Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 4:11-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/26/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 4:11-16
“Till I Come”
As we saw in chapter 1, the Apostle Paul had left Pastor Timothy in Ephesus to carry on the pastoral ministry until Paul returns. Paul went on to do ministry in Macedonia, but Timothy had to carry on the work in Ephesus in Paul’s absence. This seemed especially important given that there were some threats of false teachers at that church. And so, we are reminded of all this when we come to verse 13. Paul says to Timothy, “Till I come.” Till I come, here’s what I want you to be doing. You need to focus on the reading of the Scripture, on the giving of exhortation from God’s Word, and on teaching biblical doctrine. Timothy must faithfully continue this until Paul returns.
This is important for us as well. We’re spending more time in this same section from 1 Timothy. Verses 11-16 tell us a lot about the pastoral ministry of the church. And today we’re going to think about the Word ministry of the pastor. That’s what I love about this letter. We get to think about the ministry of the church. Here we get to think about the pastor’s role in the public ministry of the Word. As we look at verses 11-16, these ideas are especially seen in verses 11, 13, and 16. I’ll be drawing from those verses as we think today about the ministry of the Word. And so, I’ll break down the ministry of the Word into three main points from today’s passage. First, we’ll consider the public reading of Scripture. Then, we’ll look at the command and exhortation of Scripture. Third, we’ll reflect on the teaching of doctrine.
Let’s begin first with the public reading of Scripture. This is in verse 13. Timothy needs to give attention to the reading, referring to the reading of the Scripture. This was a practice that was done first in the synagogues and understandably carried into the Christian church as well. For example, in Luke 4:16, we see Jesus reading at the synagogue in Nazareth from the book of Isaiah. In Acts 13:15, we see that the synagogue in Antioch had readings from both the law and the prophets. We see in different ways that the early church’s worship services had similarities with the Jewish synagogue services and this is one of them.
But of course, there was a key difference. The Jewish synagogues would read only from that part of the Bible we refer to as the Old Testament. But in the Christian churches, they were already beginning to read what we would refer to as the New Testament. As the New Testament started getting recorded, it then started to be read in the churches. We see that for example in Colossians 4:16 that the epistle to the Colossians was not only to be read to the Colossians but then sent to Laodicea to have it read there too. Or in 1 Thessalonians 5:27, Paul charges the Thessalonians under oath that the letter be read to all the holy brethren. And in Revelation 1:3, it speaks of the blessing that comes to those who reads aloud the words of prophecy and those who hear it. The point there is that Jesus meant Revelation to be read publicly to the church too
And so, Paul says Timothy must give attention to this public reading of the Scripture. There needs to be a devotion and discipline to the Scripture reading at the church. It is sad when you go to a church and basically only get one verse or so the entire service. It’s even more sad if you don’t even get that! There is a reason why we have as much Scripture reading throughout our service. We get it in the call to worship, and in the confession of faith, and in the three formal readings from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Prophets. We know that Word of God is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword”, that it is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And not only that, but remember that when we come to worship God, it is a meeting of his people with God. The reading of the Word is God speaking to us his people when we gather in formal assembly. And so, pastors must make sure to give attention to the reading of Scripture in the service. We should have a hearty diet of Scripture, and we should have a systematic reading of it so that we are getting a wide range of Bible content.
That would have especially been important back then when people didn’t usually have their own copy of the Bible. Coming to church is the only place they could learn more of God’s Word. But let us continue to see the value of a high place for the public reading of Scripture in our worship service. And for us who have the privilege today to have our own copies of the Bible, let us give heed to regular reading of the Bible at our homes as well. What a great privilege we have today!
So, that’s one part of a pastor’s ministry of the Word: the public reading of it. Let’s move now in our second point to think about the command and exhortation from the Word. That too is part of the pastoral ministry of the Word. Technically, command and exhortation are two different things, but they are closely related. Verse 11 has the word for command. Verse 13 has the word for exhortation. Both of these are things Timothy is to be about. The word for “command” in verse 11 is certainly the stronger word between these two. It can be translated as well to give orders, direct, urge, or charge. It is something that carries with it a direction from an authority that is meant to be followed. For example, this is the word used in Luke 8:29 for Jesus commanding an unclean spirit to leave a man. It is the same word used in Luke 8:56 where Jesus charges the parents of a little girl he raised from the dead not to tell anyone about the miracle. In other words, this word of “command” is not talking about a suggestion. Timothy has information as a pastor that must not just be communicated to the people. It must be demanded upon them.
Similar to this is this word of “exhortation”. This word from verse 13 could be used to refer in general to the preaching of a sermon. We see that in Acts 13:15 when Paul is invited in a synagogue to give a word of exhortation. (There, again, we see the worship in the early Christian church having similarities with the Jewish synagogue services). But what makes preaching different than simply teaching is that you are pressing home to the hearers what is being said. It is similar to the word “command” but the delivery is a slightly less forceful than a straight command, and hopefully more tactful and winsome. The word “exhortation” specifically in the Greek has a range of usage anywhere from comfort to encourage to appeal, to exhort. What is common in all of these usages of this word, is that it seeks to have an effect on the hearer. It looks to move the will and/or the heart. It’s taking God’s Word and driving it home to the hearers.
This too is part of the pastoral ministry of the Word. It too is something Paul says a pastor must give attention to. I spent a good bit of my time each week preparing for the sermon. It is my desire and aim that I am pressing home and applying these truths from God’s Word in the sermon. Of course, this is the part of the ministry of the Word that might bring the most objection in the church. There’s that old joke about preaching that sometimes a pastor goes “from preaching to meddling.” If a sermon really exhorts and commands the truth, it will surely at points hit close to home. And when someone feels personally confronted by the Word over some sin or error in their life, it can be met with objection. But as a pastor, I urge you to not shoot the messenger! We all know how the world can hate us as Christians when they feel personally convicted by what we hold to be true from God’s Word. They don’t want to hear that they are a sinner who needs forgiveness and grace. Well, in a similar way, even a Christian can be offended sometimes when they are confronted by God’s Word over some sin they’ve not wanted to deal with. But let’s see that this is part of what a pastor is supposed to be doing. He is supposed to be exhorting and even commanding God’s Word to us. When that happens, it should spark in us repentance, growth, and new obedience. Let us pray for a right attitude to reach the Word as pastors exhort it and command it.
Let’s turn now to our third point to consider how the teaching of doctrine is part of the pastoral ministry of the Word. We see this referenced first in verse 11 with the command for Timothy to be teaching. It’s a word of instruction that can be used either in the sense of instructing someone individually or via a didactic lecture. The word in the Greek is didasko which even sounds like the word “didactic” in English. In case you don’t know what the word didactic in English means, it means something that is designed to teach or convey information. Unlike the word exhort that we discussed before, this word is much more about the giving of information. It’s not about commanding or admonishing. Galatians 1:12 uses this word, for example, when Paul is talking about how he received his knowledge of the gospel.
And so, in verse 13, we see that Timothy needs to give attention to the teaching of doctrine. Interestingly, the word translated in verse 13 as doctrine has the same Greek root as the word for teach in verse 11. One is a verb and the other is a noun, but they have the same underlying Greek root. Some translations even translate verse 13 as “teaching” instead of doctrine. I point this out, because it helps us to understand what doctrine is. It is really just teaching. It is information and truth that God would have Christians to know and believe. But we won’t be able to know and believe this truth, this doctrine, unless it is taught.
So, verses 11 and 13 speak to this teaching of doctrine that the church needs to do. This is something we need to really stand for today because there is a movement among some Christians to loathe doctrine. They say things like “doctrine divides” and they say that to try to get churches to stop teaching doctrine. Yet the statement “doctrine divides” is a doctrine, and it is a divisive one. Because, it would try to shame churches that are trying to do the very thing Paul commands Timothy here to be doing in the church. And so, the statement that “doctrine divides” is a self-defeating statement. If we were to take that to an extreme we would end up as Unitarian Universalists who try to disavow all doctrine, but in reality, their disavowal of doctrine becomes their doctrine.
And so, as Christians, we will inherently have doctrine of some kind. Paul’s point to Timothy in this letter is that we need to have sound doctrine. It needs to be the biblical doctrine which is true. And so, this is why Paul tells Timothy in verse 13 that he needs to give attention to the teaching of doctrine. We will either have right doctrine or wrong doctrine and so we are called to give attention to the right doctrine.
What does it look like to give attention to this teaching of doctrine? Well, obviously, it means that there is serious Bible teaching going on. That means that the sermons are chalk full of Bible content, and not about other things. Think about what a sermon could end up like in some churches. Maybe in some churches the sermons end up largely being interesting stories about the pastor’s life. Or maybe in some places the sermons are really an exposition of various contemporary events of interest or the politics of the day. Unfortunately, it is too common to find sermons that have very little Bible content and very little biblical doctrine. And so, the sermons need to have Bible teaching in them. And this is done not only in the sermons, but we can also attend to this doctrine teaching in our other Bible classes as well, like we have during Sunday School, and the Wednesday night study, the Community Groups, etc.
As we think then about how to attend to doctrine and teaching, let me also add a few more thoughts. For an overall healthy diet of Bible teaching and doctrine, we should think about the complementary disciplines that there are when studying the Bible. First, to attend to doctrine, we will need to be what’s called exegetical. The practice of exegesis is basically taking out of the Bible what is in there. That means that we work through the Bible and teach and explain what each individual passage means. We seek to understand the meaning of any given verse or passage. Second, we need to be systematic. That means we need to be organizing and harmonizing all the content of the Bible together in a topical and cohesive way. This allows us to know what the Bible teaches on any given subject. Third, we need to be redemptive-historical in our study of God’s Word. That means we seek to understand the big picture in the Bible. It means we recognize that the Bible is ultimately about God’s plan to save a people unto himself. So, we try to understand how the things that we have learned from the Bible are connected to the overarching plan of salvation. And so, the exegetical study of the Scriptures, and the systematic study of the Scriptures, and the redemptive-historical study of the Scriptures all complement each other and come together to form our overall doctrinal understanding of God’s Word.
The overall importance of this is brought to light when we get to verse 16. There Paul tells Timothy that he needs to take heed to his doctrine. He needs carefully watch his doctrine to make sure it is staying true to the Bible. And he needs to carefully watch that this is what he is teaching. He needs to keep on doing this. Why? Because as verse 16 says, that “in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” Now let me clarify something here. Paul’s not saying that Timothy is the one who accomplishes salvation for either himself or for the parishioners at the church. That’s not what this is saying. Paul’s not saying that he, Timothy, could be the savior of the Ephesians! No, not at all. God in Christ is the savior of the Ephesians and of all men, verse 10! As Verse 10 says, God is particularly the savior of believers. So, there is an important truth here. Though God in Christ is the one who saves people, God accomplishes this salvation through the agency of Bible preaching. God raises up pastors like Timothy to go and bring the gospel and sound doctrine to the world. In this, some come to faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and are saved.
So, this is why Timothy needs to be so concerned with the doctrine. As he brings this doctrine to the Ephesians, God will use it for his saving purposes. It is the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that will convert sinners to saints. It is the teaching of God’s Word that will be used to keep people in the faith as well. And remember back to 1:3 where Paul told Timothy he left him in Ephesus to combat people who are teaching false doctrines. Those false doctrines according to chapter 1 can hinder godly growth and could even cause people to stray from the Christian faith. That is why Timothy must continue to take heed to his doctrine. And it’s also why he must keep reading the Scriptures to the people. And it’s why he needs to keep exhorting them with God’s Word. That God would use his word unto salvation through Timothy’s ministry.
Brothers and sisters, let us hold fast to these biblical doctrines which have brought to us this wonderful salvation. Paul told Timothy to keep up reading the Word, and commanding and exhorting the Word, and teaching the doctrines of the Word. Paul told Timothy to keep doing that until Paul comes. Until Paul returns there to be with Timothy. Let us follow suit. No, we aren’t waiting for Paul to come to us here in Novato. But let us keep giving attention to reading, and to exhortation, and to doctrine until He comes! Until Christ Jesus returns to us. This is what our Lord calls us to be doing until he returns. This ministry of the Word is that important. It is the most important thing for us to be doing. We must carry on this work until Christ returns. And he will return! I declare that Word, that Biblical truth, that good news again today to you. May we be ready and prepared for his return by trusting in him for salvation, and be living as a student of his Word until that great day. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.