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Teachings of Demons

February 13 2023

Book: 1 Timothy

Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:14-4:5

The Apostle Paul now turns his attention away from elders and deacons to talk about the churches they are serving. And I must say, I’m very excited about this text. It’s not as commonly known as some of the verses we have already studied, but it might be my personal favorite section of the letter.

3:14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

Notice he says, “I want you to know how you ought to behave.” It is true that we have freedom in Christ. But it also true that God has expectations of His church.

I’m grateful that the Apostle Paul was providentially delayed from visiting Ephesus and that he felt the need to write this letter, so that we now have it. God knew that His Church, throughout history, needed to read these things – not just the local church in 1st century Ephesus.

We also are the household of God, the church of the living God, meant to be a pillar and buttress of the truth. Together, we have a calling and a purpose.

The word “household” is the same word used earlier in the chapter for the families of elders and deacons. Likewise, the Church is God’s family. And just as parents should have no favorites, we are equally loved by God, our Father, as brothers and sisters – siblings in the household of faith. There is no favoritism in Christ. God doesn’t love elders more than he loves new believers.

We are also the church, or the assembly, of the living God. We are conscious that God promises to actually be among us by His Spirit. He’s not a cold and distant deity. He’s a present reality for us, active and alive and concerned for us.

Finally, Paul says we are meant to be a pillar and buttress of the truth. In construction terms, this is the load bearing part of the building. In his letter to Ephesians, Paul has already taught this same church that Jesus Himself is the chief cornerstone, with the Apostles and prophets providing the foundation. Now he says that we are the frame of the building. We hold fast to the truth, and we raise it up to be seen by the world.

Next, Paul gives us a summary of that truth – the truth of the Gospel.

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

This was likely an early poem, hymn, or creed used by the church to describe what they believed about Jesus. The structure of the creed is debated, but I prefer to read it as three couplets: flesh and Spirit, angels and nations, world and glory.

This was the view of John Stott, who interprets the couplets as the revelation of Christ (in the flesh and by the Spirit), the witnesses of Christ (the angels and the nations), and the recognition of Christ (by the world and in glory).

However, you choose to read it, it is clear that Paul wants the Church to focus on Jesus. Who is Jesus? Why did He come to earth? What was His message? What did He accomplish? That’s the mystery of the kingdom and the basis of the Gospel.

I think it is worth mentioning that this verse stands at almost the physical center of Paul’s letter. In this letter to Timothy, Paul gives a lot of instructions about how the church should operate… how we ought to behave. But it’s also clear that these instructions are only held up and sustained by the true Gospel.

This is how the Church lives out the mystery of the Gospel. Jesus Christ is the epicenter of our godliness. If we get the truth wrong, we lose everything. And that’s where Paul returns next, back to the false teaching.

4:1 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,

Notice Paul says “some will” not “some may”. This is revelation from God. Some people will depart from the faith. This is not a lost salvation, because that’s not possible. Instead, this is talking about people who once professed the true faith, people who were part of the visible church, that have abandoned God’s truth for lies.

It’s interesting that he says these liars, in order to embrace and spread the lies, needed to have their consciences seared. That’s a medical term for cauterization. In other words, their consciences have been anesthetized or deadened.

Paul is talking specifically about bad leadership. This is the practical reason why the qualifications for elders and deacons listed in chapter 3 are so important. When churches are led by people who lack character and lack a commitment to God’s Word, the result will be a devotion to the enemy – not to Christ.

This isn’t hyperbole. This is reality. When churches stray from the true Gospel, they become synagogues of Satan.

I’ve been listening to a podcast that explains the differences between historic, Biblical Christianity and the various cults that claim to be Christian. Sometimes the errors are difficult to spot, because the counterfeits look and sound a lot like the real thing. How do we tell the difference between Biblical Christianity and false Christianity?

They used a great illustration from the banking industry. How do banks train their employees to recognize counterfeit money? It’s not by focusing on counterfeit money! They actually spend more time handling real money – how it looks, how it feels, the texture, the color. They become experts in handling real cash and that’s how they learn to spot a fake.

I think that’s exactly what the Bible is saying. We should become so familiar with the true Gospel that we can spot false teaching a mile away. Mormons. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hebrew Israelites. To name a few… all of these folks talk about Jesus, but they are counterfeit religions. Paul calls this stuff the teachings of demons.

But he actually has a specific type of false teaching in mind in Timothy. He’s talking about false teachers, verse 3:

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.

He’s describing a version of asceticism – holiness by rule keeping. These teachers were going beyond Scripture to bind the consciences of believers with new rules.

Specifically, they were telling people that God commands them to remain single and to stop eating certain foods.

This is interesting, because Paul speaks to both of these issues in 1 Corinthians 7 and 8. I want to show you, because this is an important distinction.

First, the issue of singleness:

6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Notice the clear preface – this is not a command. This is a wisdom issue. You have freedom in Christ to make this decision. You’re not a major league Christian if you remain single and a bush league Christian if you get married.

But these false teachers have twisted this into a command. “You’re only going to be holy if you stay single.” And Paul says that is demonic teaching. Now, let’s look at the second issue – abstinence from certain foods. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 8.

Some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Notice that Paul tells mature Christians to exercise wisdom with newer Christians. Be patient with them. It takes time for a mature conscience to develop. It was not wrong to eat this food, but the mature should be patient with the weak.

And yet, the false teachers in Ephesus – claiming to be the mature ones – are telling people the opposite, that mature Christians avoid such foods while weak Christians keep eating. And this kind of thing should sound familiar to us, because it happens all the time in churches.

It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s obviously a big deal to Paul. He seems to think the entire message of Christianity is at stake here. And he’s right!

When we twist issues of wisdom or preference into issues of faith and holiness, we are laying an axe to the gospel of Jesus. There are some things, even in the letter to Timothy, that Paul says as commands from God. This is how God wants us to behave.

But we must be extremely careful not to speak where God has not spoken, or to go beyond what God says, or to contradict what God says. When we do, we rob people of their freedom in Christ, and we threaten the very heart of the Gospel.

It confuses the Gospel message, that God does not accept us into His household because of our works. Instead, He declares us righteous by faith in Christ.

But what happens when you tell people they need to believe in Jesus, but they also have to give up things that God doesn’t clearly tell them they have to give up? We cast a burden on people that God has not cast on them.

For instance, you may encourage people not to smoke for health reasons, but you better not try to tell them it’s a sin (unless they are underage). You may choose not to drink alcohol, but you better not try to tell other people that drinking alcohol is a sin. It’s not. Overindulging is a sin, just like overeating is a sin.

You may choose to remain single, but you better not tell other people they can’t get married. You may choose to put your kids in private school or public school or homeschool, but you better not try to tell other Christians that the other options are sinful. Moms, you may choose to work or not work. You may choose to use daycare or not. Do you know why? Because you have freedom in Christ and God hasn’t spoken on any of that.

This is a serious thing. It must be because Paul calls this kind of legalism the teachings of demons. It’s not from God! Jesus said, it’s not what goes in a person that defiles them. It’s what comes out of the heart.

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.

Everything is good. Nothing is to be rejected. Be careful of twisting your personal preferences into laws. It damages the Church, and it weakens our witness of the Gospel. Freedom in Christ is an essential doctrine if we are going to do what Jesus called us to do. We must not add or subtract anything from the Word of God if we expect to reach the lost.

One of my fathers in the faith likes to say that we all have a tendency to think that if we follow Jesus, we are going to miss out on something – that He’s not really enough for us. We think that God’s law is like an electric fence around an amusement park – that God is keeping us from having fun. But really, God’s law is more like police tape around a crime scene. He’s telling us to stay away from pain and death – to trust Him.

And we demonstrate trust in God through obedience, motivated by the grace we have in Jesus Christ. But if we add something else, rules that God hasn’t given us, we are teaching people that Jesus isn’t really enough for us. And that makes grace really hard to understand. And it makes God seem less good.

Be careful. Know the real thing so you can spot the counterfeits.