Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
The church has never lacked would-be editors of God's word. Though they always profess the best of intentions, Paul characterizes them in a most unfavorable way. They have, he says, departed from the Faith, given credence to seducing spirits, surrendered to doctrines of devils, and characterized themselves by lies and hypocrisy. They have so given themselves over to false religion that their consciences are seared as a branding iron scars flesh.
Such are those who seek to add to God's law. Pharisees and pietists seek to create their own laws and equate them with God's. Statists seek to replace God's law with man's. Dispensationalists seek to replace God's law with subjective leadings of the Spirit (as though they might be different than the written word of the Father!). Paul specifies two of the false doctrines which characterize false religion. One is celibacy and the other is religious vegetarianism.
Paul's brief reference to "forbidding to marry" had in view a long tradition of Greek asceticism. To the Greek mind the flesh was opposed to the spirit. The two could not co-exist in harmony. Man's most noble goal was to escape from the physical to the spiritual. To these heretics, the gods were deified humans no longer limited by the flesh of mortals. This Greek philosophical prejudice was perpetuated by Alexander the Great, his successors, and the Romans.
When the Christian idea of sin nature was interpreted in Greek ascetic terms, it was flesh that was identified as man's problem, not sins of the heart. Denying the flesh was then equated with "spirituality" and thus asceticism had a very strong influence on early concepts of holiness. Monastic traditions were given over to this Greek perspective in varying degrees. As it came to be applied to the clergy, celibacy was seen as a higher way that would prevent men from preoccupation with the needs of the flesh. The Greek ascetic philosophy was well established long before Paul's day. Monasticism and sacerdotal celibacy were not, of course, but Paul knew the prevalent philosophy of the day would result in its introduction into the church.
A second example of false religious teaching was religious vegetarianism. Paul is not talking about the health merits of any particular diet, and that is not our concern here. The teaching he condemned was vegetarianism as a religious necessity. God gave man permission to kill animals after the Fall (Gen. 3:21) and herding was practiced from the beginning (Gen. 4:2, 20). Noah understood the concept of clean and unclean animals (Gen. 7:2; 8:20). Limitations on the eating of meat were likely understood in terms of this distinction but most certainly with the Mosaic law (primarily Lev. 11). The eating of meat was thus regulated but not forbidden. God's provision for our needs is to be received with thanksgiving. Meat is part of that provision. We may choose to avoid meat, or brussel sprouts, or persimmons, but we may not impose such a preference on others or pretend we are more spiritual in doing so. Thanksgiving is an all-pervasive attitude that God has provided for us. A proper concept of thanksgiving would keep us from injecting our ideas into God's providence.
Paul was referring to God's benediction on the creation week when he said every creature of God is good (Gen. 1:31). Just as we are to be thankful for all God's creation, we are to recognize all creatures as good. This is not to say they are all good for food. Many of God's creatures are good for their intended purpose, though they may, in fact, be harmful or toxic as food. Again, when Paul said these creatures were "nothing to be refused," we must take this in context. He was not suggesting it was good to eat poisonous toads or other foods that were not in compliance with the dietary laws. He was specifically talking about non-Biblical restrictions on eating meat. These meats wrongly rejected by false teachers were not to be refused on unscriptural grounds. Richard Francis Weymouth said they were "nothing to be cast aside."
There is an inevitable tendency to impose on others. Thus, Paul declared authoritatively that certain things, including diet, were no longer a matter of corporate concern or discipline (Col. 2: 16). One legitimate requirement to diet we must urge on all believers is that it be received with thanksgiving. It is made holy by the word and prayer, and we understand it and our personal gift of God's bounty.