Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 4:6-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/12/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 4:6-11
“A Good Minister of Jesus Christ”
Today’s passage and the rest of chapter 4 are about how a pastor can be a good minister of Jesus Christ. Verse 6 specifically has that exact language, and what follows clearly has that topic in mind. Last chapter we had learned about what would make for a good elder or a good deacon. Here we learn about what would make for a good minister. And the teaching ministry of the minster is highlighted right there at the start. If Timothy was to be a good pastor and preacher, he must be properly teaching and instructing the people. That is a central duty and job responsibility of a pastor.
But what follows in today’s passage doesn’t focus on the job description of the pastor. It focuses on how a pastor can be spiritually healthy and fit. As an analogy, if we think of physical fitness, we know that diet and exercise are key for that. Similarly, if a pastor is going to work on his spiritual fitness, then his spiritual diet and his spiritual exercise will need to be attended to. We will be considering this today. Verse 6 has the language of nourishment, making us think of our diet. Verses 7 and 8 speak in terms of exercise. So, the passage gets us to consider our diet and exercise. And though this specifically focuses on pastors, please see the applicability to all of us today. We should all be concerned with our spiritual fitness. And so, we should all be concerned with our spiritual diet and exercise. We’ll look at this passage from the minister’s perspective, but apply it to all of us.
Let’s begin then first on considering the minister’s nourishment. The root of the Greek word in verse 6 “nourish” is one of feeding and the health and growth that comes from that. Well, in these verses we see what a minister should be feeding upon. Two related things are mentioned in verse 6. He needs to feast on the words of faith and he needs to feast on good doctrine. The words of faith bring to mind especially those core aspects of the gospel and our Christian convictions. But the language of good doctrine brings to mind a wider set of truth. It brings to mind the complete collection of Christian truth. Of course, for us, all of this brings us back to the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God and the food for the Christian’s soul. Timothy needs to be continuing to consume this. I like how Paul notes in verse 6 that Timothy has already been careful to follow God’s Word. But the point is that he needs to continue to do that. Just like our physical bodies need regular sustenance, so to our souls. Good nutrition in the past should not be an excuse to throw away good nutrition for the future. I wonder if that is a struggle for some of us. Maybe there was a time when we really dug into God’s Word, but maybe lately it is gathering dust on your shelf. But we shouldn’t try to survive on those past meals of Scripture. To be healthy we need to be regularly nourished with God’s Word.
In verse 8, Paul then tells Timothy what he should not be consuming. He should not be consuming profane and old wives’ fables. The word for profane could also be translated as worldly or simply godless. Old wives’ fables refer to how we use the phrase today: those things which aren’t true but seems to keep getting spread as truth. This is akin to “urban legends.” An example of a non-religious old wives’ tale is that cracking knuckles causes arthritis. Evidently, medical science says that is not true, yet it is still a claim that seems to get circulated as fact. But surely Paul is not concerned here with those kinds of old wives’ tales. He’s concerned with those of a spiritual or religious nature that would distract people from the truth that is in God’s Word. Likely he has in minds stuff like from 1:4 where he spoke against fables and endless genealogies that were causing disputes in the church. Contemporary examples like the Bible code and the Davinci code are some things that immediately come to mind today, but we could spend a lot of time brainstorming and listing out all sorts of things that get spread around like truth that are in conflict with Christian doctrine. Timothy must reject those fables. I as your pastor must reject those tales. All Christians are called to reject these myths.
And I love that this is the Greek word here that’s translated as fables: mythos. It’s where we get the word myth in English. This is again another example that the Bible does not want to be associated with myth. There are some false teachers today in Christianity that want to say that the Bible is myth. And they want to act like that is okay, that the Bible can be myth and we can still all be Christians. But I’m sorry, but that is a myth! The Bible distinguishes itself from myth. It affirms the truth of its teachings. That is how the Bible has been received down through the generations. Again, this passage calls us to receive the Bible as truth and to reject those other things which actually are just fables and myths.
And so this is what our spiritual diet must be. We must feast on God’s Word as the source of our spiritual sustenance. As a church, this is something we must value in the minister. We must make sure in the midst of all his other pastoral duties, that time is being allocated for his personal study in the Scripture. Your pastor will not be a healthy pastor if he doesn’t have such time. He’ll be hungry and empty and not able to feed you.
And by extension, may we all be concerned to regularly, daily, feast on God’s Word. Individually, and as a household, prioritize daily reading of God’s Word. True Christians are disciples; students; that means you need to study God’s Word. And especially come to the formal preaching and teaching of the Word that happens here at church. This passage assumes the importance of such pastoral teaching. That means you need to be faithful as well to come and receive such teaching.
Moving next to consider a minister’s exercise, we see this explicitly commanded to Timothy in verse 7. Instead of feasting on fables and myths, he is to be exercising himself in godliness. That contrast immediately tells us that part of the exercise he has in mind would include the feasting on truth that we just talked about. So, there is certainly some crossover here. But Paul especially drives home the analogy of exercise by expanding on this in verse 8. Verse 8 contains the faithful saying that Paul references in verse 9. That faithful saying is that “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.”
The word for exercise here can also be translated as train or undergo discipline. It is a word that was most commonly used in reference to gymnastic exercises. The word in Greek is actually gymnasia. In other words, it is very much an athletic term. Some interpreters have thought that since the last passage talked about abstaining from certain foods, that the physical training that’s referenced here had that in mind. But given that this is a word of athletic training, that doesn’t seem the best interpretation. It seems Paul was more specifically contrasting physical exercise versus spiritual exercise. He acknowledges value in both, but he says that spiritual exercise has even greater value.
For physical exercise, he implies that it only has value in this life. Going to the gym and working out, or training and playing sports can be good for us. It can help us to be healthy and well. It can remove stress and thus make for a better quality of living. Not only that, but it can be fun and rewarding, and even teach you many great life skills such as discipline and hard work. Team sports can teach you about being a part of a team, and working together, and learning to be a leader or encouraging leaders. There are many wonderful benefits to such physical exercise. But ultimately, they are benefits which are limited to this life.
But there is a life to come. There is eternity that awaits the Christian in glory. Exercise in godliness recognizes that. Such exercise in godliness has immediate value here and now. But it also prepares us for the age to come. What does such exercise look like? Well, let me go down the list.
First, you have those things associated with the study of God’s word. I know we just focused on that a moment ago. But let me expand on that in terms of how to really exercise the Word. You have the personal study of it, the study of it with your household, and the study of it in church. In your personal study of it, you should include reading larger portions in a systematic way to learn the overall content of the Bible. But your personal study of the Bible should also include smaller portions that you meditate on in more depth. You should also include memorization of Scripture as an exercise related to the word. In going to the church, you see the value in both preaching and teaching. The Bible uses both and says that God has gifted certain men to exercise such preaching and teaching to others in the context of the church. So, we need both. We need to receive the preached Word like we get here during our worship services. But we should also receive Bible teaching like we do in many of our other ministries like the Community Groups, Sunday Schools, Wednesday Bible Study, etc. (I’m not saying you need to be at every single teaching time that the church has to offer, but the reason we provide so many options is so you can find something that will work for your schedule and availability because it is so important.)
Next, you have those things associated with prayer. Prayer is an exercise of godliness. Fasting is a related but likely neglected exercise when thinking of prayer. When you pray, again, there is a value for both individual prayer, and corporate prayer. Prayer itself is something to grow in. The Bible shows, for example, both Jesus and John the Baptist taking time to teach their disciples how to pray. When you first start to pray, it can seem hard to do or maybe a bit awkward for you. But we can and should learn how to pray and then grow in our ability to pray through practice in prayer. As a plug, we start a new Sunday School series on the topic of prayer on February 19, and plan to do a deep dive into the Bible’s teaching on prayer.
Participating in the sacraments are also a part of godly exercise. Though baptism is personally a one-time thing, whenever you witness a baptism, you are being reminded visibly of what you’ve received, and that should strengthen you in the God who has guaranteed the washing away of your sins in Christ. As we partake regularly in the Lord’s Supper, this is a God-given way to bring us into spiritual communion with the body and blood of Jesus, and it has been given for our spiritual good. This too is an exercise not to neglect.
We could add to this list Christian fellowship. When we are intentional to spend time with other Christians, we are to use the spiritual gifts we have been given to build up our fellow Christians. They at the same time are to do the same thing to you. This gives us a chance to hone our God-given spiritual gifts, while at the same time be strengthened as others use their gifts to help us. This too is part of the godly exercise we should partake of.
So, I hope you are getting the point here. It is wonderful that though our growth as a Christian is a sovereign work of grace, he gives us various “exercises” for our health and growth as a Christian. They will reap rewards and fruit not only for this life, but also for the eternity. In terms of applying this, again, pastors like myself need to take this to heart. We need to continually be in training for godliness. I shouldn’t just rely on my seminary training which at this point was many years ago. But this isn’t just an application for pastors. I would remind you that Paul was quoting a faithful saying in verse 8. In other words, he makes use of some well-known general truth that doesn’t limit itself to just pastors. Paul is actually taking that general truth and applying it to Timothy. By extension, I apply it to myself. But that means this general truth is true for all of us. By all means, there is nothing wrong with you hitting the gym and being excited about your physical training and wellbeing. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with being involved in sports. But see the greater value of spiritual training and thus make sure that gets the priority in your life. It doesn’t have to be just one or the other, but make sure you do put the priority in the right place. Sadly, how many families today miss church for youth sports. That sets the priority in the wrong place and dare I say makes the sports into an idol.
In our last point for today, let’s turn to consider the minister’s motivation. It’s there in verse 10. Paul says this is why he does what he does. Notice he puts that in the plural, “we”, surely including Timothy in that “we.” Why does he and Timothy and other apostles and pastors labor so hard? Why do they strive so much in what they do? Why do they even suffer reproach from the world as they do their labors? It’s because of what’s there in verse 10. Because they trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.
As a side note, some Arminians would point to this verse as a proof text that Limited Atonement is not correct. Yet, that’s not a good argument. Clearly, we would all agree that God does not save every single person from their sins, otherwise no one would go to hell. But, the Bible is clear that some will go to hell. In fact, it is this passage which teaches a limited atonement, at least to some degree. Because this passage affirms that there is a way that God is the Savior of believers that he is not the Savior of everyone else. That’s why it says God is the savior “especially” those who believe.
And so, I won’t belabor that point any more. Instead, I return your attention to Paul’s point here. Paul’s point is that the reason he and Timothy work so hard as a pastor is because there is a salvation available, but only for those who believe. And so, they are going out there and willing even to suffer persecution so that they can save some from the judgment to come. They can be agents of God’s salvation as they bring the call to faith in Christ to the world. This is what makes it all worth it. We work so hard for Christ, and some people are saved through the process. This is why Paul says that’s they work so hard.
This of course comes back to faith and trust. Notice, that Paul even uses that word there in verse 10. Trust. He trusts God in this. If he didn’t trust that God would ultimately deliver Christians from sin and death, then he wouldn’t do what he does. If Paul didn’t trust that Jesus would really come back to this world to bring Christians into the place he has prepared for us, then Paul wouldn’t do what he does. If Paul didn’t believe and trust God to save as he promised, then he’d not be motivated for ministry. But Paul and Timothy do believe it and do trust God and so that is there motivation. It is a salvation motivation. And it spurs them on in all their ministry.
May that be our motivation as well. May we trust that God our Savior is at work in his saving ways, even as we labor for Christ. As we each serve in the church and are about the Great Commission, trust God. Trust that God will accomplish his saving purposes even through your faithful labors.
Brothers and sisters, in conclusion, this passage of course makes me think a lot about my labor here as your pastor. At the end of this year, I’ll have been serving here for 10 years. Time has gone by quickly. I thank the Lord for the support you’ve given me over this last decade. During this time, I’ve not only been serving as your pastor, but I’ve been trying to grow as your pastor. I want to be the “good minister of Jesus Christ” that Paul describes here. This passage reminds me again today that I must never stop trying to grow. I must continue to look to God to nourish and train me in godliness. I must continue to look to my spiritual diet. I must continue to exercise in godliness. Please continue to pray for me in this regard. Please continue to support me in being this kind of minister, the one that’s concerned with the sorts of things listed here in this passage. That I would be faithful to instruct God’s people in the truth from God’s Word. That I would warn the people against false doctrines or spurious teachings. That I would shepherd the people in godliness that God’s people would grow in grace.
And may you too desire your own spiritual health. Pursue spiritual fitness by a healthy spiritual diet of God’s Word and by godly exercise. See the grace of God working through these things. See the great value this brings here and now, and especially unto eternity. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.