Timothy’s Ministry in the Later Times
4:1 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, 4:2 influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.
This verse begins with an (in the NIV) untranslated de, which can mean ‘now’ or ‘however’. The latter is the more likely, according to Fee. ‘The church has been entrusted with the truth, (1 Tim 3:15-16) however, some will forsake it.’
The Spirit clearly says – but Paul does not say whether this is by means of some previous prophetic word or by means of inspired revelation as he writes. It may well be that the Spirit brings to his mind the teaching of Jesus, Mk 13.22.
In later times – ‘in times later than the apostle’s own time.’ (NBC)
Some will abandon the faith – Paul is not referring to the false teachers themselves here (although he will refer to them in v2), but to members of the household of faith who are led astray by them.
Whose consciences have been seared – Or, ‘branded’ (by Satan as belonging to him and doing his will); this seems more in keeping with the context.
‘The conscience of fallen human beings is often mistaken (it needs to be educated by the Word of God) and often sleepy (it needs to be awakened by the Spirit of God). True also, some people deny that they have any sense of sin, insisting at the same time that everything is relative now, for there are no moral absolutes anymore. Do not believe them. For by creation God still endows all human beings with a moral sense, which our inherited fallenness has distorted but not destroyed. Unless and until people so violate and smother their conscience as to “cauterize” it (a word Paul uses in 1 Tim 4:2) or render it insensitive, it continues to trouble them. They know they are sinful and guilty, however much they may protest the contrary.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 147)
‘As little sticks set the great ones on fire, and a wisp of straw often enkindles a great block of wood, so we are drawn on by the lesser evils to greater, and by the just judgment of God allowed to fall into them, because we made no conscience of lesser. The lesser commandments are a rail about the greater, and no man grows downright wicked at first, but rises to it by degrees.’
4:3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4:4 For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 4:5 For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
They…order them to abstain from certain foods – ‘Let us notice the reasoning in this matter: we ought to be content with the freedom which God has given us in the use of different foods, because it is for our use that he has created them. It is the joy of all godly people to know that every food which nourishes them is offered them by the hand of the Lord; that to eat it is pure and lawful. What arrogance it is to take away what the Lord himself bestows upon men! Did the papists create good? Can they void God’s own creation? Let us always keep in mind that he who has created food also gave us free use of it, and that men’s efforts to keep us from it are in vain. I say that God created food to be eaten, that is, for our enjoyment. There is no human authority which can change this.’ (Calvin)
Everything God created is good – Cf. Gen 1:31. In contrast to the false teachers, Scripture affirms the essential goodness of God’s creation.
‘Some are not made better by God’s gifts; yea, many are made worse. Give Saul a kingdom, and he will tyrannize; give Nabal good cheer, and he will be drunk; give Judas an apostleship, and he will sell his Master for money.’ (Thomas Adams)
‘Thorns will not prick of themselves, but when they are grasped in a man’s hand they prick deep. So this world and the things thereof are all good, and were all made of God for the benefit of his creatures, did not our immoderate affection make them hurtful.’ (Richard Sibbes)
4:6 By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
Minister – or ‘servant’.
Brought up – or, ‘nourished’. This indicates the importance of spiritual diet.
4:7 But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness. 4:8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 4:9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 4:10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers.
There is an (in the NIV) untranslated ‘de‘, ‘but’ at the beginning of this verse. This connects ‘good teaching’ (v6) with the bad teaching of the present verse. Preachers today are often expected to be unfailingly ‘positive’; but if they are to be faithful, they must repel error as well as expound truth.
Indeed, ‘many of the characteristics that Paul encourages Timothy to follow stand in contrast to the opponents’ characteristics. Timothy is to be an example in speech (the opponents are babblers), conduct (the opponents have brought the church into disrepute), love (which they have abandoned), faith (which they have shipwrecked), and purity (which they have stained).’ (Mounce)
Godless myths are not those which are blasphemous, but rather those that are not in keeping with ‘the truths of the faith’, v6.
Old wives’ tales – a figure of speech common amongst philosophers of Paul’s day. cf. 1 Tim 5:2. Paul is unlikely to intended any negative connotations regarding either age or gender (cf. 1 Tim 5:1).
Train yourself to be godly – Indicating the importance of spiritual discipline. Godliness does not come without effort.
‘Prayer, meditation, self-examination, fellowship, service, sacrifice, submission to the will of others, witness—all of these can assist me, through the Spirit, to become a more godly person.’ (Wiersbe)
Physical training is of some value – According to Guthrie, this translation slightly misses the point: Paul’s meaning is, ‘physical training has little value’. But Paul’s main point is clear enough: if physical training has some value, it is only for the present life, whereas training for godliness has value both in this life and in the life to come. The key difference is that one has temporary value, the other permanent.
Think of the time and effort invested by the athlete. He exerts himself tirelessly, discards everything that would hold him back, and fixes his eye steadfastly on his goal. How much more important and necessary is training in godliness! How much time, thought, and effort do we put into this kind of training?
Calvin, however, thinks that this does not refer to physical exercise, but rather to ‘all outward actions that are engaged in for the sake of religion, such as vigils, long fasts, lying prostrate, and such things.’ Paul, says Calvin, ‘is not here condemning these superstitious observances, for he would then condemn them outright. Here, Paul just writes them off as being of little benefit. So even when the heart is pure and the motive is upright, Paul finds nothing to commend in outward actions. This is a necessary warning, for the world always has a strong leaning to worship God through external observances, which can be fatal. Even if we put to one side the idea that these actions are meritorious, we are naturally inclined to firmly believe that there is great value in the ascetic life, as if it was a notable part of Christian sanctification. There is no clearer proof of this than the fact that just after Paul had given this instruction, a hollow type of physical exercise was universally applauded. From this sprang early monasticism and all the much admired discipline of the early church, at least that part of it that is rated most highly by public opinion. If the ancient monks had not believed that there was some divine or angelic perfection in their austere way of life, they would hardly have practiced it with such commitment. In the same way, if pastors had not overemphasized their practices as a way of mortifying the flesh, they would never have insisted on them so much. But Paul says the opposite, that even if someone exhausted himself over these exercises, they would give a tiny benefit, for they are nothing more than elementary discipline.’
Promise for both the present life and the life to come – Rather, ‘promise of life’. See also our Lord’s teaching in Mk 10:29–30; cf. Matt 19:29.
‘The essence and contents of the promise is life, fellowship with God in Christ, the love of God shed abroad in the heart, the peace of God which passes all understanding. Complete devotion, godliness, or godly living, itself the fruit of God’s grace, results in the increasing possession and enjoyment of this reward, according to the teaching of Scripture throughout (Deut. 4:29; 28:1–3, 9, 10; 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 1:1–3; 24:3–6; 103:17, 18; 1 John 1:6, 7; 1 John 2:24, 25; Rev. 2:10, 17; 3:5, 12, 21).’ (Hendriksen)
The present life – ‘That is, it furnishes the promise of whatever is really necessary for us in this life. The promises of the Scriptures on this subject are abundant, and there is probably not a want of our nature for which there might not be found a specific promise in the Bible; comp. Ps. 23:1; 84:11; Phil. 4:19. Religion promises us needful food and raiment, Matt. 6:25–33; Isa. 33:16; comfort in affliction, Deut. 33:27; Job 5:19; Ps. 46; Heb. 13:5; support in old age and death, Isa. 46:4; Ps. 23:4; comp. Isa. 43:2; and a good reputation, an honoured name when we are dead; Ps. 37:1–6.’ (Barnes)
The life to come – ‘God makes no promise of such happiness to beauty, birth, or blood; to the possession of honours or wealth; to great attainments in science and learning, or to the graces of external accomplishment. All these, whatever flattering hopes of happiness they may hold out here, have no assurance of future eternal bliss.’ (Barnes)
This is a trustworthy saying – Scholars are not sure whether this refers to v8 (so EBC) or v10 (Guthrie; Mounce). Fee is convinced that the reference is to v8b (‘godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come’).
For this we labour and strive – Paul still has the metaphor of physical training in mind. ‘Just as athletes exert what seems to be their last ounce of energy to win a race, so Paul was giving the ministry all he had.’ (EBC)
‘This’ refers to promise of life that is found in godliness; ‘that’ should be ‘because’ (Fee).
We have put our hope in the living God – For he is the giver of life to all, and the giver of eternal life to believers. (See explanation of next clause). Paul clearly has the restrictive elitism of the false teacher in the back of his mind.
This is a certain hope, ‘because it is hope set on the living God—not on a philosophy, a human being, a material possession, or a standard of behavior.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)
The Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe – See 1 Tim 1:1, where Paul refers to God, rather than Christ, as ‘Saviour’.
4:11 Command and teach these things. 4:12 Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity.
Command is a strong, military word. There is a place for authoritative leadership, especially when the integrity of the gospel is at stake, as it was at Ephesus.
Fee sees this paragraph (11-16) as a string of 10 ‘commandments’, with a summary at the end (v16).
‘Paul is not concerned now with error (and how it could be detected and rejected) but with truth (and how it could be commended and so accepted).’ (Stott)
Whatever your age:-
- Do you speak with conviction and authority, v11?
- What sort of example are you setting, v12?
- Is Scripture central to your life and ministry, v13?
- Have you evidence that God has called you to this work, v14?
- Can people see your progress, v15?
- Will you persevere in it, being constantly on your guard, v16?
If you do not rest on the authority of Scripture, you will replace it with something else – the so-called authority of scholarship, personal experience, rank, etc. Remember the ‘super-apostles’ of Corinth.
‘The local church is a unit in God’s spiritual army, and its leaders are to pass God’s orders along to the people with authority and conviction.’ (Wiersbe)
Fee suggests that this verse discloses a ‘hidden agenda’ that prompted Paul to write the letter in the first place – Timothy’s youthfulness. It is both a word of encouragement to Timothy himself, and also a word to the community regarding Timothy’s authority.
Ryken explains: ‘There were two classes of grown men in those days: young men (neoi) and elders (gerontes). In Ephesus, each group had its own social association, with its own funds, officers, events, and athletic facilities. Timothy belonged in the younger category, which included men up to the age of forty…Timothy needed to be wise beyond his years.’
Young could refer to anyone under the age of about 40. Timothy is believed to have been around 30 at the time.
Paul was writing to Timothy against the background of a culture which favoured age over youth. But remember – whatever age you are, people will not look down on you if there is reason to look up to you.
‘Many of the Ephesian Christians, and especially the elders, were almost certainly of maturer years; and if for some time they had served under the leadership of the veteran missionary apostle Paul, it is by no means inconceivable that some would look with disfavour and contempt on the younger Timothy.’ (Guthrie)
Guthrie adds: ‘The qualities in which Timothy is to excel are those in which youth is so often deficient.’
Set an example – The underlying picture is of ‘a mold that should be pressed into the lives of others so that they attain the same shape.’ (Mounce) See also 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Tit 2:7.
A.W. Tozer complained that ‘our models are successful businessmen, celebrated athletes and theatrical personalities.’
Paul’s reference to ‘purity’ has been taken by some to recommend celibacy, ‘as if there could be no purity in that holy relation which God appointed in Eden, and which he has declared to “be honourable in all” (Heb. 13:4), and which he has made so essential to the wellbeing of mankind.’ (Barnes)
4:13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 4:14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. 4:15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress.
Until I come refers back to Paul’s wish to visit Ephesus, 1 Tim 3:14.
This verse highlights the vital importance of truth. The church is ‘the pillar and ground of truth’, 1 Tim 3:15; salvation comes through a knowledge of the truth, 1 Tim 2:14.
The priority of the ministry of the word. Three public activities are recommended her: the reading of Scripture (for many within the congregation would not be able to read it for themselves), preaching (exhortation), and teaching (instruction in Christian doctrine).
Devote – Dedicate (or even addict). The same word is used in 1 Tim 3:8. The word implies careful preparation beforehand (Guthrie).
The public reading of Scripture – Remember that the NT church meeting was modelled on the synagogue worship, with its regular reading and exposition of the Scriptures. Cf. Acts 15:21 (reading of Moses) with Col 4:16, 1 Thess 5:27 (reading of Paul’s letters). Public reading was particularly important, since there were few copies of the Scriptures around, and not all could read.
Ryken offers the pregnant thought that the gospel flourishes wherever the Bible is read.
Preaching – paraklesis (cf. ‘paraklete’). The words suggests at least the following connotations:-
- to comfort or strengthen, cf Acts 13:13-15; Rom 15:4; Heb 12:5.
- to exhort or entreat. A sermon is not just a Bible study or a lecture. It should seek an active response from the hearers.
Teaching – didaskalia. There must be a marriage between teaching and exhortation in our preaching. Neither is sufficient on its own. The word implies systematic teaching of Christian truth. And, of course, to be an effective teacher one must be a diligent student.
Taking these three things in a slightly different order we see the important of knowing, understanding, and obeying Scripture.
‘Hughes Oliphant Old explains, on the basis of 1 Timothy 4:13, that “early Christian preaching had a strong didactic flavor. Preachers were supposed to move the heart and will, but they were also supposed to teach.… The reading and exposition of Scripture, the admonishing of the congregation, and the teaching of the Christian way of life were all integral parts of the ministry of the Word.’ (Cited by Ryken)
Clearly, this verse does not offer a template for Christian worship.
There needs to be some evidence of a gift, which must then be developed and improved. This gift normally requires recognition by the church. ‘Take the lowest place, until someone says, “Come up higher”.’
Do not neglect your gift – The gift of preaching and teaching. There is a hint here that Timothy was neglecting his gift, or at least that there was a danger that he might do so. The next two verses will indicate how Timothy can develop and exercise his gift.
‘Although the word gift draws attention to the part played by the Holy Spirit in Timothy’s ministry, the exhortation not to neglect it brings out equally emphatically the human responsibility’ (Guthrie). The rose bush that is given as a present must be planted, fed and watered, otherwise it will die. It is difficult to know who is worse: the person who has a gift (let us say, of music), but neither nurtures it nor uses it; or the one who does not have the gift, but insists on ‘entertaining’ the gathered multitude loudly and at great length.
Prophetic message – This was, no doubt, the prophetic confirmation of Timothy’s vocation, as in 1 Tim 1:18.
The body of elders laid their hands on you – Cf. 1 Tim 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6; and also Acts 13:1-3. The earliest mention of sacramental ordination is found in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c215).
‘This passage yields us three items of information about Timothy’s ordination. First, it meant the giving to him of a charisma, the spiritual Gift needed for the work of ministering. Secondly, this came to him ‘by (dia) prophecy’. Thirdly, it came with (meta) the laying on of hands by the elders. The essential thing about ordination is the divine gift. Nothing can compensate for its lack. But there is also an outward act, the laying on of hands. It is possible that Paul refers to the same rite when he speaks of his own laying on of hands on Timothy, (2 Tim 1:6) though it should not be overlooked that some other rite may be in mind, perhaps something more akin to Anglican confirmation than to ordination. We might be able to make a better judgment if we knew when this took place, whether at the beginning of Paul’s association with Timothy, or not long before the writing of the letter. If with most commentators we take this to refer to ordination, the meaning will be that Paul joined with the elders in the Laying on of hands, which in any case would be antecedently likely. It is probable that we have another reference to the same ordination in the words about ‘the prophetic utterances which pointed to you’.’ (1 Tim 1:18) (NBD)
Primitive ordination was presbyterian, not episcopalian. Barnes says: ‘The statement here is just such a one as would be made now respecting a Presbyterian ordination; it is not one which would be made of an Episcopal ordination. A Presbyterian would choose these very words in giving an account of an ordination to the work of the ministry; an Episcopalian would not. The former speaks of an ordination by a presbytery; the latter of ordination by a bishop. The former can use the account of the apostle Paul here as applicable to an ordination, without explanations, comments, new versions or criticisms; the latter cannot. The passage, therefore, is full proof that, in one of the most important ordinations mentioned in the New Testament, it was performed by an association of men, and not by a prelate, and therefore, that this was the primitive mode of ordination. Indeed, there is not a single instance of ordination to an office mentioned in the New Testament which was performed by one man alone.’
‘Considering the role played by the ministry throughout the history of the church, references to ordination are surprisingly few in the NT. Indeed, the word ‘ordination’ does not occur, and the verb ‘to ordain’ in the technical sense does not occur either.’ (NBD)
Many churches and denominations “ordain” those who minister among them. Among their reasons for doing so are, (1) the need to give formal approval for the ministry; (2) the OT practice of setting aside priests, Levites, prophets and kings; (3) the calling by Christ of the apostles (though without formal ordination); (4) the special recognition by the apostles of Matthias as a replacement for Judas.
Paul now addresses how Timothy should nurture (i.e. not neglect) his gift.
Be diligent in these matters – might mean ‘think carefully about these things’ (i.e. the things mentioned in v13. But Paul may also still have the athletic metaphor in his mind, and so is referring to strenuous effort.
Give yourself wholly to them – immerse yourself completely in them, as the body is immersed in the air it breathes (Guthrie). Not that a pastor should neglect his family (1 Tim 3:4) or become an unhealthy workaholic. But his ministry is a life-commitment (Ryken).
One can almost imagine Timothy walking around Ephesus wearing a trendy Christian T-shirt that expressed his passion for his calling: “Pastoral ministry is life … the rest is just details.”
So that everyone may see your progress – According to Wiersbe, the word ‘progress’ ‘describes the soldiers who go ahead of the troops, clear away the obstacles, and make it possible for others to follow.’
If a minister has the kind of commitment Paul has just spoken about, visible progress will ensue.
‘Some Christian leaders imagine that they have to appear perfect, with no visible flaws or blemishes. But there are at least two reasons why this is a mistake. First, it is hypocritical. Since none of us is a paragon of all virtues, it is dishonest to pretend to be. Secondly, the pretence discourages people, who then suppose that their leaders are altogether exceptional and even inhuman.’ (Stott)
‘True progress is not found in breaking away from the old ways, but in abiding in the teaching of Christ an d his Spirit in the Church. There is an apparent contradiction here, for how can we abide, and yet advance? It is a paradox, like much else in Scripture; but Christian experience proves it true. Those make the best progress in religion who hold fast by the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and not those who drift away from the moorings, rudderless upon a sea of doubt.’ (H. B. Swete)
Progress is commanded in Scripture, Eph 3:16-19; 2 Pet 1:9-11.
Progress is illustrated in Scripture: by the sun, Prov 4:18; by life itself; by a spring, Jn 4:13f; by the growth of a seed, Mk 4:28; and by a race, Heb 12:1f; Phil 3:12-14.
The necessity of progress is underlined by Scriptural rebukes, Heb 5:12; Rev 2:5.
4:16 Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
Watch your life – ‘Keep a strict eye on yourself’. ‘Be more afraid of thyself than of the world’ (Bishop Butler).
‘It is fatally easy to become so busy in the Lord’s work that we leave no time for the Lord himself, to be so concerned for the welfare of others that we fail to keep a watchful eye on ourselves.’ (Stott)
Watch your doctrine – both these things are means to an end – salvation.
‘Timothy must take heed to himself, for the minister must be the first to profit from the truth which he presses upon his hearers (2 Tim 2:6), lest having preached to others he should find himself rejected (1 Cor 9:27).’ (Wilson)
The Christian worker must both ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’. Life and word must agree, or else the message itself will be brought into disrepute.
‘Timothy is to ensure that what most impresses other people is his true Christian development, and not some lesser thing such as brilliance of exposition or attractiveness of personality.’ (Guthrie)
Traill urges ministers to:-
- ‘Take heed that thou be a sound and sincere believer.’
- ‘Take heed…that thou be a called and sent minister.’ And this you will know, if you desire to glorify God in the salvation of others; if you have been conscientiously diligent in all the means of attaining this fitness; if there is evidence of your competence for this ministry; if, having begun the ministry, you see some positive effects on others, including the conversion of some.
- ‘Take heed…that thou be a lively thriving Christian.’
- ‘Take heed…in reference to all the trials and temptations thou mayest meet with
Watch your…doctrine – or, ‘teaching’.
- ‘Take heed…that it be a divine truth,’ 1 Pet 4:11.
- ‘Take heed…that it be plain, and suited to the capacity of the hearers.’
- ‘Take heed…that it be grave, and solid, and weighty,’ Tit 2:8.
Persevere in them – ‘Thou who art a minister, it is a work for thy lifetime; and not to be taken up and laid down again, according as it may best suit a man’s carnal inclinations, and outward conveniences.’ (Traill)
Traill summarises thus: Persevere in the work itself; persevere in greater fitness for your work; persevere in energy and diligence.
Doctrine and life belong together: ‘Right doctrine without a godly life is of no value; while a godly life without right doctrine is not possible.’ (NBC)
You will save both yourself and your hearers – Salvation is ultimately, of course, the work of God. But God works through means, and here it is the means that are stressed. The sense is similar to that in Phil 2:12, but here Timothy is to do these things both for the benefit of his own salvation and for that of others. See also 1 Cor 9:22.
‘It is indeed true that it is God alone who saves and not even the smallest part of his glory can rightly be transferred to men. But God’s glory is in no way diminished by his using the labour of men in bestowing salvation.’ (Calvin)
‘Not that ministers are of themselves able by all their endeavours to carry on this great end; they are only God’s tools and instruments, 1 Cor. 3:6, 7.’ (Traill)
Traill explains that Timothy will ‘save himself’ in that (a) his calling as a Christian is bound up with his calling as a minister; (b) he will save himself from the guilt of other men’s sin and ruin (cf. Acts 20:26, 27).
The designation of these others as ‘hearers’ underlines the importance of public preaching and teaching. To be sure, people need to be able to ‘see’ a minister’s conduct (Phil 4:9), but this must supplement, and never replace, ‘hearing’ his message.
‘The great end of both preaching and hearing, is salvation; and if salvation were more designed by preachers and hearers, it would be more frequently the effect of the action.’ (Traill)
Mounce summarises the practical teaching of this passage:-
‘This paradigm of Christian ministry, directed specifically to Timothy but applicable to ministers of all times, stands in judgment on those who neglect the teaching of Scripture, consume themselves with arguments about words devoid of godliness, bring reproach upon the church by their sinful lives, refuse to immerse themselves in the things of God, and as a result are destroying not only themselves but also those who listen and follow their example. Conversely, it is a word of encouragement and hope to those who are faithful to the apostolic example and teaching of the gospel.’