The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. (1 Timothy 4:1)
We aren’t told exactly where the “Spirit clearly says” these things. However, throughout scripture we learn that demonic powers are at work, distorting the truth and attacking God’s church from the inside out.
It is possible Paul was referring to his earlier warning in Acts 20 when he met with the elders from Ephesus at Miletus. He believed it was the last time he would see them, as he was going to Jerusalem where he would be taken prisoner. Paul told the elders “wolves” would come into the church, attempting to tear it apart. They were to be on guard. Did Paul receive his warning through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
The term the New Testament uses to define sound teaching, right or wrong, is “spirit.” The Holy Spirit provides sound teaching and demonic spirits produce deception. The gift of “discernment”, that is often misinterpreted to mean one can read the thoughts and feelings of others, is actually given for the purpose of distinguishing between these spirits.
But how does it work? I mean, how does the gift of discernment help us determine whether a teaching is true or false? And what about the rest of us who don’t possess this special gift?
I believe those who have the gift of discernment have a special prompting of the Holy Spirit that nudges them when they hear something that is inconsistent with truth. Of course, this nudge has to pass through the filters of one’s fallen nature, so even a gifted person can be wrong. This is important to remember so one doesn’t become conceited in his discernment, or intolerably opinionated.
For the rest of us, we can look to the Word of God, which has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. It is our standard of truth by which we measure teaching. The more we learn and the more life we experience, the better equipped we are to identify and overcome Satan’s schemes. We begin to understand Satan (in a strategic sense), and learn to see through him.
We also learn to identify a demonic spirit in those who are using the medium of teaching to deceive and destroy. I am not suggesting we start seeing people with whom we disagree as demon-possessed. Rather, the more familiar we become with the way Satan works, the easier it is to see his hand in the lives of others. I am convinced, most of the time, people who are being used by him are unaware they are being exploited. This is why confronting false teaching should always be done with a desire to see people turn from error and return to the Word of God.
In reference to the “later times” mentioned in our passage I believe it is now and then. In other words, we are in the “later times”, but this season might last thousands of years. It might also end tomorrow. It really doesn’t matter. I wonder if Satan is watching the time. If he isn’t, he should.
Dear God, help me discern. In Jesus’ name, Amen.