And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
— 2 Timothy 4:4
In our home in Russia, Denise and I have several black, lacquered boxes that are precious Russian works of art. They were painted using a centuries-old technique, and each box contains up to 16 layers of papier-mâché. The work is so intricate, in fact, the scenes on these boxes were painstakingly painted with a brush containing only one hair! Then when the painting was finished on one of these boxes, the artist would burnish it with the tooth of a wolf.
Four main schools taught and performed this method, and when the art form first began in Russia, the intricate scenery on these boxes primarily consisted of religious icons and scenery depicting religious events and nobility. But the art changed after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Under Communism, the artists who masterfully created these works of art were no longer allowed to paint religious themes because atheism had become the “religion” of the State.
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Because these artists still possessed their amazing talent and desired to continue creating these magnificent boxes, they stopped painting religious iconography and began painting fairytales instead. They continued to work in the same artistic style, but new subjects began to appear on the boxes. In addition to painting scenes from popular fables or painting depictions of mythical characters, these artists were commissioned to paint pictorials of the revolution, Soviet labor, industrial giants, and Communist party leaders. So these gifted artists didn’t stop painting; they simply stopped painting the truth!
Every time I look at one of these boxes in our home, I think of a generation of artists that changed — and I also think of a generation of God-called ministers, many of whom the Bible says will change. Having once preached the truth, they will begin preaching something other than the pure truth they once ministered.
The creators of those old lacquer boxes kept practicing their art, but they changed and began to do it differently. Similarly, the Bible prophesies that some ministers in the last days will keep practicing their vocation, but they’ll begin to do it differently. They’ll possess the same God-given gifts, talents, anointing, and calling they always had — but because of people’s “itching ears” (see 2 Timothy 4:3), these men and women of God will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn instead to fables, or myths.
Let’s look first at First Timothy 1:3 — Paul’s earlier warning to Timothy, his son in the faith: “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”
The words “other doctrine” are especially significant. The word “doctrine” is the Greek word heterodidaskalos, which is a compound of the words heteros and didaskalos. The word heteros means of a different kind. The word didaskalos means teaching. So when these two words are compounded, it means teachings of a different kind — indicating incorrect teaching. When Paul made this charge to Timothy, he was in essence saying, “…That you might charge some that they not engage or participate in teaching of a different kind.”
Well, what about this “teaching of a different kind”? It was teaching, all right. In fact, it sounded so much on the surface like real Bible teaching that Paul used the word from the Greek didaskalos — the Greek word for “doctrine” — to describe it. So it sounded like doctrine, but Paul was warning Timothy to listen carefully — because this teaching had a different ring to it. It was doctrine of a different kind. It had been twisted and altered from its original state.
In First Timothy 1:4-6, Paul continued, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Then in verse 6, he said, “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling.”
The word “swerved” in this verse comes from the Greek word astocheo, which means to miss the mark or to deviate from truth. So if a minister has swerved from preaching correct doctrine, it means he or she is not hitting the target any longer. The words “turned aside” are translated from the Greek word ektrepo, a medical term that describes a bone out of joint. If you’ve ever had a bone out of joint, you know firsthand that the experience is a very painful one!
Similarly, Paul was telling us that when a minister swerves and turns aside from truth — teaching something other than the truth he previously taught — it’s like a bone that’s out of joint. And just as a bone that’s out of joint affects the whole body, naturally speaking, when a minister gets out of joint with his doctrine, it affects the entire local body that he is a part of.
So many are hungry for the pure teaching of God’s Word but they’re not receiving it because much of the solid teaching that was taught to earlier generations has been replaced by motivational sermons — or teaching of a different kind. But when the Bible is taught correctly, it has a sobering effect on people. It helps them keep their own heads on straight. It helps them win in the circumstances of life and to bear fruit to the glory of God. And it stabilizes them in times of great instability and uncertainty.
Especially because we live in the last days when the Holy Spirit prophesied that some leaders would go astray in their doctrine, we must pray for God to raise up skilled, solid Bible teachers who will feed the pure Word of God to people whose hearts are crying out for it. God’s people need good teaching, so let’s be united in prayer for God-sent leaders who will not twist or alter what the Bible says in order to appease a crowd with “itching ears.” Let’s pray for bold preachers who will refuse to revert to motivational messages instead of preaching the Word of truth. Nothing is more powerful than truth, mixed with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
That’s what I think of when I look at the black lacquered boxes that we have on display in our home in Moscow. I keep them in view as a beautiful reminder that I am never to deviate from the original call of God on my life or from putting out a sound message that has the power to transform people’s lives!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Heavenly Father, I know that we are living in the last days. I ask You to help me keep my head on straight when it comes to the preaching and teaching of the Bible. This is a day when truth is being traded for motivational messages, and many in the Church don’t even know the basic tenets of the faith anymore. I ask You to help me stay on track with solid Bible teaching. Keep me rooted and grounded in the Word of God, I present myself to You to use as a source of strong teaching for people who are new in the Lord or who are simply hungry for deeper and balanced teaching!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I have been taught the Word of God and that I stand on a strong, stable doctrinal foundation. My spiritual senses are so exercised that I am able to discern true teaching from myth-like teaching. My heart goes out to those who are not able to discern the difference, and I will do everything in my ability to help put people on a strong doctrinal foundation that will hold them up in the times ahead. I am thankful for the Word of God that has been placed in my life. I honor it. I cherish it. And I accept the responsibility to help share it with others.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Where did you receive your doctrinal foundation? Who taught you the basic doctrines and tenets of the Christian faith? Do you value what they taught you — and have you ever taken the time to personally thank those people for placing you on such a rock-solid foundation?
- Can you think of an example of a teaching that has heresy in it, but people at large have accepted it, because they don’t have enough Bible teaching in their own lives to be able to discern the difference between good and bad spiritual food? What is an example that quickly comes to your mind?
- Have you been accused of being spiritually “stuck” because you don’t go with every wind of doctrine that blows through the Church? When Paul talks about enduring afflictions from other believers (see 2 Corinthians 11:26), do you understand what he is talking about? Have you ever experienced that from other Christians?