A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 4:1:-5:2. Local leadership.
Chapter 3 ended with a reference to the church as ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (15) and with a summary of that truth in relation to Christ (16). Chapter 4 opens with a reference to the false teachers and their lies (1-2). Thus Paul warns Timothy that the false teachers are denying what the church confesses. His preoccupation throughout this chapter is with these two sets of teachers in opposition to one another. On the one hand, some people are abandoning the faith and embracing falsehood. On the other, some are questioning the truth Timothy is teaching, on account of his comparative youthfulness. So here are the two topics which Paul develops: first, how false teachers may be detected and exposed, in spite of its plausibility (1-10); and secondly, how true teaching may be commended and endorsed, in spite of Timothy’s youth (4:11-5:2). Both topics seem to come appropriately under the heading of ‘Local leadership’, because the local church is the main arena in which the unremitting struggle between truth and error is fought out. So local leaders need help both in detecting error and in commending truth. However uncongenial theological debate may be, especially as an increasing number of people summarily dismiss the very concept of objective truth, it cannot be avoided. 1). The detection of false teaching (4:1-10).
The key statement in this paragraph is that, in spite of the church’s role as the guardian of the truth, *some will abandon the faith* (1a). It is a strong Greek verb (*apostesontai*, ‘will apostatize’), which was frequently used in the Lxx of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh.
When will this Christian apostasy take place? *In later times*, Paul replies. But he quickly slips from the future tense into the present (3-6), indicating his belief that the ‘later times’ have already begun. It is the same in 2 Timothy 3:1ff., where he writes of ‘the last days’ and almost immediately divulges that they have arrived by telling Timothy to avoid the people he has been describing. So ‘later times’ and ‘the last days’ both denote the Christian era, which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming and will consummate at his second (cf. Acts 2:17; 1 Cor.10:11; Heb.1:2).
The reason Paul knew about the apostasy is that *the Spirit clearly*, ‘explicitly’ (JB, REB) or ‘specifically’ (JBP), *says that* it will happen. Perhaps he is referring to the prediction of a falling away from the faith which Jesus made (E.G. Mt.24:10-11; Mk.13:22), through which the Spirit is continuing to speak (see the refrain about listening to ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’ through Christ’s seven letters to the Asian churches in Rev. 2 and 3). Alternatively, Paul could be alluding to his own earlier prophecy of false teachers, who like ‘savage wolves’ would invade the Ephesian church and ‘draw away disciples after them? (Acts 20:29-30; cf. 2 Thess.2:3ff.). Or possibly he is claiming that even as he writes these words the Holy Spirit is inspiring him to make this prophecy.
Paul now outlines first the causes of error (1-2), how it arises and spreads in the church, and secondly its tests (3-10), the criteria by which it may be detected and found wanting.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:1-2 a) The causes of error.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.