By Zane C. Hodges
Regarding the Minister of Christ
In 1 Tim 3:14–4:5 the Apostle sets forth the importance of his instructions about the truth itself, while in 4:4–16 he sets forth their importance to Timothy himself. If Timothy is faithful in teaching and charging these things, they will truly make him a good servant of Jesus Christ who saves himself as well as others.
4:6. The these things (tauta) of this verse is probably of broad significance, covering the general truths of the epistle. To a certain extent it may be resumptive of the “these things” of v 14, though surely not excluding the intervening material. The truth is all interwoven.
The word instruct (hupotithemenos) seems to involve a word-play as it signifies “to suggest” or “to advise,” while at the same time the verb root means “to put under.” The figure of the “house of God” (3:15) is thus recalled and these truths presented as foundational for those in that house.
Note also that the brethren recalls the family character of that “household.” The brethren constantly need the solid footing afforded by these divine “suggestions.” How treacherous is the footing today for the brethren as they conduct themselves in God’s house according to human advice.
Note also the parallelism of the present participles instruct and nourished (hupotithemenos and entrephomenos). Both are seen as going on at the same time. As Timothy is advising others, he is himself experiencing the nourishment of these truths. The Lord’s servant always finds that in watering others he is himself watered also.
Beware Spiritual Senility
4:7. Occupation with good doctrine and the words of faith leads naturally to the rejection of what is profane and valueless. They are non-nourishing (cf. v 6).
Observe the contrast between old wives’ fables (graōdeis muthous) and training (gumnaze). Those who have lost the vigor of spiritual youth find themselves, like the gossipy old ladies, toying with idle fables that tantalize the fancy. When we cease to vigorously train and exercise ourselves to excel in true piety, we are in danger of spiritual senility. Idle and abstruse theological debates are of no interest to the active spiritual athlete; they only attract spiritual old women.
4:8–10. The spiritual exercise which the Apostle commends has unlimited benefit for all things (pros panta) as over against the limited profit (pros oligon) of athletic discipline. The values of piety are experienced in two worlds, this life, and the hereafter.
Be Pious in Labor
The phrase this is a faithful saying (pistos ho logos) is sometimes construed with v 8 rather than v 10, and the objection raised that the for of v 10 is out of place in the “faithful saying” and appears redundant. But this formula usually seems to precede the assertion to which it applies, and certainly v 10 is by far the weightier of the two statements. Moreover, for need not here be inferential but simply emphatic, being understood as “indeed” or “certainly.”
The connection of vv 9–10 with v 8 seems to be something like this: Piety often involves fatiguing labor (kopiōmen) and unjust criticism (oneidizometha). We cannot always see its profitableness, and there often seems a lag between its promise and its fulfillment. But, says Paul, we nonetheless have a basis for hope. It is a dependable assertion that all should receive; namely, we both toil and are reviled for the very reason that we have placed hope in a God Who is very especially our Savior.
If God is the Savior of all (sōtēr pantōn)—and He is because “He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25b), and has even made provision for the spiritual salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4–6)—how much more will He prove Himself to be this to us who believe? All indeed are preserved and profited by Him; how much more indeed those who have faith. Surely piety holds out great promise of blessing—whatever the toil and reproach of it—if the fulfillment of that promise rests on such a One.
Note that this hope rests on three great facts as its base: (1) what God is in Himself (living), (2) what He is toward all men, (3) what He is especially toward us (who believe).
In times when godliness seems to promise nothing but toil and reproach (cf. Ps 73:13-14), we must recall where our hopes for this life and the next all inescapably lie—upon a Living God Whose preserving power affects all and surely most especially those who believe.
Be a Spiritual Athlete
4:11–16. What follows is basically a description of the spiritual athletics in which the young servant of the Lord is vigorously to exercise. All the equipment of the spiritual gymnasium is presented and is to be put to use.
In passing it must be noted that youth (neotēs) was in ancient times a relative term. Irenaeus affirms its applicability till the age of forty. Timothy was about 35-40. The elders over whom he wielded apostolic authority were likely many years his senior.
Challenged by the reminder of his hope in God, he is urged to take up the toil of charging and teaching all these truths. He could forestall much criticism, especially of his youth, by carefully presenting an exemplary pattern of life (v 12). But private discipline and example were not enough—public reading (tē anagnōsei), exhortation, and teaching were also part of his spiritual gymnastic equipment (v 13).
To be satisfied with mere exemplary living and not public ministry would be to neglect a supernaturally imparted gift (v 14). To practice these public ministries however immersed in them, was to guarantee an advance and progress that all could see (evident to all, v 15). Careful attention to oneself and one’s doctrine and continuance in these things would be richly beneficial to oneself and to one’s hearers (v 16).
There is here much instruction and warning for the Lord’s servant. We must recognize how long we really remain young and our constant need to forestall criticism based on our immaturity by maintaining a careful, exemplary life. Youth that is exemplary is not despised. However, we must never settle into a satisfaction with mere exemplary living if God has imparted to us a gift which can be used publicly. Some who turn from the “professional” ministry do.
There is a ministry even in the public reading of Scripture from which also arises exhortation based upon it and ultimately exposition of its truth. None of these things which we can do are to be neglected.
As a side note, the prepositions of v 14, by (dia) and with (meta), are to be distinguished. The preposition by suggests the effective medium through which the gift was imparted, for prophecy in Scripture is ever presented as that which guarantees the issue spoken of (cf. the gospel idea that things took place that a prophecy might be fulfilled in Matt 1:22, etc.). On the other hand, the preposition with points merely to an accompanying circumstance. The body of elders in the aggregate (probably those at Lystra, Acts 16:1) apparently signified in this solemn way their consent to what God was doing and their approval of it. It was a solemn moment for Timothy to remember.
Be Mentally Active
The verb meditate (meleta) in v 15 (cf. Mark 13:11; Acts 4:25) signifies mental activity. But its most common use in Greek literature is “to practice,” and this seems most suitable here. It is contrasted with do not neglect (mē amelei) of v 14. The Lord’s servant is to be thoroughly absorbed in service. He is never to cease to seek improvement in his ministry.
The word save in v 16 cannot refer to what is past for us (cf. Titus 3:5). The NT has much to say of the salvation of the soul (psuchē) or life, which is achieved only by discipleship to the fullest extent. The thought here is that of Mark 8:34-38 and John 12:25-26. We save first ourselves, secondarily others.
Zane Hodges taught New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary.