Predictions of Apostasy
The King James Version of the Bible never uses the word "apostasy." Some of the modern versions employ the word a few times. For example, the English Standard Version uses the plural "apostasies" one time. "Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike down; a wolf from the desert shall be torn in pieces, because their transgressions are many, their apostasies great" (Jer. 5:6). The singular "apostasy" appears two times and the word "apostate" one time. Jeremiah warned his readers: "Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy shall reprove you" (Jer. 2:19). The New American Standard Bible uses the plural three times and the singular three times, but I shall not take the time to read those verses today.
In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul warned: "Now the Spirit speaks 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 has created to be received with thanksgiving of them who 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" (1 Tim. 4:1-5). Our lesson today will be entitled, "Predictions of Apostasy." I shall first discuss with you the prediction of apostasy I have read to you and then we shall take note of some of the characteristics of that apostasy.
Paul's prediction of apostasy would be difficult to misunderstand. The language—both in the Greek and in the English—could hardly be plainer. Paul wanted Timothy and all who read his book to know that apostasy would come in the future. Paul affirmed that the Spirit spoke expressly. If some man had made the prediction on his own, Timothy would have had reason to question it. The Holy Spirit was the one who made the prediction. He spoke "expressly." The adverb "expressly" means plainly, explicitly, distinctly, unmistakably. In other words, the prediction came from an infallible source—the Holy Spirit of God. The prediction could no more be mistaken than God himself could be mistaken.
Paul was not the only teacher in the New Testament who predicted an apostasy. For example, when Jesus taught his disciples "The Parable of the Sower," he said: "Some seed fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture." He explained to the disciples what he had in mind. "They on the rock are they, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Lk. 8:7, 13). But would they have fallen away if they were really genuine believers? Most preachers and teachers are familiar with the name A. T. Robertson, one of the greatest Greek scholars of all time. Dr. Robertson published a series of books with the title, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930). Please listen to Dr. Robertson's comments on the expression, "fall away." "Ostensibly they are sincere and have made a real start in the life of faith....They stand off, lose interest, stop coming to church, drop out of sight" (volume 2, p. 114). The author of Hebrews used the same verb when he wrote: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3:12). The word "departing" comes from the Greek apostenai, from which we derive our "apostasy." The word means to fall away or to apostatize.
It needs to be pointed out in passing that not all Greek scholars agree with Dr. Robertson. Dr. Spiros Zodhiates of Chattanooga has published The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992). He argues that the people Paul had in mind when he wrote of some who fell away never really belonged to the Lord. He affirms that 1 Timothy 4:1 means they stood away from believing (p. 869). I have one question for Dr. Zodhiates and for other Calvinists: How can a person fall away from a position he had never occupied? How can he depart from a place he has never been? Dr. A. T. Robertson says the word means "shall stand off from, to fall away, apostatize" (volume 4, p. 578). Dr. Zodhiates does his best to defend Calvinism. Even though Dr. Robertson was a moderate Calvinist, he was committed to discovering the true meaning of the word.
Please keep in mind what Dr. Zodhiates said about falling away as I read the following verse to you. Paul warned the Christians in Galatia about following those false teachers who were striving to add some of the teachings and practices of Judaism to New Testament Christianity. "Christ has become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). What is the meaning of the expression, "you have fallen from grace?" Incidentally, most translations render the Greek "you have fallen away from grace." Dr. Zodhiates says the word means "to fall away. i. e., to fail, be without effect, to be in vain" (p. 552). He includes Galatians 5:4 in the list of scriptures that teach that men can fall away or fail. That contradicts what he said about departing. Dr. A. T. Robertson comments on the term, "you have fallen from grace": "You did fall out of grace... You left the sphere of grace in Christ and took your stand in the sphere of law as your hope of salvation. Paul does not mince words and carried the logic to the end of the course. He is not, of course, speaking of occasional sins, but he has in mind a far more serious matter, that of substituting law for Christ as the agent of salvation" (volume 4, p. 309).
Paul predicts that those who depart from the faith would "give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons." The word "seducing" comes from the Greek planois from which we derive our word "planet." Most versions render the Greek "deceitful." Seducing or deceitful spirits are always behind the false teachers who lead men away from the truth. The apostle John warned: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The false prophets, inspired by deceitful spirits, have done and are doing great harm in our world. This is one of the reasons Christians must constantly be alert and discerning.
The expression, "doctrines of devils," should be translated "doctrines of demons." There are many demons, but there is only one devil. In the passage I am examining with you, Paul tells us what the doctrines of demons were, but the term applies far beyond this immediate context. Paul lists the doctrines of demons: forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats (1 Tim. 4:3). Any teaching or practice that leads men away from God falls into the category, "doctrines of demons." For example, Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection was already past. Through their false teaching they had overthrown the faith of some of the early Christians (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Anyone who denies the teaching of scripture or teaches doctrines contrary to scripture is guilty of promoting the doctrines of demons.
Paul predicted that the false teachers would speak lies in hypocrisy and have their consciences seared with a hot iron (1 Tim. 4:2). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul used very similar language. "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness and greediness" (Eph. 4:17-19).
Accusing teachers or preachers of speaking lies in hypocrisy and having their consciences seared with a hot iron is a very serious matter. Were there preachers in Paul's day who fit that description? A careful reading of his letter to the churches of Galatia will convince any honest person that such teachers posed a real threat to the Lord's church in the first century of the Christian era. Are there men and women in our day who belong in those categories? If you listen to preachers on radio and on television, you know the answer to my question. Some of the preachers on radio and on television preach the most outlandish doctrines, such as, the so-called "health and wealth gospel." Those television evangelists know or ought to know how false their teaching is. But how are they going to get rich if they do not promise riches to their listeners?
Through the years, there have been both religious and irreligious groups that have forbidden their leaders to marry. Some groups have even forbidden their members to marry. For example, the ancient Essenes did not permit their followers to marry. There have been cultic groups in our nation who forbad their members to marry. The Oneida community in upstate New York founded by John Humphrey Noyes did not allow its members to marry. Those groups apparently have bought into the false position that single people are more righteous and more devoted to their beliefs than married people. I know and so do you that celibacy is an option for all single people. If you believe you can serve the Lord more vigorously and more faithfully by remaining single, that is your prerogative. But nobody—I repeat—nobody has a right to require anyone to remain single. The choice must be freely made. Whenever people are forced into celibacy, there are almost always serious consequences. The history of forced celibacy has been one of broken hearts and broken lives.
I am aware that some men and women prefer for whatever reasons to remain single. They apparently believe they can serve both God and man more effectively by being single than by being married. I am not trying to make judgments for anyone else, but I know I have been able to do more in the Lord's kingdom because I was married to Molly for more than fifty-three years. By her love, understanding and gracious attitude, she influenced me to be more compassionate, more generous and more considerate. To my great sorrow, she departed this life almost four years ago, but her sweet spirit touches my life everyday. I know I am a better man and a better preacher because she was mine for more than a half-century.
There may have been times through the ages when men and women could have been more holy by remaining single. There may even be some few who can do that today. But we live—at least, in the United States—in a sex-saturated society. Television, movies, popular songs and even some churches promote pornography. How can men and women live in this situation and not have difficulty controlling their sexual desires? Paul knew the immorality that existed at Corinth and warned: "Now concerning the things whereof you wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Did you take notice of that little expression, "to avoid fornication?" Paul knew and we ought to know that avoiding sexual immorality has never been easy, especially in places like Corinth and the United States. Only those who have the strength to remain sexually pure should choose to remain single. And nobody has a right to force anyone into celibacy.
A second characteristic of apostasy was "commanding to abstain from meats." The Greek word broma (translated "meats") means foods and is not the word for "flesh," although it certainly includes flesh. There were people in the first century who adopted the view of many Greek philosophers that caring for the body was not the best way for men to live. Some of them actually refrained as much as possible from food because it was material and in their view evil. Those theologians believed that any concessions to the flesh were unholy. They believed in cultivating the spirit, not the body. Obviously, that is the very opposite of the Bible's teaching. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Abusing or failing to take care of our bodies is sinful.
The Mosaic covenant restricted the eating of certain kinds of food. In fact, some Tennessee friends wonder why the Lord forbad the eating of catfish. I do not know why the Lord did not allow the Jews to eat pork, catfish and other kinds of food. But I know this: None of those rules apply to Christians. The book of Galatians makes it plain that Christ freed us from the law of Moses (Gal. 5:1-6). Paul also tells us that God created the various kinds of food that are "to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, it if be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4:3-5).
I have several observations I must make before our time expires. I heard a television evangelist a few days ago explain why God forbad the Jews to eat pork. There is a serious problem with his explanation: He was speaking without knowing what he was saying. The verses I have read to you make it plain that God permits us to eat whatever we choose. Any restrictions on our eating are manmade—not from God. Personally, I do not eat catfish and have no plans to do so. It is not a matter of conviction, but of taste. I simply do not like fish—period.
No church or person has a right to bind what God has loosed and to loose what God has bound. Jesus promised the apostles he would build his church. He then told them: "I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt. 16:18-19). The tenses of the verbs in verse 19 are critical to our understanding of Christ's message to the apostles. Charles Williams correctly renders the Greek. "Whatever you forbid on earth must be whatever is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven." The New Testament permits the eating of any kind of food. You have a right to eat any kind of food or not to eat it. You have no right to forbid others from eating it. Any church that does is guilty of teaching "the doctrines of demons." At least, that was Paul's message to Timothy.
You should have no difficulty understanding that the passage I have discussed with you today refutes the Calvinistic doctrine of once in grace, always in grace. But that was not Paul's original intention. He had not heard of the doctrine. Paul was preparing Timothy and the people to whom Timothy preached to resist the temptations they would face. He wanted them to know they could be deceived and led into soul-condemning error. Paul did not engage in hypothetical warnings about apostasy. He knew Christians had to be on the alert to keep Satan from seducing them. Is that not also what the apostle Peter had in mind when he wrote: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8)?
The word of God provides the information we need to resist the devil. There are many passages I could read to you on that topic, but I shall read what Paul told the Ephesians. "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness: and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for the saints" (Eph. 6:10-18).
Paul's use of military metaphors is offensive to many modern people. But we must realize that we are in a war with Satan. That war will not end until the Lord returns to claim his own. So we must be prepared to defend ourselves against Satan. We must also use our time and opportunities to help others prepare to fight against the evil one. That is one of the purposes for the existence of the International Gospel Hour. We are dedicated to preaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We solicit your prayers on our behalf.
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