For Your Thanksgiving
So this week we are starting Chapter 4 of 1 Timothy, but we’re still in the same train of thought that we saw last week at the end of Chapter 3. Last week Pastor Kevin explained to us from Chapter 3, verse 15 that the church is meant to be a “pillar and buttress of truth.” The apostle Paul gives us this image of upholding and defending. The household of God, the church of the living God, the disciples of Jesus who assemble together in local churches — our mission is to both advance the gospel and defend the gospel, which is also called the truth. The gospel is the truth as in, the gospel is the right vision of reality. It is the truest, most ultimate depiction of what is real —
God made you for himself,
but you are separated from God because of your sin;
but Jesus died for you to bring you back to God.
The church, us together — we advance and defend this gospel. That’s the mission. And then Paul continues in Chapter 4 to tell us the environment of this mission. And categorically he show us two things: the environment is both hostile and wonderful. There is something very negative going on, and also something very positive — and faithfulness to the mission means we need to know what that is. So when it comes to the atmosphere of our mission, the context of our mission, the environment of our mission, I think there are three things we learn in this passage:
People depart from the faith through false teaching
False teaching distorts God’s design
God’s design is for Christians to sanctify the goodness of this world in view of the next
That is the threefold environment of our mission, and we’re going look closer at each one. Now, let’s pray:
Father, have mercy on us in this moment. Your Word is open before us, and we ask, open our hearts to your Word. In Jesus’s name, amen.
#1. People depart from the faith through false teaching (verses 1–2)
Okay, check out the first part of verse 1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith…”
Now that’s a simple sentence, but it’s a broad summary of the situation. Overall, the environment of gospel advance is gospel rejection. As the good news of Jesus is being proclaimed, and people are coming to faith, other people are departing from faith. That’s the environment. That’s what’s going on, and Paul says that it’s something the Spirit expressly says about the later times.
And when he says “later times” he means our current times. Often in the New Testament when you see phrases like “later times” or “last days” they’re talking about now. This current age in history, after Jesus is raised from dead and ascended, and before Jesus returns — this in-between time that we live in — this is the last days. We are in the later times, and people are departing from the faith just like the Spirit foretold. There has been a prophecy of apostasy — and we should ask “When did that happen?” If the Spirit expressly said this, when was that?
And I think Paul is talking here about the teachings of Jesus. In the Gospels, in his teaching, Jesus says that people will fall away. In Matthew 24:10–11, Jesus says about a future time,
… many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
He says the same thing in Mark 13; he alludes to similar things in Luke 7 and Luke 17; and then of course there is Judas. Jesus shows that apostasy is a real thing, and he warns us about it.
In his teaching, Jesus, led by the Spirit, foretold about apostasy, and Paul says that time is now. The falling away, the departing from the faith is happening now. But notice how it is happening.
How Apostasy Happens
Verse 1: “Some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” [that’s demonic forces]. Verse 2: “through the insincerity of liars who consciences are seared” [that’s false teachers].
So people depart from the faith by demonic forces working through false teachers. [Everybody get that?]
Okay, I’m about to tell you something that’s gross. Here it is:
There are people who have walked away from the gospel — and people who are on the brink of walking away from the gospel — because of Satan. It is the work of the devil to lead people astray. That is the goal of demonic forces. And those demonic forces, those deceitful spirits, work through deceitful people. Satan, the father of lies, does his work through people who lie. Paul wants Timothy to know that here, and he says it again in 2 Timothy Chapter 2. There he says that false teachers, or opponents of truth, have been captured by Satan “to do his will”— which is, to deceive (see 2 Timothy 2:26).
So Satan is the one ultimately behind apostasy, but he is working through false teachers, who Paul calls “liars.” They are liars, and their conscience has been seared, which means the deception is so deep that they have even deceived themselves. There’s this part in John Milton’s Paradise Lost where he poetically explains that what fuels Satan’s work is that he has fooled himself into thinking that his cause is never lost. Satan has deceived himself into thinking that he can actually overthrow God. So there is deceit at the core, which only produces more deceit.
Your Greatest Enemy Is Lies
Look, there are all kinds of things that we fear in life. There are all kinds of things that we consider to be challenging. We all have adversity. “In this world you will have tribulation,” Jesus says in John 16:33. But I need to tell you that your greatest enemy in this life — your greatest enemy is lies. And lies come from Satan.
The lies of Satan are what plunged our world into the curse of sin, going way back to Genesis 3 (and even before). Lies are your greatest enemy. And it’s not just the lies people will tell you; it’s not the lies that you might read in media, but your most consistent enemy is the lies you tell yourself, and worst of all are the lies about God.
And lies about God are everywhere. That is the environment of our mission. We are not in neutral territory. The later days — our current times — is one swarming with opposition against the church. Satan hates the church. Satan hates your family. Satan hates Christians, and he hates those who are on the brink of becoming Christians. This hatred is in the air. Paul says it is what we are up against — Ephesians 6:12,
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Right we are behind enemy lines; we are advancing and defending the gospel in a world full of deceit. It’s a world hostile to truth, and people are being led astray. The environment of our mission is one where people depart from the faith through false teaching.
#2. False teaching distorts God’s design (verse 3)
Now we see this in verse 3. I told you that this passage has something very negative going on, and also something very positive. Well, the negative is in verses 1–2, and verse 3 is like the hinge. This is where the negative turns to the positive. It starts, in verse 3, by Paul telling us a little more about these false teachers.
False teachers throughout history are all the same in that they oppose the truth of God — they’re all enemies of the gospel — but they’re all different in the ways they do that, and in Ephesus, at the time when Paul wrote this to Timothy, there was a false teaching related to creation and how Christians interact with creation. Now this heresy has different strands and it’s been called different names (we see it show up in Colossians 2, and some other places in the New Testament), but here it’s centered on a required rejection of marriage and certain foods. Look at verse 3.
These false teachers, the liars whose consciences are seared, verse 2, are those who, verse 3, “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods…”
And when Paul says “marriage” he’s not just talking about the ceremony where a man and woman become married — the false teachers aren’t saying “No more weddings!” The issue here is the union between a man and woman that implies the act of marriage. The false teachers are most likely forbidding marriage for the physiological union that happens in marriage. And then there’s also certain foods you cannot eat. So the issue is asceticism. These false teachers are forcing a denial of creation that requires marital celibacy and dietary restrictions.
And it’s wrong because it distorts God’s design. It is a direct attack on God’s design by saying that something God made for good is actually bad. The false teachers are forcing a rejection of things that — here’s the hinge in verse 3 — they are forcing a rejection of things “that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
We’re going to talk more about that, but it’s important we see the real issue here. The problem is not with marital celibacy and diet. There are times when both are okay, if the former is agreed upon and limited (see 1 Corinthians 7:5), and if the latter is for health reasons (see 1 Timothy 5:23). There are abnormal situations and moments in life when we need to abstain from these gifts, but the issue with the false teachers is that they forced this rejection as a distortion of God’s purpose.
They were not advocating prudential application of Christian liberty, like Paul does in 1 Corinthians 6 or in Romans 14, but instead, these false teachers were teaching the absolute rejection of marriage and foods because they said they were bad, although God said they were good. That’s the issue. These false teachers contradicted and defied the word of God and the purpose of God. The false teaching distorted God’s design.
And that brings us to the positive. This hinge in verse 3 opens up the question: What actually is God’s design? What is God’s purpose for us in creation?
#3. God’s design is for Christians to sanctify the goodness of this world in view of the next (verses 4–5).
We see this in the last part of verse 3, and in verses 4-5. Remember Paul’s talking about the environment of the church’s mission. This environment has something negative going on — there is false teaching and apostasy — but there is also something positive. The environment of our mission is also a world that God created good, and he created it for us. I think verses 3–5 are the most important part of the passage. There are three things we see here.
First, God created marriage and food for Christians.
Look again at verse 3: talking about marriage and food, Paul says, “that God created [them] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
Now I think what Paul says about marriage and food apply to all of God’s gifts in creation, but for the sake of example, let’s just focus on food. So there are two details here:
There are those for whom God created food,
and then there is the heart-posture of how those people receive the food. (We’ll get there in a minute, but first look at for whom God created food.)
Paul says it’s to be received by those who believe and know the truth. Paul is talking about Christians here. Those who believe are those who believe the gospel. Those who know the truth are those who know the gospel. So it’s pretty straightforward. The food is meant to be received by Christians. Paul says that God created food for Christians.
So take ice cream for example. I don’t eat a lot of ice cream, but every now and then I’ll have a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s “Milk & Cookies” or “Chocolate Fudge Brownie” or “The Tonight Dough” … “The Americone Dream” and “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” are also very good — and here’s the thing: Anybody can go the grocery store and buy that ice cream. It is part of God’s common benevolence toward mankind. Anybody can eat the ice cream, and yet, according to the Bible, in 1 Timothy 4:3, ice cream is actually for Christians. It is meant to be received by Christians.
So I’m eating this ice cream, just half a cup, and I’m thinking as I hold the spoon: “God made this for me.” And I mean the whole thing.
The milk in this ice cream is for me.
And the cow who made the milk.
And the farm where the cow lived,
and the grain that the cow ate,
and the farmer who tended it,
and the truck driver who took the milk from the farm and drove it over to Ben & Jerry,
and then the scientists who threw in some other good stuff,
and then the little pint package that held it all,
and then the other truck driver who took that package to the grocery store,
and the person who opened up the freezer and put that package on the shelf,
and then the cashier who did the check out —
There have been a 145 steps behind this spoon of ice cream, and “God, you did it for me!” This is meant to be received by me.
That’s verse 3, and then there’s more. It’s not just to be received by me, but it’s to be received with thanksgiving. This is the second thing to see.
Second, God intends the thanksgiving of Christians.
This is the heart-posture. There’s for whom God created food (and other good things), and then there’s the heart-posture of how we receive it. And these are two sides of the same coin. It’s not enough to know that ice cream is for you, it’s that it is for you to give thanks. Good things in creation are purposed for your thankfulness. And that’s what actually separates humanity into two kinds of people.
In Romans 1 Paul talks about how creation communicates God’s glory. He says, Romans 1:20,
For God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
But when it comes to the unrighteous. To the ungodly. To those who reject God, Pauls says, verse 21,
For although they knew God [that is, although they saw the glory of God in creation], they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…
So God’s glory is seen in creation, and everybody sees it — it’s just that some do not give thanks for it, and others do. The unrighteous do not give thanks, the righteous do give thanks. Those held captive to sin and idolatry do not give thanks, but those believe and know the truth do give thanks. Because it is meant for us for our thankfulness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about sunshine recently. I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, and so I’ve been thinking about it, and talking with the kids about it, and there was one day, a couple weeks ago, when we were on the way to school in the morning. And we drive east, and some mornings the sun is just majestic. And this was one of those mornings, and as we were driving, the sun is shining into my truck, and it is effecting us all. I have to put my visor down a little, and we can feel it on our faces. You guys know what that is like? So here goes: that sunshine is for me. Hey, kids, that sunshine right there, the sunshine that we feel right now in this truck, God made that sunshine for us. And not just that. But God made that sunshine so that we’d be thankful!
Right now, with God’s sunshine on my face, the will of God is for me to give thanks. In that moment, there is an attitude, an emotion, a response that God intends for me to have, and it’s gratitude. God, thank you. Thank you. Everything else can just stop for a second. The stress can stop. The hardship can stop. The darkness can stop. Suffering will not take this from me. Because right now the sovereign God of the universe is speaking his sun to shine on my face so that I would be thankful. So I’m going to give thanks.
Third, Christians add to the goodness of creation.
And it’s not just the sunshine. It’s the whole world around us. Look at verse 4: Pauls says, “Everything created by God is good.” This is going back to Genesis 1, of course, when God’s word said of God’s creation, it’s good. And since it’s good, it’s meant not to be rejected, but to be received with thanksgiving, for or because, verse 5, “it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
“Made holy” is another word for sanctified. Paul us saying that we as Christians sanctify the goodness of God’s creation by God’s word and prayer. And I think that’s describing the practice of receiving with thankfulness. When we receive with thanksgiving God’s good creation it means we are applying God’s word in fellowship with him, which is what prayer is.
When Paul says the “word of God” here he means the things God has said, and especially in Genesis 1 when God said creation is good. We sanctify creation by saying of creation what God has said. We pray the word of God over creation, and when we do that, we are actually adding to it. We are doing something new with it. We are making it not just good, but now holy. When we apply God’s word and prayer to creation, it is being consecrated for the ultimate purpose for which God made it.
And this is wondrous. It actually correlates to Adam in creation. In Genesis 2, God employs Adam in the work of God’s creation. Adam is given the task of working and keeping the Garden, and of naming the animals (see Genesis 2:15–17).
And in the same way, God employs us in the work of the new creation. He has given us the task of sanctifying by his word and prayer the good things he has made as he restores the brokenness of this world to become the new world yet to come. That’s the environment of our mission. It’s that we have a future. We have a future. Right now, know this. Christian, you have a future with God. And that’s what we’re really about.
I have a friend who wrote a book about creation (name rhymes with Roe Jigney). Here’s a quote from The Things of Earth that talks about our future and, I think, says it best:
Half of earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself — and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We are given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and to hunger [for the greater.]
And that greater world is the one we’re looking to. And it’s not a world in Adam, but it is a world in Christ. It is a world bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, just like you, Christian, have been bought by the blood of Jesus Christ.
And that’s the only way we get a part. This is for “those who believe and know the truth.” Which means those who were dead in their sins and without hope, destined for wrath just like everybody else, but those for whom Jesus died and was raised. Those for whom the Holy Spirit went to work and made them alive. Those who are themselves, in Jesus, a new creation, not because of anything they have done, but because of the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ.
This is the environment of our mission: there is false teaching and distortions, and a lot of negative, and also, there is the glaring positive: God’s design is for Christians to sanctify the goodness of this world in view of the next. We are here receiving and giving thanks, receiving and giving thanks, humbly and happily sanctifying the good of this creation because Jesus has saved us for a better world. That is the root of our gratitude. And that is what this Table is about.
The only way we can truly give things for bread is to first give thanks for the body of Jesus that was broken for us. The only way we can truly be thankful for wine is to first be thankful for the blood of Jesus that was shed for us. It is the blood of Jesus that has bought for us every joy in the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life.
And it’s here at this Table each week that we give thanks. We give thanks to Jesus for his death, which is the pathway into all thanksgiving.
So this morning, if you trust in Jesus, if by the grace of God you have been united to Jesus by faith, we invite you to eat and drink with us.