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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
1 Timothy 4

 

 


Verses 1-6

Chapter 9 The Latter Days

1 Timothy 4:1-6

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, where-unto thou hast attained, (vv. 1-6)

It is a remarkable fact that our blessed Lord and His apostles indicated, before they left this scene, the decadence of the very system which they came to introduce, that is, they came to introduce what we commonly call Christianity. Yet both our Lord and His followers afterward warned the early church that there would be a great departure from the truth and that increasing apostasy would be manifest as the years wore on, until eventually there would be a complete turning away from the faith. Men would accept antichrist instead of the Christ of God.

As we look back over the centuries that have passed since apostolic days, we can see how literally these predictions have been fulfilled. All down through these centuries there has been increasing departure from the simplicity of the gospel. All kinds of false systems have come in, until there was a time when it seemed as though false teaching was the real thing, and the truth of God was looked upon as heresy. There has been a revival in the preaching of the gospel, however, for which we can be thankful to God.

Here the Apostle warns of a time of apostasy which was to come, as he intimates, “in the latter times.” The “latter times” are to be distinguished from “the last days” described in 2 Timothy 3:1, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” There he depicts conditions that will prevail in the professing church immediately before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ- conditions which do prevail largely today throughout Christendom. But the period spoken of here in chapter 4 is called “the latter times.” This period is for us in the past. We look back, not forward, to the latter times. The events described here have taken place already. They have been fulfilled already.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 we read, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” That is, vain, unscriptural teaching was even then beginning to permeate the church. Here Paul warns Timothy, and through Timothy all other believers, of some of the results of the condition that was to be manifested later on.

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly.” All prophecy is by the Holy Spirit. It is He alone who can foresee the future. It is not given to man to do this. Men may guess what the future may be, and sometimes their guesses may turn out to be correct, but no man can speak authoritatively as to the future. He does not know what the next day may bring forth. But the Spirit of God, looking down through the centuries of time, empowered certain of Christ’s servants to predict many things that were to prevail long years ahead. In the Old Testament, a large portion is devoted to prophecy, but we also have prophecy in the New Testament. Here is an instance of the Spirit speaking expressly, “that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”

You will notice there are three classes of personalities brought before us here. First we read of some who will depart from the faith; some who were nominal Christians, members of the professing church, but who would drift away from the truth as given by our Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired apostles. One needs only a slight acquaintance with church history to know how these words were fulfilled in what we call the “Dark” or “Middle Ages,” but which the Roman Catholic Church calls the “Age of Faith,” because those were the years in which people forsook the teachings of the Word of God and received the superstitious traditions of the Roman Church. They departed from the faith. They substituted the authority of the church for that of the Holy Scriptures.

The second class is called “seducing spirits,” who propogate “doctrines of devils,” or teachings of demons. These evil spirits are ever active in seeking to turn men away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They are in rebellion against God, and yet are permitted for some strange, mysterious reason to influence and even possess men and women who are not subject to the instruction of the Holy Spirit. They are led by their prince, Beelzebub, and are actively engaged in combating the faith of Christ.

Then there is a third class. We might not realize this from our King James Version, but the translation made by that great Greek scholar, William Kelly, reads: “Some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and teachings of demons by hypocrisy of the legend-mongers.” That is the way evil teaching was to be presented to men, “through the hypocrisy of legend-mongers”-men who substituted legends for the truth of God. We look back through the centuries and see that these came in very early.

There were not many copies of Scripture available during the Middle Ages, and the great majority of Christians did not have even a part of the Bible, nor would they have been able to read it if they had possessed it. The few manuscripts that were available were generally in the hands of teachers. Many of them were kept in monasteries. And so it was easy for interested persons to foist legends and traditions upon the common people in place of the inspired revelation which God had given. Many such legends were promulgated in those dark ages.

It is amazing, as we look back, to see how ready people were to accept all kinds of myths rather than the precious gospel as made known in the Bible. One legend was that of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the teaching that she was born without sin, and so in that sense she was like her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Another legend that was foisted upon the people was that Mary never actually died, but was taken up into heaven, crowned, and today reigns as queen of heaven. The legend of purgatory was substituted as a place of cleansing from sin instead of the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. Many others came in and similarly nullified the plain teaching of Holy Scriptures. They were accepted as though of the same authority as God’s Holy Word, and so brought men’s hearts into bondage.

Those who were Satan’s agents in vending these legends, instead of the truth of the gospel, are said to have “their conscience seared with a hot iron.” They reached the place where conscience no longer responded to the voice of God. Notice the contrast between these and those who stood for the truth in verse 9 of the previous chapter. The Apostle speaks of Christians as “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” The people of whom he is speaking in verse 2 of this fourth chapter turn away from the faith and accept false theories and invalid legends. They are said to have their consciences seared with a hot iron. They became utterly calloused.

In the next verse we read of certain manifest signs that help us to identify the persons whom the Spirit of God has in mind when He speaks so solemnly here. “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Here are two outward things that would make it very easy for anyone to understand, when the time came, who and of what the apostle Paul was speaking as he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

It was during those dark ages that an apostate church arose which taught that a celibate priest or monk was a holier person than the Christian father or husband, and an unmarried nun was on a higher moral plane than a godly wife or mother, and so certain ones were forbidden to marry. Now Scripture maintains that there are occasions when it is better to remain unmarried. For instance, if Christian workers are exposed to great dangers, it is far better not to think of marrying and dragging wives and possibly children into such circumstances. But God Himself instituted marriage for a holy purpose. Men attempting to be wiser than God put the ban upon marriage, so that certain persons who were separated from the world as nuns, monks, and priests had to take a vow not to marry. By this we may see to whom the Apostle was referring here.

Then observe the next mark: “Commanding to abstain from meats.” Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself told us, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matthew 15:11). But there soon grew up in the professing church the notion that the eating of meat on certain days should be refrained from because by so doing one could better master the desires of the flesh-a theory which has proven to be false. Men are still as sinful as before. Vegetarianism has never worked for greater holiness than the ordinary method of nourishing the body, which is according to God’s own order. But men cannot seem to get away from this outward thing, which is the teaching of demons.

In Foxes Book of Martyrs an incident is related of a man who was to be burned at the stake because he would not bow down before a wafer and worship it as God incarnate. The wood bundles were piled around him, and the executioner was waiting to put the torch to them. A priest stood on a high platform nearby and preached a sermon. He took for a text the first two verses of this chapter: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” These words he applied to the martyr about to die as a condemned heretic. Having finished the sermon, the priest said, “Have you anything to say before you are burned? Will you recant and receive the absolution of the church?” The man, looking up, replied, “I have nothing to say except that I wish you would read aloud the next verse following the two you have read.” The priest looked at the passage: “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Instead of reading it he gave the signal to put the torch to the wood, and then he threw the Testament into the fire. It was too much. It condemned him, and showed exactly where the evil was, and what was meant by the Holy Spirit when He spoke of the doctrine of demons to be made known in the latter times.

This evil system which began in the latter times is prevalent today all over Christendom, and there is a definite line drawn between the Holy Scriptures and these superstitions that have been foisted upon people as inspired and authoritative traditions. We ought to thank God for the open Bible, where truth is found so crystal clear!

The Apostle adds, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” I wonder if we are as conscientious as we should be about giving thanks to God for the good things He has provided. It is shocking to notice Christians who sit down in public eating places and give no evidence that they have thanked God for what is before them. Perhaps they do thank Him silently, but do not let those around them realize it. Christians, wherever you are when you partake of food you should be careful to honor God by giving thanks. Many opportunities will arise to speak to needy souls, even at the same table or at a table nearby, if you bow your head in a restaurant or hotel and give thanks before partaking of your food. Christians should never sit down to a table at home without giving thanks for that which God has spread before them. Yet I am afraid many of us fail even in this.

On the other hand, I have seen people sit down to a table and it may be that the husband will give thanks, and but within a few minutes he begins to fuss and growl about the food, complaining about it. Perhaps the poor wife has done her best, and that is all the thanks she gets! If we receive the food with thanksgiving then we should not complain about it. After all, no matter how poor it is, it is still too good for sinners. Had God treated us according to our deserts we would be in the pit of woe, forever beyond the reach of mercy.

“Sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” What a blessed thing it is when the Word of God is honored and the voice of prayer ascends to heaven as the family gathers about the table to enjoy the good things the Lord has provided. Many of us look back on such scenes of family worship, and how we thank God for the impressions made upon our hearts and lives in early days.

“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine [or healthful teaching], whereunto thou hast attained.” The minister of Christ is responsible to bring these things to bear upon the hearts and consciences of the people of God, in order that He may be honored and they may be preserved from the unholy teachings which Satan uses to lead many astray.

 

 

 


Verses 7-16

Chapter 10 Practical Godliness

1 Timothy 4:7-16

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (vv. 7-16)

In this particular section of the epistle, the Apostle dwells upon godliness in the life, particularly in the life of a minister of Christ for he was addressing the young preacher Timothy whom he had left in Ephesus, in order that he might help the church there.

Now no man can lift another person above his own level. If a minister of Christ is going to be used of God in reaching and elevating others, he must be characterized by true piety himself. Paul knew Timothy and knew what kind of man he was. He writes in other places commending him earnestly as one who had been as a son to him in his service for the Lord. Nevertheless, he felt it necessary to stir up the heart of Timothy to the importance of living wholly for God. But as we study these words, we should not think of them as applying only to one in full-time service for Christ. There is a sense in which all Christians are called upon to be ministers of Christ, for a minister is a servant, and we are all looked upon as servants of the One who has redeemed us. We are to be occupied in seeking to make Him known to others as far as we possibly can.

In the first place, Paul says to Timothy, “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables.” How much this admonition is needed today! “Profane and old wives’ fables”-that is, things that are opposed to the truth of God, imaginary ideas, such as ignorant old women devoid of spiritual insight might be inclined to circulate. Have you ever noticed that a great number of modern teachings which are leading people astray are but old wives’ fables? Both Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Annie Besant, the cofounders of theosophy, were “old wives” whose fables have deceived thousands. Mrs. Ellen G. White’s fantastic “sanctuary theory,” the basic doctrine of Seventh-day Adventism, is an old wife’s fable. Mary Baker Patterson Glover Eddy was an old wife, who mothered what she falsely called “Christian Science.”

These teachings are all contrary to the truth of God. Such have a special attraction for women of a particular type. And so Paul warns Timothy against all such perversions of truth. He says, “Exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Godliness is just a clipped word. It was originally “Godlikeness” and so is rendered in some of the older English translations (Wycliffe has Gudlyknesse.) Godliness is genuine piety. That is its real meaning.

No one will live a truly pious life who neglects the means which God has given to us for this purpose. We have the Word of God; we need to study our Bibles. And we need to take much time for prayer. Then we must be faithful in testifying to those who are unsaved. To honor God in these things is to be exercised unto godliness.

“For bodily exercise profiteth little.” There are three different ways in which this clause might be read. As rendered in the King James Version, we might understand it to mean that bodily exercise is not of very great profit because life is so short, and eternal things are so much more important. John Wesley renders it, “Bodily exercise profiteth a little”-that is, somewhat, but not to be compared with exercise unto godliness. Others read it, “Bodily exercise profiteth for a little time”-the time we are going through this world. “But godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” I would stress this and seek to impress it upon the hearts of all who are young in Christ.

My younger brethren and sisters, you who have strong, healthy bodies, you naturally and rightfully delight to indulge in certain physical exercises. But oh, let me press this upon your minds: just as these things have a place in the physical realm, it is far more important that you be strong spiritually. Do not neglect your soul as you care for your body. Do not be so much concerned about bodily exercise that you fail to take plenty of time over the Word of God and in prayer that you may be strong, healthy Christians, whose lives will bring the approval of the blessed Lord at His judgment seat. Godliness is profitable all through this life. And oh, how profitable will it prove to have been when we leave this world and go out into eternity! After all, life is so short it seems a terrible mistake to devote the greater part of our time to concern for the things of this life while forgetting the important things of eternity.

I was somewhat acquainted with C. J. Baker, the father-in-law of Dr. Walter Wilson. He was a fine Christian businessman, head of a large firm in Kansas City which manufactured tents and awnings of all descriptions. He sold his merchandise very largely to circus and Chautauqua people. Every year he sent forth his catalog, knowing that it would be read by many unconverted showmen and others. I recall a greeting he had placed upon the first page: “With our best wishes to our customers for time and eternity, especially eternity.” It was signed, “C. J. Baker.” I often wondered what the reaction would be as these unsaved people received that catalog from that Christian man who expressed such concern for their welfare, not only in this life but also in the life which is to come! That is what really counts. Godliness is profitable, not only for this life but also for that which is to come.

Next, we have another “faithful saying.” In 1:15 we read, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Now in 4:9-10 we have a faithful saying for the people of God: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” This, you see, is for those who know the Lord, those who found out they were sinners and came to Christ and have been saved by His grace. How we should delight to labor and suffer reproach for His sake! We know how wonderfully God takes care of His own. But He “is the Saviour of all men.” He is watching over all mankind, but especially is He the Savior of those who believe.

Then Paul says to Timothy, “These things command and teach.” Timothy was a young man. Perhaps by this time he may have been about forty years of age, but a man of forty was comparatively young compared with Paul who perhaps at this time was close to seventy. So he writes to the younger man, “Let no man despise thy youth.” That is, do not develop an inferiority complex because you are younger than some of those to whom you minister. Do not be concerned if they do not understand that God has called you to this position, and if they seek to ignore you because of your comparative immaturity.

“But be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation [that is, behavior], in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” A young man may be very immature in some respects, but if he is characterized by these things: careful as to his words, particular as to his behavior, and manifesting the love of God; if he is a man of faith and is careful as to purity of life, he will not have to try to compel others to accord him recognition. His behavior will accredit him to those to whom he ministers. They will realize that though a young man there is something about him that marks him out as a man of God, and not one who is careless in his walk and slack in his service, or who is seeking an easygoing life as a professional cleric.

“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” There are two different Greek words for “reading.” One means to read to others; the other means to read for one’s own instruction and information. It is the first word that is used here: “Till I come, give [attention] to reading”-that is, reading to others. On the other hand, may I add this: He who would be a faithful minister of Christ must take plenty of time to read for his own edification. He needs to read and meditate on the Scriptures and also such literature as God has provided in order to help him to better understand the Word. Having done this he can communicate to others the truth which has become precious to his own soul.

“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” That word translated “presbytery” is generally rendered “elders.” It is evident that the elders of the church at Lystra and Derbe had met together with the apostle Paul when Timothy was about to launch out in full-time service and had laid their hands on him, commending him to God in prayer. That is sometimes spoken of as Timothy’s ordination. We do not read in Scripture that anyone has to be ordained to preach the gospel, but the laying on of hands was an expression of fellowship. As these brethren prayed for Timothy, God gave him a special gift. These elders were men of God. It is far otherwise in many instances.

Charles H. Spurgeon, who always refused human ordination, used to say that in many cases when men profess to have the authority to ordain another to preach or teach the gospel and pretend that through ordination they are enabled to give him some special gift, it is just “laying empty hands on an empty head!” But in Timothy’s case these brethren prayed in faith, and God gave the answer. I rather think it was the gift of a pastor that was conferred upon Timothy.

“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” No one who really wants to count for God can afford to play at Christianity. He must make it the one great business of his life. Whether he is set apart for special ministry-as a missionary who is going to a foreign land, a laborer in the gospel in home fields, or whether he remains in business and seeks to witness for Christ there-he needs to give himself entirely to a life of devotion to the Lord.

Notice the closing words: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.” Observe the order: first, “take heed unto thyself”-be careful about your own inner and outward life, setting an example to others. Then take heed “unto the doctrine.” We read of Ezra in the Old Testament who “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). Many people prepare the mind who do not prepare the heart, but Ezra put the heart first. He desired to know the law of God, and he learned it not only through the head but also through the heart. Then it says he “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.” He was not going to teach others what he did not do himself. And so God used and honored a man like that.

That is the way He does today. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” He is not speaking of the salvation of the soul. He is not referring to eternal salvation. But he is exhorting Timothy to be careful to live for God, to be a consistent, earnest minister of Christ, because in doing this he would both save himself and others from many snares and difficulties. He would become a blessing instead of a curse to those to whom he ministered.

No one can live a godly life who has not first received Christ as his own Savior. You cannot live a Christian life until you are born again. I would remind my reader of the words, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). After Christ is known in this way we are prepared to lead others to Him and guide them in the path of obedience.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/1-timothy-4.html. 1914.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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