On 1 Timothy 4:1-5

1 Timothy 4:1‑5  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The assembly, in its practical and responsible standing before men as the witness of God's revealed truth and will, naturally leads the apostle to treat of Satan's efforts to undermine and falsify, not without warning on God's part.
“But the Spirit saith expressly that in latter times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons, by hypocrisy of legend-mongers, branded in their own conscience, forbidding to marry, [bidding]1 to abstain from meats which God created for reception with thanksgiving by those faithful and fully acquainted with the truth. Because every creature of God [is] good, and nothing to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God's word and intercession” (ver. 1-5).
The mischief here set out is not the wider and later evil of 2 Tim. 3 when christendom would be but men professing the Lord's name, a form of piety with the denial of its power, no better than heathen in reality (compare end of Rom. 1), though with the semblance and the responsibility of God's final revelation of grace and truth in Christ. Still less is it the frightful apostasy of 2 Thess. 2 which is to close the age before the Lord Jesus be revealed in judgment from heaven to introduce the new age and the kingdom of God to be manifested in power and blessing universally over the earth. No such absolute or comprehensive enmity to the gospel and the Lord is seen here, but rather a sentimental and intellectual affectation of ascetic sanctimoniousness, the germs of which were even then at work and which were soon to develop into the Gnostic sects. It was human pretension, and not the faith of the holy communications of the divine mind nor the submission of heart to His will who cannot but direct us for His glory through the corruptions of a world ruined by lust.
Here the liberty which characterizes those who have the Spirit is supplanted by a systematic bondage of man's will, setting up to be holier than God, and founded on airy conceits which, being exaggerations of the imagination, are never the truth which in the highest degree they claim to be. It is not the ease but the pretentious effort of the flesh inflated by the enemy, which at a later day brought in the oriental error of two divine principles, an evil as well as a good: the good having to do with the soul and characterized by light; the evil with the body and characterized by darkness; the God of the New Testament in contrast with the God of the Old in its ultimate Manichean form of heterodoxy. The root of this is apparent here. Slight on the creatures of God issues in slight of the Creator. Nor is the error dead yet, though it may retreat into cloudy phrases, shunning collision with the truth. In our day it has taken the shape of death to nature and neglect of relationships. It is the same principle which the Holy Spirit denounces here as the denial of fundamental truth, with which the highest revelations are never inconsistent. He that wrote to the Romans wrote also to the Ephesians, and the same apostle is the author of the Epistles to the Colossians and to the Hebrews. So it will always be found that those who are most truly versed in the mysteries of God are careful to maintain the immutable truths of His nature and the due place of the creature.
Here all was at fault. “Some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons, by hypocrisy of legend-mongers.” There are thus three parties in the abandonment of the faith; first, the victims of the errors, secondly, the unseen power of evil, the spirits or demons that misled, thirdly, the legend-mongers who were the medium. This shows the importance of a correct translation. For it is not meant that the demons were the utterers of lies in hypocrisy, any more than that they were branded with a hot iron in their conscience. And this probably led to the softening down of the true phrase. Restore the medium and any such necessity disappears. A man may utter falsehoods in hypocrisy. We can scarcely talk of a demon's hypocrisy; and scripture certainly gives no warrant for attributing conscience to a seducing spirit. But this is exactly true of the false teachers who were carried along by these unseen agents of evil. They were the hypocrites and they had “their own” conscience branded, in distinction from the unhappy but less guilty men who were led astray by their means.
They forbad to marry and bade men to abstain from meats which God created for reception with thanks. giving by those faithful and fully acquainted with the truth. There was the assumption of extraordinary purity. But the wiles of the devil were in it; for the assumption impeached God's institution of marriage, the bond of society here below. And God is not mocked. The result soon showed that the evil one was its author, for the deepest moral corruption was the consequence.
Grace may call a servant of God for special and worthy reasons to a path inconsistent with the married relation, because its duties could not be fulfilled with the due accomplishment of the objects of that path. So we see in the apostle Paul himself, as he lets us know in chap. 7 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. But this very chapter maintains the ordinary rule of the married estate, as elsewhere he exhorts that it should be every way in honor. Only the call of God is paramount. Yet he that is so called respects and never despises the ordinary rule because of that exception. Error lays hold of the exception (for even error cannot subsist without a scrap or show of truth) and converts the exception into a human rule. It is Satan occupying the place and rights of the Lord; his aim is to bring God into contempt and lead man dazzled with the vain hope of higher holiness into the depths of corruption. It is the truth (and no lie is of the truth which sanctifies).
So in bidding men to abstain from meats the same disrespect of God appears. He created them to be received with thanksgiving. No doubt all mankind were meant to share the benefit and do so in their measure; but many partake like brutes without real thanksgiving, often without even the form. The faithful thoroughly acquainted with the truth receive such gifts of God and give thanks. Satan exalts some to such a height of philosophic folly as to deny that they came from His hand who reconciled them to Himself by the death of His Son; then to imagine them to be the temptations of an evil being; finally to conceive that there is no such thing as creation or consequently a Creator. So that the error if a little beginning becomes the beginning of a very great evil. Here, again, the importance of fasting is in no way impaired by the thankful reception of daily bread. Rather do both things go together in every sound and godly mind. But the wiles of the devil were shown in availing himself of abstinence from food. Fasting is admirable in its own place and for special reasons from time to time as the grace of God may direct. Wholly opposed is the delusion of seducing spirits, which the legend-mongers turned into a law, as in the eschewing of marriage. “Because every creature of God is good and nothing to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God's word and intercession.” Thus the ordinary prohibitions of the law disappear, for in this respect as in others the law made nothing perfect. The gospel, the full revelation of Christ, whilst it rises to the glory of God in the Highest and stands in presence of the inscrutable depths of God's most holy judgment of sin in the cross, vindicates all the ways of God in creation as well as in providence. Hence the Christian, if not the Jew, can say that every creature of God is good and nothing to be rejected; but there is the proviso— “if received with thanksgiving.” An ungrateful saint is an anomaly. The simplest believer cannot more than the most intelligent overlook the kindness as well as the wisdom of God, that created all things and has Himself said, “I will in no wise fail thee; neither will I in any wise forsake thee.”
But the apostle adds a reason which confirms the thanksgiving of the believer; “for it is sanctified through God's word and intercession.” Thus is the use of every creature of God guarded. It is no mere indiscriminate license; but as the restrictions of a law for a circumscribed people vanished before the light of the gospel, and the goodness of God was heard declaring that He had cleansed what Jewish prejudice would have to be common (to the pure all things are pure), so the receiver proved his faith in “God's word” by the answer of his “intercession.” Not their will but His word sanctioned the use of every creature good for food; and their hearts, brought to know His grace in salvation, draw near in that free intercourse which is assured of, as it springs from, His love made known to us in Christ and His redemption. But it is an intercourse based on His grace, which takes in the least things as not too little for God, as it has learned in Christ that the greatest things of God are not too great for His children.
The word ἐντ. is here translated “intercession,” in order to keep up its specialty in accordance with its sense elsewhere as in chap. 2:1. “Prayer,” though seemingly less harsh and as in all the earlier English, so still in the Revision, is too vague to express the free intercourse which grace has opened with God for His children. I admit that “intercession” sounds inadequate; but I know no better counterpart in our language and therefore have ventured to explain what appears to be conveyed. If God's word communicated the reality and extent of His gracious will, the faithful can speak unrestrainedly their heart's sense of His loving bounty. Thus is all that is received “sanctified.” For, now that we know Christ dead and risen, here too we can say the old things are passed away; behold they are become new. And all things are of God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.