It is important to note that when Paul encourages Timothy to be a “good minister of Jesus Christ,” he uses the word diakonos, which is the word for deacon and which has the more general meaning of “servant.” By following Paul's instructions, Timothy will be a good servant of Christ. Though Timothy's service involved carrying out Paul's program for the church at Ephesus as his apostolic representative, every believer ought to have a holy ambition to be a good servant of Christ. And though Paul's instructions were intended to help Timothy in his role as apostolic representative, his words speak to us as well, regardless of whether we are in the ministry in an official capacity or not.
In other words, I think it is easy for believers to read a passage like this and think, “Oh, these verses are for teaching elders in the church,” and to skip over them rather quickly. While it is true that pastors ought to pay careful attention to these words, I believe that God is speaking to every believer through them today. We are in the same position with regard to these verses as the Sadducees were with regard to God's words to Moses: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). When God spoke these words, he was speaking to Moses (Exodus 3:6). But Jesus claims that, fifteen hundred years later, God was still speaking in these words to those who read them, even though they were in a completely different situation than Moses was when these words were originally spoken to him. In the same way, God is still speaking through Scripture today. Our burning bush is the Bible – Old and New Testament, and we ought to pay careful attention to what God is saying to all of us in these words.
These verses are a continuation of the theme begun in verse 6. Last time, we noted that to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, we need to be godly. We showed what it meant to be godly, that it involves immersion in the personal study and application of God's word, a commitment to spiritual discipline, and keeping our eyes on the living God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. Though Paul exhorts Timothy to “put the brethren in remembrance of these things,” the emphasis of verses 6-10 is on the necessity of Timothy's own personal walk with the Lord. In the verses before us (11-16), the emphasis shifts to Timothy's role in leading others in their walk with the Lord, even as Timothy is encouraged to take heed unto himself.
These words are applicable to all believers, not just pastors. This is because at some level we are all involved in leading others. And what Paul would want you to do is to lead others in a way that saves them (verse 16). Pastors lead, it is true, but so do fathers and mothers, and businessmen and women, and politicians, and many others who are in positions of leadership. If you are in any position of leadership, the question is, how will you lead? Will you lead in a way that encourages others in the ways of the Lord, or will you lead in a way that discourages them?
However, I especially want to apply the words before us this morning to parents. This is because, of all human institutions, the family is most like the church. In fact, the church is likened to a family in many places (cf 1 Tim. 3:15). The New England pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards said, “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules.”1 And a father and mother in many ways mimic the role of a pastor to their children. In fact, if a pastor of a church is not first a pastor to his family, he is not qualified for the ministry (1 Tim. 3:4-5). A man is not qualified to lead in a public role as pastor if he is not first a pastor in his private role before his family. So these verses are in many ways especially fitted to give advice to fathers and mothers on what they need to be doing to fulfill their roles as such toward their children.
If then you find yourself in a position of leadership, one that includes the spiritual shepherding of others, the question is, how can I fulfill this role in a way that pleases God? How can I be a good servant of Jesus Christ? What kinds of things do I need to pay attention to in order to honor the Lord in this role? This passage will answer these questions. And it therefore not only informs pastors but everyone who is in a role of spiritual leadership under Christ.
1. Win the respect of those you lead by being an example (verses 11-12).
As we've noted, though Paul is continuing his exhortation to Timothy to “be a good minister of Jesus Christ,” he changes emphasis at verse 11: “These things command and teach.” Timothy is not only to “refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise himself rather unto godliness” (verse 7), he is to teach others to do so as well. However, in order for his teaching to be effective, it needs to be authoritative. For this teaching is not just the communication of facts requiring understanding but the communication of God's word requiring both understanding and obedience. Thus Paul combines “teach” with “command.”
This is the first reason Timothy must command: he is communicating not the words of Paul or himself merely, but the words of Christ through Paul. A pastor/preacher's authority must come from God's word. In itself, this ought to be enough to commend obedience. But there is another reason Timothy must insist upon obedience: it is because the things about which he is dealing are eternally serious things. It might be okay to disagree about a lot of things, like what flavor of ice cream is best or whether wide screen or full screen is optimal, but it's not okay to disagree with God's word, especially when it comes to matters of the soul.
When a soldier is in combat, he has to take the commands of his officers deadly serious. Not following orders could be the difference between life and death – not only of himself but also of his fellow soldiers. In his memoir Beyond Band of Brothers, Major Dick Winters tells a story of Lt. Ronald C. Speirs, who served with him in the 506th Parachute Regiment. During combat operations in the days following D-Day, Speirs gave an order to one of his sergeants who then just ignored the order. Speirs repeated the order and the sergeant again refused to obey. Winters writes, “Speirs then shot the sergeant between the eyes. In doing so, Speirs probably saved the lives of the rest of the squad.”2 I'm not justifying what Speirs did there. Yet, one thing is clear: the sergeant didn't really understand the seriousness of the following orders, and he was putting the lives of his squad in danger. In a similar sense, Paul wanted Timothy to impress upon those who were following him the seriousness of following his leadership.
It's important that pastors – and fathers and mothers who are tending not only the physical needs of their children but their spiritual good as well – help their people to understand the seriousness and weightiness of eternal realities. If we make light of the things of God, our people and our children are likely to do so as well. If we live in a way that speaks of the weightlessness of God upon us (to borrow a phrase from David Wells), or if we talk of them as if they are no different from the news items of the day, then we will never be able to speak authoritatively to them. We may teach but we will never be able to command.
Perhaps another to say this is that we need to impress upon those we lead the glory of God. The Hebrew word for “glory” in the Old Testament basically refers to something that is weighty, heavy. We need to help others see that God is the only being in the universe that is really glorious – and therefore his words are the only words that need to be taken seriously in the most ultimate sense.
But good leaders don't simply demand obedience, they earn it. Pastors and parents ought to lead by example. Thus, Paul goes on to say, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (verse 12). It's hard to obey someone who you don't respect. So what Paul is telling Timothy here is to earn the respect of those he leads. And how was he to do this? By setting an example. He was to be the antithesis of the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, “They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:4). A pastor and a parent are not to tell those whom they lead what to do without exemplifying it themselves first in their own lives.
For Timothy this was especially difficult because he was relatively young in an age that honored the aged. The authorities point out that Timothy was probably in his thirties when this was written (it had been about 10 years since Paul had first met Timothy, and “youth” extended from the very young to those who were forty), so he had the added disadvantage of lacking the gravitas of age. But Paul says that this could be overcome by his example.
When John Gill became the pastor of the Baptist church in Southwark, in London, he was in his early twenties, and it is said that some in the church left because they felt he was too young to be a pastor (the irony in this story is that this group of people eventually started their own church with an even younger pastor at the helm). This has been the experience of many pastors through the ages. A young pastor can feel that he lacks the wisdom to lead the people over whom he has responsibility. A young parent may feel the same. Paul's advice to them would be the same as it was to Timothy: “Be thou an example.”
In what was Timothy to be an example? Paul specifies five categories in which he was to show the way: “in word, in conversation, in charity, . . . , in faith, in purity.”3 First, Timothy was to be an example in his speech. After all, the things we talk about are a window into our soul, and when people hear what we like to talk about, they can infer what we value fairly accurately. People who like sports talk about sports a lot. I'll never forget going to preach at a church in Birmingham, Alabama, years ago. I never realized how serious they were about football there until that trip. The church sent a man to meet me at the airport, and almost the first thing out of his mouth was, “Do you like football?” Even so, if we want those whom we lead to value spiritual things, our speech ought to show it. Spiritual leaders should thus let their speech always be seasoned with grace. What Paul said to the Ephesian church is relevant here: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good do the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers” (4:29). A few verses later, he continues on the theme of the importance of proper speech: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, or foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks” (5:3-4).
The next thing Paul mentions is “conversation” which was the Old English word for “conduct.” Paul is saying that our lives ought to follow our speech in showing that the things of God are precious to us. Unfortunately, some people know how to talk a good talk when it comes to the things of God, but they do not practice what they preach. One man has said that it would be better for some preachers if they never came down from the pulpit. Certainly, telling those whom you lead one thing, and then doing another, is the quickest way to lose their respect and the ability to command obedience.
Timothy was also to be an example in love and faith. His conduct was to mirror the emphasis on these twin graces. He was to live in such a way as to show that he loved God first and people as himself, and that he was relying on the living God. Finally, he was to be an example in purity. The Greek word here for “purity” has sexual overtones. Thus, the man of God is to keep himself sexually pure, in his heart, in his thoughts, and in his conduct. He must take heed to what he looks at, what he thinks about, and what he touches. He must take heed to the words of the Proverb: “Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death” (Prov. 7:25-27).
However, the example that we give is meaningless if the path we have charted is based merely upon our own opinions and thoughts about what is best. How do we decide how to lead in the five areas above? With what compass do we chart the course of our conduct. The next verse gives us the answer: we are to lead with the Word of God.
2. Don't give them your opinion, give them the Bible (verse 13).
Paul writes, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” When Paul tells Timothy to “give attendance to reading,” he is not advising him to keep a well-stocked library, nor is he referring to keeping up with the literature of the day. He is not really even advising him about his private reading habits. For the word “reading” (anagnosis) means “the public reading of Scripture.” In other words, Paul is telling Timothy to make Scripture the centerpiece of the gathering of the church – it is to be publicly read, expounded, and applied. If you want an early church liturgy, here it is.
Nor was this something Paul or the early church made up; it was inherited from the practice of the synagogue. One thinks of Jesus going into the synagogue in Nazareth and reading from the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16,ff), or Paul in the synagogue in Antioch: “And after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:15). What's significant about this passage is that the same Greek words for “reading” and “exhortation” occur in both in Acts 13:15 and in 1 Tim. 4:13. In other words, Acts 13 gives us a window into what the application of 1 Tim. 4:13 would have looked like in the early church.
And this practice was in fact continued by the early church. Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century, described the worship of the early church: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.”4
The reading of Scripture would have been especially important because most people in that time didn't have access to a copy of the Bible in their homes. Church was the only place they would have been able to hear the Bible read. So Paul wants to make sure that people don't just get a lot of good advice from a preacher; he wants them to hear the very words of God. I think it was Spurgeon who once said that it was not his words that saved anyone, it was the Word of God. So people need to hear God's word.
It's important as parents that our “little churches” have God's word read aloud as well. It is a good practice to make the reading of Scripture part of the daily routine of the house, whether it is read at the supper table, or before bed, or at the beginning of the day. Let your children hear the word of God. Another suggestion I've heard is to play Scripture CDs to your children as they are going to sleep. However you do it, let those whom you lead hear God's word.
But it is also important to see that Paul does not simply stop at the public reading of Scripture. He says that the reading of Scripture is to be joined with “exhortation” and “doctrine.” The word “exhortation” is the Greek word paraklesis, and has a wide range of meaning, including “encouragement, appeal, comfort, consolation” and “preaching.” The spiritual leader is to do all these things with God's word. He is to preach it to his church, to his family. He is to seek to apply God's word to their lives.
The next word Paul uses is “doctrine.” He is to instruct the people with God's word. He is to teach them, he is to make them understand it, to explain the meaning. A lot of the Puritans would divide up their sermons into doctrine and application. I think they had a lot of Biblical warrant from this text for doing exactly that. If every minister explained the doctrine of the text and then applied it to the congregation, they would be doing 1 Tim. 4:13. Therefore, don't give people your advice and then sprinkle it with some Bible verses. That is not what Paul is telling Timothy to do here. He is to base all his teaching and exhortation on God's word. The people need to see that what is coming out of the preacher's mouth is coming from the text. Which, by the way, is the reason I think expository preaching is the best kind of preaching, and the most Biblical.
3. Never stop growing spiritually (verses 14-16).
Perhaps one of the easiest things to do when leading others is to become so focused on where you want others to be that you forget about yourself. Thus, Paul ends this section with an exhortation to Timothy to never neglect his own spiritual growth. There are three things that Paul says to Timothy in this regard.
First, he tells him to “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (verse 14). I think really what Paul is saying here is that Timothy should not let discouragement get the better of him. It is easy sometimes when leading get really hard to think that we're not qualified, and that we should just give up and go home. There is a lot of discouragement among those in the pastorate. One evangelical leader laments, “Half of pastors would leave the ministry tomorrow if they could. Seventy percent are fighting depression and 90 percent can't cope with the challenge of ministry.”5 This is not only true for pastors, it is also true for parents. A lot of parents get overwhelmed with the challenges of parenthood.
How do you fight discouragement? One way is to remember that if God has called into the role of leadership, he will equip you for the job, and he is not going to quit on you. If you are a parent, you can be sure that God had called you into that role, no matter how you feel about it. Paul wanted Timothy to remember that God has gifted him, a gift which was confirmed by prophesy and affirmed by the laying on of the hand of the presbytery. Timothy was not to neglect this gift. This was not a role he had put himself into, this was something that God had gifted him for. And he was not going to leave him behind. Later, Paul would write Timothy, “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:6-7). Timothy had all the resources in God that he needed to lead others. And if you are in a position of leading others, and God has called you to that, then you can be sure that God has equipped you with everything you need to be his good servant in that role.
The next thing Paul tells Timothy is to “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear unto all” (verse 15). The word for “meditate” could mean that, but it also carries the meaning of “to practice.” Thus, some versions opt for the translation, “Practice these things.” Whether Paul meant for Timothy to think about what he was saying or whether is meant for Timothy to put them into practice, the second thing he says makes it very clear what his goal was: “give thyself wholly to them.” The Greek here literally says, “Be in them.” Paul is saying, “Timothy, immerse yourself in your work.” In other words, the second thing Paul wants Timothy to do in order to keep growing spiritually is to never get satisfied with where he is at. Keep working as hard as you can to be godly.
Teachers who get satisfied with where they are stop trying to better their lessons. They just teach the same thing over and over again. And as a result, their teaching begins to worsen. I've heard a story about a famous piano player who practiced hours and hours every day. Someone asked him why he had to keep practicing since he was already so good. His response was that if he stopped practicing, after a couple of days, he would be able to hear the difference. After a couple of weeks, he fellow musicians would be able to hear the difference. After a couple of months, the audience to whom he was playing would be able to tell. So he kept practicing. In the same way, we have to keep immersing ourselves in the practice of godliness if we want to grow. And that is precisely what Paul says will happen if we do this: “that thy profiting may appear to all.”
I love that last phrase. It is saying that if we work hard at godliness and spiritual leadership, we will advance. There will be growth. And it will eventually be noticeable even to those around us. Don't be discouraged, give yourself to these things!
Finally, Paul writes, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (verse 16). There is a lot in this verse, but I think the gist of it is that Timothy is to understand the dangers that imperil his own spiritual condition and of those whom he leads. The first two words of this verse frame everything that follows: “Take heed.” The ESV translates, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Why is Timothy to do this? Why should he be on the lookout? It is because his own salvation and the salvation of those he leads is at stake: “for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” The very opposite of this was the Pharisees: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).
Now I think it's important to understand that Paul is not saying that Timothy by his own merit or power can save either himself or those whom he leads. It is not Timothy himself who saves, it is the word of God that he teaches that is able to save. If he teaches God's word faithfully, this word will save both himself and those to whom he is teaching this word, through the power of the Holy Spirit who applies the word of Christ to his people. Thus is it imperative that Timothy remain faithful to God's word, that he take heed unto himself and unto the doctrine – the teaching which has as its content the truth of the gospel.
If you are responsible for the spiritual well-being of others, you need to understand that you are not leading them down a primrose path. We are on a road that is beset with dangers, with enemies who want to destroy you and those whom you lead. Peter warned, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9a). You need to take steps to guard against the dangers against your own soul and the souls of those whom you lead.
But once we are aware of the danger, the best way to fight them is to take heed unto ourselves and unto the doctrine. To never stop growing in the spiritual disciplines, to never stop guarding ourselves against evil, to never stop growing in the word of God. And if we do this, we are promised success: we will save ourselves and those that hear and follow our instruction.
John Bunyan has given us probably one of the best pictures of the type of person that Paul is exhorting Timothy (and us) to be. In his allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, when Christian comes to the Interpreter's house, he shows him a picture of “a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: he had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back; he stood as if he pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head.” When Christian asks the Interpreter what his picture meant, he explains, “The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ upon his lips: it is to show thee, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men: and whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present for the love that he hath to his Master's service, he is sure in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward.” May God make us like this man, may he make us into “good servants of Jesus Christ.”
1Qtd. in http://theresurgence.com/2010/10/15/4-puritan-family-lessons
2 Beyond Band of Brothers, p 186.
3The phrase “in spirit” does not occur in the best Greek manuscripts. It is deleted in modern versions.
4Qtd. in Ryken, I Timothy (REC), p. 186.