1 Timothy 4:11-16
The gospel is the story of the bible. The good news is the narrative that gives the narrative of life it’s meaning and all of the little stories in the narrative (like my life, wins, losses, fails and hardships and yours) their meaning. The gospel is a comprehensive framework by which all of life is seen, interpreted and lived. The gospel defies fire insurance and Sunday morning lip service. The gospel is the standard by which all views of life and actions are to be judged.
The metanarrative of the gospel affects how we view food, exercise, brushing our teeth, cutting the grass, hunting/harvesting resources, manhood, womanhood, children, man’s state before God, who God is, what God has said, what God is like, how God acts, what God is passionate about, what God expects from his people, government, taxation, the Arab / Israeli conflict, kings, presidents, suffering, evil, the intermediate state (time between death and our resurrection either to life or to eternal punishment) and everything in between these few examples.
This is what Timothy has been dropped into Ephesus to defend and insist on.
Paul wraps up this section of instruction to Timothy with a series of 10 imperatives as means of combatting the teaching and exhortation of demons through lying men and women. Paul gives these imperatives as a means of setting before the church the good doctrine of the gospel.
11) Command (imperative – to order or charge) and teach (imperative – to teach) these things (the things instructed in verse 1-10). 12) Let no one despise (imperative – look down on; presume; despise) you for your youth, but set (imperative – born; be made; marker indicating a new standard) the believers an example in speech (word; account; matter), in conduct (behavior; way of life), in love (agape – loving like God loves), in faith (faithfulness not belief), in purity (moral purity). 13) Until I come, devote (imperative – beware; pay attention;) yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14) Do not neglect (imperative – disregard; ignore) the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15) Practice (imperative – plot; practice) these things, immerse (imperative – be; mean; exist in; immerse is not actually in the text. There is not a word for that. The word is “ginomai” to be. It is also middle voice meaning that there is action on Timothy’s part but there is passive work happening. Timothy’s being in the duty is sustained by God by the Spirit) yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16) Keep (imperative – pay close attention; stay; hold fast) a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist (imperative – remain; continue; persist) in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:11-16 ESV)
Let’s put these imperatives into some instruction for us pastors and for all of us church members. A note here: this section is particularly important for pastors/elders to understand and hear so that we will not neglect the proper function of our role. This passage is vital for the church to hear so that those who aspire to the office of overseer can hear and understand the role. This passage is vital for the church to hear so that their expectations of pastor/elder are in line.
Many expect a pastor to their high priest (whether they say it or not they practice it). Many expect the pastor to be the doctor and chief medical expert. Many expect the pastor to be the Chief Shepherd. Many expect the pastor to be deacon, elder, employee and constantly available to hear everyone’s confession. Many expect the pastor to be an accomplished counselor. These, and perhaps many other false expectations are not the role of pastor / elder.
That is not what the text says. Let’s have God’s expectations not expectations we cook up in wishing Father organized things our way.
Let’s look at these imperatives from Paul to Timothy.
1. Command and teach gospel truth and right application of gospel truth v. 11
The gospel is not simply a message that rescues lost people from the wrath of God. It is that, but it is much more. You hear it here and you will hear it in other places as well to “preach the gospel to yourself” daily. That can mean reminding yourself of God’s rescue from his wrath through the work of Christ on the cross to justify all those who come to him by faith so that they are adopted into the family of God as a child and co-heir with Christ.
However, I would argue that this proclamation of the gospel to ourselves needs to advance in maturity to the application of the whole truth of Scripture to every domain of life as well as every event and moment in those domains.
The good news of God’s kingdom affects everything! The reign and rule of Christ over all things, which the gospel announces, truly has consequences in every nook and cranny.
Let me just quickly hit one. Education, for example is not isolated from the gospel. How many times in your college education did you discuss the disciplines in relation to the gospel and the chief discipline of theology (the study of the God of the bible and his story, the gospel)? Heck, how many of your schools even had theology as a discipline?
For instance, let’s look at psychology. Psychology is the study of the soul. How can one study the soul if they don’t know well first the author of the soul? How can one know the inner workings of the soul if they don’t understand man as image bearing? Psychology is first a gospel study in asking the questions: who is man? What is man’s makeup (body, soul)? What is the image of God? What parts of God does man reflect in that image? What is the effect of the spiritual realm on the soul and the body? Is there a spiritual realm that does such stuff? How do we recognize this world and its affects?
If one does not do this gospel work first, psychology becomes a sub category of biology because man in his fallen state begins to assume wrong ideas such as “man is the result of biological evolution because there is no God”. This leads to treating the soul as if it is a biological entity alone.
What about philosophy? Philosophy is the study of wisdom. Where does wisdom come from? If we divorce philosophy from the gospel then wisdom must come from man and man’s experiences in culture and therefore wisdom at its root can shift to the most expedient and pragmatic need of the culture and the thinking of men in that culture. This means that wisdom is a creation of man in community. What if wisdom is rooted in eternal truth and comes from the nature of God? Should we isolate philosophy from the gospel? Never! Colossians 2:8 tells us that philosophy not rooted in Christ comes from the elemental spirits of the world affecting the traditions of men.
The gospel, the study of the nature, character, work and history of God, is the chief discipline because the gospel affects everything. It is the comprehensive framework by which the kingdom of God is constructed and we must command and teach and apply this reality.
This application is not sermonic. This application is going to have to be done by everyone!
This means we have to know it. This means we have to study it. This means we have to work at applying it. This means we have to be confronted with our love of the world system over our love for God’s kingdom. This means we are in a constant state of learning and applying.
We have to know our bible and be committed to reading it, studying it and the practice of it.
We have to be committed to knowing the comprehensive gospel and its practice in fellowship and kingdom expansion.
2. Let no one despise your youth v. 12a
Most estimates from studies in Acts and from the study of the epistles put Timothy in his mid thirties at the writing of 1 Timothy. No doubt Timothy must have been the youngest of the elders and young compared to the congregation.
Chronological snobbery, the belief that things are better because they are younger or older, works in both directions. The lie that newer is better is just that, a lie. The lie that older is better and wiser is just that, a lie.
Better is better and wiser is wiser. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Age does not necessarily determine this. God determines these things and he has given them to us in the Manual.
God does not look at the outward appearance, but he looks at the heart. David was the youngest of his brothers, yet God chose David as king over the older ones.
The point here is not that youth is better or that age is better. The point here is that the gospel is better and that regardless of Timothy’s age, the gospel must be applied. Therefore, Paul commands Timothy to not let his age become an issue.
One can be 70 and respected, but if they are not Spirit gifted, disciplined, righteous, gentle and holy they are just as much a fool as the 20-year-old punk.
Age is never the issue. Submission to the Scriptures, submission to authority, pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11) is the issue. If one does those things their age is irrelevant.
Timothy was to avoid weak attempts to side step the issue of the gospel and its application. Timothy had to command that the issue remain the issue. We must as well.
3. Set the example v. 12b
Timothy is to set the example for others to follow. The list of items Paul gives Timothy is different somewhat from the items he will mention in 6:11 that Timothy is to pursue (righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness) as opposed to the things Paul tells him to flee (6:3-10). Does this mean that Timothy should not set the example in gentleness since it’s not in the list here in 4:12? Of course that is not what Paul means. This list of items probably represents what the liars who are teaching demonic doctrines don’t set the example in.
Speech and Conduct
Speech and conduct truly go together. In other words, Timothy should do what he says. If Timothy teaches the gospel then he should apply the metanarrative of truth to all areas as thoroughly as he can. Timothy should speak the truth and act the truth out.
Love, Faith, and Purity
The second group, consisting of “love,” “faith,” and “purity,” refers to inner traits. Paul desired a love that demonstrates itself for both God and others. The term “faith” is anarthrous (not saving faith) in the Greek and likely represents an attitude of faithfulness or trustworthiness rather than right belief. The call for “purity” demands both sexual purity and integrity of heart.
4. Devote yourself to publicly reading Scripture, to exhortation and to teaching v. 13
Listen to the words of Justin Martyr: “On a day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has finished, the president speaks, instructing and exhorting the people to imitate these good things.”
Note the equation of the apostle’s writings with the writings of the Old Testament.
Note the place of the service. It is “as long as time permits”. They didn’t spend all day doing a church service. They gathered for worship then got back to living out the truth in the domains of society together. They were glocal!
Note that after the reading of the texts the leader they called the “president” expounded on the texts to teach (instruct in doctrine) and exhort (preach) the church to do what they just read (“these good things”).
This is what Justin Martyr inherited at the close of the first century. This is what Paul is instructing Timothy to do here in the 60’s. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture to exhortation and to teaching. This is Timothy’s charge and job description. When you gather lay down the word and expound on it and send folks off to go do it.
How does Timothy display his devotion to this most crucial task?
Timothy is to display his devotion by not neglecting his gift for exhorting and teaching v. 14
The constant challenge for the pastor / elder is the tyranny of the urgent and the false expectations of people who will chew you a new hole or distance themselves from you because of some perceived slight because, after all, the pastor / elder is to be perfect and no room for error is to be given (sarcasm).
Paul will tell Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:6 to “fan into flame” the gift that was given to him.
Many Sunday sermons are limp because they were copied from the internet, completed in about 30 minutes, snapped shut in order to move on to CEO duties and forgotten.
The teaching gift must be fanned into flame. It must be cultivated, practiced, and refined. Timothy is to be devoted to that.
Church don’t expect your pastor / elders to be CEO men. We’ve been over that. This is not their function. This does not mean that some are not gifted in administration, but it means that those who are particularly administrative are still applying word and prayer to the administration of the work of teaching and preaching and kingdom expansion.
Timothy is to display his devotion by practicing and immersing himself in these things v. 15
Practice – (imperative – plot; practice)
Immerse – (imperative – be; mean; exist in; immerse is not actually in the text. There is not a word for that. The word is “ginomai” to be. It is also middle voice meaning that there is action on Timothy’s part but there is passive work happening. God by the Spirit sustains Timothy’s being in the duty)
Timothy is to practice study and teaching. Every chance he gets he must work on this most crucial craft of study and communication.
He is to immerse himself in this task. We have already seen that the pastor / elder’s job is the word and prayer. Any task that takes time away from these is a misplaced. This required discipline on the part of the pastor / elder and understanding on the part of the church.
5. Persist in keeping a watch on yourself and the gospel v. 16
Paul’s closing will be our closing for this text today. Persist is in the imperative. This conclusion is not a closing “good idea”. Paul’s instruction is an imperative. “Keep” and “persist” are both imperatives.
“Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching.”
It is commanded that we watch closely our speech and conduct. It is commanded that we watch closely our love, faith and purity.
As we keep a close watch on our children when they are young and playing in potential dangerous situations we are to keep that kind of close watch on lives and the gospel we teach. We must continually be monitoring our living and our teaching to see if they match and if they are in line with Scripture.
This is daily walking with Christ in fellowship and submission to him. Do you do this?
“Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
This is sobering. This duty cannot be neglected. The power of a life integrated based on the gospel is supernatural. Why, because Paul says that it will save the practitioner and the observer who is imitating.
Don’t misunderstand. Paul is not saying that one’s works save. Paul is affirming that the saved do work and that this work for the pastor / elder is to watch, shepherd one’s life and teaching into integration and those people will be saved, but even greater, the people they lead will be saved too by following the same teaching and the same living.
Lest you think that this falls on the pastor / elder and you escape, know this: all people are always leading and following. Someone is following you because you are older / wiser / charismatic / fun / “good looking” / popular / smart / up front / on the stage / perceived as a leader / etc. Are you living the truth so that those watching are led to the truth and imitating it?
Are we all perfect? No. Do we all fail? Yes. Must we be aware of the need to follow Jesus daily? You bet. Go. Know and learn the gospel and its multifaceted applications to the whole of creation and living it out. In case you have not figured this out yet, it will be a life-long proposition.
 Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 138.
 Justin Martyr, First Apology, translated by A.W.F Blunt, Cambridge Patristic Texts, Vol. 1 (Cambridge; Cambridge, 1911), 1, p. 67.