1 Timothy 4

Order Concerning Service or Gift
1 Timothy 4
1 Timothy 4. Having just introduced the thought of the assembly as the house of God, Paul now addresses the attack that would come against that house. Whatever God is seeking to do, Satan is seeking to undermine and destroy. Particularly, the form of evil being addressed here was a perversion of Christianity, which later grew into the Gnostic heresy; i.e. a pretension to greater light, with a negative view of the body. In this chapter we have the way a believer can carry on in the house of God, in spite of Satan’s attacks against it. The principles concerning service come out more strongly in the second part of the chapter (vv.6-16), which is more personal to Timothy, but the principles given can be applied to all believers; e.g. the development of gift, the fellowship of its use, the importance of a godly walk in connection with gift, etc.

The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge. The word is used by historians to describe a school of thought. Gnosticism arose from a group of evil workers who claimed to have higher light, special spiritual knowledge, or “secret wisdom”. This movement began in the days of the apostles, and continued into the 5th century. Before John died, the seeds of Gnosticism had been sown; perhaps even before Paul's death (1 Tim. 6:20). John’s epistles are written to defend against the inroads of Gnosticism (2 John 1:7,9). Peter warns of their false teaching, and Jude warns of its moral effect on the Christian testimony. Gnosticism is responsible for not just one heresy, but seven or eight. What is it? In this mystical system, the spiritual world was good, and material world was evil. They rejected the incarnation, because it connects the human with the divine. The Gnostics would try to separate “Jesus” from “Christ”, by making Christ an emanation (a shining out from a source) from God that never truly became flesh, or else was united to a mere man named Jesus at his baptism, but returned to God before Jesus’ death on the cross. In doing so, this evil system annulled the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection. The New Testament anticipates this irreverent and wicked system of doctrine by stating the simple truth of Christ's Person and work.

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Understanding the Times: We Are in the Latter Times (4:1-5)

¶ 1 But the Spirit speaks expressly, that in latter times some shall apostatise from the faith, giving their mind to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, cauterised as to their own conscience, vv.1-2 Apostate False Teachers. Paul reminded Timothy of what he already knew, that the Spirit was at that time speaking – through prophets such as Paul, and others – to the church, warning about those who would “apostatise from the faith”, and take up with false teaching. An example of where Paul warned about this, and to the elders of the very assembly Timothy was sent to, is in Acts 20; “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). This was not merely Paul speaking, but the Spirit speaking expressly. False doctrine may emanate from mouths of men, but the true source of it is Satan himself! These apostate teachers would open up the door for Satan to work, by “giving their mind to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons”. Satan does more evil through the spreading of falsehood than he does through physical evil, and this is how he will muster the great army against Christ at the appearing (read Rev. 16:13-14). We have here the three steps of apostasy.
  1. Men open their minds willingly to the deception and doctrines of Satan; “giving their mind to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons”. It is men that teach the doctrines, but the source is really Satanic.
  2. They begin to promote those false teachings (lies), while living immorally yet maintaining an outward façade of righteousness; “speaking lies in hypocrisy”. Note that W. Kelly translates this phrase “hypocrisy of legend-mongers”, which further illustrates the point that these false teachers were promoting fanciful notions as truth, consistent with the Gnostic heresy.
  3. By continuing in unjudged hypocrisy, their conscience becomes deadened and desensitized; “cauterised as to their own conscience”.
This is similar to what is called elsewhere “the snare of the devil”, although a true believer may fall into the Devil’s snare, but vv.1-2 speak only of apostates, which were never truly saved.
3 forbidding to marry, bidding to abstain from meats, which God has created for receiving with thanksgiving for them who are faithful and know the truth. v.3 The Error of Asceticism. Paul addresses the particular form of evil that apostate false teachers were promulgating. It is an error known as asceticism, which is the teaching that the body should be denied because it is evil. This leads to an extreme form of legalism; “forbidding to marry, bidding to abstain from meats”, etc. Elsewhere we find that this same evil doctrine resulted in lasciviousness, because after all, the body wants what it wants. This other side of things is taken up in Jude, were the writer exposes the false brethren as “ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). But here in 1 Timothy the issue Paul deals with is the legality that emerges when false teachers lay down a supposed “higher path” of “superior godliness”, based on denying the natural needs of the human body. In fact, v.8 shows that the body is to be taken care of, though it should be in moderation. It is true that there are occasions where a believer will fast (2 Cor. 6:5), or certain ones that may remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:8), but these are exceptions. Legality turns the exception into the rule.1
4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, being received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by God’s word and freely addressing him. vv.4-5 The Correction of Asceticism. The simple way of detecting this error is to see that it runs contrary to scripture! The very things that the apostate teachers were forbidding the saints to enjoy were things given by God for the blessing of man. Whether it be marriage (instituted in Gen. 2), or food (in its plant form, Gen. 2 and in its animal form Gen. 9), both are from God and for man’s profit. In the Old Testament, certain “meats” were forbidden as unclean, but not so in the New Testament (Acts 10); “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, being received with thanksgiving”. Notice that God wants us to receive any kind of food, but He also wants us to be thankful for it. This is something that separates believers from unbelievers; the wicked enjoy what they eat as something to gratify their lusts, but the faithful receive it as from God’s hand, and do so with thanksgiving (v.5). True godliness avails oneself of these things, except in a special case of self-sacrifice or to ; fasting, singleness, etc. (see 1 Cor. 7). Those creature mercies (food, marriage, etc.) are “sanctified” or set apart for holy use in the believer’s life “by God’s word and freely addressing him”. This does not mean that reading a verse and praying before a meal has a supernatural effect on the food we eat. Rather, the Word of God is our authority for making use of those creature mercies, as it specifically recommends them to us. Also, by freely addressing God in prayer, we take these things from God’s hand in a thankful, dependent spirit. Paul shows by this that the pretended super-godliness of these false teachers was actually ungratefulness and disrespect for God’s gifts (2 Cor. 5:19-20).
The Apostasy of the Christian Profession. The New Testament foretells the sad breakdown and apostasy, or "falling away" of the Christian profession. In fact, all the New Testament writers universally agree in their prediction of this sad situation.2 It may be helpful to see that this apostasy occurs in phases, whereby the "seeds" of the final apostasy were sown all the way back in the days of the apostles!34
  1. The Latter Times: individuals fall away ("antichrists"), teaching lies (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 1 John 2:18; 4:3; Jude 18). This began in the latter days of the apostle Paul (Acts 20:29-30), who could say "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thess. 2:7). This developed into Gnosticism, then other heresies. This is called the "latter times", the "last time", or "the last hour".
  2. The Last Days: widespread false profession, blatant denial of the Lordship of Christ (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3; 2 Pet. 3:3). Most likely this state of things came to be in the era of Constantine. It developed into the Roman system, and then into dead Protestantism. This is called the "last days". This is different from the "last days" of Israel. Read more...
  3. The Apostasy: full apostasy under the man of sin, the "Antichrist" (2 Thess. 2:3-12). This will take place after the rapture, and it will culminate in the middle of Daniel's seventieth week. This is called "that day" or "the apostasy".
It may at first seem strange that when John wrote, only a few decades into the Church period, it was already "the last hour". God has seen fit to extend the period of grace for hundreds of years. But that doesn't change the fact that we are still in "the last hour", still in "the last days", and the Christian profession is heading toward the great apostasy of Antichrist! Read more...

Sound Doctrine and Walk, and the Use of Gift (4:6-16)

6 Laying these things before the brethren, thou wilt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished with the words of the faith and of the good teaching which thou hast fully followed up. v.6 Sound Doctrine. Timothy was to lay “these things”, what Paul had set forth previously, before the brethren in Ephesus. To do so would constitute Timothy “a good minister of Christ Jesus”. No doubt there would be pressure on Timothy to agree with or allow false teaching, but he must not go along with it. How many servants of Christ have turned out to be unfaithful! What would be a help to Timothy is (1) his history of sitting under that sound of Christian truth; “nourished with the words of the faith and of the good teaching”, and (2) his own time and energy put forth to learn them; “which thou hast fully followed up”. The word “nourished” is a powerful verb, meaning that Timothy was provided with that which would feed him, and foster spiritual growth and health. If we are going to give out the truth, we must first take it in. The “words of the faith” simply mean sound Christian doctrine, and how we need it! This is in contrast to the teaching of entertainment, science, and philosophy, which we might call “the words of the world”. How easy it is to fill our minds with the world’s words, rather than God’s. Timothy had not only been provided with sounds teaching from Paul and others; he himself had diligently “followed up” the sound doctrine with study, meditation, and giving it out to others. This takes personal investment, but it is necessary to be a good minister of Christ Jesus.
7 But profane and old wives’ fables avoid, but exercise thyself unto piety; 8 for bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but piety is profitable for everything, having promise of life, of the present one, and of that to come. vv.7-8 Godly Walk. Timothy was to avoid “profane and old wives’ fables”. “Profane” can mean either ‘unholy’ or ‘the irreverent treatment of something that is holy’ (Heb. 12:16). The reference to “old wives” seems to indicate something that may be popular information, but untrue, much like the dramatic rumors that pass between idle women. “Fables” are made up stories with a moral lesson, but the story itself is not true. This is what we have left when we turn away from the Word of God; a religion of emotions and morals arising from the human imagination, rather than from the Word of God. These things are a distraction to the servant of Christ, and they must be avoided. Paul introduces the word “exercise”, which is an allusion to the Olympic games that were common in the Greek world, and which Timothy was well acquainted (2 Tim. 2:5; 1 Cor. 9:25). He makes a spiritual application of “bodily exercise”, which is when a person subjects their body to strict physical discipline, for the purpose of building strength and endurance. But physical exercise “is profitable for a little”;’ i.e. it only helps a person in the physical realm. There should be, in the lives of every servant of Christ, a corresponding discipline or exercise of the soul; “exercise thyself unto piety”. Again, we get the word ‘piety’ or ‘godliness’, which simply means ‘full devotion to God’. Reading, prayer, self-judgment, meditation, preaching, teaching, encouragement, hospitality, etc. are all “exercises of piety” or devotion to Christ. Spiritual exercise in “piety” is profitable, not only in “the present” life, but also in the life “to come”. Ultimately, our physical bodies will deteriorate and die, unless the Lord comes first. The time and energy put into physical exercise will only profit us in this lifetime (as we have in Proverbs, daily communion as in John 15, etc.), but the rewards of spiritual exercise reach far beyond!
9 The word is faithful and worthy of all acceptation; 10 for, for this we labour and suffer reproach, because we hope in a living God, who is preserver of all men, specially of those that believe. vv.9-10 Suffering for the truth. Paul next expands on the idea of exercise, to bring in the thought of suffering. If we are going to “exercise” ourselves unto godliness, it is going to mean self-denial, and opposition from the enemy, which means suffering. The expression “the word is faithful, and worthy of all acceptation” denotes another “saying” of early Christians that Paul commends (see also 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1, 2 Tim. 2:11, and Titus 3:8).5 The saints were familiar with suffering, and the hope that gives us courage to endure it; “for this we labour and suffer reproach, because we hope in a living God, who is preserver of all men, specially of those that believe”. It is a comfort to us to know that God is “a living God”, and His character is that of preserving life (Job 7:20), and though He puts forth His saving hand toward all men (Matt. 5:45), He is the Preserver “specially of those that believe”. This truth, of God’s preserving grace toward His saints in the daily circumstances of this life, is a very real help and comfort to us.
11 Enjoin and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise thy youth, but be a model of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. vv.11-12 Personal Character and Testimony. To enjoin is to lay before the saints their responsibility to walk pleasing to the Lord. To teach is to give the saints the underlying reasons as well as the way to walk. Both are based on the Word of God. Timothy was to occupy himself with teaching the saints (v.11), but there was something that was necessary to go along with his ministry; i.e. excellent personal character. This was especially important because of Timothy’s youth. We do not know how old Timothy was, but many commentators feel he was between thirty and forty years old at this time. When Paul said “Let no one despise thy youth” he did not mean that Timothy should assert his rights or stand up for himself. Instead, he was telling Timothy to make sure his practical conduct was such that no one could discount his ministry because of his youth. Foolishness, for example, would be very damaging to Timothy’s effectiveness. Others would discredit him. Instead, Timothy was to be “a model of the believers”, in every way ensuring his conduct was excellent, showing the world what a believer ought to be. Five things are given that ought to characterize Timothy’s behavior: “in word [or speech], in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”. There is a moral order to these things. Our “word” is supported by our “conduct”. Our “conduct” is motivated by “love”. Our “love” toward others is commensurate with our apprehension of God’s love, which is by “faith”. Our “faith” or dependence on God is unclouded if we maintain moral “purity”. All this things spring from another, like train cars on a track. If we fail in “purity”, the whole train will come off the rails. If these things were found in Timothy’s life, there would be no reason for the most scrupulous and demanding onlooker to despise his youth.
13 Till I come, give thyself to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. v.13 The Public Readings. Paul exhorted Timothy to maintain steady attendance at the assembly readings, until such time as Paul could come, and perhaps would take Timothy with him. We know that the “reading” here cannot be a private reading because it is adjoined to two terms that are public.6 Evidently it was the practice of the early church to gather together to hear the public “reading” of the scriptures, and this would be accompanied by “exhortation” and “teaching”. We might ask, what scriptures did they have to read? Certainly they would have had the Old Testament, and also they would have had some of the epistles. We know from Col. 4:16 that Paul’s epistles were meant to be read aloud in the local assembly, and some of them were to be passed on to other assemblies. How important these gatherings for the reading, study, and expounding of the scriptures! Timothy was to give himself to these things, which means he was to apply himself, and make himself useful on such occasions. 
14 Be not negligent of the gift that is in thee, which has been given to thee through prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the elderhood. v.14 Gift: Its Use and Fellowship. For Timothy to be useful in “exhortation” and “teaching” (v.13), he would need to use his gift, which he had been negligent to use. Timothy was not a forward person, and perhaps he was bashful of using his gift. Every believer has been given a special gift to aid them in their service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. In a normal case, a person’s spiritual gift is given to them by God when the believer is sealed with the Spirit, and it is something that the believer never had before; i.e. it goes beyond the range of natural ability. For instance, it does not follow that if a man was a schoolteacher before salvation, he will automatically be a teacher in God’s assembly. But then, the gift must be developed over time. The believer is responsible not to neglect their gift, as Timothy was here, and later to stir it up (2 Tim. 1:6) or else it will become weakened and unprofitable, but never ultimately lost (Rom. 11:29). How does one not neglect their gift? By using it! See v.15. A special note is made about Timothy’s gift; “which has been given to thee through prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the elderhood”. Timothy’s gift was conferred on him by apostolic power as we read in 2 Tim. 1:6. But here we find that there were two things that accompanied Paul’s laying on of hands: (1) “through prophecy” or the direction of the Holy Spirit designating Timothy for that work (e.g. Acts 13:2-3), and (2) “with imposition of the hands of the elderhood” or the fellowship of the those in oversight; the elders who joined with the apostle Paul in laying hands on Timothy.7 Although Timothy’s case was special, we can still take a practical lesson from this: our gift should normally be used in fellowship with the elders in the assembly. Notwithstanding, the approval of our brethren is not required for us to use our gift. The possession of gift is the license to use it.
15 Occupy thyself with these things; be wholly in them, that thy progress may be manifest to all. v.15 Development of Gift. When Paul tells Timothy to “occupy thyself with these things” he refers to the exercise of Timothy’s gift, in teaching and exhorting. In other words, Timothy was to focus on the work that the Lord had given him, and “be wholly in them”. In Romans 12 where the gifts are listed, there is a phrase that is repeated; “…whether it be prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or service, let us occupy ourselves in service; or he that teaches, in teaching; or he that exhorts, in exhortation” (Rom. 12:6-7). The great point there is that the believer should occupy themselves with exercising the gift God has given them, rather than doing someone else’s work. If Timothy, or any servant of Christ, applied himself to the work given to him, he would make progress, which would be “manifest to all”. This is how gift is developed!
16 Give heed to thyself and to the teaching; continue in them; for, doing this, thou shalt save both thyself and those that hear thee. v.16 Complete Devotion to the Word and to Godliness. In closing the subject of Timothy’s ministry, Paul gives a twofold warning, and the order is important. Firstly, Timothy was to pay attention to his own personal conduct; “Give heed to thyself”. Second, he was to pay attention to the teaching of God’s Word; “and to the teaching”. We cannot be a help to others (“the teaching”) if we are not walking with the Lord ourselves. To do the first without the second would be to fail in carrying out the service, although Timothy himself would be preserved. But to do the second without the first would be hypocrisy, and could lead to shipwreck, and to the ruin of the teacher as well as those who hear him. But to carry out both consistently – “continue in them” – results in the salvation or preservation of “both thyself and those that hear thee”. Notice that this aspect of “salvation” is not eternal salvation. Timothy could not save others, in the sense of eternal salvation. The aspect here is present salvation, which has to do with being preserved spirit, soul, and body in this life.8 Read more… How important the Word of God is in our preservation!
  1. Error lays hold of the exception (for even error cannot subsist without a scrap or show of truth) and converts the exception into a human rule. – Kelly, W. The First Epistle to Timothy.
  2. In the gospels (Matt. 13:24-30; 36-43), in the Acts (Acts 20:29-30), in Paul's epistles (1 Tim. 4; 2 Tim. 3), in Peter's epistles (2 Pet. 2; 3:3-4), in the epistle of James (James 5:7, 9), in the epistle of Jude (Jude 1:4), and in the epistles of John (1 John 2:18), the ruin of the Christian profession is duly attested.
  3. The mischief here set out is not the wider and later evil of 2 Tim. 3:1-9, when Christendom would be but men professing the Lord's name, a form of piety with the denial of its power, no better than heathen in reality (cp. Rom. 1:28-32), though with the semblance and the responsibility of God's final revelation of grace and truth in Christ. Still less is it the frightful apostacy of 2 Thess. 2:3-12, which is to close the age before the Lord Jesus be revealed in judgment from heaven to introduce the new age and the kingdom of God to be manifested in power and blessing universally over the earth. - Kelly, W. The First Epistle to Timothy.
  4. In the preceding Epistle (1 Tim. 4:1-3) a prophetic warning had been given, but of evil quite distinct in time, character, and extent, from what we have here. Instead of "last days", the Spirit spoke expressly of later, or after, times, i.e., times subsequent to the apostle's writing. Instead of a widespread condition of "men" in Christendom, he there spoke of "some" only. The language suits and supposes but few comparatively; which only controversial zeal could have overlooked or converted into a prediction of the vast if not worse inroad of Romanism. It is a description of certain ones to depart from the faith into fleshly asceticism, paying heed to seducing spirits, etc... But in 2 Tim. 3:1 the view is a larger field... It is the counterpart of the great house in 2 Tim. 2:20, wherein are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also wooden and earthenware, and some to honour, and some to dishonour. Here, however, we have, not a symbolic figure, but a plain matter-of-fact account of a return to heathenism practically. Yet 2 Thess. 2 gives us to descry very far worse at hand. We ought not to be deceived in any manner, whatever the success of false teachers with some of the Thessalonian saints so young in the faith as they were. We know that the Lord is coming Who will gather us together, sleeping or alive, unto Himself, and therefore we need not be quickly shaken in mind, nor yet troubled by any power or means, to the effect that the day of the Lord is present. We know that it cannot be unless first there have come "the apostasy" — not a falling away, as substantially in all the well-known English Versions as well as the Authorized. It is not "discencioun" (Wiclif), nor "a departynge" (Tyndale), as Cranmer's Bible repeats in 1539, and the Geneva in 1557, nor "a revolt", as in the Rhemish of 1582. It is "the apostasy", and nothing else: worse there cannot be, unless it be the person who is its final head in direct antagonism to God and His anointed, the man of sin, the son of perdition, whom the Lord Jesus will consume with the Spirit of His mouth and destroy with the manifestation of His presence. - Kelly, W. The Second Epistle to Timothy.
  5. But 1 Tim. 4:9-10, is a clear proof that the order may vary without in any way affecting the certainty of the apostolic application. – Kelly, W. The Epistle to Titus.
  6. The adjoining terms give conclusive proof that the “reading” was not personal study but rather the public recitation of scripture for general instruction, since the “exhortation” and the “teaching” must refer to others. – Kelly, W. The First Epistle to Timothy.
  7. The case of Timothy is, no doubt, peculiar. He was designated by prophecy to a certain very peculiar work — that of guarding doctrine. And the apostle and the presbyters laid their hands upon him, by which a spiritual gift was communicated to him which he did not possess before. It is evident that there is no man now living who has been similarly endowed and called to such a work. — Kelly, William. Notes on Galatians.
  8. Salvation often as here means safeguarding all through this life. – Kelly, W. The First Epistle to Timothy.