Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church involves exposing error - 1 Timothy 4:1-3

1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

These next few posts will represent what is close to my heart. Before I ever blogged or wrote, I had and still to this day proclaim God's Word as a pastor. My calling into ministry occurred when I was seventeen years of age. It had been the start of the school year for me as a senior in highschool. God had been stirring me and led me to pick up my Bible and begin reading. I had been a Christian for a little while, however that night in September was where God led me to 2 Timothy 4:2 which plainly states: "Preach the Word". The words lept off the page and into my heart. As God would have it, I began receiving catalogues from various schools, among which was a particular Bible College. Once enrolled in the fall of that year, I discovered in the following months that God was specifically calling me to be a pastor, an undershepherd of His flock. 23 years later, God still has me preaching His Word. My family and I are at a wonderful church in Oklahoma that I have been pastoring for four years. 

Reflecting back on those formative years and the time in-between, then-and-now, drives me to this text in 1 Timothy 4. What does it take to shepherd Christ's church? Paul instructs his young protege Timothy to prepare himself for what will be his pastoral tenure at Ephesus. As Paul instructs Pastor Timothy with regard to his duties, we find five key responsibilities that describe what it takes to shepherd or pastor the local church. I will list them out, and then we will consider the first one in today's post. Shepherding Christ's church involves...

1. Exposing Error  1 Timothy 4:1-3
2. Emphasizing Sound Doctrine  4:4-6
3. Exemplifying godliness  4:7-12
4. Exceling in preaching 4:13-15
5. Enduring to the finish 4:16

So if a pastor is going to shepherd Christ's church, he must first of all....

1. Expose error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
1 Timothy 4:1-3 is diagnosing the general course of history from the days of the Apostles until now, with particular emphasis upon the time leading up to the coming of Jesus. Other places in the Bible warn of what will be the pattern of "falling away" or "apostasy". Such a pattern of false professors of the faith is called "the apostasy" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1 that this same time frame will be characterized as "difficult times". Peter in 2 Peter 3:13 and Jude in Jude 1:18 both describe how there will be "mockers, following after their own lusts." The prophetic portions of the Bible predict this tragic mass-defection by pretenders of the faith and alarming increase of false teachers in passages such as Daniel 11:35 and Matthew 24:5ff. 

As we look more closely at 1 Timothy 4:1-3, three classes of error are mentioned and merit the pastor's role in exposing such errors.

a. spiritualism. 1 Timothy 4:1
1 Timothy 4:1 states - "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." This first type of error is very interested in the invisible realm, but is not affirmative about God's existence nor the authority of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. It must be made clear that any doctrinal teaching or religious instruction that is not supported by scripture is nothing less than demonic. So what is meant by the term "doctrines of demons" in 1 Timothy 4:1? Deuteronomy 32:17 states - “They sacrificed to demons who were not God,To gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread." 1 Corinthians 10:20 explains further - "No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons." The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 

Today's culture is replete with example after example of false religions and teachings what run counter to scripture. Movements such as Wicca attempt to access the supernatural via the natural realm and effectively by-passing believe in an all-powerful God. The most dangerous sort of spiritualism is when paganism is mixed with Christianity - as in the case of Mormonism. The good under-shepherd must expose errors like spiritualism. Now notice a second type of error mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:2...

b. Egotism  1 Timothy 4:2
The false teachers described in 1 Timothy 4:2 are those who live as hypocrites, liars and as those who have "seared their conscience". To sear a conscience is to deaden it to the Spirit's conviction and any sense of remorse about sins done to oneself and others. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 explains this error in detail - "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money,boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents,ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these." When I say "egotism", this is an error that focuses on personality driven type ministries or self-centered Christianity. Whenever a church or preaching ministry becomes more about the preacher than the Word and Jesus that he preaches, the error of egotism has infected his heart. On the pew side of things, so-called "seeker sensitive" movements that build their ministry approach around the needs of so-called "seekers" are what I would classify as "egotisitical". We don't build our churches ministries around "felt needs" of unbelievers, nor around the preferences of Christians. Ministry should never be about the preacher or his agenda. All ministry must be focused around Jesus Christ and His Word. The only seekers are those who have already been converted. Whenever we adopt the methods of catering to a category of people that is not even Biblical, we end up trying to please people and give them what they want. This was the error developing at the church to which Paul wrote and characterizes our age. Pastors must expose the errors of spiritualism and egotism. However, there is one more error that must be exposed by faithful undershepherds in the local church, namely...

c. Ritualism. 1 Timothy 4:3
1 Timothy 4:3 reveals - "men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth." The church over her history has drifted into two directions when the preaching of the Word of God has lost its place. The first is what we already noted above - spiritualism. Included in that ditch are attitudes of speculation and unbridled interest in the experiential over the doctrinal. 

The second ditch is what we can term "ritualism". Unbelievers and the natural, carnal flesh default to trying to please God by way of performance. Man-made religion will develop elaborate rituals and multiple-step methods to try to attain peace and favor with God. In Paul's day, there were groups who were teaching that genuine favor with God entailed abstaining from certain things, attaining certain mystical insights of knowledge or totally ignoring the physical in favor of the spiritual. Such teachings would eventually lead to the heresy later called "gnosticism". Thus, in attempting to emphasize on the spiritual, these forerunners of the Gnostics believed it didn't matter what you did in the body, since the soul was all that counted. Thus in this twisted belief system, one could commit immorality and yet claim to be moral!

Ritualism today appears highly formalized systems that attempts to get one to God through participation in a system. Roman Catholicism for example mixes together genuine Christian belief with ritualism, resulting in the Roman Catholic Church functioning like a substitute Jesus. The evangelical scene has its own version of ritualism by way of cramming in busyness and "business", making the church function as a business that measures one's proximity to God by how much one does. 

Performance driven Christianity results when two things diminish: preaching of the Word and focus on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Are we saying that churches should not have fellowshipping times, outreach and Bible studies? No. But whenever our churches operate in the extreme on the belief that offering more activities will draw in more people, and makes what we do the drawing card, rather than what Christ has done, ritualism will not be far behind. 

Closing thoughts
To be a faithful pastor who shepherds Christ's church, errors such as spiritualism, egotism and ritualism must be exposed. Thankfully, this first responsibility of the pastor is not the only role. There are four other roles that will be considered in future posts. Today I will close with these words from 1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

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