The importance of focusing on Jesus
After discussing how the church body should act and what expectations there should be for church leadership, Paul moves on to tell the Ephesian believers what will happen when their focus on God is shifted.
1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.
An infiltration of deceitful, demon-influenced teaching being peddled by hypocrites from within the church itself? I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like some pretty scary stuff.
The first observation we can make from Paul’s statement is that this is actually going to happen: the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith. As human history continues on its downward spiral to the inevitable moment when only Jesus can correct the sinful disaster we’ve made, the Spirit says that some will depart from the faith.
The second observation is that God isn’t surprised by this. He already sees it coming. He knows how and when his church will be inundated with false teachings. We can take comfort in the fact that He isn’t caught off-guard, and He’s preparing us by giving warning ahead of time.
But who are those that depart from the faith? Some commentators think that these people were never “true believers” in Jesus. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Why give believers a warning about a group of people leaving who weren’t really part of them anyway?
Instead, Paul is giving Timothy a warning to pass along to the church in Ephesus – that it is possible for believers to be deceived, and those who will be deceived got there because they paid attention to teachings other than what lined up with God’s revelation.
But that leave us to wonder…what happens to those believers who depart from the faith? Does their “departing” mean they lose their salvation?
The Greek word Paul uses here for depart is different from the word translated as depart in other areas of Scripture when Paul refers to his departing Earth to go to Heaven. Here, the word aphistemi means to withdraw, to remove, or desert. It’s the same word Jesus used to describe the seed that fell in the rocky soil:
Luke 8:6, 13
Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture…And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing.
They trust God for eternal salvation, but when times get tough, they don’t trust God with their circumstances. Their choice leaves them withered; however, there’s no indication that God abandons them. These believers do not lose their salvation, but they lack the life-giving relationship Christ offers because they have no roots. They have departed from their connection to Him.
Luke uses the word aphistemi (translated to English as deserted) to describe John Mark’s abandoning of Paul and Barnabas:
But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not done on with them to the work.
John Mark had left the mission at that point, but his departing didn’t permanently banish him from fellowship with Paul, Barnabas, or the rest of the church. Instead, he was considered not worthy of a later opportunity to serve.
So did Timothy convey Paul’s serious warning to the Ephesians? Did they take heed?
Years later, while dictating a letter to the Apostle John to send to the church of Ephesus, Jesus said
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars.
They took the right steps to avoid listening to the liars who were peddling the ideas and teachings of those who oppose God. Paul sent them a warning, Timothy delivered it, and the believers kept their focus on Jesus.
In doing so, they did not depart from the faith in a time of trial. And for their faithfulness, they received praise and approval from the Creator of the Universe and became an example for us.