The Fables That Fail Us (1 Timothy 4:1-10)


 But even so, the Spirit very clearly tells us that in the last times some will abandon the true faith because of their devotion to spirits sent to deceive and sabotage, and mistakenly they will end up following the doctrine of demons. They will be carried away through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been branded with a red-hot iron, saying, “Don’t marry. Don’t eat such-and-such foods.” But God created all these to be received with gratitude by people who hold fast to the faith and really comprehend the truth. For everything God made is good. That means nothing should be rejected as long as it’s received with a grateful heart, for by God’s word and prayer, it is made holy.[i]

Place these truths before the brothers and sisters. If you do, you will be a good servant of Jesus the Anointed, raised and fed on words of true belief, trained in the good instruction you have so clearly followed.  Reject worldly fables. Refuse old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself toward godliness. Although training your body has certain payoffs, godliness benefits all things—holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming. This statement is worthy of trust and our full acceptance. This is what we work so hard for! This is why we are constantly struggling: because we have an assured hope fixed upon a living God who is the Savior of all humankind—especially all of us who believe.


There were two problems facing Timothy in his church: One was a problem of what people believed, and the other was the problem of what people did. We have to believe things that are true, and then do the hard work of living in that truth.

Paul doesn’t pull any punches here. He says there are doctrines of demons, worldly fables and scandalous tales that sear the conscience of those who hold to them. The language is that of cauterizing a wound or being branded as a slave. The things we believe and then commit to first leave a mark, and they eventually tell others who our master is. [ii] Something will brand us and identify us, and it will be the thing to which we give our hearts and minds.  The Bible says we will all be servants or slaves of something. And it will true, or it will be a fable.


Follow Your Heart. That’s a terrible idea – unless your heart is aligned with the heart of God. Just because your heart tells you something is the right thing doesn’t mean it is. How many times have we thought, “I would love to do this!” or “This just feels right!” and then had it end badly.  The history of pain in the world is built on the people who followed their hearts – unless their heart was aligned with the heart of God.  Jon Bloom writes[1]:

“If we make our hearts gods and ask them to lead us, they will lead us to narcissistic misery and ultimately damnation. They cannot save us, because what’s wrong with our hearts is the heart of our problem. But if our hearts believe in God, as they are designed to, then God saves us (Hebrews 7:25) and leads our hearts to exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).Therefore, don’t believe in your heart; direct your heart to believe in God. Don’t follow your heart; follow Jesus. Note that Jesus did not say to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, just believe in your hearts.” He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Success Is Measured By Money, Sex and Power. I’m not saying these things are bad. God is the author of all of them, and so when used as God intended they are good indeed. But if any of these things are your marker for the good life or a standard by which you gauge your reputation, worth or the significance of your life, you are going to find out what living in the rat race is really like. In the end you will find what Solomon did: it’s all meaningless in terms of ultimate value (see Ecclesiastes). “For me to live is Christ,” said Paul (Philippians 1:21).  Success is “Christ in me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). I don’t need money, sex or power. I don't need toys or a bigger home or the best vacation. I don’t need to have fame. I don't need to reject them if they come my way, but in the end, you can have all the world – give me Jesus.

Live Without Boundaries/No Rules/ No One Can Tell Me What To Do. Do you remember Outback Steakhouse’s slogan, “No Rules Just Rights”? I didn’t even want that to be true at Outback. I hoped they followed rules of cleanliness when they made my food. (Wash your hands; don’t sneeze in my food; make sure the expiration date is good).  I get it – they were planning to make my food the way I wanted it. But even that is done within rules.

A world without boundaries or rules is chaos. There’s a reason we panic when a dam wall is in danger of bursting, or someone veers onto our side of the road, or a restaurant gives its customers salmonella because they broke rules of good sanitation. Without boundaries, we die. Everything has a design or a purpose, which means there is a formal or informal ‘instruction manual’ that shows us how things are meant to be, and under what circumstances they will flourish. Within boundaries, we live. This is true in the spiritual as well as the natural world. Live within godly boundaries (read Proverbs for starters).

One of the most devastating forms of this lie in our culture is that the unfettered, blatant freedom to choose whatever sexual lifestyle or action we want is empowering and healthy. It’s not – emotionally, mentally, physically.[iii]  Freud was wrong about a lot of things involving sex that have influenced our cultural perspective (just google ‘Freud was wrong’).

You don’t need a Bible that explains God’s design. Just read the sociological and medical literature on this. Contrary to what Scarlet Johansson thinks[2], we are not designed for promiscuity; we are designed for faithfulness. Once again, you don’t need a Bible to find this out. Do you know what group of people report the highest sexual satisfaction? Boundaried people; specifically, married religious people. You won’t see that on your TV, but it’s the reality. This doesn't’ mean marriage automatically guarantees this. It’s more complicated that. But if you just let sociology point you toward the good life sexually, you will find that it points toward the biblical revelation of God’s design: get saved and get married. The Law is a Teacher (Galatians 3); God, your designer, tells you what to do for your good and His glory.

You’re Perfect Just The Way You Are/You’re On The Right Track, Baby, You Were Born That Way. No, you’re not. I’m not either. You have issues. If you don’t know that yet, you will learn soon enough. Your teacher in college will give you a C, and you will have earned it. Your boss will write you up, your girlfriend or boyfriend will be rightly upset with you, and your parents will not like every decision you make, and you are going to make a fool of yourself on social media at some point. No one is perfect but God, and He, too, is well aware of your deficits.  

If anything, I am relieved to know I am not perfect just the way I am, because if I’m perfect, I am deeply disappointed in perfection. That would also meant that there is no way I can improve – and if that were true, I would be full of despair. But as C.S. Lewis noted, God wants to take the shack of your life and turn it into a mansion. That will take some remodeling.

Learn to see your frailties and failures with honesty but without shame. Grow. Build your strengths and at least address your weaknesses, but don’t hide the fact that you are imperfect. We all know it already. It’s okay. We aren’t either. And it is in the midst of our weakness that the strength of God is seen most clearly.

It’s My Life (My Actions Don’t Impact Anyone Else). Sure they do. Everything you do forms you, and then you take the constantly formed ‘you’ with you wherever you go.

  • Pornography harms you – and everybody around you, because you are training yourself to think of people and sex in a particular way.
  • What you ingest will catch up with you (food, drink, drugs, etc), and people around you will be effected.
  • What you read, listen to, and watch will form how you view the world, and then, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)  “Where your treasure is your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) People around you are impacted for better or worse.
  • Your sex life has a ripple effect in your partner: You are both learning something about love, commitment, honor, forgiveness, patience – or you aren’t. You are both forming opinions about what men and women are like. That will profoundly influence you and the way you view and interact with other men and women on multiple levels.
  • If you get three hours of sleep every night because you are playing video games, and you are cranky the next day because you are exhausted, your work and your family will pay.

It’s never just your life. It’s always our life. Your actions will inevitably impact everyone around you.

If It Feels Good, Do It. That’s a bad standard for when to act. Sometimes it works – a nice jog feels good (or so I hear), and it turns out you probably should do it. Maybe being generous feels good. Awesome. But to simply say that we will follow our feelings rarely ends well. I would love eat a ton of fried food again. I would love some days to just give people a piece of my mind with no regard for grace. Lust, greed and selfishness beckon us all, I suspect. Should we do it? For the love of God and His Kingdom, no. If it’s right, do it, no matter how it feels.

Believe In Yourself And You Can Do Anything. I appreciate what’s trying to be accomplished here. Be confident; you are probably more capable than you think.  I’m good with that. But you will always let yourself down. You can’t do everything. We are all limited by who we are and the circumstances around us. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing. And I’ve got to tell you – I’ve been believing less and less in myself for a while now, and it’s been increasingly freeing. I no longer believe I have the power to be the parent or husband or pastor I should be. I do, however, believe that Jesus has the power, and that with his help I can continually improve. Without that, I am without hope. Believe in Jesus; you can do what He calls you to do.


Good Christians Have Health, Wealth, And Physical Blessings. I will just point you to apostles, all of whom were martyred except for John, who was exiled to a prison island. Or the millions of Christians around the world now and throughout history who lives short, brutal lives before giving their life for Christ. Or the martyrs right now in the Middle East who are being burned alive after watching their children killed. Or the sub-Saharan Christians who love Jesus and live in abject poverty.

Let’s look at it another way: How many Christians deserve health and wealth because of how good they are? None. No one is righteous on their own (Romans 3:10). Good Christians are only good because Jesus has given His goodness to them as a miraculous gift of grace. Health, wealth and physical blessings are not bad things if they used for God’s glory, and God may well grant them for the sake of His gospel message to be spread. But these are not biblical markers for knowing whom God likes and whom He doesn’t.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe As Long As You Are Sincere (Or As Long As It Helps You). I hope going through 1 Timothy has put this fable to rest. True belief matters. People can be sincerely wrong. Not all roads lead to God. Not everything promoted in Christendom is correct. For example, the ‘heavenly tourism’ books have a lot of flags. All of the popular ones have some really troublesome theological material in them, and some of them have been dismissed by the authors themselves.[3]

“But is has inspired people and pointed them toward the reality of eternity!” Yes indeed; it has done that. But it has pointed toward truth with lies. It has gone beyond the Bible or even contradicted the Bible to point people toward the Bible. Even if it bears some fruit, it’s a dangerous precedent.

If all that matters is that something helps you or inspires you, you don’t necessarily need gospel truth, because there are a lot of smart people who can help you manage your sin and organize your life so that you feel better than you do now. You can just go to the self-help section of the bookstore and spare yourself taking up the Cross of Christ, because that’s really hard. It matters what you believe, and because it’s true, it will help you in a way that is lasting.

God Will Give Me The Desires Of My Heart. It’s in the Bible, but we have to be aware of the context. He won’t give you your sinful desires, though he may give you over to them. He won’t give you your selfish desires, though He may give you over to them. God doesn’t say “how high” when we say, “Jump!” Here’s the whole verse: “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him" (Psalm 37:5-7)

God will give you the desires of your heart if they align with the desires of God’s heart, because then it’s part of God’s plan, not yours.

God Wants Me To Be Happy. God is not opposed to happiness. If fact, I think he’s a pretty big fan. But that’s not God’s goal for you. God wants you to be holy. God wants you to be righteous. And if God’s work in you to bring this about requires that you be unhappy, God will have no problem making you unhappy. How many people’s lives in the Bible would you describe as “happy”?  Yet God was at work in them, and their lives were deep, meaningful, purposeful, and profoundly important. I have no doubt happiness was a part of their life, but that’s a byproduct, not a goal. God wants you to be holy – which is the road to joy (Psalm 16:11).

God Uses Extraordinary People. Sure, sometimes, but not because they are extraordinary. We really have to be careful with this idea. God’s not waiting for you to dream big dreams or be wild at heart before He can use you. Usually, God uses very ordinary people. Often he uses sub-ordinary people. When he chose the disciples, he chose the dropouts that no other rabbi wanted. Normally, a student asked a rabbi if he could be a student. A rabbi never sought out students. But that’s what Jesus did. He chose men who either nobody wanted or who didn’t really want to get that involved. You don’t have to be extraordinary – because that part is up to Jesus. God uses people – even you.


So how do we avoid fables? Good Instruction. Some things are true and some things are not. We have to identify error and lies at times. This commitment leads us away from the bad effects of false believes and moves us toward the blessing that comes with leading godly lives. Paul says Godly living holds promise for life now and the life to come. God made us; he knows how we function best. He knows what we are made to be and do. When we see and understand God’s design for our lives, and we are content to live in that design – that’s the good life. That’s something to build on.

Paul says we will have to train. Disciples are not passive. There is a reason Paul uses sports analogies. You don't finish the race by sitting and watching.   We are called to train spiritually like an athlete trains physically in “good instruction.” We will have to wrestle with false ideas and worldviews at times. There are a lot of voices out there clamoring for your attention. Don’t just accept what they say at face value – and that includes what you hear taught from the pulpit of this church. Read. Study. Pray. Then do all those things with other Christians. 

And it’s worthwhile. As you train in instruction you train in godliness. You mature. You build spiritual muscles and skills. You develop into the disciple God has intended you to be. And you will find that it “benefits all things, holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming.”[iv]


[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

[2] http://www.lifenews.com/2017/02/15/pro-abortion-actress-scarlett-johansson-claims-monogamy-is-not-a-natural-thing/

[i] I like the commentary from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown on this verse.

Sanctified—"hallowed"; set apart as holy for the use of believing men: separated from "the creature," which is under the bondage of vanity and corruption (Ro 8:19, &c.). Just as in the Lord's Supper, the thanksgiving prayer sanctifies the elements, separating them from their naturally alien position in relation to the spiritual world, and transferring them to their true relation to the new life. So in every use of the creature, thanksgiving prayer has the same effect, and ought always to be used (1Co 10:30, 31).

[ii] “Having their conscience seared with a hot iron - They bear the marks of their hypocrisy as evidently and as indelibly in their conscience in the sight of God, as those who have been cauterized for their crimes do in their bodies in the sight of men. It was customary in ancient times to mark those with a hot iron who had been guilty of great crimes, such as sacrilege, etc. And the heathens supposed that even in the other world they bear such marks; and by these the infernal judges knew the quantum of their vices, and appointed the degrees of their punishment. There is a saying much like that of the apostle in the invective of Claudian against Rufinus, whom he supposes to be thus addressed by Rhadamanthus, one of the infernal judges: -

"Thou fool, why dost thou deny what is so manifest? Behold the deep-burnt marks deform thy conscience; the appearance of them has grown up with thy vices; neither can the crimes which thou hast committed hide themselves." – From Adam Clarke’s Commentary

[iii] http://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/can-promiscuity-threaten-longevity.aspx





[iv] “Having promise, of the life that now is - The man that fears, loves, and serves God, has God's blessing all through life. His religion saves him from all those excesses, both in action and passion, which sap the foundations of life, and render existence itself often a burden. The peace and love of God in the heart produces a serenity and calm which cause the lamp of life to burn clear, strong, and permanent. Evil and disorderly passions obscure and stifle the vital spark. Every truly religious man extracts the uttermost good out of life itself, and through the Divine blessing gets the uttermost good that is in life; and, what is better than all, acquires a full preparation here below for an eternal life of glory above. Thus godliness has the promise of, and secures the blessings of, both worlds.” – From Adam Clarke’s Commentary