Enjoying What God Created For Us
Topic: Gospel Living Passage: 1 Timothy 4:1–4:6
Paul is on the warpath in 1 Timothy 4! The Holy Spirit says a dangerous teaching is coming that will cause people to fall away from the faith. Paul said it’s the teaching of demons! The men who teach it are liars! It’s an attack on God and his creation! So what is this teaching that Paul is so worked up about?
It’s the doctrine that says it is wrong for believers to enjoy good things, or experience pleasures! It’s “men who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods”. Paul argued, not only are we NOT to forbid these things, God created them FOR believers! And we are to enjoy them and give thanks to God for them. We are to enjoy God AND his gifts!
As much as we rightly emphasize self sacrifice, and willingness to suffer, and we warn against worldliness...we have to be careful that we do not fall into the error of repudiating the very things God has given to us, out of his goodness and love, and that he wants us to enjoy.
In 1 Timothy 6:17 Paul tells us NOT to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, “but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.”
You cannot get closer to God by denying the gifts of God. You cannot get rid of your sin by depriving yourself of the gifts of God. You can’t overcome worldliness by making a list of things you forbid. Elizabeth Elliot said, “We are not asked to deny ourselves as many things as possible in order to set our hearts on the Eternal.” Paul said, Such restrictions indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-prescribed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body; but they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Colosssians 2:23
This lie has been hanging around the church for centuries. Despite CLEAR teaching by the apostles against asceticism, restrictions against marriage and certain foods on certain days, quickly infiltrated the church. It became prominent in the Roman Catholic church, but this kind of thinking can seep into any church and into any believer. And it happens all the time. It is amazing how often people get pulled into linking up spirituality with diet, and other external rules and regulations. We are so prone to fall for false ideas of spirituality, false means to make us more acceptable to God.
The problem with the doctrine of denial, is that it is not the gospel! God’s answer to our sin and our broken lives is Jesus! Christ death fully atones for our sins and brings all the way to God. Christ’s presence in our hearts by the Holy Spirit overcomes our old sinful nature, sanctifies us and makes us holy.
We trust in Christ for our peace and acceptance with God and in the work of his Spirit in us to make us holy. We don’t trust in what we eat or don’t eat, whether we are married or not, whether we are rich or poor. These external things do not make us more or less spiritual. 1 Corinthians 8:8 says, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” Hebrews 13:9 says, “Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which do not help those who follow them.” NLT
Let’s work through our passage phrase by phrase. Paul begins by saying, “The Holy Spirit expressly says...” The Spirit likely revealed this to Paul or to prophets in the NT church through a prophetic utterance or a word of prophecy. Paul and Barnabas went out as missionaries because the Holy Spirit said something in the church, to the church. While much wisdom and careful examination is required in these things, the Holy Spirit does speak to the church! And we need to give heed to what he is saying. Of course he will never speak anything contrary to the scripture, he himself inspired.
Paul said the Spirit made this message very clear or explicit. There was no doubt about it!
The Spirit “explicitly says that some will depart from the faith”. (or fall away) They will turn away from the sound teaching Christ revealed through his apostles. This HAS happened and it continues to happen in our day too. We must always be careful to compare our own thoughts and all that we hear with the faith revealed to the apostles and found in scripture. So that we do not depart from that faith!!
And we should not be surprised or disillusioned when other people DO fall away. That WILL happen.
They will fall away by devoting themselves to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”. Ideas often come from spiritual sources. We are not told exactly how this happens. But demons do plant ideas (or teaching) in the minds of men. John knew this. He said “don’t believe every spirit but test the spirits, whether they are from God.”
Look at how new and strange ideas have sweep through our culture in recent years. Thoughts that would have been considered insane a few years ago are forced upon us now, and we are not allowed to even disagree. I believe it is demons who stir these ideas in the culture. And they bring them right into the church, too.
Paul called them “deceiving spirits”. They fool MANY people. It is dangerous to be unguarded, and gullible about all the spiritual ideas that come to your own mind, or that you hear from the Christian culture. Be on guard!
Denying food or the pleasures of marriage or other good things, sounds so extra spiritual, yet it is really a departure from the faith. Often the kind of people who become victims of these kinds of self-imposed restrictions, are those who are most serious, most sincere and most zealous for God.
Thoughts come to these believers, “if you really want to satisfy God or reach a higher spirituality, deprive yourself of pleasures, or certain foods, or go live out in some rural area and get away from all material things. And you will be more spiritual.” Or “you are only spiritual when you are suffering, or sacrificing, or going without. You are only spiritual when you are not having any fun or enjoying anything.”
Of course we ARE to be prepared to suffer, but we take up suffering, AS IT COMES TO US, in the path of obedience to God. We accept suffering when God gives us that cup to drink. But we don’t feel that we have to be suffering in order to be near to God, or to please God.
Sometimes we are more comfortable when other people think we are suffering or working hard because we actually feel more spiritual that way. It is okay if someone finds you taking a nap or eating an ice cream cone, or sitting down and enjoying a good book.
We can live for the glory of God and still enjoy the good gifts of God. In fact Paul argues here that we are on dangerous ground to deny these things! Part of being near God is constantly seeing the good around us, and giving thanks for those things and enjoying them IN the presence of God.
When Solomon was anointed king it says, “They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the LORD that day.” 1 Chronicles 29:22 NIV
What is SO bad about forbidding food and marriage and the many other enjoyable things in the world?
*Because: First, it denigrates God and what God has created.
This teaching attributes something evil to what God says is good. Paul said, “For everything created by God is good.”
God created marriage and sex, He created food and drink, He created things for us to see and taste and do that we would experience and say that is good!
He created sunsets and sunrises, the moon and stars, beautiful mornings and blue sky, mountains and fields, flowers and trees, music and songs, other people and little children, and all the animals, birds and dogs. All that God made is good.
*Second reason this doctrine of denial is wrong is because: It opposes God’s PURPOSE in creating the world and all that is in it. Paul calls food and marriage things “that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” God created the world FOR his people, for those who believe!! God meant for us to receive, or accept these gifts, to share in them. God wants that. It’s his will. It is disobedient or spiritually proud to oppose that will.
Let’s say that you and your wife worked hard to save your money to buy a doll for your little girl for Christmas. And you looked forward to giving it to her and seeing the excitement in her eyes when she opened it. And let’s say that there is a mean aunt staying with you who does NOT want your little girl to have that doll. And so on Christmas morning (just as your beloved daughter opens her package and she is delighted with her new doll) this aunt rips that doll out of your little’s girls arms and says “You shouldn’t have that; it’s not good for you.” As mom and dad, how are you going to feel about that? You would be angry because it was your delight to give that doll to your daughter.
That is very much what Paul is saying here in this chapter. These are wicked men, liars, who try to keep these legitimate good pleasures from the saints.
When we understand that everything God created is FOR believers, instead of harming us, it actually deepens our gratitude and our love for God, our appreciation of his goodness, and our worship of God.
So how are we to respond to good things and pleasures God has created? We are to receive then as gifts from God, with thankfulness. Paul said these are things “God created to be received with thanksgiving”. (or “gratefully share in” NASB) We are to see through every good thing to God and give thanks to him for it. In this way, every day if full of things that turn our attention to God and deepen our love for him.
Richard Baxter “We need to guard our lives against the love of riches and worldly cares. All love for earthly goods, however is not a sin. Their sweetness is a drop of his love and they have His goodness imprinted on them. They kindle our love to him as love tokens from our dearest friend. Loving them is a duty not a sin.”
*We are not to make any good thing or pleasure an idol. We never to put anything above God and the work of his kingdom. But in their proper place we are to enjoy the blessings of God.
*We are not to be enslaved to any good thing or pleasure.
“Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 There is a place for self control, of course.. and health considerations. We are to share in the good things of God without being a slave to anything!
*Then Paul said, we make the gifts and pleasures of this life holy by the word and prayer and thankfulness. We are to mingle everything we do with the word and with prayer. When you pray over your food with thankfulness to God you are make eating a holy experience. We make marriage a holy experience through prayer and the word. When you give thanks to God for the beauty of a flower, or mountain, or a sunset, you are making that experience holy.
Of course there is evil and immorality in our world, things that we do not partake of. And men have corrupted a lot of what God created to be good. There are evil books and songs; movies intended stir lust and sinful thoughts. A good test is for all things is this: Can I pray over this? Can I thank God for what I am watching or reading, or does it make me shrink back in shame from him or want to go and hide from God. We are to enjoy all things that can be sanctified by prayer and the word.
*Then almost as if Paul feels he has not gone far enough in urging us to enjoy the good things of God, he said, “Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.” He wants to make clear not how many things we can’t enjoy but how much we can. He expand our understanding of the vast array of the good gifts of God...the God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Don’t ever think or talk like the Christian life is the “no fun” life! Or a life mainly characterized by what you “can’t do”! Don’t touch this, don’t do that, don’t.
Paul concludes saying to Timothy “In pointing these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on words of faith and sound doctrine”.
*So we enjoy and give thanks for whatever good things we see, or do. We find pleasure in all that God has made.
If you enjoy walking, walk and thank God for being able to walk and all that you see.
If you enjoy a cup of coffee, drink coffee and thank God.
If you are reading a good book, give thanks to God.
If you find joy in your dog or cat, give thanks to God.
Thank God for other people, for friends, and little children.
If you are married, “rejoice in the wife of your youth”. Proverbs 5:18 Give thanks for your spouse and the pleasure of the marriage of relationship. If you are single rejoice in how free you are and how free from trouble you are and how devoted to the Lord you can be.
Enjoy sunsets or sunrises and worship God for the glory and beauty you see.
Enjoy music, the sound of a cello, guitar or drums.
If you enjoy writing or drawing or fishing, or driving or cooking, do those things with great joy in the presence of the Lord.
Even when Paul was in prison, writing to Timothy, he said “Bring my cloak, and bring the books and especially the parchments”. Paul was certainly not materialistic, but he didn’t see clothing or coats or books as inherently bad, or that it was better to have not have things! He knew these things that would be a comfort to him and give him meaningful things to do.. so he asked Timothy to bring them.
*I sometimes ask really discouraged Christians, do you have anything at all that you enjoy doing, or that you look forward to doing? I am surprised at how often the answer is no. And often the unspoken assumption is that that is God’s fault. God’s hasn’t given me anything that I can be happy about. Now there ARE seasons of suffering! No doubt! But we need to be careful that we do not get into a mind-set that all of life is suffering, all of life is hard, and that there is nothing good. Even in our hardest times God has a way to comfort us and to bring us some good thing, some joy.
And Paul said God has given us all things to enjoy. We need to open our heart to believe that God is good and to see his goodness and generosity and beauty all around us and begin to enjoy that. David said, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Chesteron said there is no lack of wonders in the world, there is only a lack of wonder in people’s hearts.
*We live in a fallen world, there is a lot that is messed up about life. Life can be VERY hard, and painful, at times. But God has given us so much to enjoy. Foremost he gave us Christ, God indescribable gift! And he is a fountain of living water springing up within us to eternal life! He has washed away our sins. He has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts!
And AS those who believe and know the truth, we also have on top of that, all the good things of God’s creation are for us! We are just more blessed than we know! And once our eyes are open to that we overflow with gratitude. That is one of the reasons Paul said, “We always give thanks to God the Father for all things, through Jesus Christ!”