Lessons from I Timothy: Lesson 9 – The Coming Apostacy and Lesson 10 – Paul’s Advice to Timothy

This series on I Timothy is planned especially for church societies, study groups, and all others interested. The writer, Rev. Henry Vander Kam, is pastor of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


I Timothy 4:1–5

The Coming Apostasy

To be a member of the church and to know the truth as it is in Jesus is indeed a great privilege. Paul becomes ecstatic when he speaks of the benefits he has received in his relationship to Jesus Christ. One would think that even those who were not true members of the church but had seen something of the grace which had been revealed would do everything possible to become more closely associated with the Christ of God. However, that is not the way of man. It is brought home to us again and again that if the Spirit of God does not renew a person, he will spurn all the benefits the members of the church possess. Sin is irrational!

Revealed by the Spirit – Paul warns Timothy in these verses that things are going to change in the coming years. The Spirit has made it known. We are not to search the previous revelations (such as the Old Testament) to find out where that has been said. It has been revealed to the Apostles. It has been revealed to these who are charged with the affairs of the church in these times.

All the revelations of God have not been written. Nevertheless, the Spirit has made it very clear—“saith expressly”—what is going to happen. We must not think that these difficulties will come at the end of time, but in later years. It is not far off. That is the reason Timothy, as a leader of the church, must be warned. It will come in his lifetime.

An enemy within – At that time “some shall fall away from the faith.” The question then always arises, did they have the true faith? Various questions dealing with such matters as election and the perserverance of the saints are then asked and the whole matter becomes very simple and the warning the Apostle gives is undermined.

No, these were not the true believers—but that became evident only when the apostasy had run its course. According to human judgment they are members of the church who profess their faith. These fall away from that faith. Consequently, they will not attack the church from without, but from within! This makes the matter so dangerous. From their former position among believers they will be in a position to do far more damage than those who never had that fellowship with the believers.

Doctrine of demons – These people give heed to seducing spirits. These spirits are contrary to the Spirit of truth. Doctrines of demons will be listened to rather than the doctrines of Christ. Strange that those who have tasted of the good things in the church of Christ should then exchange them for the teachings which come from demonic minds. They are hypocrites, that is “actors.” Therein lies the great danger. They present themselves differently from what they really are. They speak lies which are presented as truths.

So the doctrines of demons are presented as though they were the teachings of Christ. How can anyone stoop so low? Well, their own consciences are branded as with a hot iron. It doesnt bother them at all! Conscience no longer speaks. These people become very dangerous because they will attempt to lead many others astray. The church must be on the alert.

Marriage forbidden – After all these things have been said we would expect that the teaching of these people would be something terrible. Will they come with some kind of horrible theology? Will they deny the deity of Christ? No, it seems as though it is a very “mild” form of heresy.

Paul says that they will forbid people to marry! Is that so bad? They are going to emphasize a certain type of asceticism which a large part of the later church has adopted as being preferred for its clergy. Is the prohibition to marry a falling away from the faith? Can this view be considered as being a “doctrine of demons”? Paul says it is. The “milder” deviations from the faith often betray a view of revelation which destroys the faith.

God instituted marriage and gave His benediction on it. It is an institution which must be held in honor. It is the institution through which the human race is propagated. It is so important that it is even a picture of the relationship of Christ and the church. These, who would lead the church astray, now say that men should not marry. This asceticism is supposed to be a higher form of spirituality. Many will be inclined to say that such people are even more “strict” than the church. This “strictness” will appeal to many people. That does seem to be more spiritual! However, Paul warns Timothy against this kind of “spirituality.”

The view of these hypocrites is directly contrary to the clear commands of God. God said marriage was good, and these say it is not good. The Creator said it was not good for a man to be alone, and those say that that is the ideal. This is demonic even though it is presented as a higher form of spirituality. The heresy is this: these people will seek to “improve” the gospel! That is not only dangerous, it is soul destroying.

Timothy must be alerted that the dangers to the church do not only consist of frontal attacks from paganism, but also of the insidious attacks from within. The church may be far more concerned about the attacks on the heart of the gospel and not be sensitive enough to such attacks as are here described. The end of the matter is the same. The one evil may work faster than the other, but the result will be the same destruction of the faith!

Abstinence from meats – The Apostle mentions one more element in the heresy which the church will face in the coming years. They will also command people to abstain from meats. This matter is mentioned time and again in the Pauline epistles. No wonder because this prohibition stands in direct relationship to Old Testament practices.

The law did not allow the people to eat various things. It was very specific regarding the clean and the unclean. Israel had to be pure when it approached Jehovah. The Israelites were to lead a separated life. All of their life, even their diet, had to show that they were a people separated to the service of God. These practices continued into New Testament times. With the coming of Christ, the Fulfiller of the law, these practices were to come to an end.

Although the rules regulating the Old Testament mode of life were intended for the spiritual benefit of the people, the danger persisted that the rules were only observed outwardly. Prophets had been sent to warn the people about this danger. Christ emphasized the need of inner cleansing.

Having been brought up within a “system” which prohibited various kinds of meat in their diet, the people found it difficult to adopt a whole new manner of life in which these prohibitions had fallen away. Acts 10:14 shows us that even the Apostle Peter still lived according to Old Testament rules.

Those against whom the Apostle is now warning Timothy would call the people to abstain from meats. This may not have been a complete return to the practices of the Old Testament times, but it had enough similarity to them to have an appeal to the people of the church. To do as these people commanded would not only be retrogression, it would be evil. It would be a denial of the finished work of Christ. Besides, God created these meats for man and man is to receive these gifts out of His hand with thanksgiving. Although He has created these meats for all men, only those who believe and know the truth will receive them gratefully. Unbelievers also taste of the gifts of God but they do not glorify Him in these gifts because they are ungrateful. However, the Apostle is here speaking of the use which believers are to make of the gifts of God.

Dishonoring the Giver – Every creature of God is good, i.e., all He has created is good and nothing is to be rejected. Those who reject the good gifts of God dishonor the Giver! The use of His gifts may not be rejected “if it be received with thanksgiving.” His people, who recognize the Creator and understand the purpose for which He has made things, and who return praise and thanks to Him for these things, may use all things. A very important principle is here stated. Many people today would rather take the “safe” approach and command to abstain from meats. But, says the Apostle, that view leads astray!

Concluding this section Paul says that “it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer.” What is sanctified? The meats? They were good and need no further sanctification. Rather, the Apostle speaks of the use of these gifts. As the believer uses the gifts which God has given him he brings them in relation to the Word of God and he seeks God’s blessing on these gifts in his prayers and gives thanks to God for the gifts bestowed on him. This is the perfect picture of the “custom(?)” in our circles at mealtime. We pray for His blessing on the food before us; we read His Word to give us the true light; and we return thanks to the Giver at the end of the meal. This is precisely the teaching of the Apostle here. So we are to use His gifts.

No one may command to abstain from food which has so been sanctificd. This use is not only permissible, it is so intended. The unbeliever partakes of the same gifts (which are good) but his use of these gifts is not sanctified. He, as Calvin says, is partaking of these gifts like an animal.

Questions for discussion:

1. Were there many revelations of God which have not been recorded? 2. Are there degrees of heresy? Explain. 3. Paul was not married. Was there sufficient reason for this? Would it be better if today’s missionaries were unmarried? 4. Why all the emphasis on clean and unclean, cleansing and purification in the Old Testament? Seeing these customs are no longer in effect, can we ignore all the teaching concerning these matters? 5. Should we pray at mealtime in a restaurant? Both before and after the meal?    


I Timothy 4:6–16

Paul’s Advice to Timothy

With apostasy on the way, what is going to happen to the church in the coming years? Much depends on the attitude and the labors of the leaders at such a time. This “Pastoral Epistle” addresses itself to that subject. Paul is indeed “pastoral” in this particular section.

Good teaching needed – Timothy is urged to put the brethren, the members of the church, in mind of the things spoken of in the previous section. The membership of the church should be made aware of the dangers which threaten and they should be instructed in the manner of dealing with these difficulties. Timothy must refute error and teach the sound doctrine. This is the task of “a good minister of Christ Jesus.”

To build up the people of Cod in the faith and to keep the wolves out of the sheepcote of Jesus Christ—that is the task of a good minister. To do this, Timothy must nourish himself in the Word. He must feed on that Word constantly to be able to nourish the church of God. That Word on which he must feed is the Word of faith and good doctrine. The faith mentioned is the content of faith (objective) which has been formulated by the church into the good doctrine. Timothy has always done so but he is here simply urged to continue in it.

Again the Apostle warns Timothy not to become entangled in any other kinds of teaching. In the first chapter he had also warned against this danger. Here he calls them profane and old wivesfables. These were also supposed to be based on Scripture but they were minute points on which these false teachers gave their own explanation. Spurn these fables because there is far more important work to be done!

The minister’s personal needs – The personal life of the minister is very important for the success of his work. If his personal life does not measure up to the message he proclaims it will hinder the reception and application of the message by the believers. It will also give comfort to those who spread heresies. Therefore the Apostle counsels Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness. His life and conduct must be in agreement with the gospel he is given to preach. This will take effort. He must exercise himself in it.

When we think of exercise we usually refer to a physical activity. Paul also refers to such physical activity and compares it to the exercise in godliness. The bodily exercise is profitable—but only for a little. Surely, the body must be cared for and exercise will strengthen the body and it might even win a trophy. However, godliness is profitable for “all things.” To exercise godliness is, therefore, much more important than to exercise the body. Godliness is profitable both for the present and for the future. It is of both temporal and eternal significance. That distinction, that contrast, which he has drawn between bodily exercise and exercise in godliness is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. It is self-evident and therefore recognized by all to be true.

Hope to be set on God – The work which Paul and Timothy (we) and all true servants of God perform is characterized as labor and strife. It is a difficult task. That is the reason why they must be well-exercised in godliness to be able to continue. Although the work may be arduous, the labors can be performed because their hope is set on the living God. The figure of the gymnast is still before Paul. As these have exercised the body to be able to compete in the games looking ahead to the trophy given by an idol, so we look ahead, not to a dead god, but to the living God. That gives courage and drive.

That living God, says the Apostle, is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. What does he mean by this statement? Is he here teaching a universal salvation? The term “Savior” is here used, I believe, in a very broad sense. God is the deliverer and provider of all men. All men owe their welfare to Him. Then only are the last words of this sentence, “Specially of them that believe” meaningful. He is much more to those who believe than to all other men.

All of the things the Apostle has written to Timothy he must teach to others. He is even to command them. He has the authority to do so because of his office. The things Paul has written to him are not only for his personal benefit but must also be given to the other officebearers in the church and to its entire membership. It is not to be declared to the church on a “take it or leave it” basis, but Timothy is to command them these things.

Youth not to be despised – Let no man despise thy youth. Timothy is still a comparatively young man at the time he receives this epistle. No doubt many of the other pastors were older, yet, Timothy has the place of leadership. The elders in the church were considerably older than he. He must now teach and even command the things Paul has written him. This produces a difficulty even from the point of view of comparative ages. However, Timothy is not to follow the Apostolic directions as a young man among older men, but as the designated office-bearer of Jesus Christ! So he first look at himself and so must he he received.

In make this possible Timothy must be an example of holy living. Those to whom he is to minister must see in him the man of God. This is to be done in his speech, in his whole deportment, in his love to others, in the faith out of which he lives, and in all purity. If he so lives before the church there will be little danger that they will stumble at his youthfulness. He will show to others that he may not have as many years as some but that his spiritual maturity is indeed great.

Paul had written before that he hoped to come to see Timothy soon (3:14). Now he again refers to that coming. Timothy will have a lot of questions when the Apostle comes. In the meantime there is work for him to do. He must give heed to reading, i.e., the reading at the time of public worship. This was so important at that time when copies of Holy Writ were very scarce. The only time the people would actually hear the Word was at the time of worship. Read distinctly. Read in such a way that the greatest possible benefit be given to the hearers. Then he must preach on thot Word. It must be both exhortation and teaching. That church, that body of Jesus Christ must be fed! This can be done only by the Word. Everything else is contraband. Take heed to this and teach others to do likewise.

Gifts not to be neglected – Timothy has received certain gifts which he may not neglect. But why mention this? Because the personality of Timothy made it very well possible that he would not employ his gifts fully. Paul knows him. His modesty may stand in the way of a full employment of his gifts.

Timothy must realize that it is not a matter of modesty or immodesty, but that these gifts have been given to him by Another and that he is responsible for them! He had been called of God and this ca1l was confirmed by prophetic words at the time of his ordination. He had received the laying on of hands from the college of elders. Gifts had thereby been conferred upon him. He had been set apart for a task and the necessary qualifications had been given him. Dont let personality weaknesses cause you to neglect the gifts given to you.

The gifts Timothy has received may not be neglected; on the contrary. he must be diligent in their employment. He is to give himself wholly to the work which was assigned to him. It is not even a matter of using the gifts, he must enter into his work with his whole being. He has to throw himself into it. He should not spare himself. The ministry which has been given to him is one that will demand his every moment and all of his strength. To be a “good minister” will demand his whole being. For this the exercise of godliness will be required. Doing his work in such a way, he will progress in his own godliness and in his effectiveness ill the church. This progress will become evident to all and they will no longer stumble at his youth.

Be faithful – In conclusion, the Apostle reiterates the things he has said above. Timothy must set his mind on his own position and on his teaching. He has a great responsibility for the gifts that were given him. He must think about that. He must focus his mind also on his teaching. He must do so constantly. Not only at such times as he feels strong and on the heights, but at all times. He must persevere. It is only through constant faithfulness that the work of God can be accomplished.

If Timothy is faithful in these things, he will save hath himself and those who hear him. Strange statement? Yes, but Paul is not afraid of “strange statements.” Of course, Timothy can save no one—only the blood of Christ can do that. Paul is using the term in a far broader sense than we usually do. If Timothy is faithful in his work, the divine approval will rest on him and on the church he serves. He will not be found wanting—and therefore save himself; and the church will not be led astray—and therefore will be saved. Here is a strong and urgent call to every minister to be faithful in the work assigned. There is so much at stake!

Questions for discussion:

1. What are the characteristics of a “good minister”? 2. Is there a danger that ministers spend too much time on minor things? 3. Is there a danger that we put too much emphasis on physical fitness? Do sports crowd out godliness? 4. Is it proper that commands come from the pulpit? Explain. 5. Is it dangerous to recognize one’s own gifts? Can it be done properly? 6. If Paul had not made some of his “strange statements” do you think we would have dared to make them?