We are so messed up. Thank God for grace.
The new believers in Ephesus were pretty messed up too. Timothy was there to try to straighten them out, but he was discovering that this was no small task. Paul wrote him a letter detailing all of the things Timothy needed to know and remember and that’s the book of 1 Timothy. We have it divided into chapters and verses, but really, it was originally just a letter written to Timothy from his mentor, Paul. These two had been trying so hard to spread the good news of what Jesus had done just 30-40 years before, dying on the cross and rising from the dead to bring salvation to anyone who believes. But they were constantly faced with the messed-up-ness of the people around them. At that time, it was culturally acceptable to worship many different gods, so the concept of ONE God was pretty foreign. Many people were still convinced that they needed to keep the Law (those first five books of the Old Testament), so the concept of a Savior was totally incomprehensible. And that he would offer something called grace? Unheard of. Timothy was preaching a brand new message.
Paul had laid out directions for how to organize the new believers. He told Timothy some things that the men should be doing and some things to tell the women. The purpose of these rules was to bring order to the church so that the gospel could spread more effectively. Paul also told Timothy about some requirements for pastors and deacons and their wives. Paul knew something crucial…if the Church was in chaos, the good news of grace would stop spreading, so keeping order was important.
When Paul finished telling Timothy about how to organize the people of the Church (1 Timothy 1-3), he went back to talking about false teachers and false ideologies that were being taught (1 Timothy 4). He said that in later times, which is basically the entire time between the ascension of Jesus into heaven and his return one day, many would depart from the faith. The fancy word for turning away from God is apostasy. It’s been happening for centuries. We got into a pretty good discussion during our Bible study time about apostasy…We good Baptists like to say “once saved, always saved” as our stance on the eternal security of the believer. But if Paul is saying that one can “depart” from the faith, that implies that he must first be IN the faith, right? And if he’s in the faith, he can remain or he can depart? If that’s true, as one of our ladies put it, then nobody’s safe! Seems like maybe our doctrinal belief has been a little fuzzy. Let me try to clear the muddy waters.
The answer here comes down to semantics. Being in THE faith is not the same thing as being saved, having a personal faith. Check out Hebrews 6:4-6…
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
This is another passage of Scripture that says that people can fall away. If you read closely enough, you’ll see that these people have been enlightened (they’ve heard the gospel), they’ve tasted the heavenly gift (they know all about Jesus), they’ve shared in the Holy Spirit (they’ve seen the Spirit active in their midst, often through other believers), and they’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God (they’ve heard Scripture). In other words, they’ve been in THE faith. This Scripture mentions nothing of having a personal faith in the grace of Jesus Christ, which is the only requirement for salvation. So you see, a person can be in THE faith and then fall away, turning to other gods. One can be in the faith without having a personal faith of their own. In even simpler terms, they knew all about God but they never accepted His gift of salvation, so when they fall away, they were actually never saved to begin with.
This can be pretty confusing and make you really question your salvation, right? Good! It’s GOOD to question and search for an answer in Scripture. Ask yourself this: Have I accepted God’s gift of grace (meaning that he is your Savior and Lord)? If the answer is yes, hooray! You’re saved! If you feel more like you’re just in THE faith, going through the motions, coming to church or Bible Study, but not having a faith of your very own, stop right now and get right with God. Tell him you want his grace, you’re thankful for what he did on the cross and you’re ready to make him your boss. He’ll save you right now!
Now back to 1 Timothy 4. Rules can be good if they’re used to create balance and order in the church or in the home. But if you tie following the rules to your salvation (which is legalism), you are saying that God’s grace-gift isn’t free. Many teachers in Ephesus were teaching salvation through Jesus but they were also saying that rules had to be followed in order to receive that salvation. Paul puts a stop to those rumors, emphasizing that everything created by God is good and it is to be received with thanksgiving because all created things point us back to God! That’s not to say that all rules are bad or that we won’t display a changed life after salvation. Disciplines are great for keeping order in our personal lives, but we must not elevate those disciplines and make them “laws” for ourselves, tying them to our salvation. Jesus came to fulfill the law so that we can live in freedom, simply abiding in Him!
Think false teaching only happened back in Ephesus in AD 40? Think again! Just flip on the tv and you can find many preachers and teachers delivering messages of health, wealth and prosperity. They, like the false teachers in Timothy’s day, take the truth of Scripture and twist it ever so slightly so that many don’t even recognize their own deception. In 1 Timothy 4:6-16 Paul tells Timothy what a good servant looks like. He charges Timothy to put all of these things before the church. Leaders in the church must point out false teaching and behaviors that are inconsistent with God’s ordered design for the church. They’re brave enough to do what’s hard. We should never turn a blind eye to the misrepresentation of Scripture. We are responsible for confronting false teachers, just like Timothy did. Another trait of a good servant is that he is “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” Ministers need to be grounded in the Word, making their own spiritual renewal and growth a priority.
Paul warned Timothy about irreverent, silly myths and old wives tales that were being taught. Like I said before, they were so messed up! Those people didn’t know what the truth was and the teachers weren’t helping at all. To be able to discern the false things from the true things, a believer must be solidly grounded in the truth of God. We have something that first century Christians didn’t have – the Bible. The Old Testament and The New Testament! Most of us have multiple copies in print as well as access to the Bible on our phones, Kindles, iPads and computers. We have NO valid excuse for not having a deep knowledge of God’s word. How will we know the truth from the lies if we don’t know what’s true?
And then Paul goes right into talking about training ourselves in godliness. Nobody ever just wakes up “trained”. It takes a lot of work! If I tried to go out tomorrow morning and run a marathon, I’d collapse after the first few blocks because I haven’t trained for it. But my friends who have trained for marathons can proudly wear their medals because they trained and finished the race. Training in godliness takes daily exercise in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, meditation, etc. And the good news is, physical training is of some value here on earth, but training in godliness has eternal value! It will last even when we get to heaven! Get out there and train!
Paul says in verse 10, “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.” Jesus came to save us ALL. But unfortunately, some will not believe. Those of us who do believe have our hope set on the living God! What a privilege it is to believe! However, we do not believe and then add works to our faith, just to make sure. We do not believe and then make up additional rules for righteousness. No! We just simply BELIEVE.
Paul insisted in verse 11 that Timothy command and teach these things. Grace was no side issue. Legalism was no weak enemy. These things were matters of life and death. And they still are today.
Paul reminds young Timothy that chronological age does not necessarily bring spiritual maturity. The issue for leadership is never age, but spiritual development. We are all younger than somebody! Age doesn’t matter, but some people do get hung up on those numbers. So set an example in speech and life (the observable aspects of life), in faith and love (the essence and evidence of the Christian life), and in purity (both sexual conduct and integrity of heart).
And he’s not done yet! Paul gives some more instruction to Timothy regarding public gatherings of believers and worship services. They should devote themselves to the public reading of Scripture. They needed to be reminded that Scripture was the very breath of God! Remember, they didn’t have access to the entire Bible that we have today. But we have access to it all. Sometimes it can get a little stale when we see it in a daily devotional reading or scroll past it on Facebook. But it’s an important, life-giving, useful thing and we are not to neglect it. Scripture was especially important then, and equally as important now, because as they faced false teachers, the public reading of Scripture defended against falsehood. Preaching and teaching the Word encourages, instructs, exhorts, warns and explains. The point is not to create some rigid rules, but to encourage the body and allow God to reveal himself through His Word.
Every believer has been gifted by the Holy Spirit and with that gift comes responsibilities in the Church. Timothy’s gift was probably given when he was “ordained” with the laying on of hands by the elders. This was Paul’s way of affirming God’s call on Timothy’s life and it serves as a good reminder to us that we are not to neglect our gifts. Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? The Bible says all believers have gifts. If you don’t know what yours is, or if you know but you’re not using them, let me challenge you to find out and start using them!
Paul wraps up this section by encouraging Timothy to endure. Be diligent, persevere, abide in Him. This ministry is your life, not a job. It takes endurance! A life growing close to God cannot be hidden – everyone will see your progress (the authentic presence of Christ in his people). That’s why we endure!
Paul reminds Timothy to keep a close watch on himself and on the teaching. He was charged with refuting the lies of the false teachers and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ. In so doing, he was responsible for both himself and his hearers. Salvation is no light matter. “Salvation is a process. It has a beginning point at conversion and its full realization when we are united with Christ. In between is the process of becoming more Christlike in our person and behavior.”
In the time between Christ’s ascension and the time he returns, some people will get confused, fall away and follow false teachers who make up all sorts of rules and laws for salvation. Paul wanted Timothy (and us!) to understand what he was (we are!) up against! It is our job as Christians to point out the falsehood and point people to Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation he offers. To do this, we have to train ourselves in godliness and remember to use the gifts the Spirit has given to us. We do this so that news of the gospel can spread and people can hear of God’s grace.
The precious promise here?
Grace + NotOneSingleLittleBittyOtherThingAtAll.