1 Timothy 4:1-5
SI:† 1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.
Paulís main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the
†† church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.
And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way
†† that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.
The issue that prompted Paul to write this letter was that there were people in the
†† Ephesian church who were teaching things that contradicted the Gospel.
They apparently had the ear of a lot of people, they were influential.
†† And Paul tells Timothy right off the bat that he has to deal with them.
†† That he has to prevent them from teaching.
Now in this part of the letter, Paul finally gets around to putting his finger on
†† one particular aspect of their teaching that is especially problematic.
Whatís so bad about this teaching that it would cause the Apostle Paul
†† to respond so vehemently?†
INTRO:† We visited my parents last week.†
†† They have a home in Black Mountain, North Carolina, near Asheville.
If you have ever spent time in the Asheville area, you know it has become an
†† epicenter for environmentalism.† Iíve described this before in other sermons.
The environmentalism you encounter there is not just about reducing pollution or
†† protecting endangered speciesóitís an ďIsm.Ē† Itís a religion.† Itís earth worship.
A huge part of this religion is food righteousness.
What you eat and what you refuse to eató
†† the food you advocate and the food you avoid marks you as a true believer.
Itís not a matter of which food tastes the best,
†† or which food is most nutritious, or which food is the most economical.
†† Itís a matter of which food is right and which food is wrong.
These environmentalists are a very visible, very vocal minority.†
†† So if you spend any time in Asheville, you encounter the rightness
†† and wrongness of foods being argued.†
Adrienne was in an Asheville bookstore and there was a book-signing.
†† The author was lecturing on how refrigeration is harming the environment.
†† If you are really committed, you will get rid of your refrigerator.
So how do you preserve food?† Do you can it like your grandmother did?
†† Do you pull out the old mason jars and pressure cooker?
†† No, you donít can your food.†
Canning involves stoves.† Stoves use electricity.† Thatís not righteous.†
†† You have to preserve your food the natural wayóby fermentation.
†† Thatís what his book was about.† How to ferment your all food.
†† How to turn everything into sauerkraut.† Doesnít that sound scrumptious?
And here was this bookstore full of people, nodding and probably feeling a little
†† guilty that they were not as devout as this holy man.
This belief that denying yourself certain food makes you righteous and holy
†† is a universal religious impulse.†
Look at one religion after another and you will find that they teach you must
†† say no to certain foods in order to be truly saved or to become truly good.†
†† And sometimes the denial of sex is combined with denial of food.
All the great Eastern religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others like Jainism,
†† teach that you achieve the highest level of holiness by adopting a strict vegetarian
†† diet and by renouncing marriage.† These are the admired, super saints.
Islam has the month of Ramadan.†
†† During the day you cannot eat, drink, or have sexual relations.
†† Without keeping Ramadan, it is impossible to be saved.†
And there are many more examples in both traditional and secular religions.
This is what some people were teaching in the Ephesian church.
†† They were forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods.
†† These were not crackpots.†
*They claimed to be true Christians.† The most true, purest Christians.
*They had a place for Jesus in their teaching.† Obviously, if they had just
†† out and out rejected Christ, no one would have listened.
*They claimed to know the way to a higher, deeper, purer experience of God.
*They made some connections with Old Testament and Jewish practices,
†† so what they were teaching seemed very biblical.
*They looked like serious, committed believers who had found exciting,
†† new insights into the Christian faithóand just wanted to share them with others.
*They had the largest, most popular Sunday school classes, or the equivalent.
But Paul blasted them.† Called deceitful spirits advocating teaching of demons.†
†† Why did he blast them?†
Paul was very tolerant of other Christians.
†† He didnít go around blasting people about minor details.
Whenever he blasted someone in the church it was for one reason onlyó
†† because the Gospel was at stake.†
Hereís the point Paul was making to Timothy,
†† and this is the point we have to explore together this morning:
To pursue salvation, or to pursue holiness, by denying the use
†† of any part of Godís good creation, is actually a denial of Jesus Christ.
Donít eat that, donít drink that, donít enjoy thatócan be just like saying:
†† You donít need Jesus.† You can be a righteous and holy person without him.
This is a very important, very practical passage of Scripture.†††
†† But itís hard to understand.† Itís going to take us some digging and thinking
1.† The appeal of this teaching
2.† The error of this teaching
3.† The antidote to the is teaching
MP#1† The appeal of this teaching.†
How did these teachings about food and marriage gain traction in Ephesian church?
If Jay Weatherly, or Steve Nyquist, or Phil Gatlin, or Allison Siegenthaleró
†† or any of our other adult Sunday school teachers started telling their classes
†† that the way to be a true, spiritually-minded Christian is to stop eating meat,
†† and, if you are married, to commit yourself to celibacyó
†† you would think they were nuts.†
But it didnít sound nuts to the Ephesians, because it was in step with the culture
†† of their time.† The Greeks and the Romans of the first century were attracted
†† to the idea that you could become a better person by denying your appetites.
They believed the spiritual part of man, the soul, is where true goodness is found.
†† But the physical part of man is what weighs you down.
†† The body and the physical world are the source of all your failures and troubles.
This is why the message of the resurrection was met with such scorn by
†† educated Greeks when Paul shared the Gospel with them.
No thoughtful Greek could imagine why you would want a new body after you die.
†† Thatís the whole point, to suppress the physical, so the soul would be pure.
†† And what could be more physical than food and sex?
There were also certain influential Jews in that time who bought into this idea.
†† They meshed the Old Testament food laws with Greek philosophy
†† They began to strictly regulate their diet as a path to salvation and holiness.†
†† Not at all the reason God had given Israel those laws in the first place.
And there were even Jews who abstained from marriage and practice celibacy.
†† It was in the air.† Everybody didnít do it, but it was attractive.
So when some people in the church began to teach that denying yourself food
†† through a strict diet and denying yourself marriage is a way to being a holier
†† Christian, it resonated with them.† It sounded right.
Now before you dismiss this as crazy, just consider that the two most basic
†† appetites of the human body are hunger and sex.
And wouldnít you agree that people are at their very worst when
†† these appetites get the better of them?†
There are all sorts of people who you would otherwise admire.
†† They are disciplined and successful in certain parts of their lives,
†† maybe they are excellent in business or in athletics or in politicsó
†† but they are disgraced because they canít control their sexual urges.
Even in our highly permissive society, public figures who canít control
†† themselves sexually get mocked.† Anthony Weiner.
And there are many people who would otherwise be successful but they
†† fall into ruin because of their hunger for alcohol or drugs or food.
Many people are slaves to food in one way or another.
†† They are either obsessed with eating or obsessed with trying to curb their eating.
†† Think of how often weight and dieting are discussed in public and private.
†† There are even laws in some states and cities to try to curb obesity.
Food and sex are huge problems in our day, just as they were in the first century.
So this Greek idea, that if you deny and suppress the physical, the spiritual will
†† flourish was so prevalent, and so attractive that it was brought right into church.
The physical, material life is the problem.
†† Deny it, suppress it, and you can advance spiritually, become a holier Christian.†
In spite of Paulís warning, this became so prevalent in the early centuries of church,
†† that eventually Christians began to believe there were two tracks, two paths.
If you took the low path of engagement with the material side of life,†
†† marriage, children, business, finances, you could still get to heaven,
†† but it wasnít the ideal.† Wasnít best Christianity.
But if you took the high path of celibacy and fasting and physical denial,
†† life in a monastery or convent, then you were truly religious, truly spiritual.†
Throughout a great many of the early centuries of the church,
†† there was a prejudice against the physical side of human life.
Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian actually said that intercourse
†† between married people is a necessary sin.†
Itís necessary for the propagation of the race, but itís a sin
†† because the excessive pleasure distracts the mind from contemplation of God.
†† Aquinas was a monk so you have to wonder how he knew what it was like.
And many monks starved themselves to gain mastery over their sinful desires.
†† Too much food, too tasty food made you weak and susceptible.
I give you this history simply to show that this has been a tendency in
†† the church for centuries.† Paul saw it coming.†
We shouldnít mock our Christian brothers and sisters in past centuries who bought
†† into this.† We would have too.† Need to know history as a warning.†
We are just as susceptible to blindly buying into the cultural values of our day.
†† Cultural influences make even anti-Christian ideas seem reasonable to Christians.
MP#2† The error of this teaching
Letís move on to the error of this teaching.
We can all tell something is wrong with this way of approaching the Christian life.
†† Thereís something wrong with saying that not eating or not getting married
†† is the path to spiritual growth in the Christian life.
But what exactly is wrong about it?†
†† Iíve been hinting at it, but we need to be very clear about this,
†† because this is the crux of the issue.
First, we need to recognize that there are perfectly legitimate reasons why
†† a Christian might choose not to eat or drink certain things or not get married.
Paul was always sympathetic toward the moral scruples of his fellow Christians.†
†† He said that we ought not cause a weaker brothere to stumble.
One of the issues the first Christians faced was that when you bought meat in the
†† market, most of the butchers, being pagans, had killed the animals as a
†† sacrifice to their gods.† So some Christians said:† I canít eat this meat.
It seems wrong to me, to eat meat sacrificed to idols.† Iíll just eat vegetables.
Remember what Paul said about that.† He said, Iíll eat that meat.†
†† Idols are nothing.† I worship the true and living God.
†† Iíll thank him for this T-bone no matter where it came from and dig right in.
But, if a fellow Christian is bothered by it and wants to just eat vegetables, fine.
†† Iíll just eat vegetables with him and not make a big deal out of it.
You might imagine the same situation with drinking alcohol.
†† For you it is fine to have a drink, but for another Christian,
†† his conscience is bothered by drinking.
Thatís ok.† Paulís fine with that.
Also, Paul was no enemy of self-discipline or self-denial.
†† In 1 Corinthians he even talks about beating his body and making it a slave,
†† so that he will not be disqualified from the prize.
Paul was very much aware that our appetites can get the better of us.
†† We do need to exercise control, sometimes that might call for extreme measures.†
†† We might have to say:† I just canít eat that or drink that.†
†† I canít use or enjoy this or that thing, because it distracts me from God.
And Paul practiced fasting as an aid to prayer.†
†† Paul was celibate and he commended other Christians who made that choice.
†† Itís good to be unmarried as I am.† Itís also good if you choose to get married.
But the thing that these people were advocating wasnít personal scruples.†
†† It wasnít weaker brothers being bothered by something.
†† It wasnít an aid to prayer, or personal choice out of devotion to the Lord Jesus.
They were actually teaching that if you deny yourself these things,
†† if you make these sacrifices, then that denial itself, your very act of not eating
†† or not getting married will make you a righteous and holy person.
And as Paul says, that is a departure from the faith, itís a departure from the Gospel.
†† Because implied in that teaching is that righteousness and holiness is something
†† you achieve.† In other words, you donít need Jesus.†
†† You donít need Christ and his work on the cross.
They would protest.† Of course we believe in Jesus.† How dare you say that, Paul.
But the fact is that Jesus was only one part of their program of self-righteousness
†† and another big part of it was them.† And whenever Jesus is relegated to second
†† place, then you no longer have the Gospel.
This can creep in so subtly.†
You do these things because you think they are aiding your faith in Christ,
†† and building your dependence on him and helping you obey himó
†† but instead, they become your righteousness and holiness.
Listen to the way a pastor described it:
Very often the first steps taken down such a road are taken with the very best of intentions.† No one has any intention whatsoever of minimizing or marginalizing Christ or his cross, but sooner rather than later the steps themselves, the program of spiritual advancement, the spiritual activities or commitments themselves become the major focus and Christ recedes into the background. †Perhaps not explicitly, but in fact that is what happens . . . (The great challenge is) to keep Christ at the center, not only of our theology of salvation but of our concept of the Christian life and of progress or growth in godliness. †No truer words were ever spoken than when our Savior said to us, ďWithout me you can do nothing!Ē
Because we are all self-righteous, itís so easy to replace the cross of Jesus,
†† and his sacrifice for us, with sacrifices we are making.†
Look what I have given up.† Iím really following Jesus.
†† This is real, serious Christianity Iím practicing.† This is radical Christianity.†
†† We wouldnít say that, might not even realize we are thinking it.
†† But it can be very spiritually seductive to deny yourself things.
So how do we keep from falling into the trap as individual believers and as a
†† church, replacing Christ and his cross with our own sacrifices?
The answer Paul gives is wonderful.† That brings us to
MP#3† The antidote to this teaching
Paul says the way you keep from replacing Christ with your program of self-denial
†† is by freely enjoying all the good things God has created and by rejecting nothing.
You keep Jesus in your heart by noticing the goodness of creation and thanking
†† God every time you enjoy something good, by asking him to bless this good thing
†† you are about to enjoy.
Those people in the Ephesian church were saying that if you really wanted to be
†† holy, you couldnít get married and you had to abstain from certain food.
†† The physical is the problem, it weighs down the spiritual.†
Paul said No, that belief leads you directly away from total reliance on Godís grace.†
He created marriage and food to be received with thanksgiving
†† by those who believe and know the truth.†
For everything created by God is good,
†† and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
We arenít better off without these things.
†† Godís good creation is not the cause of our problems.
He created food and drink with all its wonderful tastes because heís good.
†† And the more we see that, and thank him for it, the more we realizeó
†† life and salvation and goodness and holiness are all his grace to us.
Friday afternoon, the Cullman Christian School six-man football team
†† had a jamboree in Jemison, down in Chilton Co.
Allison and I were driving back, it was supper time and we passed a barbeque
†† shack.† It was a true hole in the wall and it was heavy with hickory smoke.
We ordered two pork sandwiches.
The customer who came in behind us ordered two and the woman who was
†† serving saidóYaíll are lucky, I just have enough for four sandwiches and then
†† weíre closing up.† And then she started chopping.†
Iíve always been preferred chopped to pulled and this was amazing.†
There was plenty of the good black charred pieces, just enough sauce, dill pickles.
†† We got the small sandwich, but they had about half a pound of meató
†† probably because we were the last customers.†
Allison got slaw and a coke, I got potato chips and a sweet tea.
†† And we gave glory to our heavenly Father.
God could have created food so taste and texture and aroma
†† had nothing to do with it.† He could have made all food like oatmeal.
He could have made us so that we would only eat for nutritive value, not pleasure.
†† He could have made us like a cow eating grassóbut he didnít.
And in the same way, God could have provided for the reproduction of the race
†† in some other way, some way without any sexual passion.†
In fact, he could have made us without any of the strong desires that draw
†† men and women together.† Wouldnít that have prevented all sorts of problems?
But he didnít create such a world.† What a gray and boring world that would be.
†† In his goodness and wisdom created man for marriage and marriage for man.†
†† And he built family life on the marriage bed.
Paul is saying that as Christians and as a church, our stance toward creation
†† should be positive.† What God has made is good.
†† It is a tangible reminder of his goodness and grace.†
Yes, there are horrible ways that men and women in their sinfulness distort†
†† and abuse and even ruin good things.†
There is gluttony and drunkenness and fornication and adultery and pornography.
†† But the problem is not food and drink and sex, and the problem is not our
†† God-made appetite for those things.† The problem is our fallen nature.
And thatís what Jesus came to redeem.† And thatís why heís given us his Spirit.
It all comes together in the very last phrase, verse 5, itís so practical.
Paul starts the sentence in verse 4:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with
†† thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Do you hear what he is saying?†
†† As we read in the Bible that God has made this world good and believe that,
†† and as we pray to God about those good things, thanking him for them,
†† they become holy, they become consecrated.
And if they are holy, then that means when you enjoy them, you are becoming
†† more holy.† Eating a good meal, drinking wine with friends, watching a football
†† game, loving your spouseóif you recognize these are good gifts from God and
†† thank him for them, then they become holy and you are more holy.
G.K. Chesterton put it this way.
†† He pointed out that all Christians pray before we eat, and then he
†† said that we ought to expand that to everything.†
You say grace before meals.† All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
And an old Puritan put it this way:
ďThe purpose of Satan is to persuade us that in the kingdom of God there is nothing but
†† sighing and groaning and fasting and prayer whereas the truth is that in His house
†† there is marrying and giving in marriage, feasting and rejoicing.Ē
And we make the good news of the kingdom of God more attractive to those on the
†† outside by being a congregation that rejoices in good things, enjoys them together,
†† and uses them well.†
You and I should be happy people,
†† with so much to be thankful for, with so much to admire and enjoy in life,
†† because we know that our heavenly Father made it all, and made it all for us.