Reading Timothy’s Mail: A Good Servant
1 Timothy 4:6-16
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in these so that all may see your progress. 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.
– 1 Tim. 4:6-16
What would be the requirements for Timothy to be “a good servant of Christ Jesus?”
“Trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.” If Timothy is to “put these things before the brothers,” he will have to receive training in “the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.” Today, men who seek to be servant/evangelists cannot just show up, get up and preach. There must be training, and the training must be “in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.” Whether the young preacher does this alone, with his own initiative or has a mentor; whether in a formal setting or informal – the necessity is that there be training. And here, the emphasis is on the substance of what is to be taught: the good doctrine.
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather, train yourself for godliness.” The training and preparation in the good doctrine – if consistently received – will keep the servant/evangelist away from that which is worldly, useless or ungodly. Just receive the good doctrine yourself, and give nothing to the people by that same instruction. (See Eph. 5:11)
“Toil and strive.” Work is involved; energy is expended. In any serious training, the one being trained must be willing and disciplined to do the work. As one man said, “affix the seat of your pants to the chair.”
Harold Turner (in the book, Letters to Young Preachers): “Learn to attach the seat of your pants to a chair. For this there is no substitute. Whether or not you are willing to do this will determine by and large whether or not your work as a gospel preacher is going to be rich and fulfilling to you and others or whether it will involve a shallowness from the outset, from which you will never be able to d
etach yourself—thus spending your preaching life striving for some degree of appropriateness within the limits of said shallowness. Attach the seat of your pants to a chair!”
“Command and teach these things.” The servant/evangelist is not the Commander in Chief, but he is charged to relay the orders of the Commander (Christ). If a preacher will do his work right from the text of Scripture, he removes from his life a great burden and anxiety. He enables the integrity and power of this answer when opposed: “I just told you what Scripture says!” Command and teach only what has been revealed, and you are ready to give a sound answer to any who oppose your teaching. If, however, you mix your own ideas in with the pure Word, that defense is lost. “Command and teach these things,” that is, the “words of the faith and of the good doctrine.”
The value of these simple instructions is punctuated by this promise: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
“Let no one despise you for your youth” may sound like Timothy is to tell people not to do this. We may have the impression, young Timothy is to warn brethren, saying: “Now, Paul said, don’t you despise my youth!” That’s not what this is.
This is directed to Timothy, not as a bullet he can use toward others; rather, he is to conduct himself in such a manner, he will give no reason for anyone to despise his youth. Instead of giving people a reason to attack him for his youth – he is to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Setting this good example, he eliminates any justification for questioning his youth.
Timothy must “devote” himself “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” This is what the good preacher does, consistently. He reads Scripture to people, exhorts from that source and teaches his listeners to respect Scripture and live by it. Consider, we have no right to tell people what to do, if we haven’t read it to them from God’s Word! Read it, study it, explain it to the people and exhort everybody (including yourself) to obey the Word.
Timothy had received a specific gift, to be used in his work (v.14). “Do not neglect” conveys the responsibility of using what you have been given.
The young evangelist is to be engaged in the practice of these things, immersing himself in the requirements and character of a good servant, so that progress would be apparent. (The preacher who doesn’t grow/improve, is not well involved in what this passage is teaching.)
“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.”
Damage is the result when preachers attend to their teaching (delivery, content), but neglect to watch themselves (self-examination, self-correction, self-nourishment). The preacher lives in devotion to others, to impart correct teaching with appropriate challenge to people. The preacher must also live what he teaches; he must model the message imparted from Scripture. Without persistence in these dual areas of responsibility, he will not be effective in saving others, or himself.
From Letters To Young Preachers:
It is a great temptation to preachers to take their preaching as a surrogate for their own spiritual growth and development. It is a well-known fact that one can issue great spiritual challenges to others without attempting to lift them with one finger (Luke 11:46). Preachers can preach without listening to or applying their preaching to themselves. This is no doubt the reason for Paul’s oft-repeated exhortation for those who teach to first take a careful look within. It is possible for evangelists to become skilled word merchants who know how to speak effectively but make no effort to live up to their own message. It is a grave kind of hypocrisy. Even Paul himself with all the devotion with which his life was characterized wrote concernedly, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). – Paul Earnhart
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
- Calvin Coolidge
4:7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales;
The NIV leaves a word (de), “but,” untranslated, a word which sets up the contrast between the healthy teaching to which Timothy subscribes and the teaching propounded by the heretics, their “godless myths and old wives’ tales.” These teachings are deemed “myths” (mythoi), see discussion of the word at 1:4) and are characterized as “godless” or profane signifying opposition to the sacred. Paul also connects them with “old wives’ tales,” “a sarcastic expression often used in philosophical polemic comparing one’s opponents’ position to the tales perpetuated by the older women of those cultures as they would sit around weaving and the like.” Timothy is to “have nothing to do” with this foolish false teaching which is not grounded in the truth.
 Moss, C. M. (1994). 1, 2 Timothy & Titus. The College Press NIV Commentary (1 Ti 4:7). Joplin, MO: College Press.
Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 22.5; May 2015