1 Timothy 4:7-16
But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (vv. 7-16)
In this particular section of the epistle, the Apostle dwells upon godliness in the life, particularly in the life of a minister of Christ for he was addressing the young preacher Timothy whom he had left in Ephesus, in order that he might help the church there.
Now no man can lift another person above his own level. If a minister of Christ is going to be used of God in reaching and elevating others, he must be characterized by true piety himself. Paul knew Timothy and knew what kind of man he was. He writes in other places commending him earnestly as one who had been as a son to him in his service for the Lord. Nevertheless, he felt it necessary to stir up the heart of Timothy to the importance of living wholly for God. But as we study these words, we should not think of them as applying only to one in full-time service for Christ. There is a sense in which all Christians are called upon to be ministers of Christ, for a minister is a servant, and we are all looked upon as servants of the One who has redeemed us. We are to be occupied in seeking to make Him known to others as far as we possibly can.
In the first place, Paul says to Timothy, “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables.” How much this admonition is needed today! “Profane and old wives’ fables”—that is, things that are opposed to the truth of God, imaginary ideas, such as ignorant old women devoid of spiritual insight might be inclined to circulate. Have you ever noticed that a great number of modern teachings which are leading people astray are but old wives’ fables? Both Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Annie Besant, the cofounders of theosophy, were “old wives” whose fables have deceived thousands. Mrs. Ellen G. White’s fantastic “sanctuary theory,” the basic doctrine of Seventh-day Adventism, is an old wife’s fable. Mary Baker Patterson Glover Eddy was an old wife, who mothered what she falsely called “Christian Science.”
These teachings are all contrary to the truth of God. Such have a special attraction for women of a particular type. And so Paul warns Timothy against all such perversions of truth. He says, “Exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Godliness is just a clipped word. It was originally “Godlikeness” and so is rendered in some of the older English translations (Wycliffe has Gudlyknesse.) Godliness is genuine piety. That is its real meaning.
No one will live a truly pious life who neglects the means which God has given to us for this purpose. We have the Word of God; we need to study our Bibles. And we need to take much time for prayer. Then we must be faithful in testifying to those who are unsaved. To honor God in these things is to be exercised unto godliness.
“For bodily exercise profiteth little.” There are three different ways in which this clause might be read. As rendered in the King James Version, we might understand it to mean that bodily exercise is not of very great profit because life is so short, and eternal things are so much more important. John Wesley renders it, “Bodily exercise profiteth a little”—that is, somewhat, but not to be compared with exercise unto godliness. Others read it, “Bodily exercise profiteth for a little time”—the time we are going through this world. “But godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” I would stress this and seek to impress it upon the hearts of all who are young in Christ.
My younger brethren and sisters, you who have strong, healthy bodies, you naturally and rightfully delight to indulge in certain physical exercises. But oh, let me press this upon your minds: just as these things have a place in the physical realm, it is far more important that you be strong spiritually. Do not neglect your soul as you care for your body. Do not be so much concerned about bodily exercise that you fail to take plenty of time over the Word of God and in prayer that you may be strong, healthy Christians, whose lives will bring the approval of the blessed Lord at His judgment seat. Godliness is profitable all through this life. And oh, how profitable will it prove to have been when we leave this world and go out into eternity! After all, life is so short it seems a terrible mistake to devote the greater part of our time to concern for the things of this life while forgetting the important things of eternity.
I was somewhat acquainted with C. J. Baker, the father-in-law of Dr. Walter Wilson. He was a fine Christian businessman, head of a large firm in Kansas City which manufactured tents and awnings of all descriptions. He sold his merchandise very largely to circus and Chautauqua people. Every year he sent forth his catalog, knowing that it would be read by many unconverted showmen and others. I recall a greeting he had placed upon the first page: “With our best wishes to our customers for time and eternity, especially eternity.” It was signed, “C. J. Baker.” I often wondered what the reaction would be as these unsaved people received that catalog from that Christian man who expressed such concern for their welfare, not only in this life but also in the life which is to come! That is what really counts. Godliness is profitable, not only for this life but also for that which is to come.
Next, we have another “faithful saying.” In 1:15 we read, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Now in 4:9-10 we have a faithful saying for the people of God: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” This, you see, is for those who know the Lord, those who found out they were sinners and came to Christ and have been saved by His grace. How we should delight to labor and suffer reproach for His sake! We know how wonderfully God takes care of His own. But He “is the Saviour of all men.” He is watching over all mankind, but especially is He the Savior of those who believe.
Then Paul says to Timothy, “These things command and teach.” Timothy was a young man. Perhaps by this time he may have been about forty years of age, but a man of forty was comparatively young compared with Paul who perhaps at this time was close to seventy. So he writes to the younger man, “Let no man despise thy youth.” That is, do not develop an inferiority complex because you are younger than some of those to whom you minister. Do not be concerned if they do not understand that God has called you to this position, and if they seek to ignore you because of your comparative immaturity.
“But be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation [that is, behavior], in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” A young man may be very immature in some respects, but if he is characterized by these things: careful as to his words, particular as to his behavior, and manifesting the love of God; if he is a man of faith and is careful as to purity of life, he will not have to try to compel others to accord him recognition. His behavior will accredit him to those to whom he ministers. They will realize that though a young man there is something about him that marks him out as a man of God, and not one who is careless in his walk and slack in his service, or who is seeking an easygoing life as a professional cleric.
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” There are two different Greek words for “reading.” One means to read to others; the other means to read for one’s own instruction and information. It is the first word that is used here: “Till I come, give [attention] to reading”—that is, reading to others. On the other hand, may I add this: He who would be a faithful minister of Christ must take plenty of time to read for his own edification. He needs to read and meditate on the Scriptures and also such literature as God has provided in order to help him to better understand the Word. Having done this he can communicate to others the truth which has become precious to his own soul.
“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” That word translated “presbytery” is generally rendered “elders.” It is evident that the elders of the church at Lystra and Derbe had met together with the apostle Paul when Timothy was about to launch out in full-time service and had laid their hands on him, commending him to God in prayer. That is sometimes spoken of as Timothy’s ordination. We do not read in Scripture that anyone has to be ordained to preach the gospel, but the laying on of hands was an expression of fellowship. As these brethren prayed for Timothy, God gave him a special gift. These elders were men of God. It is far otherwise in many instances.
Charles H. Spurgeon, who always refused human ordination, used to say that in many cases when men profess to have the authority to ordain another to preach or teach the gospel and pretend that through ordination they are enabled to give him some special gift, it is just “laying empty hands on an empty head!” But in Timothy’s case these brethren prayed in faith, and God gave the answer. I rather think it was the gift of a pastor that was conferred upon Timothy.
“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” No one who really wants to count for God can afford to play at Christianity. He must make it the one great business of his life. Whether he is set apart for special ministry—as a missionary who is going to a foreign land, a laborer in the gospel in home fields, or whether he remains in business and seeks to witness for Christ there—he needs to give himself entirely to a life of devotion to the Lord.
Notice the closing words: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.” Observe the order: first, “take heed unto thyself”—be careful about your own inner and outward life, setting an example to others. Then take heed “unto the doctrine.” We read of Ezra in the Old Testament who “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). Many people prepare the mind who do not prepare the heart, but Ezra put the heart first. He desired to know the law of God, and he learned it not only through the head but also through the heart. Then it says he “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.” He was not going to teach others what he did not do himself. And so God used and honored a man like that.
That is the way He does today. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” He is not speaking of the salvation of the soul. He is not referring to eternal salvation. But he is exhorting Timothy to be careful to live for God, to be a consistent, earnest minister of Christ, because in doing this he would both save himself and others from many snares and difficulties. He would become a blessing instead of a curse to those to whom he ministered.
No one can live a godly life who has not first received Christ as his own Savior. You cannot live a Christian life until you are born again. I would remind my reader of the words, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). After Christ is known in this way we are prepared to lead others to Him and guide them in the path of obedience.