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ZT: 离弃真道
送交者: 古道 2017年11月06日14:22:11 于 [彩虹之约] 发送悄悄话

Apostasy Ahead

Having explained the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), Paul explains the mystery of ungodliness, telling Timothy and the church to expect bad theology: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). This is not simply Paul’s analysis of the church; it is a prophecy of the Holy Spirit.

Paul does not specify when the Holy Spirit said this. This unhappy news may have been revealed to Paul as he wrote to Timothy. More likely, the apostle was referring to some earlier prophecy, perhaps one uttered by a prophet in the early church. Similar prophecies do appear elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul may even have been recalling the words of Jesus Christ: “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10–11). The parallel with 1 Timothy is close because Jesus speaks of people “falling away.” Or the apostle may simply have been reminding the Ephesians of the warning he gave their elders when he said farewell to them at Miletus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).

The living voice of the Holy Spirit testifies in no uncertain terms that although Christians may be saddened by false theology, they should never be surprised by it. Timothy was well acquainted with the dangers of unsound doctrine. He knew, for example, that Hymenaeus and Alexander had made a shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19–20). At that very moment, he was contending against false teachers in the Ephesian church. Like Timothy, the church can take the Spirit’s word for it: “in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).

The technical theological term for abandoning the faith is “apostasy,” which comes from the Greek noun apostasia. Here the related verb appears: to “depart from the faith” is to apostatize (1 Tim. 4:1). One scholar defines such apostasy as “the serious situation of becoming separated from the living God after a previous turning towards him, by falling away from the faith.” Apostasy does not mean that believers who have saving faith can lose it. This would be an impossibility, since every sinner who receives the gift of saving faith is preserved by the Holy Spirit until the day of Christ (see John 10:28; Phil. 1:6).

What apostasy does mean, however, is that someone who once claimed to be a Christian has renounced the gospel. Here again, as he does throughout this epistle, Paul refers to Christianity as “the faith.” He has in mind those central doctrines that rest on the solid foundation of Holy Scripture and are necessary to saving faith: the sovereignty of God the Father, the deity of God the Son, the reality of God the Holy Spirit, and redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, received by faith. Sad to say, some who profess to believe these doctrines later deny them. Indeed, one of the distinguishing marks of the later times is that people who call themselves Christians will forsake the Christ of authentic Christianity.

Since human beings are curious about the future, we are bound to ask, “When will these later times be?” There is an important clue in this passage. In verse 1 the Holy Spirit speaks about the future: “in later times some will depart from the faith.” Yet by verse 3 the apostle is speaking in the present tense about things happening in the Ephesian church at that very moment. This indicates that the later times of the final age have already begun.

The same shift from the future to the present occurs in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, where Paul warns Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim. 3:1). He then proceeds to explain how people will behave in the end times: they will be insolent, violent, and arrogant. Thus he warns Timothy to “avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:5). In other words, Timothy himself knew some of the wicked people of the last days. They were already living in Ephesus!

When someone asks, therefore, “Do you think we are living in the last days?” the answer is always, “Yes!” These are the later times. These are the last days, which, as John Wesley said, “extend from our Lord’s ascension till His coming to judgment.” George Knight helpfully defines them as “the days inaugurated by the Messiah and characterized by the Spirit’s presence in power, the days to be consummated by the return of Christ.”3 The end times thus encompass the whole Christian era from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to his second coming in power and glory.

If these are the later times, then apostasy is to be expected. From time to time Christians will hear news of former church members who have abandoned the faith. Some will fall into grievous sin. Others will gradually drift away from the church. Still others will reject Reformation truth for the falsehoods of other faiths. As sad as these things are, they should not surprise us. When someone abandons orthodox Christianity it should not throw our faith into question. Rather, it proves the truth of Scripture “that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).

 

 Ryken, P. G. (2007). 1 Timothy. (R. D. Phillips, D. M. Doriani, & P. G. Ryken, Eds.) (pp. 153–155). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

 


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