There are some things that just need to be pointed out.
For a church in crisis, it was simple:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5; NIV84)
- There will be a moral abandonment.
- Those who lead this abandonment are hypocritical liars, with a seared conscience.
- They preach intense spiritual asceticism, with abstinence from marriage and certain foods.
- God is not interested in intense spiritual asceticism, though.
Well, that seems simple enough. But this is the twenty-first century, and how do we bring this teaching to today’s modern church?
The key, I think, has little to do with what was plaguing the Ephesian church. Each of our churches, to some degree, are infected with some degree of teaching that is not grounded in the gospel.
I think the key lies in the messenger.
Yet how are we to know who is an hypocritical liar, with a seared conscience?
I’m not real sure.
But I am sure that we have a moral obligation to ensure our own character is daily molded by God. Which would then keep us far from the category above.
1 Timothy 4 is an intense chapter, and it is some intense instruction to Timothy, as he leads the Ephesian church through this time of crisis. What makes it all the more fascinating is that this instruction is given by Paul. It’s safe to say that 1 Timothy 4 is how Paul lived his life as a teacher.
Look at these characteristics:
- Point out heresy (4:6).
- Avoid “godless myths and old wives’ tales” (4:7). In other words, STAY AWAY FROM DRAMA.
- Train to be godly (4:7).
- Command, and teach, that hope is found only in Jesus (4:9-11).
- Do not let anyone look down on you because of your age (4:12). By the way, it’s safe to say that Timothy probably wasn’t a teenager, as has often been taught. It’s more likely that he was in his thirties or forties.
- Set an example, for the believers, in your public life (i.e, “speech,” and “life”), in love, faith, and purity (4:12). Purity, too, probably refers to sexual purity, seeing that sexual impurity was plaguing the Ephesian church, especially in the immodesty of the women (1 Timothy 2:9).
- Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture (4:13).
- Devote yourself to exhortation (4:13).
- Devote yourself to teaching (4:13).
- Watch your life and your doctrine closely (4:16).
I despise “to-do” lists. I didn’t really want to present these things as a list today, but it helps me see them better. I hope it helps you see them better, too.
Look at the verbs alone: point, avoid, train, command, set, devote, watch. Those words, alone, define this as a constant lifestyle for those of us who are called to ministry.
It is also the very way Paul lived his life.
I see it this way. We never get “a break” from our life with God. It is a constant feat to nurture our side of the relationship.
It is intentional.
It is both public, and private.
It is drama (Facebook?) free.
It is an investment of all of our time.
It makes us check our doctrine. This doctrine, by the way, isn’t what you think it is. It isn’t the rote acceptance of everything your church believes to be truth. It is, rather, the very antithesis of everything that was plaguing the Ephesian church. Paul did not want Timothy’s belief system to be infected by all of the damaging things that were being taught to the believers. (If you want to see the list, click here.)
Ministry is not a job. It is not a career. It is not a stopping-place until the next position opens. It is a calling. It is the result of a prophecy, spoken into your life. Yes — prophecy. This is how Paul explained it to Timothy:
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Timothy 4:16)
The moment that we, as ministers, start to think that our jobs are just jobs, and treat them as such, is the moment we neglect the prophetic gift given to us.
I highly doubt Timothy wanted to minister to a church in such moral and spiritual trouble. It was not the promised-land of churches, with big stages and bright lights. His calling was dirty. Gritty. Tough. Which was why Paul chose to spend one-sixth of this letter encouraging him. His calling there would not be easy.
So let’s just be real this morning, and bring 1 Timothy 4 to our current environment. Those of us in ministry do not have time to be consumed with drama, with culture, with sports, or with anything other than Jesus.
It is true that God expects us to find enjoyment in various avenues, but devotion is only reserved for the Word and it’s ability to teach others.
That’s it. And that’s enough.