Scripture: 1 Timothy, chapters 1-4
1 Timothy 4:6-11 (NASB)
In pointing out these things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have been following. But stay away from worthless stories that are typical of old women. Rather, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily training is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all mankind, especially of believers. Prescribe and teach these things.
Paul begins this passage with the statement, “In pointing out these things…” “These things” are all the things that he has shared with Timothy in the letter.
- “Instruct certain people not to teach strange doctrines…[but] to advance the plan of God, which is by faith” (1:3-4)
- “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15)
- “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (2:5)
- “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (4:4-5)
Paul includes other items in this letter, which I do not believe to be part of the words of the faith and of the good doctrine. For example, the second half of chapter 2 in the NASB is titled “Instructions for Believers.” However, Paul’s statements in this section are introduced by phrases like “I want” and “I do not allow.” I understand these comments to reflect Paul’s personal views, rather than doctrinal or theological mandates. (A full discussion of these subjects is beyond the scope of this post.)
As a teacher and spiritual leader, Paul encourages Timothy to teach these things to the brothers and sisters. He then proceeds to give Timothy some specific guidance:
- Stay away from worthless stories
- Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness
- We have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all mankind
- Prescribe and teach these things
“Worthless stories” probably refers back to verses 3-4 of chapter 1: “Instruct certain people not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to useless speculation.” In 1:6-7, he adds, “Some people…have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law…” This sort of “worthless stories” contrasts with the words of the faith and the good doctrine which you have been following, and specifically “the plan of God” (1:4).
“Discipline yourself” reminds us that spiritual growth, instruction, and development do not happen by accident. Two things come to mind in regard to this charge. First, Paul is speaking to Timothy, who is not only Paul’s protégé, but is also a leader in the church. Paul has left Timothy in charge in Ephesus “upon my departure for Macedonia” (1:3). That reminds us that the call to discipline yourself applies to all of us, no matter how long we have been following Jesus nor what positions of authority we may hold.
Second, discipline refers to an intentional effort on our part. Paul offers an analogy – bodily training.Timothy would have been familiar with training for the various athletic contests that were common in Greek culture. While bodily training is just slightly beneficial,…godliness is beneficial for all things.Again, two observations come to mind. First, because our bodies are “parts of Christ” and “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6), bodily training is good. We should not allow our bodies to control us; rather, we should control our bodies. Second, godliness is beneficial for all things reminds us that our spiritual health and well-being is primary.
Prescribe and teach these things reminds me of our responsibility to those whom we teach. That, in turn, reminds me that all of us have people that we are discipling! If we don’t recognize that fact, it doesn’t mean that we’re not teaching them. It simply means that we’re not being intentional about what we’re teaching!
Because “teaching” refers to imparting knowledge, we may become focused on technical information – thinking that knowing “more” somehow demonstrates teaching effectiveness. However, we need to remember that knowing what knowledge is critical is more important than sheer volume of facts. Paul stresses this by speaking of the plan of God and saying that Christ Jesus came to save sinners.
Finally, Paul emphasizes this plan of God by adding the phrase, “among whom I am foremost” to this statement. We may be tempted to focus on where God has brought us, but we also need to be honest about what God brough us from. Our godliness is an example to fellow believers. However, Satan may use it to discourage those who are not yet believers. We need to be willing to share our whole story – who we were as well as who we are now. Paul didn’t hesitate to talk about his past, because he knew that it made his present story even more powerful!
Father, thank you for reminding us of your plan to save us through your Son Jesus. Help us to join you in your work to make us more like Him, by disciplining ourselves for godliness. Show us how to encourage one another in the faith. Lead us to opportunities to tell our stories to others, that they may come to know you too. Amen.