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The Approaching Apostasy (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 30, 2023 4:00 am

The Approaching Apostasy (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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May 30, 2023 4:00 am

Once a person professes to follow Jesus, is it possible to fall away from the faith? Hear the answer when you study along with Truth For Life as Alistair Begg takes a closer look at the apostle Paul’s warning and instruction to his young protégé, Timothy.


Truth for Life
Alistair Begg

Once someone has professed faith in Christ, is it possible for that person to follow away from their faith? We'll find out today on Truth for Life as Alistair Begg takes a closer look at the apostle Paul's warning and instruction to his young protege, Timothy. First Timothy chapter 4 and verse 1. The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales. Rather, train yourself to be godly, for physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance—and for this we labor and strive—that we have put our hope in the living God who is the Savior of all men and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters. Give yourself holy to them so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely.

Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for your help now in turning to these verses. You know, Lord, I long to be clear, and I pray that you would save us from confusion or from error, both in the way in which we speak or hear, that the Spirit of God will be our teacher. We can't do anything as we ought without your help, and so we bow our heads not out of a sense of routine but out of a deep sense of need. For if these moments are to mean anything for time and for eternity, then it is imperative, Lord, that you speak by your Spirit, through your Word, via the mechanism of the voice of a mere man. And it's in Jesus' name we pray.

Amen. We said in the study of the first three chapters that one of the key verses was the fifteenth verse of chapter 3, Paul having identified the fact that although he was hoping to come and see them there in Ephesus, he recognized that his delay was such that this letter would help to answer the question as to how conduct should be in the church of the living God. And he provided them with a warning in the first chapter concerning the nature of false teachers. He then also made some statements regarding his own personal journey of faith. He then, in chapter 2, provided instructions on worship. Then, in chapter 3, he provided instruction in relationship to the structure of leadership within the church, dealing with a matter of elders and with deacons.

When we come to the fourth chapter, it is clear that he has, if you like, narrowed the focus of his impact down to an even tighter radius. And he is giving instruction expressly to Timothy, whose responsibilities in pastoral ministry are shared with others and yet in some senses unique to him. And he is telling Timothy, as verse 6 makes clear, that if he is prepared to do what is referred to in the first five verses, then he will prove himself to be a good minister of Jesus Christ. And not only in the doing of that but also, as verse 11 and following points out, if he will command and teach these things with authority, albeit with humility, but nevertheless with authority, and if he will endeavor to ensure that even though he's youthful, he is prepared to do his best to set an example in the matter of speech and life and love and faith and purity, then again he will make an impact as a minister of the gospel. Furthermore, he should be in no doubt as to where the balance of his time should be spent.

He doesn't need to wonder about it. He doesn't need to wander around looking for people to answer the question. "'Until I come,' says Paul, "'devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.'" And as he preaches and as he teaches, he is to ensure that what he has been receiving from Paul, he will in turn pass on to reliable men who will be able in turn to teach others.

In other words, there is a process of spiritual multiplication. And it is this very matter which is before Paul, as in these opening five verses he provides him with some of the material that, according to verse 6, Timothy, having had it pointed out to him, is in turn to point out to the others. Now, the matter of concern is the matter of spiritual apostasy.

And since apostasy is not a word that is used very much, let us simply define it in terms of the opening verse as an abandoning of the faith, the turning away from God on the part of those who had formerly turned towards God. We had an inkling of it in the first chapter towards the end, where he had urged Timothy to fight the good fight, to hold on to faith and a good conscience, because some had rejected these things and had been shipwrecked in the faith. So he says it's very, very important that you understand this. Now, what I'd like to do is to draw our attention under three main headings. First of all, to notice something about the Spirit, mentioned in the opening two words, and then to give consideration to these teachers. And then, finally, to say a word concerning the readers of the letter, which of course includes not only those who were reading it in the first instance but also those of us who have the opportunity of reading it now. Under the heading the Spirit—and if I were taking notes, I would write down the Spirit as point A, and underneath it I would have two subpoints.

I say I would have, I do have. And the first of these is the authority by which he speaks. The authority by which he speaks. The Spirit here is clearly the Spirit of God. Paul has already referred to him in the sixteenth verse of chapter 3. He makes reference to him again in 2 Timothy 1.14.

He refers to him in Titus chapter 3 and in verse 5. Indeed, there are a whole host of occasions when in these three pastoral epistles, as they are called, the Spirit of God, the third member of the Trinity, is mentioned in his role. And the Spirit is a Spirit who speaks. And you will notice that the Spirit of God speaking means that the people then, in turn, need to hear what the Spirit is saying. Now, for those of you who are familiar with the Bible, you will remember, perhaps, that the recurring statement, let those who have ears to hear hear what the Spirit says to the churches. It's actually in the masculine and in the singular, he who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Now, that comes in the book of Revelation on seven separate occasions.

I'm not going to bore you by going through them, but you can refer to them on your own. At the conclusion of each message that is delivered to each of these seven churches, we have this statement, Listen to what the Spirit says. And interestingly, you will notice that it is in the present tense, as it is here in the opening phrase of 1 Timothy 4.1. The Spirit clearly says. Doesn't it say that the Spirit said? Now, clearly, the Spirit did say past tense, but Paul is making the point that what has been said in the past is of contemporary significance. The old hymn says, What more can he say than to you he has said? So that what was said in the past—Romans 14—what was written in the past has been written so that through the endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. So, the use of the present tense when referring to the communication of God is purposeful. To this end, that his readers would not then be able to say, Oh, that is something for a way back then, or that is something for a way beyond us. But it doesn't really mean anything for today. You actually have the same emphasis in relationship to the Word of God in 1 Timothy 5 and in verse 18, where you have the Scriptures speaking, for the Scripture says present tense.

Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. Now, if you have footnotes in your Bible, you'll be able to look down, as can I, and you will find that that is a quote from Deuteronomy chapter 25 and verse 4. In other words, the Spirit of God said it a long time before Paul included it in his first letter to Timothy. But having said it, he says it. In other words, the authority by which the Spirit of God speaks is a constantly present authority. And the abiding significance of what is said is on the basis of the authority of the speaker.

And the use of the present tense serves to emphasize the ongoing and present significance of the warning that he gives. Now, if you're a thoughtful person, as many of you are, you will find yourself saying, Well, I wonder what it is that Paul is referring to when he says, The Spirit clearly says. Is Paul referring to some time when the Spirit of God spoke to him directly and he is now passing it on? Or is, as is more likely, Paul referring to times in the past where the Spirit of God has spoken and spoken concerning this very issue of people falling away from the faith?

And if that is the case, can we think of instances prior to the time in which Paul is writing where the Spirit of God has spoken to this very issue? And those of you who know your Bible will say, Well, yes, I can think of a number of them, because I can think of times when Jesus himself pointed to the fact that there was going to be apostasy. For example, in his words in Matthew chapter 24, in verses 10 and 11, Jesus says, At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. The Spirit speaking through Christ, the Spirit still speaking. Mark 13, verse 22, At that time, if anyone says to you, Look, here's the Christ, or, Look, there he is, do not believe it.

Why? For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect if that were possible. And in another context altogether, in Luke's Gospel, where Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and when at the end of that he gives an explanation of the parable and explains that the seed is the Word of God, that those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved, then in verse 13 listen to what he says, Those on the rock are the ones who receive the Word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. Now, here is Jesus clearly stating the fact of apostasy, that there will be those who apparently turn towards Christ in faith—a faith which was clearly spurious, for they would have continued had it been real—and now they turn from him, having turned towards him, and they abandon the very faith which they had first of all received with joy. They had been the kind of people who were most vociferous about things when they returned to their office.

They were back in their school, and they were telling everybody about what had gone on. And yet now here they are. Now, says Paul, this shouldn't take you by surprise, because the Spirit, speaking with authority as he does, clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith. That brings me to my second subheading. There is an authority by which he speaks, but there is also a clarity with which he speaks. How do you find out about clarity? Well, you ask questions. You ask what? You ask how? You ask who? You ask where? You know that from English.

So ask the what question. He tells us what will happen. What will happen?

Well, just what we've said. Some will become separated from the living God who previously turned towards him. They will be falling away from the faith. Now, there should be nobody here in any doubt concerning this who lived through our studies in Hebrews.

Hebrews chapter 3 and verse 12, See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Now, that's not there as a fiction. That's not there for the person three rows behind. That's not there for somebody that we were thinking about during the week. That's there for you.

That's there for me. Combine the Scriptures. The Spirit clearly says that in later times some who received the Word of God with joy and made a fuss about it will turn away from the living God. Says the writer to the Hebrews, Make sure it's not you. See to it that you don't have a sinful and an unbelieving heart. Don't be the kind of person that begins to become carping in your criticism and disinterested in the things of the Scriptures. Make sure that you are keen and you are zealous for the things of Christ, and make sure that you are encouraging one another daily as long as it is called today, because if you don't encourage one another, then you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. You become cold.

You become refrigerated. You know all the right words, you can sing all the right songs, you can go all the right places, but you died on the inside, and you are joyless, and your Christian experience is a painstaking, external ritualism. And the only thing that keeps you to the task is the task itself. Now, we could go all the way through Hebrews, reiterating that we don't need to. Back in 1 Timothy 4, the falling away is a falling away from faith, and it is a falling away from the faith. The Spirit of God not only tells us what is going to happen but also tells us when it will happen.

It will happen in later times. This is a similar phrase to what you find in 2 Timothy 3.1, where Paul says there will be terrible times in the last days. And when Paul uses this phrase both here in 1 Timothy 4 and then again in 2 Timothy 3, he is referring to the time inaugurated by the arrival of Jesus, which will be consummated by the return of Jesus. Hence Hebrews 1.1. God has spoken in the past in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. In these last days, the writer of the Hebrews in the first century says, in these last days—that was 2,000 years ago, for goodness' sake—and everywhere I go, someone comes up to me, they did this week, said, In your opinion, are we in the very final days? I said, Well, no, it's only Tuesday.

I said, This goes through till Friday. Of course, I knew what he meant, but I'm tired of that stuff. I mean, like, what's it to you, for goodness' sake? Is it making you more holy? I mean, if I answer one way, will you run out the door and start evangelizing the whole neighborhood?

If I answer another way, will you go and sit down for a year? I don't know. All I know is that these times—and Peter understood it when the folks came and said, Look, everybody's drunk, and the place has gone hog-wild in Jerusalem. We don't know what's going on.

Peter stands up and says, No, no, no, no, these guys are not drunk. This is what the prophet Joel said in the last days. I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

When was that? First century Jerusalem. Now, the reason I make much of this is because those of you who are in the know will know that this later times phrase is used by some to explain that this all happened within about a hundred years of Paul having written to Timothy. Another group take this later times phrase, and they are trying to explain that it's all yet to come, and it doesn't mean anything at all—unless, of course, this happens to be it, which of course they won't know.

And in both of those extremes, what happens is, they remove the sense of present-tense impetus, which is so clearly contained in what the Spirit is saying. What's going to happen? People will fall away.

When will it happen? It'll happen in later times. It was clearly relevant to the people in Paul's day, in Timothy's day. If it wasn't, then why would he give them the specific instructions concerning verses 3, 4, and 5? Why would he tell them, in verse 6, that you'll be a good pastor if you tell people about these things? If it was irrelevant to them, if it wasn't going to happen until 2050, why would he waste his time telling them?

It's because it was pressingly relevant. Because there's never a season when men and women do not face the temptation to turn away from the living God and turn to myths and genealogies. Now, if you're still with me, what we said was, there is an authority by which he speaks. There is a clarity with which he speaks. He speaks to the what issue, the falling away, apostasy.

He speaks to the when issue, by addressing the matter in later times. And he speaks to the how issue, still in verse 1, by pointing out that the ultimate cause of this abandonment is that people follow deceiving spirits and the doctrines of demons. How is this stuff, then, made proximate in the lives of people? That brings us to the teachers.

Because if the ultimate source of this material is demonic, the proximate source—namely, how do you get it into the hands and minds of people? The answer is through people. What kind of people? People who are hypocritical liars. People who stand as I stand. People who pronounce religious things.

People who appear to be on the straight and narrow when, in point of fact, are far from it. They may unwittingly be the proponents of demonic spirits. They may wittingly be involved in it. But they won't come to you with horns and forks and dressed in red.

They will be smart, they will be well-heeled, they will be apparently well-versed, they will probably be quite intelligent, and their expressed desire is to deceive even the elect if they could. It's a scary thought, isn't it? Well, enough for the fact that we know that our times are in his hands, whether or not for the fact that we know that Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not be able to push against it. Nevertheless, it makes us aware and alert as we need to be in our day. You're listening to Truth for Life.

That's a timely warning from Alistair Begg, and we'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. As we learn today, there is never a season when men and women don't face a temptation to turn away from our faith. That's why it's so important for us to know and understand God's word. Here at Truth for Life, teaching the Bible is at the heart of everything we do. It's our mission to teach the Bible with clarity and relevance every single day.

We trust that God will use his word to convert unbelievers to become followers of Jesus and to deeply establish the faith of those who already believe so that local churches are strengthened in the process. This is the mission you're supporting every time you pray for Truth for Life or anytime you give a financial gift. And if you make a gift today, be sure to ask for your copy of the book, How Christianity Transformed the World. The book is our way of saying thanks for your support. This is an engaging look at how followers of Jesus have shaped cultural values throughout the centuries by standing up for things like freedom, the protection of human life, and the dignity of women. You can give a donation and request your copy of the book, How Christianity Transformed the World when you visit us on our mobile app or on our website at slash donate.

I'm Bob Lapeen. Join us tomorrow as we conclude the message titled, The Approaching Apostasy. We'll learn how it's possible to be an unbeliever even while engaging in Christian activities. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-30 05:04:03 / 2023-05-30 05:12:52 / 9

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