Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. (1 Timothy 4:1,2)
When I first started in youth ministry, I recall feeling the weight of the need to be correct in my teaching. Previously, in my teens, I had been unduly influenced by erroneous teaching and I knew how easy it was to hear one viewpoint on an issue and adopt it as one's own without carefully consulting Scripture and reading other views.
Having spent time in the closing verses of the previous chapter outlining the essentials of the Christian faith, Paul turns his attention here to the threat of false teachers and false doctrine. Remember that in these times there was no New Testament to study, and so truth relied on the accurate teaching of the church leaders and letters such as these that were critical in correcting false teaching.
There is a temptation to think that our main role as leaders is to love and care for young people but they very fact that we do this creates a devotion from them toward us that leaves them susceptible to believe whatever we say is true, just because we said it.
A wise leader will confront this danger head on. They will encourage young people to seek out truth for themselves, even saying directly at times "Don't believe this just because I said it. Study Scripture and read widely for yourselves."
Equally, we can inadvertently give the impression in our youth groups that loving each other is what counts, and that truth is secondary. We create small groups where young people encourage and pray for each other but little learning takes place. When this happens our youth groups and our young people are the weaker for it.
The warning for us in these verses is twofold. Firstly, we need to guard against the temptation to "turn away from the true faith." The implication is that Paul is referring here to people who once embraced and lived by the faith but were now turning their back on it.
What might cause you to turn away from the faith? That's a great question for you to reflect on as you step up into leadership. Young people will be relying on you to stay true to the things you teach them, yet other forces will try to tempt you away.
One will be that following Jesus is not always easy, especially when the demons mentioned see us impacting others. They will try to get you to compromise or to become discouraged. They will also tempt you with teachings that make the gospel all about you and how you can be blessed, rather than about Jesus and how you can bless Him.
Another will be the temptation to listen and believe false teaching that can sound believable and appeal to our sense of pride ("I understand something that few other's do!"). When you're reading or hearing things that are new or contradict what you previously had heard, don't opt for "easy believing" but check things out with your pastors and elders.
The second warning in these verses is against hypocrisy and a dead conscience. In this instance, people's doctrine is correct, but they are not living by it themselves. When you find yourself teaching younger people how they should live when you are not living that way yourself, your conscience will become "dead". You either won't care that you're a hypocrite, or you'll simply give up on leadership and following Jesus.
What might cause you to turn away from the faith? What temptations do you face that could eventually undermine what God is calling you to do.