On 1 Timothy 4:6-16

1 Timothy 4:6‑16  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Thence the apostle turns to a more precise application and at the close to what is yet more strictly personal.
“Setting these things before the brethren, thou wilt be a good servant of Christ Jesus,1 nourished in the words of the faith and the good teaching which thou hast followed rip. But the profane and old-womanish fables refute, and exercise thyself unto piety; for bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but piety is profitable for all things, having promise of life that is now and of that which is to come. The word [is] faithful and worthy of all acceptation; for unto this end we 2labor and 3suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on a living God who is Savior of all, especially of faithful [men]” (ver. 6-10].
The language employed is of studied moderation. Suggesting these things to the brethren Timothy would be a good minister of Christ Jesus. Dignity does not lose by lowliness in any: in a young man it is most becoming and gives the most weight to a solemn warning. The object of all ministry is the exalting of Christ, but this cannot be at the expense of truth or holiness. The substitutes of the enemy may look fair and certainly flatter the flesh; but God's word alone can be trusted. He infallibly secures not one thing only but all in the harmony of His revealed will. Human tradition is as worthless as human imagination, and both if accepted will be found in the long run only to supplant God's word, and play into the power of the enemy through yielding to the will of man. To lay before the brethren what the Spirit expressly speaks is good ministry—it is to serve Christ Jesus. So He Himself walked and served here below. His food was to do the will of Him that sent Him and to finish His work: What more blessed than so to walk and serve Him now? Men are best saved where Christ alone is the object, as He is the source of all power in the Spirit to guide and sustain. He called and He sent forth at His charges. How different the moral effect for the minister as well as for others of serving a society even if that society were the church of God, the mistress of the service! He who seeks to please men cannot be thoroughly Christ's bondman. We cannot serve two masters.
Timothy, in putting forth divine truth, would be a good servant of Christ Jesus. “Nourished in the words of the faith and in the good teaching which he had followed up.” This is of moment. To go on well in Christ's service one must be trained or nourished up in the words of the faith. To give out, one must take in. But the proper material is not the science or literature of men but the “words of the faith.” The good teaching which Timothy had already followed up closely, yields matter for the right service of Christ who repudiates the wisdom of this age. The words of the faith are ever beyond the age and above it. It is to Christ's dishonor to mingle with them the persuadable words of man's wisdom. The Holy Ghost has been given that there should be no lack through God's bounty and the most complete preservative against the seductions of the prince of the world.
What can be more contemptuous towards the constant snare of Jews as well as Gentiles than the apostle's exhortation! “The profane and old-womanish fables refuse.” So he characterizes that which takes the place of God's word, the food of faith. Where there is no healthy appetite of the new man, fabulous dreams have ever an attraction for the heart and mind of man, which surely abound in proportion to distaste for divine revelation. They stimulate, they inflate, they in a measure satisfy nature. But the true God is not there, nor Jesus Christ whom He has sent, least of all where they dare most profanely to conceive and set forth either God or His Christ according to their own imaginings What can be more offensive than the pseudo-evangels about the Lord? How palpable the darkness in contrast with the true light which shines in Him according to the Gospels! How absurd, indeed, morally impotent, and positively mischievous the imaginary miracles of His childhood! How holy and wise and perfect the glimpses we have of the truth in the Gospel of Luke!
From oldwives' fables Timothy was to turn away. But “exercise thyself unto piety.” Service of Christ is admirable; but no greater danger if piety be neglected personally. This is of prime moment to be kept up in the soul as otherwise the comfort and joy as well as the sorrows and dangers of His service are most absorbing. The lightminded Corinthians were in great peril from the neglect of piety. The apostle had therefore transferred the exhortation and applied it to himself for their sakes, when he told them that he was in the habit of buffeting his body and leading it captive lest, after having preached to others, he should be himself reprobate or rejected. Not that he was careless of holiness and piety, but that they were. But he makes himself the example, unlike as it was to his way, that they might be warned of a very real danger for their own souls, not in distrust of God as to himself.
Here as in 1 Cor. 9 the figure appears to be taken from the public games, and the necessary preparation for them, so familiar to every Greek mind. Timothy was to be in constant training. “Exercise thyself unto piety, for bodily exercise is useful for a little, but piety is useful for all things having promise of life that now is and of that to come.” The allusion is evident. Outward exercise profits physically or as he says strictly, “bodily exercise is useful for a little.” Piety is spiritual exercise and demands as constant vigilance as holy self-restraint, as complete subjection to the revealed will of God, as training for the games called for habitual abstinence from every relaxing habit and daily practice toward the end in view. How little the latter! How transcendently the former! Piety is profitable for all things having promise of life that is now and of that to come. Christianity does not take tithes like Judaism, can allow no reserve though all be grace, has and from its very nature must have the entire man, dead to sin and alive unto God, right through the present life into eternity. And this practical scope of godliness is pre-eminent in these pastoral epistles; not so much heavenly privilege or dispensational peculiarity, as a sound and devoted life according to godliness. This the apostle presses on Timothy, as Timothy was bound to press it on others.
Hence the repetition of the formula so repeated in these epistles: “The word is faithful and worthy of all acceptation; for unto this end we labor and suffer reproach, because we have our hope set on a living God who is Savior of all, specially of faithful men.” It is no question here, it appears to me of Christ's work in the salvation of the lost who believe. It is of the living God as such, of whom the apostle speaks, in His character of preserver of men, as Job speaks (chap. 8:20). His providential care and government are before us, wherein nothing escapes His notice. So He clothes the herbage of the field and nourishes the birds of heaven which sow not, nor reap, nor gather into granaries. So He makes His sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on just and unjust. How much more are not His own better than many sparrows, even the hairs of their heads being all numbered! No Christian could forget for a moment the infinite privilege of eternal life and redemption, of heavenly hope and everlasting glory; but, in presence of these unseen and eternal things, he might to his own great loss as well as the Lord's dishonor overlook the constant daily and special care of God in the ordinary matters of this life. Against such an error, verse 10 as well as the previous context would guard the soul. The highest truths do not supersede or even enfeeble the unchanging truth in its lowest range of application every day. It is the unfailing mark of the heterodox where it is so; and this let faithful men note well. It was never more rife than now. Grace never disparages law nor despises nature; but an intellectualism which avails itself of privilege to destroy responsibility and relationship.
“These things charge and teach. Let none despise thy youth, but be a pattern of the faithful in word, in conduct, in love,4 in faith, in purity. Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elderhood.5 Bestow care on these things; be wholly in them; that thy progress may be manifest to6 all. Take heed to thyself and the teaching; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt save thyself and those that hear thee” (ver. 11-16).
Here we have plain personal precepts for Timothy. Absence of assumption gives more, not less, weight to a solemn charge or a faithful teaching; and there was the more need as he was young, though he who despised on that account was inexcusable. But it was a serious reason for Timothy himself to cultivate such speech and manner of life, such love and faith and purity as ought to disarm even the naturally froward with whom he might have to do among the believers.
The adjoined terms give conclusive proof that the reading was not personal study but rather the public recitation of scripture for general instruction, for the exhortation and the teaching must refer to others; the importance of his own walk had been carefully insisted on just before. Hence, immediately after, he is reminded of that gift of grace which was imparted to him, the ground of his ministry: for no practical grace, however momentous morally and for God's glory, entitles a soul to go forward in Christ's service without such a gift. It was, as we are told afterward (2 Tim. 1:66Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)), through the laying on of Paul's hands that the gift was in Timothy; but none the less were the elderhood associated with the apostle in the imposition of hands. They were its comely witnesses and his honored associates, though only to apostolic power under the Lord was the gift really due. And this is not more fully borne out by the facts and the language elsewhere than by the nice distinction of the prepositions in the account given by the two epistles to Timothy. So little are they to be heard who assume vagueness in a style strikingly precise, or, a love of mere variety without intentional distinction in phrases more exquisitely correct than in any work of any classic of antiquity however accurate. Here only, in inspired writ, can we be sure of the exact expression of the truth without affectation of any kind.
The connection of “prophecy” as well as of the “laying on of hands” is well illustrated by Acts 13:2, 32As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:2‑3), where the Spirit designated Barnabas and Saul for the special mission to which they were separated; and their fellow-laborers thereon laid their hands on both, as conjointly commending them to the grace of God for the work they were about to undertake among the Gentiles. There is, however, this marked difference among others, that none of those who then laid hands on these already blessed servants of the Lord pretended to confer a gift on either. It was simply fellowship in commending men superior in position and power to themselves, and it seems certainly to have been repeated with Paul and Silas in Acts 15:4040And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. (Acts 15:40), as perhaps often. In Timothy's case7 through the apostle was given a gift, which he must not neglect. Use of means is of moment that the gift be turned to the best account; but the gift from the Lord for ministerial work must be there as a foundation. “Bestow care on these things; be wholly in them, that thy progress may be manifest to all.” Diligent following up is called for, without distraction from other objects. Thus only is there growth and advance, which all fair men cannot fail to see.
But there is another caution of prime value, which if attended to entails rich blessing. “Take heed to thyself and the teaching,” and in this order. Vigilant and holy self-restraint is needed by no man so much as a teacher of the truth; for nothing corrupts one, to the Lord's dishonor and the stumbling of souls, more than a careless behavior combined with the highest doctrine. A consciously low walk ever tends to drag down the testimony in order to seem consistent; as the maintenance of the highest truth without a corresponding walk directly leads into hypocrisy. In doing aright in both, “thou shalt save both thyself and those that hear thee,” says the apostle. Salvation often as here means safeguarding all through.