“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings” (1 Timothy 4:1 NET).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul the Apostle identifies “spirits that lead one into error” and “teachings of demons” (Wuest) as two sources of false doctrine. While it is generally best to remain focused upon Jesus in the circumstances of daily life, we should not neglect the value of knowing who and what we are up against in the spiritual realm.
For instance, demons are angelic beings who have joined the devil in his rebellion against God. That rebellion is referenced in the New Testament letter of Jude where we read of “…the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home…” (Jude 1:6) and in 2 Peter 2:4 where we’re told that “…God did not spare angels when they sinned…”
In addition to what we read here in 1 Timothy 4:1, the Scriptures also describe demonic beings as evil (Luke 7:21), unclean (Matthew 10:1), and wicked (Matthew 12:45). Thus, we should not be surprised by their association with deceptive teachings.
However, we should note that demonic beings are not the only sources of heretical teachings. For instance, some may promote false doctrine in an attempt to gain recognition, appease an audience, satisfy a need for approval, or avoid the potential consequences associated with telling the truth. Other false teachings may arise from the use of questionable sources or simply though ignorance, ineptitude, or inexperience. The point is that human sinfulness may also have a role to play in the spread of false teachings.
Nevertheless, 1 Timothy 4:1 tells us that demonic involvement with false doctrine is real and should be taken into account. For instance, consider Jesus’ message to the first-century church in the city of Thyatira as recorded in the New Testament book of Revelation…
“As for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, really), I will ask nothing further of you; only hold tightly to what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:24 TLB).
Judging from what we read in that passage, it appears that some within the Thyatiran church were attracted to “deeper spiritual truths” that had nothing to do with God or truth. Unfortunately, there are many who similarly believe that true “spiritual enlightenment” can be found in places other than God’s Word. Instead, the path to genuine spiritual understanding is illuminated when the Holy Spirit helps us understand and apply the Biblical Scriptures (John 16:13).