering to, which would give them opportunity to dismiss his teaching based only on his age. However, Timothy was to prevent and counteract this situation by behaving in an exemplary manner. Everything about his speech, conduct, love for others, faithfulness to God, and personal purity was to reflect the Christian ideals so that others would follow his example and his critics would be silenced.
13 As Paul said in 1 Tim 3:14, he intended to return to Ephesus. Until that time, Timothy was to continue his study of the Scriptures. There has been some question as to whether Paul is intending Timothy to read publicly or privately. Both are likely true. Private reading would help Timothy personally understand what God had said through the prophets. Publicly, he would have to read to the congregation because books were fairly rare. He could easily incorporate such readings in his preaching and teaching, as is commonly done today. The New Testament had not been canonized yet, so obviously the bulk of his reading would have been from the Old Testament. In fact, the early church leaders were able to use the Old Testament quite effectively to prove that Jesus was the Christ. Today, it is still profitable to read and try to understand the Old Testament. Since even the New Testament frequently refers back to the Old Testament, someone only reading the New will not be able to get a full understanding of what it means. This verse also indicates that it is beneficial to others to share what you have read and learned. It is also important to realize that familiarity with the Scriptures is not restricted to any "spiritual elite." It is true that everyone, especially beginners, will need guidance in understanding Scriptures, but every Christian should make it a priority to read the Bible for themselves.
14 Paul reminds Timothy that he had a spiritual gift that had been given to him during his ordination as a minister. Though not specifically stated, the gift probably related to preaching or teaching. The wording implies that Timothy had not been using his gift, so Paul exhorts him to begin again. Paul reminds him that the gift was given along with prophetic utterances about what Timothy would accomplish with it. Paul also reminds him that this was all witnessed and affirmed by the council of elders. The laying on of hands is the symbolic indicator that Timothy was given the authority to lead. If Timothy was being intimidated by his youthfulness, Paul was encouraging him to remember what God had given him the ability to do.
15 When a leader focuses on his work by studying the Scriptures well and teaching sound doctrine, he will grow spiritually, and others will not be able to help but notice. Paul is urging Timothy to use his gift instead of ignoring it. He may have been timid about using it because he sometimes made mistakes. However, as he practiced he would become better at it.
Someone may be naturally gifted in music, but until he begins singing or playing an instrument, his talent will remain undeveloped. Artists must practice, and there is no reason to believe that effective ministry likewise is learned through study, trial, and error, even though the gifting comes from God. Many people have felt the desire to minister, but have had a less than stellar first experience with it. They then may incorrectly conclude that ministry is not their calling. However, the Bible is full of examples of people called by God who had problems, made mistakes, and on the surface may have looked like complete failures. Moses is one such example. Yet, when people continue to minister faithfully, God will do something wonderful through them.
16 Paul advises Timothy to pay close attention to himself. This can include everything from his private conduct to his public mannerisms. Of course, he is to pay attention to what he is teaching others. It is vital to clearly communicate the Gospel completely, without errors, and without additions. If he did these things, he would be ensuring, probably in the sense of providing evidence to, his salvation. Through his communication of the Gospel both verbally and through his actions, he would show others the truth about Christianity, giving them the opportunity to accept Christ and be saved. Providing information that leads to salvation of others should be the ultimate purpose of every Christian minister.