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The First Epistle to Timothy: The False and the True (1 Tim 4)

J Gibson, Derby

This chapter contrasts the apostate teachers (vv.1-5) with Timothy, a good servant of Jesus Christ (vv.6-16). On the one hand, the apostates had deliberately turned their back on God’s truth, gladly embraced error, and unashamedly propagated demonic doctrines (vv.1-5). Timothy was completely different. Having enjoyed nourishment from "the words of faith and of good doctrine" (v.6), he was to be an example of true godliness (v.12), never ceasing to remind believers of the dangers of error, while positively reinforcing sound doctrine (v.6).

Thus, we are warned – false teachers will arise. And yet this personal exhortation to Timothy gives us a blueprint of the ideal character and conduct of a true servant of God, and the rigors attached to such a life. In view of rampant heresy may we also strive, with God’s help, to be good servants of Jesus Christ.

The apostate teachers (vv.1-5)

The expressions "latter times" (v.1) or "last days" (Micah 4.1) convey a sense of finality to God’s plan for this earth. They are broad in scope, describing a lengthy period stretching from the time of Christ and His apostles (2 Tim 3.1; Heb 1.2; 1 Pet 1.20), through the tribulation (Jer 30.23-24), and onward into the millennial Kingdom (Is 2.2-5). The context determines the exact portion of this period to which it refers. In this instance, it relates to the tail-end of the apostles’ days and the entire church era. The Holy Spirit, either through prophecy or direct revelation to the Apostle Paul, had clearly explained that these final stages of human history (in which we now live) will be marked by apostasy. Men will deliberately "depart from the faith" - total Christian doctrine (Jude v.3) – and having done so, imbibe error which ultimately, always, has a demonic source (v.1). This is not the experience of a backslider, but of an unregenerate person (Heb 6.4-8) showing their true colours, wilfully abandoning the truth once professed: "The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Pet 2.22).

Deception is their goal, therefore they cannot be trusted. The Greek word translated "hypocrisy" (hupokrisis) "is derived from the Greek stage. It was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice".1 Similarly, apostate teachers act. Like the father of lies (Jn 8.44), who is the source of their doctrinal beliefs, and "himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor 11.14), they use a respectable façade to enhance their deception. And "having their conscience seared with a hot iron" they feel no guilt for formally "Forbidding [men] to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats" (v.3). This enforced stoicism is a subtle tactic. It precludes men from legitimate pleasures and robs God of His rightful praise.

Marriage is a God ordained ordinance (Gen 1.27; 2.24; Mt.19.6). Ideally, it is a balanced relationship of love and respect, so picturing Christ and His church (Eph 5.22-33). By providing companionship (Gen 2.18) and physical pleasures, comparable to eating the fruit of a locked garden (Song 4.12-16), it can reduce men’s propensity to immorality (1 Cor 7.2; Heb 13.4). While formalised celibacy appears upright and moral, in reality it forbids what God has permitted, and potentially provokes sexual immorality which God has forbidden; thus, finally, dishonouring God.

Dietary restrictions were placed on Israel as God’s special nation (Lev 11). These rules separated Israel as a holy people (Lev 11.44). They promoted a meticulous approach to life and tested Israel’s obedience to Jehovah who had delivered them from Egyptian bondage (Lev 11.45). Having said this, as Christ taught, it is not what a man eats, digests and then passes in his bowel motion that defiles him, but rather what comes out of his sinful heart. "Thus He declared all foods clean" (Mk 7.14-23, NASV). This same truth was further confirmed by Peter’s supernatural vision of what appeared to be "a great sheet…Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air". The heavenly voice declared, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10.9-16). Later still, when the Jerusalem counsel addressed the great question of whether Gentile believers were obligated to keep the Law of Moses, it applied only three dietary restrictions (Acts 15.20). The injunction to abstain from "pollutions of [foods offered to] idols" was a stark reminder of the hazards connected with idolatry, while the prohibition against "things strangled" ensured the humane killing of animals and the avoidance of blood. In the same vein, Paul concluded that "there is nothing unclean of itself" (Rom 14.14). This knowledge, as revealed to us in Scripture, when combined with a lowly and prayerful spirit, sanctifies all food for Christians (v.5).

The excellent servant (vv.6-16)

Christians can quickly forget (2 Pet 1.12; 3.1; Jude v.5). Knowing this, the good servant of Jesus Christ keeps on reminding the saints of what danger false doctrine holds. To do this the man of God must have first been himself "nourished with" and "fully followed" after "the words of the faith and of the good teaching" (v.6, JND). The phrase "words of the faith" refers to the totality of Biblical revelation. It emphasizes that it is not just the general flow and principles of Scripture that have been inspired, but the very words themselves (plenary verbal inspiration), even every jot and tittle – the smallest symbols of the Hebrew language (Mt 5.18). This is "the good teaching" as opposed to the doctrines of demons (v.1). By feeding daily on God’s Word the good servant will find much needed personal spiritual nourishment (Mt 4.4), be equipped with the discernment necessary to effectively detect error (Heb 5.14), and be filled with holy courage to expose it fearlessly.

Such a ministry requires the tremendous self-discipline of a professional gymnast (vv.7-8: "exercise" translates gumnazo, from which we get gymnastics) and the effortful toil of a manual labourer (v.10: "labour" translates kopiao, meaning "striking, beating…toiling"2). To attain sporting excellence an athlete must stop bad habits, avoid unhealthy foods and relentlessly practice their sport. In a similar fashion, the good servant of Jesus Christ has "nothing to do with worldly fables, fit only for old women" but, instead, unceasingly disciplines himself "for the purpose of godliness" (v.7, NASV). Godliness has been defined as "our overcoming every kind of enticement to evil and our living so as to please God".3 Its fullest expression was found in Christ (3.16), so that true Christ-likeness equates to godliness. Though bodily exercise has its rewards, they are only temporary. Godliness, however, is beneficial for this life "and of that which is to come" (v.8). As a labourer the Christian servant toils to the point of exhaustion, and does so in a hostile environment without any expectation of praise from men. This is because he hopes "in the living God, who is the Saviour [preserver of life] of all men, specially of those that believe", in the sense of keeping them from falling and finally conforming them to the image of His beloved Son (Rom 8.29). The reproach of men, though difficult to bear presently (Ps 69.20), will soon be forgotten at Christ’s commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Mt 25.23).

Every child of God has been freely gifted (charisma) by the ascended Christ (Rom 12.4-8; 1 Cor 12.1-31; Eph 4.7-13) "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph 4.12). Though still a young man, Timothy was an exceptional Bible teacher (vv.11-16). In his case, the impartation of gift was linked to prophetic utterance. The "elderhood" acknowledged it and identified themselves with Timothy by the laying on of their hands (v.14, JND). Though now, with a completed canon of Scripture, prophecy is no longer required, it is still imperative for elders in local churches to recognize and encourage the development of spiritual gift in younger believers, and ensure that they do not neglect the gift that is in them. The Bible teacher is to teach with authority (v.11; 1 Pet 4.11). This authority is based on a number of important factors. He will, as far as any man can, be a living example of his teaching, "in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (v.12). He should be totally committed to his ministry, to "occupy [himself] with these things; be wholly in them" (v.15, JND), to be "the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message" (Hag 1.13). By so unreservedly throwing himself into the things of God his "progress will be evident to all" (v.15, NASV). Never giving up, he will constantly "give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (v.13). He must guard his own soul and continue in the doctrine. This kind of Bible teacher will give no-one a valid reason for despising him, and through his ministry will become a saviour to his hearers, keeping them spiritually safe (v.16).

To be continued.

1 Vine, W E. The Collected Writings of W E Vine.
2 Vine, W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
3 Vine, W E. The Collected Writings of W E Vine.

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