Verse 1 of chapter 4 must be read in connection with the last two
verses of chapter 3. God dwells in the church as His house by the Holy
Spirit and the church is the pillar on which the truth is inscribed.
Now the indwelling Spirit speaks in defence of the truth, warning of
the devices of the devil to be expected in the latter times, and He
speaks expressly, there is no indefiniteness about His utterances.
When the Apostle wrote the Holy Spirit was still giving inspired
messages through prophets, as we see in Acts 13:2. The apostles and
prophets who were the vehicles of inspiration belonged to the
foundation of the church (See Eph.2:20) and inspiration has ceased,
though we have as the result of it the Holy Scriptures. Still though He
no longer speaks in that authoritative way He abides with us for ever
and His direction may often be perceived by those who have eyes to see.
The Spirit's warning in the first three verses has often been
taken as applying to Romanism. We believe that the reference is rather
to that deliberate trafficking with demons which we see today in
spiritism. It is true that Rome imposes celibacy on her clergy which
looks like a fulfilment of the opening words of verse 3. Spiritism
advocates both celibacy and vegetarianism as necessary if anyone
aspires to be a good “medium,” and this fulfils both parts of the
The Holy Spirit then warns us that His speaking will be imitated
by unholy and seducing spirits, their object always being to turn away
from the faith. They may pose as being very cultured, and as wishing to
refine our food on aesthetic grounds, and this may be all that is in
the mind of their dupe, who acts as the medium, yet the unclean demon
who manipulates the dupe has other thoughts and his ulterior aim is
ever the overthrow of the faith. If they can divert from the faith and
inculcate their doctrines their end is achieved.
Men may raise prejudice against sound doctrine by calling it
dogma, but they only end by substituting some other doctrines, probably
the doctrines of demons. So, you see DOCTRINE DOES MATTER after all.
In the early verses of our chapter the Spirit's warning is
against the doctrines of demons, which, if received, altogether turn
men from the faith. In verse 7 the warning is against a danger of a
somewhat different order, “Profane and old wives' fables.” Timothy is
urged to stand firm against both errors.
The Apostle's instructions in verse 6 seem to have specially in
view the first of these dangers. We are to be kept in remembrance of
“these things,” and here he alluded not only to what he had just
written in verses 4 and 5 but also to the great truth unfolded in
chapter 3:16, and indeed to all his instructions given earlier in the
Epistle, for verse 6 of chapter 4 cannot be disconnected from verse 14
of chapter 3. Thus we as well as Timothy may be nourished with the
words of the faith and of good doctrine and this will effectually
render us proof against the seducing doctrines of the devil. But this
must be “attained” or “fully followed up” for it is only as we become
fully acquainted with the truth that we can detect error and
consequently refuse it.
Godliness is set in contrast with the profane and old wives'
fables, from which we gather that they were mainly concerned with the
superstitious ideas and customs which have always played so large a
part in heathendom and which creep so easily into Christendom. The poor
heathen mind is in bondage to endless superstitions connected with the
bringing of good fortune or the averting of evil, and all these customs
appeal to, and bear far more hardly upon, the womenfolk than the men.
Hence the Apostle's term – “old wives' fables.” Now godliness brings
GOD Himself into the details of one's life, since it is based upon that
“trust in the living God” of which verse 10 speaks.
It is instructive though sad to note the great increase in recent
years of superstition amongst nominal Christians. The war doubtless
gave it a great impetus when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of
charms were made for the protection of soldiers. The cult has spread
everywhere and now mascots abound, and more and more people observe
customs which are designed to bring “good luck” or avert “bad luck.”
All this argues the decline of godliness. If God is shut out of the
life these stupid abominations creep in.
Our God is the LIVING God. Nothing escapes His notice and He is
“the Saviour [or, Preserver] of all men, specially of those that
believe.” The poor heathen enjoying a wonderful deliverance may
attribute his escape to the potency of the charm given to him by the
medicine man. The British motorist, a nominal Christian, just escaping
a fearful crash may declare that he never comes to any harm so long as
he has his black cat mascot on board – he has never known it to fail.
They are both wrong though the latter is far more guilty. Both are
victims of profane and old wives' fables. The truth is their
deliverances came, whether directly or indirectly from the hand of God.
God's preserving mercy is specially active towards those that
believe, so a simple trust in Him should mark us. It marked Paul and
carried him through his labours and reproaches. We are to exercise
ourselves to godliness. This is a mental exercise of far greater profit
than mere bodily exercise. That is profitable in some small things
whereas godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of life,
both now and to eternity.
Here let us recapitulate for a moment. Godliness is, we may say,
the main theme of the epistle, and it is enjoined upon us because we
are of the house of God. The knowledge of God Himself as He has been
revealed in Christ is the secret spring of it, and it very largely
consists in that Godconsciousness, that bringing of God into all the
details of our daily lives, which is the result of trust in the living
God. All this has come before us, and the question would now naturally
arise in our minds as to whether any practical instructions can be
given which will help us in exercising ourselves unto godliness
according to the instructions given in verse 7?
Verses 12 to 16 supply us with a very ample answer. Timothy was a
young man yet he was to be an example to the believers who were to see
godliness expressed in him, a godliness which affects us in word, in
conversation or conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. To this end
he was to give himself with all diligence to reading, to exhortation to
teaching. The reading enjoined upon him was, we suppose, that public
reading in the presence of believers generally which was so necessary
when copies of the Scriptures were few and far between, yet it should
impress upon us the importance of reading the Scriptures both privately
and publicly. When Paul came Timothy might have the joy of hearing
God's Word from the inspired lips of the Apostle; until then he must
pay all heed to God's inspired Word in its written form.
The Christian who neglects the study of the Word of God never
makes much progress in the things of God nor in the development of
Christian character. “Give attendance to reading” should be a watchword
with all of us, for only as we are well furnished ourselves can we be
of help to others.
Timothy was to exhort and teach others and for this a gift had
been deposited in him in a special way. Hence “neglect not the gift
that is in thee” is the second word of instruction. By reading we take
in: by exhortation and teaching we give out. Not all of us have
received a special gift but all of us are responsible to give out in
one way or another, and we neglect it at the peril of our own spiritual
“Meditate upon these things” is the third word that comes before
us. By reading our minds become well furnished with truth. By
meditation the truth in its force and bearing is brought home to us.
Just as the ox not only feeds in the pastures but also lies down to
chew the cud so we need to ruminate, to turn things over in our minds,
for it is not what we eat that nourishes us but what we digest. If we
meditate upon the things of God, getting right into them so that they
control us then our profiting, our spiritual advancement, becomes
apparent to all.
A fourth word of great importance if we would grow in the ways of
godliness is that in verse 16, “Take heed unto thyself and unto the
doctrine.” First of all we must get the truth itself, which is set
forth in the doctrine, clearly before us. Secondly, we must take heed
to ourselves in the light of the truth, testing ourselves and our ways
by it, altering them as the truth demands. This of course is the
Too often the truth of God has been taken up in a purely
theoretical way, when it becomes just a matter of argument, a kind of
intellectual battleground. When however we come face to face with it
in practical fashion we at once become aware of discrepancies between
it and ourselves and our ways, and serious questions are raised. Now
comes the temptation to somewhat alter or pare down the doctrine so
that we may leave our ways untouched and the discrepancy largely if not
entirely disappears. May God give us all grace to reverse that
procedure and rather alter our ways that they may be in conformity with
the doctrine. Thus we shall be rightly taking heed to ourselves and to
the doctrine as well, and continuing in the truth we shall be saved.
The salvation here is from the dangers of which we are expressly warned
by the Spirit in the earlier part of the chapter, whether doctrines of
demons or profane fables.