RPM, Volume 11, Number 37, September 13 to September 19 2009

1 Timothy 4:12-16

A Sermon




By Scott Lindsay



Good morning and welcome! We are continuing in our study of Paul's first letter to Timothy, picking up at verse 12 of chapter 4 and working through to the 16th verse. Now, in case you've never spent any time in this letter, let me quickly tell you that the point of this letter is to encourage Timothy and to do so specifically by promoting the good order and functioning of the church.

Paul has written this letter to Timothy, his young disciple, who is, at the time of this letter, pastoring the church in a place called Ephesus. As Ephesus is a challenging place to be a pastor, and as Timothy is still somewhat inexperienced, and as the church on the whole is still pretty new - the combination of all that means that this is a pretty important letter and very helpfully provides us with a great window through which we can gain enormous insight into what the church is like and how it ought to be.

Thus far, everything that has been said in this letter can be traced back to Paul's twin goals of encouragement and the promotion of good order in the church. In chapter 1, Paul made some initial comments about false teachers and their teaching - things which obviously have an impact on the health or otherwise of the local church. In chapter 2, he dealt with what sorts of things were and were not appropriate for men and women in the context of the community that is the church. In chapter 3, he talked, principally, about church offices and officers and what sorts of qualifications ought to be looked for IN those that hold these offices. In chapter 4, there is something of a return to the matter of dealing with false teachers and their teaching - with a difference. This time around, the emphasis is not so much on the false teachers themselves but, in the main, the emphasis is upon that which will in the end prove to be the most effective way to respond to false teaching: being a faithful, true minister of the Gospel. That is one of the main questions that is being addressed in chapter 4: What does it mean to be a faithful, true minister of the Gospel?

Paul's answer to that question is essentially two-fold: Being a true minister of the Gospel means: 1) faithfully preaching God's truth and 2) faithfully living according to that same truth. Now, in the verses just prior to this (verses 6-11) Paul deals with what it means to faithfully preach God's revealed truth - centering upon the Gospel. The verses before us this morning are dealing with the follow-on from that: what it means to faithfully live according to God's revealed truth. That is the subject we'll be considering and expanding upon today. Before we do that, let us pray.

Father in heaven, the thought of standing before your people, and daring to speak on the subject of living the truths of the Gospel, and being an example and a model - Father, that is a deeply humbling and terrifying prospect. And no one who has any sane grasp on the sinfulness of his own flesh would DARE take up such a message unless you had commanded it. And Lord, this is precisely what you have done in giving us your Word, and telling us that it is completely sufficient and that every last bit of it was good for us. And so here we are, on the threshold of this deeply and personally challenging text.

Lord please do all that is necessary in this moment to make this time profitable for your people - in all the various ways that can come about. Take this fallible message, and these inadequate words and somehow make them a satisfying and nourishing meal for your people. And we ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.

(Read 1 Timothy 4:12-16)

Faithful ministry is not just about believing and communicating the truth. To be sure, communicating truth is important, fundamental and irreplaceable. But faithful ministry is about more than just that. It is about living out the implications of the truth you are preaching. It is about "practicing" the things you are preaching. It is about showing that you believe so strongly in what you are saying that you are willing to shape your own life around it. That reality is what lies at the heart of what Paul is saying here. And in making this point it is interesting to see how Paul starts out. He says:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Now, at the time of this letter, Timothy was a fairly young man. Most estimates by scholars would place him at about age 30. So the possibility of Timothy's not being taken seriously because of his age was a real one. Indeed, it may well have been the case that there were other, older men around who had also become disciples of Christ and yet who have not been given the same sort of position or authority as Timothy. So here is Timothy, this young pastor, almost certainly set as an overseer and leader to some men who are older and more experienced than him. And perhaps some were not too happy about that and, in their disgruntled state, were prone to be critical of their young pastor. So what is he to do?

Paul's counsel to him was to live in such a way, and to set such an example that his age became a moot point. In other words, he was not to address concerns over his youthfulness by engaging in some great theological debate about what age is an appropriate one for people in ministry. Rather, he was to "answer" any potential concerns in that area by an exemplary lifestyle that demonstrated wisdom and maturity, well beyond his years.

The means by which Timothy is to do this is by determining to live daily in the light of God's revealed truth - focused in the Gospel. As he reads and studies and applies the Scriptures to his own life - and to the lives of his people, then he will exhibit "the mind of Christ" and the character of Christ. He will evidence a maturity of mind and heart and life that decades of mere life experience, on its own, would never produce.

Now, while he does not go into a terrific amount of detail on these things, Paul does mention some specific areas in which Timothy's maturity ought to be particularly obvious. He starts out by talking about things like speech and "life." Now, admittedly, "life" is a pretty broad word and would seem to cover just about everything, while speech would be seen as a subset of that.

But the point of using this sort of language seems fairly clear, doesn't it? Paul wants the example that Timothy sets to be one that comes from his life as a whole. Everything about him ought to adorn the Gospel. And it's important to say at this point that the Gospel he is to adorn is the genuine one, the full package - not some severely truncated, legalistic version of it.

Please note that in saying this Paul is speaking counter to the modern and ridiculous notion that we cannot and must not connect a person's private life to his/her public life - as if what a person does and practices in private has no bearing upon their public life and persona. While that sort of mantra gets chanted regularly in our own day, Paul would not have put up with that kind of stupidity for a moment. So Paul's instruction to Timothy is that he wants his life - from whatever angle you look at it - to be congruent with the Gospel that he preaches.

Now Paul could have made a general sort of statement about this and then moved on but it seems apparent from what he says here that within the broad umbrella of Timothy's life there were some particular areas that Paul was especially concerned about - including Timothy's speech, his love, his faith and his purity. Let's briefly consider each of these:

First, Paul wants Timothy to set an example in his speech. What sorts of things does Paul have in mind here? Well, since he does not really elaborate on it in this passage, the next best thing we can do is to look around at other places in this letter as well as in Paul's other writings to see how he typically deals with this subject. When you do that you can construct a sort of "list" of what Paul thinks exemplary speech consists of:

...It consists of being faithful to speak the Gospel, being faithful to the truth

...It includes the idea of not being quarrelsome (see 1 Timothy 2:8)

...It entails not saying one thing to one person, and then, in an effort to deceive, saying something entirely different to another person (see 1 Timothy 3:8)

...It involves being careful how you speak to older men (1 Tim 5:1)

...It entails Timothy's using his words to build up others, and not tear them down (see Paul's Letter to the Ephesians)

All of these are the sorts of things that Paul has in mind when he talks to Timothy about setting an example in his speech.

Second, Paul wants Timothy to set an example in love. Once again, since we only have the bare word in the verses before us we can only "fill in the blank" - so to speak - with regard to what Paul means by looking around at what Paul has to say about this sort of thing in other passages. When we do that, we discover a number of things, including....

...Romans 12:10 where Paul tells his readers to "love with brotherly affection"...

...2 Cor 4 where Paul, out of love, rebukes his readers; says hard things to them...

...Eph 4 where Paul connects love with being patient with one another...

...Eph 5 where Paul connects love with self-sacrifice - with Christ as the supreme example....

There are more places to which one could go. But as a bare minimum, one could say that Paul would surely have expected Timothy's example of love to include all these sorts of things and more - sacrificing one's interests for the interests of others, having a genuine affection for others, being willing to say hard things, and being patient toward one another even and especially in exasperating circumstances.

Third, Paul talks about Timothy setting an example not only in speech and in love, but also in faith. What sorts of things might Paul have had in mind when he spoke about Timothy's being an example in this area? Again, it is helpful to look around in Paul's other writings to see him flesh this out a little bit more fully. When you do, you discover these sorts of things:

...Romans 3:22ff talks about the righteousness of God that we possess by faith. Accordingly, one way that Timothy could be an example of faith to his congregation is to show - by his life and practice - that he actually does trust in Christ's righteousness - and not in his own, or in some alternative source of righteousness (e.g., the opinions of others, having a perfect track record, etc)

... then there is 1 Cor 2:5 which talks about Paul's fierce commitment to only preaching Christ and him crucified. For Paul, this was an act of great faith showing not only that he trusted the apostolic message (the gospel) but that he also trusted the apostolic method (preaching the gospel). In other words, preaching the Gospel was a central feature of his ministry and he would not back down from that. Timothy was to show a similar commitment and faith - resisting the demands of his people to give them cotton candy and ice cream, rather than those things which would actually grow them in true Christ-likeness. It takes faith to persevere in that sort of message and with that sort of method.

...2 Cor 5:1-10 talks about ministry amidst suffering and trial, and amidst the realities of coping with a world that is broken and with bodies that are decaying before our very eyes. Paul talks about living courageously in the midst of those things, living hopefully in the face of hardship - without being overcome. Doing that sort of thing requires walking by faith, not by sight. This too is surely the sort of thing that Paul would want Timothy to be an example of to his Ephesian congregation.

Fourth, Paul talks about Timothy setting an example not only in speech, and in love, and in faith, but also in purity. Now, again, we must ask: What sorts of things might Paul have had in mind when he spoke of Timothy's being an example in "purity"?

Once again, all we have is the bare word to go on in the immediate context. And this time around it is a little more difficult since the particular Greek word used here only appears one other time in the New Testament. So, we don't have a lot to work with. Nevertheless, taking the evidence we have, along with the usage of some other words that are related to it, it seems that the main idea here is that of moral purity which is certainly more than just sexual purity, but would have sexual purity as perhaps the biggest component of that. So Paul wants Timothy to be an example in this area as well. Given the context in which we live, the importance of this does not really need a great deal of highlighting, does it?

A seminary professor walked into class one day and drew a line down the middle of the white board. On the left side he wrote: "your ministry, your marriage, your children, your reputation, your possessions, your hopes and dreams." On the right side he wrote, "30 minutes of pleasure." He then turned to the class and said, "Satan has a trade he wants to make with you."

When you lay things out like that, it seems clear, doesn't it? Making a trade like that would be monumentally stupid, ridiculous and absurd. And yet it is a trade that is made all the time. Thankfully, by the grace of God, and through the miracle of unbelievable, Spirit-enabled forgiveness - it doesn't always turn out AS tragically as it might. And real repentance and restoration are possible in the wake of these things. But it is always a tragedy, nonetheless.

It is a trade that every Christian leader - and not just every Christian leader but every Christian in this room - has been invited to make, and will be invited to make, and will continue to be invited to make until Jesus comes back - or you go to meet him - whichever comes first. Paul knew that Timothy was not immune to grave moral failure. In fact, because of his position, he was likely to be more exposed than ever. So, he exhorts Timothy to be an example in this area. Because a man can unsay, with his life, what he says with his lips - even if he has been saying it for 40 years. It seems terribly unfair. However, it is absolutely true.

Therefore, Paul says here that he expects Timothy to model the truths that he is teaching his people about. He has in view the whole of Timothy's life - public and private - and especially the areas mentioned here - speech, love, faith and purity.

Now, following all this, Paul has some further words to say about Timothy's commitment to being a faithful minister of the word, devoting himself to this task in various ways. He is not to neglect these things but to give himself to them. Further, he is to keep in mind the serious occasion and circumstances in which he was set apart TO this particular task.

So, again, when we take in the whole of chapter 4, we see Paul's two-fold prescription for faithful ministry: 1) faithfully preaching God's truth and 2) faithfully living according to that truth. And the question that arises at the end of all this is: Where is Paul going? Why is he so concerned that Timothy be an example in these things? The answer is found in verses 15 and 16,

Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 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.
First of all, Paul wants Timothy to be an example so that "all may see your progress". Paul knows that Timothy lives in a fish bowl. It's not a fun place to be. And it's not very fair. But it's the way it is. And Paul knows that Timothy's teaching and Timothy's life will be watched by a lot of people. Which means that he will inevitably be a model of something. The question is of what? Will he be a model of progress or regress? Will his life ultimately be used by God to encourage others in the faith, or to discourage others from the faith?

If you haven't seen the movie, As Good As it Gets, with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt you've missed what I think is a movie with a good message. Nicholson plays this neurotic, bitter, self-centered jerk who, through a series of circumstances is made to see himself for who he is and begins developing the courage to face that truth, as well as the courage to take the risk of loving another person. And if you haven't seen the movie, I'm going to ruin it for you because the best line in the picture is when Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, "you make me want to be a better man".

Now don't get too hung up on every detail of that statement, or its context. Because the general thrust of that statement is, in my view, deeply biblical. Paul told others to imitate him and to follow him as he followed Christ. Paul wanted Timothy to be able to say the same thing. Paul would have been thrilled to know that people in Timothy's congregation were being enticed toward greater faithfulness because of what they saw God doing in Timothy's life. That's the first reason that Paul gives.

The second reason Paul is concerned for Timothy's faithfulness in preaching and practice is because if he is faithful he will, to use Paul's words, "save both [himself] and [his] hearers." Now that is simply an amazing statement. So amazing you might be tempted to doubt it or to wonder if Paul was over-stating his case here. But he wasn't. And neither was he denying the work of Christ. Paul is simply affirming the truth that in sovereignly saving his people, God works through secondary means and makes full use of human instruments.

So, Paul is affirming the truth that what Timothy does - and indeed what we all do - matters. Our actions are real, our choices are real and the consequences of those choices are real and the impact of those choices is real. And would anyone here dare deny this? How many people in this room have been personally affected by the faithfulness of some Christian leader or, conversely, by the faithLESSness of a Christian leader? How many of you know at least 1 person who will not darken the door of a church, and the reason they give for that is tied to some sad story about some pastor or elder or other Christian leader in their life who did NOT keep a close watch on his life in the areas outlined here? Do you see where Paul is going with all of this?

Do these things make a difference?

The answer is obvious.

Please note, the importance of keeping these two things - i.e., faithful teaching, and faithful practice - together. One without the other is confusing, at best and, in the end, just doesn't work. Doctrinally correct teaching without faithful practice will fail because your actions will shout so loudly that your words cannot be heard. Rigorous pursuit of a high Christian example without faithful attention to the Scriptures will fail because it will result in self-righteousness for the practitioner, and for those watching will send the false signal that it is by our own cleverness and righteousness that we are progressing - rather than by this ongoing cycle of repentance and faith in the work of Christ that are the engine room of real spiritual progress.

Now having said all of that, let me finish by saying this: As Timothy's congregation looks at his example, they will see his clay feet. This is the implication behind the word progress. The possibility of Timothy's people seeing progress implies Timothy's need for progress. That means that Timothy is going to continue to be the sinner he is. He is going to continue to struggle and fail. And these things will only be seen if he is willing to have a certain amount of transparency with his people. He's going to have to let people into his life. His people will have to know that he doesn't have all his stuff together. Otherwise any progress he might make will not be discernible to them.

So, Timothy will not perfectly model that which Paul challenges him with - far from it. But that too is part of the example and pattern that Timothy is to set before the people. Because in addition to seeing him live out the truths of Scripture successfully, his people also need to see what happens and how he responds when he fails, when he sins. They need to see that he deals with these things too in a biblical fashion - with broken-ness, with real sorrow, with real repentance, and with a real dependence upon the grace of God in Christ, and with a passionate desire to see God finish the work that he has started in his wretched heart.

That's really my charge to everyone this morning - but especially to the men who are being installed and ordained as elders in this church, which is why my charge in a few moments will be a lot briefer!. But my charge to you - Trace, Mart, Dennis, Mark, Jack and Woody - my charge to you is the same as Paul's was to Timothy:

Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 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.
You've heard it before, but it bears repeating:
If a PICTURE is worth a thousand words, then an EXAMPLE is worth a thousand pictures.




This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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