I had an interesting time on Sunday at church. We had a visitor from the States, a Jewish man who was visiting a church for the first time. He was previously in a synagogue about 8 years ago. His grandparents were from Odessa, Ukraine and they fled before WWI because of heavy Jewish persecution. He is an independent truck driver in the States but is on a mini sabbatical. He met a Christian man in Chisinau who insisted that he visit our church while here. It just so happened that on this day, we had to meet in our little classroom instead of the auditorium where we usually meet because of some kind of dance competition. That is the downside of meeting in a public high school. Anyway, I was asked to translate for him and I did with great pleasure because 1), the sermon was great and 2) I was able to befriend the man and he really opened up. I would like to share that sermon with you here. First and foremost, the man was amazed at our community involvement. He said that he had never seen a religious group so interested in positively impacting the community. Anyway, here is the message.
The passage is I Timothy 4:1-8. The passage is a challenge to Timothy, Paul’s #1 disciple who is pastoring in Ephesus. There is a problem that Timothy is facing. There are men who are introducing false teachings in the church and the members are in danger of walking away from the faith or being led astray by the doctrines of demons.
I. False teachers use noble things to replace Christ’s role in salvation.
In verses 1-3, we see who the false teachers are and how they work.
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.
Their purpose is to pull people away from the faith. They are dangerous. False teaching and teachers are not something to be taken lightly. They destroy churches, relationships, and people. They are working for the wrong team. Their inspiration comes from demons and what they teach leads the way of demons (away from God). They dress up their words and actions to seem correct but their outcome is destruction. They are branded or marked for who they are and they mark themselves. Calling a false teacher a false teacher is not being judgmental, it is seeing reality. They have marked themselves with their teaching and with their actions. They teach salvation through some other way other than Jesus Christ. They emphasize things like marriage (you are saved if you do not marry and learn to abstain, keeping your desires under control). Jesus is no longer essential to salvation. You have to perform some task, like not marrying or not eating certain foods. When a teacher emphasizes something other than faith in Jesus Christ for salvation then you know that he is not teaching truth and is a false teacher. He has marked himself. You are just observing the obvious. A false teacher is also a hypocrite, claiming to know how to live to please God yet in reality, he does not please God. In the context, he may teach you not to marry and to abstain from sexual activity but he does not follow his own advice. Secretly, he is probably a slave to porn, or practices other forms of sexual immorality. He tells you not to eat certain foods but when he is alone he indulges in them. So. a false teacher is dangerous, he is marked, and he must be avoided (if he is trying to teach you) or confronted (if you are the spiritual leader and this person wants to teach)
II. The solution for overcoming false teachers and false teaching is to teach people the truth.
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. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. 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.
Timothy is to point out the dangers of false teachers, how to recognize false teachers, and the need to avoid them. The best form of protection is being nourished in the Word of God on a daily basis. Like bank tellers, they are trained in handling real bills so that they can spot fake bills on the spot. They do not study all of the different kinds of fake bills to know the difference. They study the genuine so well that they can spot the fake in the blink of an eye. We. as believers, must be so familiar with the true teachings of the Word of God that we can spot false teaching and teachers from a mile away. This requires discipline. Just like the athlete who trains everyday so that he can perform at the best of his abilities, we need to train ourselves spiritually so that we will be in top form and not fall victim to false teachers and false teaching. We are to avoid all of the different kinds of false teachings like fables and such because they just lead to circular arguing and you look bad and may fall into the trap of believing what they teach. False experts are experts in the tactics of propaganda. There is a comparison of bodily exercise vs. spiritual exercise. The Greeks were familiar with bodily exercise. They word in Greek that translates into the phrase “bodily discipline” is “gymnasio” which is where we get our word “gymnasium”. This was a place of training. Paul tells Timothy that the church is the “gymnasium” for spiritual training. You must be dedicated and disciplined and if you are, then you will see great results. Just think of going to the gym. After the first of the year, the gyms all over town fill up with people who have pledged to get in shape. After about 3 weeks, 75% of them do not come back (so you can finally get a treadmill without waiting 45 minutes). They have great intentions but little dedication and determination. Many people are like that spiritually. They want the result and are ready to go for a couple of weeks and then they seem to drop off quickly. You must develop discipline to study the Scriptures daily, spend time in prayer, and actively serve in the church and community. This will bring spiritual transformation in your life.
What about you, are you determined to build up your spiritual muscles so that you will not fall victim to false teachers and false doctrine? Or, are you satisfied with the anorexic spiritual diet of hearing one sermon once a week on Sundays? It is a matter of eternal life and death.
Sermon preached by Vasile Filat (I have modified it a bit but the general outline is the same)