Summary: Two warnings and two positive prescriptions to becoming more spiritual.
Sixty years ago social scientists were predicting the demise of religion in western culture. The reasoning went something like this: The more discoveries science makes, the higher the level of education among people, and the more secularized our society becomes, the less people will be concerned about things like God, salvation, and spirituality. Well sixty years later sociologists and cultural anthropologists have had to eat crow and admit that couldn’t have been more wrong.
People today are more into spiritual topics than ever before in our nation’s history. In 1991, Newsweek did a cover story on the popularity of talk about spirituality. How else can we explain the phenomenal success of the Psychic Friends Network? Books on spirituality make the third largest market among book sellers.
People turn to a variety of sources to nurture their souls these days. Some opt for more traditional approaches, like reading the Bible, prayer, and worship in a church. But many opt for less traditional options, like yoga, past life regression therapy, hallucinogenic drugs, and so forth. For a whole segment of our nation Oprah Winfrey is a spiritual mentor.
How can we become more spiritual people? Are all these bewildering approaches equal options, kind of like all the ice cream flavors at Baskin Robbins? Is choosing prayer or past life regression therapy no more different than choosing chocolate or jamoca almond fudge?
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of 1 Timothy called Deepening Your Life With God. Last week, our pastor of student ministries Jason Lanker did a great job of talking about deep worship. Today we’re going to look at how to become a more spiritual person. In 1 Timothy today we’re going to see two warnings and two prescriptions for becoming more spiritual people.
1. The Warnings (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
We begin with the first warning in vv. 1-2. Here we find a contrast between what God’s Spirit says and what "deceiving spirits" are saying.
The "later times" here isn’t referring to something in the distant future, but for the apostle Paul who wrote this letter, it describes the time he was living in when he wrote these words to his young protégé Timothy. In the Bible, the "end times" or "last days" refers to the final phase in God’s plan of salvation. This final phase began with the first coming of Jesus at Christmas and it will conclude at the end of the age when Jesus Christ comes again. So Paul lived in the last days and so do we, because we both live during this final phase in God’s plan.
For Paul, the existence of people abandoning the true Christian faith and following "deceiving spirits" and the teachings of demons was proof that he was living in these later times. Here we learn that some ideas about becoming more spiritual come from diabolical sources.
This implies that there are right ways to become spiritual and wrong ways to become spiritual. That’s not a very popular idea these days, but when you think about it, it makes sense. The terrorists behind the September 11 attacks believed they were becoming more spiritual by sacrificing their lives to further their cause. I don’t think anyone can doubt their sincerity or the depth of their commitment, yet we look at what they did and say, "That’s an evil way to try to become a spiritual person." Many of the people back in the 1960s who used LSD to become more spiritual found their lives destroyed by the chemicals they thought would unlock the spiritual life.
Paul would agree; in fact, he would go further and tell us that some ideas about the spiritual life actually come from an unseen evil realm. The Bible teaches that there are demonic spirits in our world.. These beings are called "deceiving spirits" and "demons" here in this text.
But Paul also points to the people who teach dangerous ideas about becoming more spiritual. He calls these teachers "hypocritical liars." The word for "hypocritical" means "to give a false impression," and it was a word that came from the world of theatre. The word was used of actors who played a part on a stage, which is okay on in a stage performance, but in real life, we call that kind of person a phony.
Their conscience has been branded as with a hot iron. These are people who’s moral compass no longer functions. Their sense of right and wrong had been deadened. These are people who taught ideas about the spiritual life that were false and dangerous.
So here we find the first warning if you want to become a more spiritual person. If you want to become more spiritual, don’t ingest spiritual poison.
Not every idea about the spiritual life is a good one. In fact, some ideas are downright poisonous. Last year an Illinois scientist named William Walsh studied strands of hair from the body famous classical composer Beethoven. By studying those strands of hair, Dr. Walsh discovered that Beethoven’s body had one hundred times the normal amount of lead. He concluded that Beethoven’s untimely death at the age of 57 was due to lead poisoning. Beethoven’s lead poisoning can be traced to the mineral spa that he went to in order to relax. Think about that: the very thing he thought was bringing him relief and relaxation was actually slowly poisoning him to death.