Studies in 1 Timothy – part 09

Falling Away From Faith 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Nothing is more painful to elders than a believer falling away from the faith. This is the most serious thing that can happen to a Christian. The apostle Paul anticipates and warns young Timothy about this problem in 1 Timothy 4:1-5.

The issue: Faith

Paul’s concern in this passage is not with church attendance, right living or the like (good as those things are). The core issue is that of faith: where once a person walked by faith, now he walks by sight. Now this falling away, as Paul terms it, is easy to see in the “large” sins of life. But it begins in the “small” things of the Christian life. For example, James says,

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’ ” (Ja 4:13-15 NASB).

This simple faith is not really small, though, is it? We are speaking of faith at its most basic level. We should have a growing belief that our daily steps are subject to God’s overriding sovereignty. We are not talking about glibly tacking on the phrase, “If the Lord wills” to every statement of planning. Rather it is the attitude of faith exemplified by that phrase. We should be walking in the trust that God will guide our plans according to His goodness and purposes. It shows in how we talk about our planning for the future.

While we need to be careful about judging by only words, people’s speech reveal much about their thoughts and attitudes. Are they using words that reveal an attitude of trust in our sovereign God or does their talk reflect lip-service to God that simply sugar coats an otherwise secular attitude.

Too often we easily get caught up in ensuring outward conformity to the accepted Christian behaviors, as dictated by our particular circle of believers. At the core, the essential thing is the attitude of faith—all else will flow from that.

The fact: Some will fall away

God is telling us the facts in the passage: some will fall away. Of course this is not desirable, but it will happen. We don’t need to be paranoid or defeatist in our outlook, but we need to be alert! The warning is given in the passage so we will do something about it. Paul strongly challenges the Ephesian elders,  “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…” (Acts 20:28). Some translations put it this way, “Watch out for yourselves and the flock of God …”

The challenge: Watchfulness or Paranoia?

Now it takes wisdom to walk the fine line between paranoia and watchfulness. In all Christian groups there arises a culture of behaviors that are accepted. Most of these behaviors are founded on good applications of the Word of God in our lives and we encourage them in others. However, some of these things are simply applications of the truth, and may be subject to our own experiences, feelings and personal convictions. When these applications get challenged, we can easily become disturbed and “pound the pulpit harder” to force conformity.

As a young believer I remember elders that seemed to worry about every “little” thing the young people did that was slightly outside the comfort zone of the older Christians. It often came across as pressure to “conform” and was easily interpreted as “legalism.” The slippery slope argument (that this thing was not bad in itself but could lead down the slippery slope to sin) would quash any creativity or freedom in Christ we had, it seemed.

For some of those things, I am now thankful for the warning of mature Christians. For others, in retrospect, I still feel they were mistaken—and some young believers were unnecessarily pushed away because of this. Even sister churches can pressure each other to conform in many areas where Scripture has not explicitly made something clear.

I wasn’t mature enough in my faith then to discern that fine line between paranoia and watchfulness. Now that I am older, I pray for the wisdom to allow the Spirit to move in others differently than what I am used to. Yet at the same time, I desire to be watchful for any movement that would lead people away from a walk of faith based on the truth of the Word of God. This takes maturity, wisdom and humility. At the heart is the issue of faith. Am I encouraging faith or conformity—there is a big difference.