1 Timothy chapter four begins with the word “Now,” a transitional word that alerts us to the beginning of a new topic. You see, Paul the Apostle spent much of the previous chapter discussing the various qualifications for church leadership. Here now at the start of chapter four, he will go on to tell us why those qualifications are so important…
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
We would do well to pay close attention to this passage for it tells us that the clear, plain message of the Holy Spirit is this: some who profess to be Christians will abandon the faith. Notice that this verse does not refer to those who are hostile to Christianity or others who seek to attack the church from the outside. Instead, this passage identifies those who claim to be Christians and describes their defection from a relationship with the one true God.
We’ll discuss this departure from the faith at greater length in an upcoming study. However, we can introduce this subject by observing that the concept of abandoning (GNT) , turning away (CEB), or departing (ESV) from the faith is associated with the idea of someone who relocates from one place to another. “The faith” refers to the basic, fundamental teachings of Christianity.
One Pastoral commentator distills and summarizes the warning behind this passage in the following manner…
- The danger of apostasy (some will depart).
- The danger of deception (deceiving spirits).
- The danger of false teaching (doctrines of demons). (1)
Unlike the false doctrines exposed by Paul in the Biblical books of Galatians, Colossians, and earlier within this letter to Timothy, this verse details the damaging effect of false teachings upon those who subscribe to them. This underscores the critical need to seek spiritual leaders who meet the qualifications discussed earlier in 1 Timothy chapter three. It also alerts us to an important cause and effect relationship that we will go on to explore in subsequent studies.
Another source directs our attention to the negative impact of such teachings along with their ultimate origin…
“God had revealed through Christ that, as time passed, some who held the truth would repudiate it… This would come about as a result of their listening to persuasive arguments put forth by God’s spiritual enemies (‘deceitful spirits and doctrines’) and, behind them, ‘demons.’” (2)
(1) Guzik, Dave, 1 Timothy 4 – God’s Man Of Truth And Integrity, (4:1) https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-timothy-4/
(2) See Gregory H. Harris, “Satan’s Work as a Deceiver,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156:622 (April-June 1999):190-202. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy 2020 Edition [E. The problem of apostasy in the church 4:1-5] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1 ESV).
As we consider the opening verse of 1 Timothy chapter four, we should recognize that Paul the Apostle was someone who once interacted with Jesus in His direct presence. In addition, Paul was a man who was personally appointed by the Lord to His position of apostolic authority. Because of this, it seems likely that Paul received a specific revelation regarding the apostasy mentioned in this verse through the direct agency of the Holy Spirit. This may have been a fresh insight from the Holy Spirit or it may have been related to warning that Paul issued to the church at Ephesus some years earlier…
“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
This brings us to the timeline associated with this departure from the faith. While it may be tempting to link the term “later times” with “the end times,” many commentators note that the concept of “later times” incorporates the period ranging from the date of Jesus’ birth until His return. For instance, one source observes that “Apostasy will exist throughout that period, reaching a climax shortly before Christ returns (cf. Mt 24:12).” (1) Another commentator offers an intriguing word-picture that serves to illustrate this concept…
“It has been more than 1900 years since Paul wrote to Timothy about the latter times, but he did not misunderstand his time or our own. History is not, and has not, been rushing towards a distant brink that would end this current order; even in apostolic times, history had reached that brink – and has run parallel to it since. As it turns out, the latter times describe a broad era, not a couple of years.” (2)
So much like a motor vehicle that is traveling perilously close to a dangerous cliff, those who abandon genuine Bible doctrine are always close to falling into a spiritual abyss. While examples of such apostasy are likely to grow more prevalent as we approach the close of this chapter of human history, the need to guard against such things is applicable to any era.
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 4:1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Guzik, Dave, 1 Timothy 4 – God’s Man Of Truth And Integrity, (4:1) https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-timothy-4/
Image Credit: David Lally / A57 – A dangerous road https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A57_-_A_dangerous_road_-_geograph.org.uk_-_616076.jpg Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
“But the Spirit says clearly that in later times some will be turned away from the faith, giving their minds to spirits of deceit, and the teachings of evil spirits” (1 Timothy 4:1 BBE).
While Christianity has always been faced with external opposition, we should note an important difference here in 1 Timothy 4:1. You see, the group identified in this passage is not comprised of people who were always outside the Christian community. Instead, this group is composed of professing Christians who will depart from a relationship with the one true God.
Before we continue with our look at this verse, it may also be helpful to first define our terms. For instance, this reference to “falling” or “turning” away from the faith finds its origin in a word that means “to desert, withdraw from one,” (1) “to cause to depart,” (2) or “fall away.” (3) So much like a tenant who leaves a home or apartment, this word describes someone who departs, relocates, or moves away from a position that he or she once held.
We should also note that these definitions are not associated with the heretical leaders that Paul the Apostle mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy chapter one. Then, as now, those leaders identified their true nature by virtue of their false teachings. Instead, this verse describes the potential effect of such teachings upon those who are exposed to them.
This passage also goes on to identify “the faith” as the point of departure for these individuals. In this context, “the faith” refers to the historic body of doctrine that corresponds with the Word of God. As mentioned earlier in our look at 1 Timothy chapter one, true doctrine represents a teaching that aligns with what we read in the Bible. False doctrine corresponds with something else.
This leads to a difficult question regarding those who fall away from the faith. On one hand, we might identify these individuals as “…professing or nominal Christians who associate with those who truly believe the gospel, but defect after believing lies and deception, thus revealing their true nature as unconverted.” (4)
However, a second commentator offers a different perspective: “It seems quite clear that Christians can stop believing God (Matt. 10:33; Mark 8:32; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:8). [a] This does not mean, however, that they will lose their salvation, since salvation is God’s work, not ours (John 10:28; Rom. 8:31-39; 2 Tim. 2:13). One of my professors at Dallas Seminary used to say, correctly, I think, ‘I believe in the perseverance of the Savior, but I do not believe in the perseverance of the saints.’” [b] (5)
(1) G868 aphistemi Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g868
(2) G868 aphistemi Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(3) See William Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/aphistemi
(4) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 4:1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(5) [a] See Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “aphistemi, et al.,” by Heinrich Schlier, 1(1964):512-13. [b] S. Lewis Johnson Jr. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy 2020 Edition [E. The problem of apostasy in the church 4:1-5] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1 HCSB).
1 Timothy 4:1 presents us with a disturbing portrait, for those who “depart the faith” will knowingly or unknowingly follow “deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons.” Their example reminds us that there are some spiritual teachings that seem good but aren’t necessarily based in truth.
For instance, let’s take the very first Biblical example of a deceitful teaching as found in the Old Testament book of Genesis…
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”
‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:1-5).
This exchange serves as a representative example of the danger revealed here in 1 Timothy 4:1. We can expose this danger by examining the proposition put forth by the serpent: “You will not surely die… your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” That assertion carried several implications that failed to accurately reflect God’s true character…
- First, it implied that God did something wrong because He didn’t tell the truth (“You will not surely die”).
- This led to the insinuation that God was withholding something good from humanity: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened.”
- Those propositions were certain to prompt a further question: what was God’s motive in denying access to this fruit? Once again, the serpent was ready with a disingenuous response: God was concerned that Eve would learn that she could become like Him (“you will be like God”).
This line of reasoning may have seemed plausible but was actually rooted in an intent to deceive. The same may be true of any philosophy, belief. or ideology that fails to align with genuine Biblical doctrine. Some teachings may seem plausible but plausibility alone is a poor measure of spiritual truth. Biblical accuracy should be be our standard as we seek to evaluate any spiritual teaching.
“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings” (1 Timothy 4:1 NET).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul the Apostle identifies “spirits that lead one into error” and “teachings of demons” (Wuest) as two sources of false doctrine. While it is generally best to remain focused upon Jesus in the circumstances of daily life, we should not neglect the value of knowing who and what we are up against in the spiritual realm.
For instance, demons are angelic beings who have joined the devil in his rebellion against God. That rebellion is referenced in the New Testament letter of Jude where we read of “…the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home…” (Jude 1:6) and in 2 Peter 2:4 where we’re told that “…God did not spare angels when they sinned…”
In addition to what we read here in 1 Timothy 4:1, the Scriptures also describe demonic beings as evil (Luke 7:21), unclean (Matthew 10:1), and wicked (Matthew 12:45). Thus, we should not be surprised by their association with deceptive teachings.
However, we should note that demonic beings are not the only sources of heretical teachings. For instance, some may promote false doctrine in an attempt to gain recognition, appease an audience, satisfy a need for approval, or avoid the potential consequences associated with telling the truth. Other false teachings may arise from the use of questionable sources or simply though ignorance, ineptitude, or inexperience. The point is that human sinfulness may also have a role to play in the spread of false teachings.
Nevertheless, 1 Timothy 4:1 tells us that demonic involvement with false doctrine is real and should be taken into account. For instance, consider Jesus’ message to the first-century church in the city of Thyatira as recorded in the New Testament book of Revelation…
“As for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, really), I will ask nothing further of you; only hold tightly to what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:24 TLB).
Judging from what we read in that passage, it appears that some within the Thyatiran church were attracted to “deeper spiritual truths” that had nothing to do with God or truth. Unfortunately, there are many who similarly believe that true “spiritual enlightenment” can be found in places other than God’s Word. Instead, the path to genuine spiritual understanding is illuminated when the Holy Spirit helps us understand and apply the Biblical Scriptures (John 16:13).
“speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2).
Having already established demonic activity as a source of false teaching in 1 Timothy 4:1, the following verse reveals the method in which those teachings are delivered: “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (NIV).
In the New Testament era, the idea of “one who wears a mask’ was synonymous with the concept of hypocrisy. This term originated in the ancient Greek theatre to describe actors who used facial masks to portray different emotions. Over time, the word “hypocrite” became a derogative term that described anyone who wasn’t what he or she claimed to be.
Unlike some modern-day definitions of hypocrisy, this tell us that a hypocrite is not someone who makes a mistake or struggles to live a sincere, God-honoring life. Instead, a hypocrite is a “mask-wearer” or someone who knowingly and intentionally differs from what he or she appears to be.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus issued some of His strongest criticisms to the spiritual hypocrites of His day…
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28 NET).
“Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you. So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 GW).
One source makes a provocative observation regarding hypocrisy that we would do well to consider…
“It comes as a shock to some people that Satan uses professed Christians in the church to accomplish his work. But Satan once used Peter to try to lead Jesus on a wrong path (Matt. 16:21-23), and he used Ananias and Sapphira to try to deceive the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5). Paul warned that false teachers would arise from within the church (Acts 20:30).” (1)
(1) Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:224, quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD Notes on 1 Timothy 2020 Edition [4:1-3] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
“through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:2 ESV).
This reference to liars here in 1 Timothy 4:2 alludes to the Ninth Commandment as recorded in Exodus chapter 20: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16 KJV). The context of this passage also serves to remind us that false teachers are often convincing liars who can easily deceive those those who aren’t diligent to study the Scriptures.
This emphasizes the need to follow the admonition given to us in the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NIV). The Biblical epistle of 1 John also emphasizes our responsibility in this area when it says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
We can add Jesus’ observation regarding the devil and his character to this list of references as well: “When he lies, it is perfectly normal; for he is the father of liars” (John 8:44). This helps explain why lying is wrong- it traces its origin to the nature of Satan, not God.
It’s also important to remember that the Scriptures identify God as a God of truth (Psalm 31:5) who does not lie (Titus 1:1-2)- and those who are untruthful in small things are likely to be untruthful in larger affairs as well. As Jesus noted in the gospel of Luke, “Anyone who can be trusted in little matters can also be trusted in important matters. But anyone who is dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in important matters” (Luke 16:10 CEV).
While lying often seems easier than telling the truth, there is price to pay for doing so. That price takes the form of doubt and uncertainty in our relationships and provokes distrust in our interactions with others. This serves to explain why the New Testament epistle of Colossians tells us, “Don’t tell lies to each other; it was your old life with all its wickedness that did that sort of thing; now it is dead and gone” (TLB).
We can honor God and gain the respect of others if we develop a reputation for honesty. In a world where truthful responses are often rare, we should make it our aim to “…speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).
“influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:2 NET).
1 Timothy 4:2 offers a vivid word-picture in describing “…those whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (NIV). One source provides us with several interpretive options for this passage…
“The precise meaning of this phrase is somewhat debated. Three primary interpretations are (1) the consciences of these false teachers are ‘branded’ with Satan’s mark to indicate ownership, (2) their consciences are ‘branded’ with a penal mark to show they are lawbreakers, or (3) their consciences have been ‘seared’ (i.e., totally burnt and desensitized) so that they are unable to notice the difference between right and wrong.” (1)
So this imagery depicts a person with a conscience that has been cauterized as if he or she had come into contact with a red-hot piece of metal. As anyone who has been burned in this manner can attest, a piece of skin tissue that has been cauterized can no longer feel anything. The Scripture quoted here from 1 Timothy 4:2 tells us that much the same can occur with our sense of right and wrong as well.
For instance, a person who knowingly does something wrong should expect to feel a sense of guilt. But a person who continues to engage in guilt-provoking behaviors may eventually reach the point where his or her conscience no longer functions as it should. In other words, a conscience that has been repeatedly burned in such a manner may eventually become as unresponsive as an area of cauterized skin. This can often lead to a destructive chain of consequences.
When someone’s conscience no longer provides a warning regarding small areas of inappropriate behavior, there may be very little left to stop that person from engaging in progressively damaging actions. Unfortunately, there are some (and perhaps many) who possess a conscience that has been disabled to the point where it no longer provides a warning regarding self-destructive behaviors.
This should serve to remind us of two important principles. First, we should prayerfully read the Scriptures daily to help fulfill the mandate given to us in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). It should also remind us of the counsel found in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (HCSB).
(1) NET Bible notes on 1 Timothy 4:2 https://netbible.org/bible/1+Timothy+4
“forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).
Earlier in 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul the Apostle issued a warning regarding those who will give heed to “…doctrines of demons.” Here in verse three, he will now go on to provide two examples of such doctrines.
The first involved a prohibition on marital relationships. Unfortunately, those who reject such relationships also reject some important Biblical teachings on that subject…
“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’ …Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man… Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:19, 22, 24).
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery. His disciples said to Him, ‘If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given’” (Matthew 19:9-11).
So while celibacy may represent a legitimate calling, there is a difference between voluntary celibacy for some and mandatory celibacy for all. (1) Furthermore, some might attempt argues that a prohibition on marriage does not necessarily involve a prohibition on sexual activity. However, that choice also carries its own set of Biblical admonitions.
We can view our second example in a similar manner: “…commanding to abstain from foods.” For instance, there are many who choose to abstain from certain foods for health reasons or a sense of personal conviction. However, it is quite another matter to promote dietary restrictions as a means of seeking favor with God or contributing to one’s salvation.
Since “…everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (NIV), a God-honoring person has the liberty to enjoy a variety of different foods. In the words of one Biblical scholar, “It is just as demonic to repudiate the thankful and holy enjoyment of God’s material gifts as it is to abuse those gifts in ways contrary to His Word.” (2)
(1) See the discussion regarding marriage and celibacy beginning here for additional information
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2160). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).
Much like the first-century congregation at Ephesus, modern-day Christians must also wrestle with the proper application of various Biblical teachings in everyday life. In the New Testament era, that struggle often took the form of foods that were appropriate to eat. A conscientious believer could turn to Jesus’ teaching from the Gospel of Mark to help make good decisions in that area…
“‘Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.’ After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” (Mark 7:15-19 NIV).
If we were to paraphrase Jesus’ message from these verses, we might say that people are not defiled by the things they choose to eat. Yet, the Old Testament book of Leviticus also identified various foods that God pronounced as acceptable and unacceptable to eat. So how can we reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable teachings?
Well, we can first say that Jesus did not reject the Old Testament Law but rightly established that sin originates in the heart. For instance, a person who deliberately ate something unclean under the Old Testament Law was not defiled by the food itself. He or she was actually defiled by an insubordinate attitude (or “heart”) that led him or her to eat something that God prohibited.
Jesus thus tied the concept of defilement to the sinful thoughts and intents of our innermost being. Those internal thoughts and motivations are the real agents of defilement and they are what ultimately make us unfit for a relationship with God.
In making these statements, Jesus effectively ended all religiously-oriented dietary restrictions. While many cultures and individuals still observe these traditional restrictions, those constraints do not make us better or worse before God. As Paul the Apostle said to the Corinthian church, “…food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better” (1 Corinthians 8:8 ASV). Nevertheless, as one commentator sadly observes, “…in every generation men arose who tried to be stricter than God.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Enslavers Of Men And Insulters Of God (1 Timothy 4:1-5 continued)”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-4.html. 1956-1959.
“If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6).
Following the doctrinal teachings that preceded this passage, 1 Timothy 4:6 introduces a series of personal exhortations that will continue virtually unbroken throughout the rest of this letter. Putting these Biblical admonitions into practice will surely help anyone become a more God-honoring person. And while “…pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters” (NET) isn’t always popular or well-received, doing so will help make one “…a good minister of Jesus Christ.”
We should first note the reference to instruction in this passage. This reminds us that one of the primary responsibilities of a Pastoral leader (like Timothy) involves instructing others in the Word of God. This also brings us to a point of emphasis within the book of 1 Timothy: the importance of expository Biblical teaching.
It should go without saying that expository teaching should characterize most pastoral sermons. This approach is distinguished by a thorough explanation of each Biblical passage that seeks to communicate God’s Word in a way that others can understand, remember, and apply. As one source explains…
“Expository preaching involves the exposition, or comprehensive explanation, of the Scripture; that is, expository preaching presents the meaning and intent of a biblical text, providing commentary and examples to make the passage clear and understandable. The word exposition is related to the word expose—the expository preacher’s goal is simply to expose the meaning of the Bible, verse by verse…
An expositor cares little if his audience says, ‘What a great sermon’ or ‘What an entertaining speaker.’ What he truly wants them to say is, ‘Now I know what that passage means,’ or ‘I better understand who God is and what He requires of me.’” (1)
A church that emphasizes expository teaching from the pulpit (as opposed to topical messages that feature few or no Biblical texts) is well positioned to establish, build, and strengthen the faith of a congregation. Another source details the benefit of this approach with the following observations…
“Continual feeding on the truths of Scripture is essential to the spiritual health of all Christians (2Ti 3:16, 17), but especially of spiritual leaders like Timothy. Only by reading the Word, studying it, meditating on it, and mastering its contents can a pastor fulfill his mandate (2Ti 2:15). Timothy had been doing so since childhood (2Ti 3:15), and Paul urged him to continue (cf. v. 16; 2Ti 3:14).” (2)
(1) GotQuestions.org, What is expository preaching? Retrieved 23 December, 2020 from https://www.gotquestions.org/expository-preaching.html
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 4:6). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
This passage represents the second time Paul the Apostle has addressed the subject of spiritual fables in this letter to Timothy. For instance, 1 Timothy 1:3-4 earlier identified two examples of false doctrine: myths (or fables) and endless genealogies. In this context, a “myth” or “fable” refers to a legendary account or fabricated religious story. We could also expand this definition to include Biblical interpretations that have little or no basis in the text or context of a given passage.
As mentioned earlier, we can illustrate this idea for modern-day readers with the legendary claim that Jesus once traveled to India as a child and later taught what He learned as a result of that journey. Another fable involves the claim that Jesus fashioned birds out of clay when He was a boy and brought them to life. These mythical accounts are Biblically unsupportable and the latter account contradicts the testimony of Scripture. Yet these fables siphon the time and attention of those who would be better served by studying the genuine gospel accounts of Jesus’ life.
This problem likely represented an ongoing issue for the early church. For example, the Apostle Paul addressed this topic in another of his Pastoral epistles…
“…you must be severe when you rebuke those who have followed this false teaching, so that they will come to be sound in their trust and no longer pay attention to Judaistic myths or to the commands of people who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14 CJB).
The unfortunate reality is that many continue to invest countless hours in the study of “Godless legends” (GNB), “irreverent, silly myths” (ESV), and/or “myths fit only for the godless and gullible” (NET). While an awareness of such things may have limited value (as in the reference to the mythical events from Jesus’ youth cited above), they do little to promote true godliness as we read in here in 1 Timothy 4:7. Instead, that time would be far better spent if we prayerfully read, studied, internalized, and applied God’s Word.
So this verse reminds us of the need to familiarize ourselves with Scriptures in order to separate true doctrine from false doctrine. One of the very best ways to accomplish this involves taking the time to prayerfully read God’s Word each day. We will be well prepared to distinguish between true and false doctrine if we know what the Bible says and means through our personal interaction with the Scriptures.
“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
Although he is largely forgotten among many today, physical fitness and nutritional expert Jack LaLanne was a staple of American daytime television for decades beginning in the 1950’s. Over the course of his long career, Jack LaLanne presented fitness and exercise advice to millions through the television show that bore his name. His long list of physical accomplishments were truly astounding and he was the recipient of numerous awards and honors prior to his death at age 96.
Jack LaLanne’s Wikipedia entry also reveals several interesting references that describe his life and work. Some of those references include phrases that we often associate with subjects of a religious nature. For instance…
- “During his career, [LaLanne] came to believe that the country’s overall health depended on the health of its population, and referred to physical culture and nutrition as ‘the salvation of America.’”
- “In his own words, he was ‘born again’, and besides his new focus on nutrition, he began working out daily…”
- “Wearing his standard jumpsuit, he urged his audience ‘with the enthusiasm of an evangelist,’ to get off their couch and copy his basic movements, a manner considered the forerunner of today’s fitness videos.” (1)
Unfortunately, the “about” section of LaLanne’s website also concludes with a rather presumptuous statement: “…on January 23, 2011 at the age of 96, Jack LaLanne did pass away. He is now God’s personal trainer…” (2)
That brings us to our study of 1 Timothy 4:8. While Jack LaLanne’s achievements in health and nutrition undoubtedly helped many people, the benefit of his counsel did not extend beyond the limits of his earthly life. One source ties these divergent threads together with the following observation: “The benefits of bodily training are limited and transient when contrasted with the extensive and permanent benefits of godliness.” (3)
In the words of another source, “Paul did not dispute the significant medical benefits of physical exercise. ‘Limited’ means ‘for a little while’ (the benefits of exercise are only temporary). Spiritual training that produces godly character is more important since its results endure throughout the present life and in the life to come.” (4)
Thus as 1 Timothy 4:8 reminds us, “Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come” (Phillips).
(1) Wikipedia, “Jack LaLanne” Retrieved 21 December, 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_LaLanne
(2) jacklalanne.com, “About” Retrieved 21 December, 2020 from http://jacklalanne.com/about/
(3) Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, Ryrie Study Notes, [1 Timothy 4:8] © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp
(4) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1804). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Image Credit: Jack LaLanne, Photographer: Cliff Riddle, Hollywood, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_LaLanne_1961.JPG
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).
1 Timothy 4:9 presents us with another of Paul the Apostle’s “faithful sayings.” Whether verse nine represents a fitting conclusion to the previous verse or prepares us for what follows, the effect remains unchanged: this phrase alerts us to something important.
For instance, if we look ahead to 1 Timothy 4:10 we find a statement that requires careful consideration: “…we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe” (HCSB). At first glance, this passage may seem to promote Universalism or the belief that everyone will ultimately find salvation. However, that doctrine does not align with the following Biblical verses…
“For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
“But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:5-11).
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).
So if God is the Savior of everyone (as we’re told here in 1 Timothy 4:10) but some will be judged and condemned, then how are we to reconcile these passages? Perhaps the easiest way to understand this verse is to say that any human being who comes to God through faith in Christ will be accepted by Him for He is “…the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
We’ll survey a range of commentaries that will help us gain a fuller understanding of this passage next.
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10 ESV).
Many sources offer valuable insights that can help us properly understand and apply this passage from 1 Timothy 4:10. For instance, some commentators focus upon God as “the Savior of all people” with an emphasis upon His grace and providential care…
“In this case, Paul may be using ‘Savior’ in a broader sense as ‘benefactor,’ as it was applied to Roman emperors: in His common grace, God lavishes generous provision on ‘all people’ or ‘on the just and the unjust’ (Matt. 5:45); but He focuses special, redemptive grace on ‘those who believe.’” (1)
“God is the Saviour of all men in the sense that all men depend on Him for all they have in the physical world—indeed all they have in any realm of living ultimately comes from God. Without God man would be lost physically—mentally—morally. This is true of all men, whether they recognize it or not. But most especially is this true of those who believe—for they know the source of all things in the life which now is, and of that which is to come.” (2)
Another Biblical scholar begins with God’s providential care and moves to an examination of this passage on an individual level…
“One could find in this statement the idea that God is the Preserver of the entire human race in the sense of His providential care. But the context, which brings in the idea of faith, seems to indicate that the idea of salvation from sin and the impartation of eternal life is the function here of God as Saviour. He is Saviour of all men in the sense that our Lord is ‘the Saviour of the world’ (Joh_4:42). He is the actual Saviour of those who believe, and the potential Saviour of the unbeliever in the sense that He has provided a salvation at the Cross for the sinner, and stands ready to save that sinner when the latter places his faith in the Lord Jesus.” (3)
Finally, one commentary expands upon the phrase “especially of those who believe”…
“Some claim this verse conflicts with other scriptural passages by teaching universalism (all individuals will be saved). However, ‘everyone’ refers to both Jews and Gentiles (all kinds of people rather than every single individual). The word ‘especially’ could be translated ‘namely.’ ‘Everyone’ equals ‘every believer regardless of ethnic background.’” (4)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2160). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Don De Welt, Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus, [Comment 4:10] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright 1961
(3) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 4:9-11] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(4) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1804). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“These things command and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:11-12).
The concept of “youth” in the New Testament era often served to identify those who had not yet reached forty years of age. Since Timothy was still within this category at the time of this letter from Paul the Apostle, he may have found it difficult to interact with older men and women in an authoritative manner.
Perhaps there were some who were dismissive of Timothy in view of his relative youth or he may have been reluctant to assert himself with older individuals. Either possibility would serve to explain Paul’s forceful directive within this passage.
However, Paul did not simply advise Timothy to assert himself and leave it at that. He also addressed the things Timothy needed to affirm and how he should affirm them. First, let’s consider Paul’s initial directive: “Command and teach these things” (RSV). So what did Paul mean in issuing these instructions?
Well, “these things” undoubtedly comprised the subjects that Paul has already addressed within this letter. Those would include…
- “…command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4 NIV).
- “…I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 CEB).
- “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV).
- “And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do… I do not let women teach men or have authority over them” (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 12 NLT).
- “A congregation leader must be above reproach, he must be faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, orderly, hospitable and able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 CJB).
We’ll begin our look at how Timothy was instructed to command and teach these doctrines next.
“Command and teach these things. 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” (1 Timothy 4:11-12 NET).
Paul the Apostle advised Timothy to set an example that others could follow as he fulfilled his responsibilities within the church at Ephesus. A closer look at the word “example” offers some additional insight into Paul’s counsel and provides us with a personal application for our lives.
In the original language of this passage, the word translated “example” refers to a mark formed by an impact. It might also refer to a pattern or model from which copies are made. (1) So much like the tooling used to make an impression upon a piece of metal or leather, Timothy was responsible to leave an imprint for Christ upon others and serve as a pattern for them.
This timeless piece of Biblical counsel is relevant to every age and culture. You see, one of two things often occurs in our relationships with others: either we are setting the example and influencing others or they are setting the example and influencing us. Paul understood the importance of setting the right example for others to follow, for he urged the members of the church at Corinth to “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 CSB).
In much the same manner, we can say that everyone teaches and influences others by their example. Some teach others what to do and some teach others what not to do. The question is, which of these examples are we setting for our friends, acquaintances, and/or colleagues?
We can further personalize these verses by considering Paul’s mandate from this passage: “Don’t let anyone look down on you…” (CEB). This implies that we are responsible to ensure that our lives do not provide others with a legitimate reason to express disregard, indifference, or disrespect for the beliefs we hold as representatives of Christ.
While it may not be possible to change the opinions of others, we can work to ensure that we serve as good role models. For those who are in Christ, this involves setting an example for the believers as we read here in 1 Timothy 4:12. In addition, we should prayerfully strive to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV) in our relationships with those outside the Christian community.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV).
While “youth” is a relative term, the idea behind 1 Timothy 4:12 is applicable to any stage of life: Don’t let others look down upon you. Set an example for them to follow. We can fulfill these directives if we seek to honor God in the five areas of life mentioned here…
Speech: This encompasses more than just profanity or inappropriate language. For instance, there are those whose lives reflect a never-ending barrage of complaints, criticisms, negativity, cynicism, and fault-finding. But instead of focusing upon these negative qualities, we would be better served to ask for God’s help in applying the words of Philippians 4:8 and Ephesians 4:29…
“…Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (TLB).
“Don’t use bad language. Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing” (TLB).
Life: This refers to our conduct and reputation among others, for one poor decision can instantly ruin a good name. In this respect, the Biblical message from 1 Peter 2:12 bears repeating: “…maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears” (NET).
Love: While we often associate love with an external display of affection, it also involves a Christ-oriented commitment to act in the best interests of others, even in the absence of an emotional feeling. For example, genuine love seeks to determine what is best for everyone in a given situation and expresses a willingness to defer to others whenever appropriate.
While the circumstances may change from person to person, we can often identify a loving response by answering the following question: “What is in the best interest of the people who are involved in this situation from God’s perspective?” Paul the Apostle expanded upon this idea in his Biblical epistle to the Philippian church…
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well” (Philippians 2:3-4 NET).
We’ll continue our look at this attribute from 1 Timothy 4:12 next.
“Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 HCSB).
The attribute of love represents one of the five areas of life where we should set an example for others according to 1 Timothy 4:12. As mentioned earlier, genuine love involves a Christ-oriented commitment to act in the best interests of others. Jesus illustrated this aspect of love in the New Testament gospel of John when He said, “…the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 provides some additional insight that can help us set the right example for others in this area…
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).
While there are many ways to express love, the action items given to us here in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 will enable us to demonstrate sincere, authentic, Christ-like love in every situation. If we seek to measure our actions by this definition, we can be confident that we are displaying genuine love as we interact with others.
Faith: The next attribute from 1 Timothy 4:12 is faith. Genuine, Biblical faith is associated with the confident belief that God is who He says He is, and will do what He says He’ll do. One Biblical dictionary defines faith as “A belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) However, the New Testament book of Hebrews provides us with the best definition of faith…
“Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].” (Hebrews 11:1-3 AMP).
Faith involves the confident expectation that God will act in a trustworthy manner to fulfill His promises even when external appearances may seem to suggest otherwise. This kind of faith serves as a defining quality of Godly life, for as Romans 1:17 tell us, “…it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (NIV). This makes faith something we possess and a lifestyle that characterizes the attitude of a God-honoring person.
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“Let no one despise or think less of you because of your youth, but be an example (pattern) for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 AMPC).
This brief passage provides us with five key areas of interest for anyone who seeks to elicit the kind of respect that reflects well upon God and His Word. The final characteristic that will help us set the right example for others is purity.
A person who exhibits purity is someone who interacts with others in a clean, right, honorable, and Biblically appropriate manner. This type of conduct is important to remember, especially when we consider how easy it is to allow others (who may not be interested in doing what is clean, right, honorable, or Biblically appropriate) to set our standards.
For instance, we may allow ourselves to be pressured into an uncomfortable course of action simply because everyone else seems to be following the same course. But while crowdsourcing may represent a valuable tool for business-related tasks, “following the crowd” inevitably serves as a poor basis for making good spiritual decisions.
A better standard for a God-honoring purity is given to us in the following chapter of 1 Timothy…
“Never use harsh words when you correct an older man, but talk to him as if he were your father. Talk to younger men as if they were your brothers, older women as if they were your mothers, and younger women as if they were your sisters, while keeping yourself morally pure” (1 Timothy 5:1-2 GW).
We should also remember that this standard of purity also relates to our internal thought life as well. For example, Jesus used the area of sexual immorality to express the importance of internal purity…
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
So a person who sets the example in this area is someone who is sure to gain the respect of others, even among those who refuse to accept or recognize the importance of honoring God with their lives. While the effort to secure this kind of respect may not be easy, it is something that’s possible to achieve when we prayerfully seek to establish God-honoring standards in the areas of speech, life, love, faith and purity.
“Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13).
In the first-century context of 1 Timothy 4:13, “reading” involved a public recitation of the Scriptures. This was especially important in an age where many were illiterate and thus prohibited from reading the Bible on their own. We should also remember that a written work generally took the form of a handwritten scroll during that period. Because of this, personal copies of God’s Word were costly and inaccessible for many. Therefore, reading the Scriptures in a community setting represented the only means of access to God’s Word for a majority of people.
Although we are far removed from these first-century limitations, the underlying principle behind 1 Timothy 4:13 remains unchanged: we should devote our attention to reading God’s Word. Yet even though the Scriptures are widely (and freely) available on a variety of print and digital platforms today, many Christians still neglect to read the Bible regularly.
This is difficult to understand, for the best way to grow in our relationship with God and gain access to His wisdom, guidance, and direction is to prayerfully open the Bible and read a portion of it every day. For instance, the New Testament book of Romans offers the following insight: “Everything written in the Scriptures was written to teach us, in order that we might have hope through the patience and encouragement which the Scriptures give us” (Romans 15:4 GNT).
This tells us that the experiences of various Biblical personalities (both positive and negative) are recorded for our benefit. Their accounts are designed to encourage us to follow the examples of those who honored God and learn from the mistakes of those who didn’t.
If we are willing to pray and invest our time in reading the Scriptures, we are sure to find that God is also willing to communicate to us through His Word. For instance, God might choose to provide us with a warning or Scriptural insight that we can apply in our lives. He may bring a message of correction, encouragement, or confirmation through His Word. Or we may find Biblical direction regarding the circumstances we encounter or a decision we have to make. That guidance might take the form of a teaching from Jesus, a lesson from the lives of Biblical men and women, a Scriptural principle, or a variety of other examples.
A person who reads the Scriptures regularly is someone who has direct, unfiltered access to the Creator’s message to His creation. Therefore, we would be well-advised to take advantage of the opportunities we have to read God’s Word daily.
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13 ESV)
1 Timothy 4:13 identifies three elements that should be present when God’s people assemble to worship Him: reading, exhortation, and teaching. Much like the example set by the spiritual leaders in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, these elements involve…
- Communicating God’s Word in a public setting.
- An encouragement to act upon it.
- Accurate instruction in sound Biblical doctrine.
This serves to remind us that a good church fellowship is one that features these important elements. In addition. the following authors provide us with valuable insights into this portion of Scripture that are well worth our time and attention…
“The best way to combat incipient or prevailing error is by unceasing reiteration of simple Gospel truth. ‘Reading, exhortation, teaching’ (13). The Bible itself will do the job, if only given a chance. Studying it in private, reading and expounding it in public. If ministers today would only give heed to Paul’s advice, the Church would take on new life, and grow by leaps and bounds. Why, why, why, 0 why, cannot ministers understand that the simple exposition of God’s Word is more desired by the people, and more powerful by far, than their finely worked out sermonic platitudes?” (1)
“‘Reading’ refers to the custom of public reading of Scripture in the church’s worship service, followed by the exposition of the passage that had been read (cf. Ne 8:1–8; Lk 4:16–27). ‘Exhortation’ challenges those who hear the Word to apply it in their daily lives. It may involve rebuke, warning, encouragement, or comfort. ‘Teaching’ refers to systematic instruction from the Word of God (cf. 3:2; Tit 1:9).” (2)
“The Christian message must always end in Christian action. Someone has said that every sermon should end with the challenge: ‘What about it, chum?’ It is not enough to present the Christian message as something to be studied and understood; it has to be presented as something to be done. Christianity is truth, but it is truth in action.” (3)
While these things are important in a group setting, we can also apply this passage on an individual level as well. We can do so by asking the following questions when reading God’s Word…
- What does this portion of Scripture say?
- What does it mean?
- How should I apply this Biblical teaching or example in my life?
These simple precepts will help promote good spiritual growth as we seek to apply God’s Word in our lives.
(1) Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1 Timothy Chapter 4. Chapter 4. Coming Apostasy. A Minister’s Work [pg. 634] Copyright © 2000, 2007 by Halley’s Bible Handbook, Inc
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 4:13). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(3) Barclay, William. “The Duties Of The Christian Leader Within The Church (1 Timothy 4:11-16 continued)”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible“. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-4.html. 1956-1959.
“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (1 Timothy 4:14).
A genuine “prophet” is someone who possesses the ability to provide God’s direction as prompted by the Holy Spirit. We might also define a legitimate prophet as a person who conveys divinely-initiated information concerning a specific situation or future event. This is a valid spiritual office as evidenced by the many prophets who appear within the Old Testament Scriptures and those who are mentioned in the pages of the New Testament as well.
One commentary expands on these definitions with the following insight: “The ability to prophesy may involve predicting future events, but its main purpose is to communicate God’s message to people, providing insight, warning, correction, and encouragement.” (1) Therefore we might best associate the function of a prophetic gift in a contemporary setting with those who are directed by the Holy Spirit to bring a fresh application of Biblical truth to a particular circumstance or situation.
Here in 1 Timothy 4:14, we can associate the phrase “by prophecy” with an intermediate form of God’s direction. In other words, God conveyed His gift to Timothy by way of a prophetic message. The term “laying on of hands” further expressed a means of identification. The following explanation is useful in helping us grasp the meaning behind this idea: “Here it was the outward act and ceremony symbolizing the fact that Timothy was now to be identified with the elders in the common work of the ministry of the Word. He became one of them and one with them.” (2)
So much like citizens of Old Testament Israel laid their hands upon a sacrificial animal as a way to identify with that offering, these elders recognized Timothy and his God-ordained ministerial gift in a similar manner. Another commentary offers a Biblically sound approach to this passage that will help us avoid potential misinterpretations…
“[by prophecy]… simply means that a prophet in a local church at one time stood up and announced that the Spirit of God had imparted some gift to Timothy. The prophet did not confer the gift, but announced it. This was accompanied by the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Again we would emphasize that the presbyters, or elders, did not have the power to bestow the gift on Timothy. Rather, by laying their hands on him, they signified public recognition of what the Holy Spirit had already done.” (3)
(1) Life Application Study Bible [14:1] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. [1 cor 14-I]
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 4:14] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(3) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, pg.2094
“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:15).
While the concept of “meditation” often carries a negative connotation, we should recognize that there is a difference between the kind of meditation mentioned here in 1 Timothy 4:15 and some other forms of meditation.
For instance, the Biblical concept of meditation involves the act of reflecting upon the subject of God and His Word. This form of meditation is focused upon knowing God through His Son and thinking about how that knowledge should impact our lives. The Scriptures endorse this type of meditation as seen in the passages quoted below…
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night (Psalm 1:1-2 NIV).
“I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
On the other hand, many alternative forms of meditation involve “emptying” one’s mind in order to produce a desired physical response or altered state of consciousness. Those methodologies may include the use of mantras (a word or syllable that is chanted as an aid in concentration or sung as a prayer). Other meditative practices may involve specific breathing techniques, visualization methods, or body postures in an effort to secure a feeling of spiritual awareness or enlightenment.
Since these latter forms of meditation do not originate with the One “…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), they will never lead to genuine spiritual enlightenment. These differences illustrate the importance of defining a term like “meditation.” One type of meditation acknowledges and honors God while the others do not.
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Despite the seemingly inconspicuous nature of this passage, 1 Timothy 4:16 offers two important admonitions: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.” There are several areas of life where we might implement this first directive. For instance…
Media consumption: Books, websites, videos, broadcasts, and other forms of media often serve to influence us in positive or negative ways. Therefore, we should prayerfully take heed to our media preferences and consider their effect. This also includes those resources that are reportedly “Christian” for as we’re reminded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “…test everything; hold fast what is good” (ESV).
Interactions with others: Do our choices and decisions reflect a subtle attempt to gain favor with others or make ourselves look good? Do we exercise our authority in a Christ-like manner? Are we acting appropriately with members of the opposite sex? How do we treat others who seemingly offer little or no benefit to us? These are all questions that can help us take heed to ourselves.
Finances: What do our monetary expenditures say about us? What do our financial statements reveal about our priorities? Are we spending the money God has entrusted to us in a way that honors Him?
Finding our identity in something other than Christ: It is not unusual to encounter those who find their identity in the profession they hold or the duties they perform. The same may be true of those who hold ministerial offices as well. However, let’s consider Paul the Apostle’s introduction from the opening verse of this letter: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (1 Timothy 1:1). Notice that Paul did not self-identify as “Apostle Paul.” Instead, Paul identified himself by name first (“Paul…”) and then by position (“…an apostle of Jesus Christ”). While this may seem to be a trifling distinction, it’s important to remember that titles and positions are temporary. A person who customarily self-identifies by an occupation or position should consider if he is finding his identity in a title before his identity in Christ.
In the words of one commentary, “No matter how straight a person may be in his doctrine or how effective he may be in his teaching, if there is a flaw in his inner or outer life, it will ruin him. This is where many ministers have failed tragically. While he is watching over others, the pastor must keep an eye on himself.” (1)
(1) Ralph Earle, “1 Timothy,” in Ephesians-Philemon, vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 375. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy 2020 Edition [A. The leader’s personal life and public ministry 4:6-16] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1timothy/1timothy.htm
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16 ESV).
In addition to keeping an eye upon himself, Timothy was also responsible for keeping a close watch on the things he taught others. If Timothy failed in this aspect of his ministry, there was a possibility that he (and others within the congregation at Ephesus) might fall victim to the false teachers who were circulating among the members of their community.
In this context, we might view “the teaching” as a reference to the Biblical Scriptures. Timothy could fulfill this mandate by ensuring that he remained focused upon God’s Word in his messages to the congregation. This also serves as an important reminder for modern-day ministers or anyone who seeks to accurately represent Christ to others.
You see, a clever phrase, a humorous anecdote, a passionate oratory, or a memorable sermon illustration are vehicles that help communicate Biblical truths. But if these things fail to help others understand and apply God’s Word, they may do little to facilitate real spiritual growth.
This brings us to the final admonition in this chapter: “…by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (NET). In considering this verse, we can say that it does not relate to a human-oriented plan of salvation based on the following passage from the New Testament book of Ephesians…
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
These verses from Ephesians (along with several other passages) should inform our view of 1 Timothy 4:16 for they tell us that this verse cannot refer to eternal salvation. Instead, we can view the last verse of 1 Timothy chapter four as an appropriate conclusion to the first verse: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith…” Timothy could save himself and others from this kind of spiritual shipwreck by paying close attention to the Biblical accuracy of his teachings.
We’ll close our look at this chapter with an observation from a commentator who offers a helpful synopsis of this passage…
“By careful attention to his own godly life and faithful preaching of the Word, Timothy would continue to be the human instrument God used to bring the gospel and to save some who heard him.” (1)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 4:16). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.