1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NAS)
1 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,
2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,
3 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.
4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;
5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
You know, I could probably explain these verses away. In fact, at least one way of doing so comes immediately to mind. A plain and straightforward reading does not mesh well with what I like to think I believe. Rats.
# Asceticism for its own sake is a doctrine of demons and totally devoid of Biblical faith.
# These false teachers are hypocrites who do not live the pious lives of self-denial they preach.
# There is a simple test here to evaluate whether or not something is good: Can I gratefully receive it as a gift from God? Would the Bible and prayer be out of place in the context of me enjoying this? (I assume some level of spiritual maturity is required; elsewhere the Bible talks of us _learning_ to distinguish good and evil by constant practice.)
# There are plenty of moral commands in the Bible that are directly or indirectly but clearly applicable to my life. I don’t need to invent new ones. God will teach me, as I obey Him in the obvious cases, how to discern the questionable and subtle ones.
# I think this is different from restrictions you impose on _yourself_ for purposes such as avoiding temptation (even though a great deal of people might benefit from the same restriction and it might be awfully good advice) or teaching yourself self-discipline (mortification of the flesh). Paul said he regularly beat his body to bring it into submission; the motive is what makes the difference.
# This is not permission for excess or licentiousness. We are still called to live seriously, soberly, and wisely. Moderation is always a good idea. We are called to redeem the time, to test everything, to be good stewards of our lives. We do everything to the glory of God. We’re to discipline ourselves for godliness. So this is not a call to _carelessness_ or _lawlessness_, but _liberty_.
# Psalm 119:45 says that seeking God’s precepts is a key to walking in liberty. This passage in 1 Timothy (or any other passage for that matter *cough* Galatians *cough*) is not telling us we can disregard God’s law and the principles it teaches us. This is going beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6)
# 1 Cor 4 teaches us that these things are indeed important, and matters that will be judged, but not by us and not now. God will judge our actions and motives. There’s no need for us to try.
I’m a big believer that you do the obvious stuff and then the harder stuff will become clearer. If God’s word is a _lamp_ for our feet, it’s only going to illuminate a little ways in front of us. To see more, we have to walk forward. God’s not in the habit of giving advice to double-minded men who are not committed to following what He has shown us.
I experienced this two days ago when studying 1 Timothy 2. It sounds weird, but the rest of the book was absolutely closed to me until I obeyed what I saw right there – prayed for our government and leadership. I could not get one non-obvious thing out of the rest of the book until I did that.
Sometimes I think the final destination is so far from where we start that we wouldn’t recognize it if we could see it at the beginning. Like when my small Bible study group started discussing the duty we have to rebuke and correct one another. We started coming up with all sort of what-ifs that seemed very strange. IMHO, if we start with the obvious stuff – “Hey, Robert, you really shouldn’t beat your wife and smoke crack.” – we will figure out the less obvious stuff – “Hey, Robert, TWO pieces of bread is gluttony.”
I think the same is true with God’s law. Start with the obvious stuff. I’ve often said that if I even took one single chapter of Proverbs and ripped it out of the Bible and tried to conform my life to just that single chapter, it would be an enormous challenge and my life would be unrecognizable at the end. I think as I do that obvious stuff – don’t lose your temper, don’t be rude, be generous, read your Bible, pray, submit to authority, do a good job at work, treat your wife and kids right, teach your kids about God, be nice, and so on – then I will be in a better position to understand the less obvious stuff (Hebrews 5:14).