II. DEPARTING FROM THE FAITH
According to 4:1, the Spirit says that in later times some will depart from the faith. The later times, or after times, refer to times after the writing of this book. This differs from the last days in 2 Timothy 3:1, which denote the closing period of this age.
As he was writing this Epistle, Paul realized that in time to come some would depart from the faith. In this verse the faith is objective and refers to the contents of our belief. On the one hand, Paul was bold and encouraged, not in the least disappointed. He believed that the church was the house of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth, and even the mystery of godliness. On the other hand, deep within his spirit, he knew that certain so-called believers would depart from the faith, from God’s New Testament economy. Paul could know this because the Spirit who was mingled with his spirit revealed it to him. This departure from God’s New Testament economy would be the beginning of the decline of the church life.
Paul says that those who depart from the faith will give heed to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons. Many Christians do not realize that, according to the Bible, there are two categories of evil spirits. The deceiving spirits in 4:1 are in contrast to the Spirit, as mentioned in 1 John 4:1, 3, and 6. These are the fallen angels who followed Satan in his rebellion and became his subordinates, who work for his kingdom of darkness (Matt. 25:41; Eph. 6:12). Demons are the unclean and evil spirits (Matt. 12:22, 43; Luke 8:2) of the living creatures on earth in the pre-adamic age who joined Satan’s rebellion and were judged by God (see Life-study of Genesis, Message Two). After being judged, they became demons, working on earth for Satan’s kingdom. The demons differ from the deceiving spirits, the fallen angels. The fallen angels are in the air, whereas the demons are active on earth.
In verse 1 Paul speaks of both the deceiving spirits in the air and the demons on earth. Among Christians today there are deceptive doctrines which come from the deceiving spirits in the air and also teachings which originate with demons. The history of the church has proved that Paul was right in saying that such teachings and doctrines would come in and that those who depart from the faith would give heed to them.
In verse 2 Paul continues, “In the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” The phrase “in the hypocrisy of men who speak lies” modifies teachings of demons in verse 1. The teachings of demons are carried out in the hypocrisy of those who lie. This indicates that demons and lying speakers collaborate to deceive people. These hypocrites work together with evil spirits and demons to bring in deceitful teachings and demonic doctrines.
The conscience of hypocritical liars has lost its sense as if seared with a hot branding iron, an iron used to brand the slaves and cattle of a certain owner. This book strongly stresses the conscience. In the church life the love which is contrary to envy and discord is of a good conscience (1:5). Those who thrust away a good conscience become shipwrecked regarding the faith (1:19). The serving ones in the church must hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience (3:9). To keep a good and pure conscience is to keep the conscience sensitive in its function. This will safeguard us from the demonic and hypocritical teachings of deceiving liars.
When I was young, I had confidence in anyone who testified that he was a Christian. One day, Brother Nee pointed out the fact that some Christians lie. I wondered how a Christian could be a liar. The Bible says that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Eventually I learned from experience that Christians can lie. In the case of these lying Christians, it seems as if their conscience has been seared and has lost its function. Today many lies have been spread about us by Christians. Some have even gone so far as to put these lies into print. But our conscience testifies that we in the Lord’s recovery surely believe the truth revealed in the Bible, perhaps more than other Christians.
We in the Lord’s recovery should not only know God’s dispensation, but should also know Satan’s evil plot. We must see the sharp contrast between the situation at the end of chapter three and that described at the beginning of chapter four. We need to be discerning, sober-minded, and clear concerning the difference between today’s Christianity and the Lord’s recovery. We must also know what the Devil is doing through evil spirits, demons, and those who speak lies in hypocrisy.
Verse 3 says, “Forbidding to marry, commanding to abstain from foods which God has created to be partaken of with thanksgiving by those who believe and have fully known the truth.” Marriage and eating were ordained by God. Eating is for the existence of mankind, and marriage for the continuation and multiplication of mankind. Satan, on the one hand, causes men to abuse these two things in the indulgence of their lustful flesh; on the other hand, he causes men to be unbalanced in the way of asceticism by forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods. This is a demonic teaching!
Marriage was ordained by God for the carrying out of God’s purpose with man. Food is necessary to sustain mankind to exist on earth for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. But Satan, through the deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons with the collaboration of hypocrites and liars, seeks to destroy these things, either causing people to abuse them through indulgence or to practice asceticism.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 7, by Witness Lee)