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1 Timothy 4: Contrasting False Teachers and Faithful Servants Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 10 September 2006

I have been working out off and on since I was in the eighth grade.  Back then, my purpose for spending time in the gym was to be a better basketball player.  I have always been short, so I wanted to at least be strong, or, in other terms, do the best with what the Lord had given me.  When I went to college, since I was not there on any sort of athletic scholarship (obviously), I worked out for other reasons, varying from my general health to trying to attract a godly woman (of course I recognize the error now).  Since we have been in Sikeston, Barry and I have been working out on a regular basis at the local YMCA.  Needless to say, there have been seasons of faithfulness as well as seasons of faithlessness to the discipline of ‘working out.’

In our present passage, Paul compares the value of working out physically with the value of training ourselves for godliness (see v. 7-8).  Unfortunately, as I look back on my spiritual life, I can identify times of faithful discipline in the area of godliness as well as times of seeming faithlessness in said area.  I, like all believers, struggle at times in the area of training in godliness.  Paul writes to encourage Timothy, and us as well, to be faithful in this area of discipline.

As we look at 1 Timothy 4 together this morning, we continue to notice the contrast between the false teachers in Ephesus and Paul’s call for Timothy and others to be faithful servants.  From these sixteen verses, consider with me the differences in what is being focused on by the leaders in Ephesus.

First, the focus of the false teachers is upon lies and errors (v. 1-5).

The chapter can be broken up into three paragraphs, as most English translations do.  In the first paragraph (verses 1-5), Paul continues to identify the errors of the false teachers.  Look at those verses with me.  As we have already seen in chapter 1, these false teachers were departing from the faith.  Rather than continue in what Paul and the other Apostles had taught, they were devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons.  For Paul, this is no surprise.  The Spirit had already made it clear that this would occur.  Paul himself, when he addressed the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, spoke of the threat of fierce wolves who will come in among you, not sparing the flock (20:29).  Thus, Paul is not necessarily shocked by what is taking place, but he does want Timothy to understand what is going on and to battle against it (see 1:3-4).  The false teachers were perpetuating the teaching of demons and causing others to depart the faith.  Thus, Paul has written to address this threat.

In verse 3, Paul gives us two specific errors that the false teachers were promoting.  First, they were forbidding marriage.  For whatever reason, they were forbidding people from being married.  Second, they were requiring abstinence from certain foods.  Both of these errors have continued in Church History.  There is a whole history of asceticism, or the giving up of physical pleasures, in the Church.  Although certain forms of asceticism are commended (like fasting at times), Paul criticizes here a false understanding of such ideas (see also Colossians 2:16-23).  Instead of viewing these physical pleasures, such as sex and hunger, as evil in and of themselves, Paul argues that God has created all things good.  He is rooting marriage and eating in the Creation.  To forbid or deny such things is to deny that God created all things good (see Genesis 1-2).  Of course, Paul’s comments in verse 4 can be taken out of context and used as a license to do or eat ‘whatever feels right.’  Yet, this is not Paul’s point.  Rather, unlike the false teachers, we are to enjoy what God has created good by enjoying them in a godly manner, namely with thanksgiving and obedience to the Word.  As Christians we should enjoy the great gifts that God has given us, namely marriage and good food, in a way that brings honor to Him as Creator.

As we consider these errors of the false teachers, we must see the terrible consequences of such a wrong focus.  In verse 2, Paul comments that believing and teaching such lies will sear the conscience.  I fear that we often forget the terrible, destructive nature of our sin.  Satan is still seeking to sear men’s consciences by getting them to believe lies.  How many ‘professing Christians’ believe that it is no big deal that they have not been in Church in years, or not read their Bibles in years, or continue in unrepentant sin?  We must remember that allowing ourselves to believe lies and focus on errors can only lead to a terrible place.  So then, what should our focus be?

Second, the focus of a good servant of Christ Jesus is godliness (v. 6-10).

In the second paragraph of this chapter, Paul instructs Timothy on how to be good servant of Jesus.  Look at verses 6-7a.  Paul tells Timothy that a good servant of Christ will keep these things before the Church.  In other words, all that Paul has been teaching Timothy is to be faithfully proclaimed to the Church.  Thus, what we are doing this morning is in line with Paul’s instructions here.  What we are doing this afternoon is in line with Paul’s instructions.  We are to be a community who keeps the gospel of the Apostles ever before us.  The primary function of elders and pastors is to keep the truths of the gospel before their people through preaching and prayer.  Thus, my main goal is for the people of Trinity to be ever-mindful of the true gospel.

Second, Paul tells Timothy that a faithful servant of Christ Jesus will recognize that training for godliness has lasting value.  Look at verses 7b-9.  Here is where Paul uses his comparison with physical training.  Thank goodness, Paul tells me that Barry and I are not wasting our time, for bodily training is of some value.  Yet, he goes on to teach us that godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  Nobody will comment on my huge muscles in heaven.  Sure, there is value in exercise here on the earth and we should be good stewards of our body, but how much more should we be stewards of our faith?  Athletes spend hours and hours training their bodies to compete for a prize that has no eternal value, while Christians will not even spend 30 minutes a day training themselves for godliness.  We must recognize the value, value for this life and the life to come, in training ourselves for godliness.

Yet, simply recognizing the value is not enough.  Paul uses strong language to make it clear that we are to train, toil, and strive to the end of godliness. Look at verse 10.  Paul says that we should toil and strive for godliness.  He has already said in verse 7 that we should train ourselves to this end.  We must be a people who are serious about studying the Word.  Not so that we can be right or so that we can win an argument, but so that we can be godly.  Brothers and sisters, you must do the work.  You must study and read and pray and wrestle with the text.  If you have no intention of hearing the Word this morning and engaging with it and letting it change you, then you are not faithfully training yourself for godliness.  By God’s grace, we must do the work.  For example, I am somewhat tempted to skip over the end of verse 10 due to its difficulty (the same could be said of 2:15 and 3:11), but that is not faithful.  Rather, I have tried to study and wrestle with it this week.  We know that Paul is not saying that all people will be saved, for that contradicts many other passages.  Rather, it seems that the word translated ‘especially’ could be translated ‘in other words’ or ‘namely.’  Thus, the passage would read: who is the Savior of all people, namely those who believe.1  We must strive to understand and correctly apply God’s word to the end of godliness.  We must labor in this that we might be good servants of Christ.

Third, the focus of Timothy is to be faithful (v. 11-16).

Building upon what he has already written, Paul speaks more specifically to Timothy in this final paragraph.  Look at verses 11-16 with me.  In these 6 verses Paul gives Timothy one imperative after another.  First, he tells him that he should command and teach these things.  Again the primary ministry of a leader is to teach the truth.  Given such a weighty task, Timothy is to not let anyone despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Paul recognizes the difficulty that comes with laboring for truth within the Church.  This has been a great encouragement to me this week.  Yet, he does not tell Timothy to get mad and exert his authority with force.  Rather, he tells him to set a faithful example, a good lesson for me to hear.  Going on, Paul tells him to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Again and again, we see Paul’s emphasis on faithful proclamation of the Word.  Timothy’s charge is to read the Word, explain the Word, and teach the Word.  As pastor here, my charge in the same.  Why go through books of the Bible, why preach the whole counsel of God, why focus on the Word so much in our services?  Because the people of God are desperate for the Word of God.  Timothy is not to neglect the gift that he has been given, which again revolves around his faithful ministry in the Church.  Rather, he is to practice these things, devote yourself to them…Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  These are Paul’s charges to a young minister.  Needless, to say they have been encouraging and challenging to me this week.

Yet, what about me you may ask?  I am not a minister or a leader in the local Church.  So, what is Paul saying to me?  Paul is instructing you, and all Christians, to be faithful in the specific role to which God has called you.  The question is not the particular role, but rather our faithfulness.  However the Lord is calling you to serve in this Church, you must be faithful to the true gospel by remaining loyal to the Scriptures.  Paul’s charge to Timothy is to be faithful to his calling by being faithful to the Word.  Brothers and sisters, Paul is charging you with no less.  Not all are called to be Timothy, but all are called to be faithful.

Tomorrow morning I will meet Barry at the Y to continue working out.  After all, what good would it do if I stopped now?  Physical training requires faithfulness.  But so does training for godliness.  Brothers and sisters do not grow weary in your training, do not give in to the temptation to ‘take it easy.’  There is no time for taking it easy.  Rather, train hard for godliness.  Be diligent in your study of the Word.  Work hard to be counted a good servant of Christ Jesus, remembering all the while that it is only by His grace, which He secured for us at Calvary, that we can be considered His servants at all.  Amen.

1 William B. Barcley, 1 & 2 Timothy (Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2005), 140.

 ~ William Marshall ~

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