You have no doubt heard the advice, or maybe you have even said it yourself, do as I say, not as I do. It's often given by someone who's trying to protect others from the bad habits they are unwilling or unable to give up themselves. When this is practiced in the church, this hypocritical approach results in spiritual malnourishment for both the congregation and the pastor.
Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains why. Leadership is crucial in any organization, and as true as that principle is, in the realm of education and business, etc., it is no less true within the framework of the church. And that is why the Bible has so much to say about the nature of leadership within the company of God's people. And the New Testament is full of references to it, and the pastoral epistles—namely 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus—are replete with calls to a consideration as to the nature of godly leadership within the church. Now, it is within this framework that Paul gives guidance to Timothy here in this first letter, not simply in relationship to what is to be true concerning the church in general and concerning the leadership of elders and deacons in particular, but also as a priority in relationship to Timothy himself as an individual. If he is going to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, which is the phrase that he uses here in verse 6, then it is important that certain things are true of Timothy. And what is to be true of Timothy in that first-century context is then to be true of all who follow in that line of succession in the privileged responsibility of pastoral leadership amongst the people of God. Now, the immediate context of Paul's instruction is that of false teachers and their false teaching—ascetic notions, abstaining from marriage, abstaining from certain kinds of food and possibly drink, the idea that by a long list of externals you will be able to nurture yourself in a life of godliness. Paul says to Timothy, This is an absolute nonsense. It is a devastating idea.
You should stay as far away from it as possible. And then, having outlined that in the first five verses, he goes on from verse 6 to the end of the chapter to give this express instruction. And first of all, then, a word concerning the direction which Timothy is to take. And we learn this from the instruction which Paul provides for him here. Now, there are a number of ways in which we could try and summarize the principles that are being delivered.
What I wrote down in my notes was this. Paul is saying to Timothy, If you don't follow, you can't lead. We might equally well have said, If you don't eat, you can't provide, or if you don't learn, you can't teach. Now, where does this come from? Well, it comes from the sixth verse. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you yourself have followed. The word here for brought up in—and it is just simply one Greek word—is a reference to a continual process of nourishment. And the nourishment which Paul is prescribing for Timothy, his diet—or to which he is referring rather than prescribing—is that of Timothy's own nourishment in the deep truths of the faith. And these things are to be so much a part of Timothy's life that it is out of the richness of his own growing experience of God that he is able to call others to follow after God.
In other words, Timothy must be nourished by the same truths that he is teaching. How is he to respond to the negative doctrine which is floating around? The answer, says Paul, is by providing a positive answer to this negative teaching. It is not by chasing down the nonsense.
It is not by constantly exposing the error. It is not by lambasting those who propound it. But it is instead by making sure that he himself is a follower, is a subscriber to, is nourished by the very things which he is then in turn conveying to those who are under his care. Now, it's the self-same principle that he's going to expound to him when he writes his final letter in 2 Timothy, and he says in chapter 4 there's going to come a time, Timothy, when people will turn away from the truths, they will turn aside to myths—which is the same word that he uses here in 1 Timothy 4—and they will gather around themselves a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. Now, the inevitable response on the part of a young pastor would be, Well, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to go and try and silence these teachers? Do you want me to go and constantly be pointing out everything that is wrong? No, says Paul in 2 Timothy 4-5.
This is what I want you to do. Do you want me to keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of your ministry? In other words, make sure that the words of faith are being diligently studied and perseveringly practiced in your life, Timothy. Because it is possible for professionalism so to creep into the lives of those who are entrusted with the care of God's people that one can give the impression of doing that to which one calls others, while at the same time not actually doing that which we are urging upon our listeners. In the same way that a mother could make a lovely meal, serve it to her family, and then eat none of it herself.
You might say, Well, if it is as good as you say it is, Mom, why are you not eating it as well? Now, there may be other reasons in that circumstance, but there is no good reason as to why Timothy, in leading others, in seeking to nourish others in the truth, is not himself being nourished by the very things that he conveys. In other words, every sermon must first be preached to the preacher.
And until it is being absorbed there, then it should not be conveyed. If you think about it in another way, Timothy is not to be like the jaded schoolteacher or the college professor who is simply plowing his way through material that is ages old and seldom reviewed. You go in his class, and he has a notebook, and you can tell just by looking at his notebook that he's been around for a long time. And the holes that used to be in his notes have all been pulled at the edges, because he's gone through them so many times. And there is a listlessness about it. There's a sort of emptiness about it. There's a sense of old hat about it.
The students from previous years will tell you, you don't even need to go to his class. He just says the same thing over and over again. He hasn't reviewed his notes in twenty-five years. Now, there's a kind of preaching that's just like that. You go and you listen to it, and you say, this guy, is he banging out the same old stuff? I think he's pulling stuff from somewhere. He did it once here, once there, once somewhere else.
He's got like a big tin drum of porridge that he lets go cold, and then every so often he scoops some of it out, puts it in a microwave, and tries to offer it to anybody, any unsuspecting person. Timothy, don't do that. You yourself, Timothy, you need to be nourished by these things. You need to be dwelling on the great truths. You need to be following the path. If you're not on the path, you can't lead others.
In other words, Timothy's careful investigation is the basis for his public proclamation. No careful investigation, no private application, no ground for public proclamation. Why would anybody ever want to listen?
Nobody needs a lecture. But they need to hear from God. Timothy, if you don't follow, you can't lead.
If you're not in the Word, you can't give out the Word. If you're not nourished, you can't nourish. Now, the second dimension of the direction that Timothy is to take can be summarized in simply saying, make spiritual fitness a priority. Make spiritual fitness a priority.
It's there in the final phrase of verse 7, train yourself to be godly. It's preceded by a don't. In point of fact, you can go through the whole of this section and discover that it's just a whole series of dos and don'ts. Don't listen to godless myths and old wives' tales. Do train yourself to be godly. Do this, don't do that.
So on. The whole list of dos and don'ts are vital in order that Timothy's ministry might be effective. People say, well, I don't like lists of dos and don'ts. That's not what it's all about.
Of course it's what it's all about. The whole of life is about dos and don'ts. Do brush your teeth. Don't leave the tap running. Do comb your hair.
Do be here in time. Don't say one thing and do another. It's all about it.
It's about stop signs, and it's about green lights. And in the relationship of pastor to teachers and teachers to congregation, the whole dimension is clear. And the emphasis, he says, is to be on training yourself in godliness, not listening to unholy myths that resemble the tall stories that are told by credulous old women. Now, this is a colloquialism.
It's not a slam on old women, per se, but it's an understood phrase. It's common parlance, old wives' tales, the idea of people sitting around listening to tall stories that have been all essential substance. Paul says, you don't want to get involved in that stuff.
In fact, he uses a word that is vital. He says, have nothing to do with godless myths. Turn away from godless myths. Refuse godless myths.
Don't be intrigued by them. Tremendous amount of stuff on Christian radio at the moment that is all about godless myths. Tune in, and we'll give you a half an hour of explanation of godless myths. We'll explain this myth and that myth and the next myth, and so we've got all these people being instructed in godless myths. We don't need to find out about godless myths. We need to find out about the Bible. We don't need to be inculcated in the nature of error. We need to be discovering the basis of truth.
And that's what he's saying to him. Don't get yourself off on this track, because if you spend all your time down there, then you will never be able to nurture your congregation. And if you don't nurture your congregation, then the congregation won't grow, and if they don't grow, then they won't grow up to be able to discriminate between credulous tales and the truth of the gospel. So, Timothy, he says, here's your direction. Make sure that you're following or you can't lead, and make sure that your emphasis is on godliness.
Now, the phraseology is very helpful. The verb is gymnatsia, from which we get our word gymnasium, and the noun is eusebia, which is the word godliness. He says, listen, physical training is of some value, but spiritual fitness, or godliness, has value for all things. Phillips paraphrases it, physical fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this life and for the life that's coming. And you will notice the emphasis on action. This is something, Timothy, that you need to do.
Train yourself to be godly. In verse 10, we labor and we strive in relationship to this. When he addresses similar issues in chapter 6 and in verse 11, he says, but you, man of God, flee from this, pursue righteousness, fight the good fight, take hold of eternal life. Those are all doing words.
Do you get that? Train yourself, labor, strive, flee, fight, grab, take hold, pursue. In other words, it is a call to action. It is a clear reminder that our growth in grace calls for an obedience to the will of God, which requires strenuous self-discipline. Strenuous self-discipline. Carla, can I ask you a question this morning?
How much of your Christian life and mine is marked by strenuous self-discipline? I've told you before that when I was 12, I got a tracksuit for the first time in my life. I can remember exactly the store I got it in. It's probably not there anymore.
It was on the Paisley Road West in Glasgow. It was royal blue and white, matched the colors of the soccer team that has been my soccer team for all of my life. And I thought the possession of a tracksuit would make me an athlete. I was so dumb that I thought if you wore this thing, you became an athlete. I didn't realize that this was only something that athletes wore because they perspired so much, and they worked so hard, and they needed it when they cooled down. But I never cooled down, because I never warmed up.
So I never needed it, except to walk around, say, hey, Luke's like an athlete. He may look like one, but he isn't. She looks like she could run a hundred meters in 9.3 seconds. She might look like it.
She can't. They look like a very, very disciplined, effective, godly, well-trained, energetic group of dynamic Christians. Are they? Does the fact that we have the manual and can talk a little bit about it mean that we're really trained in godliness? Does the fact that we know one or two principles mean that somehow or another we're really making progress in the faith? Is it not true to say that in most of our lives there is a sorry disparity between the amount of time we are prepared to spend on that which means very, very little in the light of eternity—namely, physical fitness—and that which matters in the light of all of eternity—namely, godliness or spiritual fitness? Now, don't feel uncomfortable.
Let me apply it to myself. In a good week—and I would like to have a good week sometime soon—in a good week, then I'm going to ride a run on the treadmill four times for a minimum of forty-five minutes. So that's four fours are a hundred and sixty. Four fives are twenty. That's a hundred and eighty. That's three hours running so that my trousers will still fit. That's essentially it.
We've long since given up the idea of Charles Atlas. That's in another life. This is just so that your trousers fit. Three solid hours. Okay, Alistair, train yourself to be godly. Have you spent three hours praying in a week lately? What?
Three hours praying? Are you crazy or something? Now, I'm sure you folks do much better than me in relationship to this.
But I think you get the point. Train yourself. Train yourself? What?
Yeah. You want somebody else to run on the treadmill for you? So that vicariously you get fit while I exercise? That would be good. I do the running, you lose the weight. Or you do the lifting, I get the muscles.
Good deal. Now, we want to do everything that we can to disciple our congregation. Men's ministry, women's ministry, youth ministry, children's ministry, any kind of ministry that's on the go. But I want to tell you this. Train yourself. Train yourself. Read your Bible.
Say your prayers. Buy a good book. Read it. Underline it. Ask questions. Make notes.
Get your own program going. Train yourself to be godly. That's the emphasis.
If that's the emphasis in pastoral ministry and what a salutary challenge it is, then it is not in order that the pastors may somehow or another become an elitist group amongst the congregation, but it is only in order that they may in turn be able to help others. If you take the picture of exercise, the guy in the exercise club is supposed to have muscles for goodness sake. He's not supposed to be there with a gigantic big beer belly sitting around. He'd fire his butt out the door if that's what he looks like.
He shouldn't look like that, because he's supposed to be an example. We're supposed to come in and say, I'd like to look like you. How do you get to be like you? The answer is, well, let me tell you.
That's what he's saying. Timothy, you're going to help other people. They're going to get like you.
Now, you know what you're like, Timothy. Do you really want people to get like you? Well, then, you'd better get serious about training yourself. Nobody's going to spoon-feed it to you. Nobody's going to make it happen for you. There is no special program. There is no spiritual ab roller out there that turns you into some spiritual genius within a week and a half, and there are no pills, there is no nothing.
Let me tell you what it is. It is painstaking, dogged commitment to doing the right thing and saying no to the wrong thing. There is no other way to spiritual fitness. By God's enabling, yes, but he employs means as we obey his will and as we persevere in righteousness.
He's not talking about a self-centered, ascetic struggle, a kind of externalism that he rebutted last time. He's talking about the training that is necessary for unhindered progress in the pursuit of God's purposes. Now, this statement here in verse 8, he refers to in verse 9 as a trustworthy saying. Well, you're looking at this carefully, and you're saying, well, is it verse 8 that's the trustworthy saying, or is it verse 10 that's the trustworthy saying? Well, it could be verse 8, and it could be verse 10. I personally decided that I was going to tell you that it is verse 8. If, however, it turns out to be verse 10 when we get to heaven, I don't think I will have harmed you in any way. All right? In fact, if you want to conclude that it is verse 10, then that's okay.
You understand? Because it doesn't actually alter the truth of either verse 8 or verse 10 whether verse 9 points back or points forward. They're both true, because they're both God's word. But which is the little statement here as in 1 Timothy 1.15? I think verse 8 sounds like a trustworthy saying, don't you?
Physical fitness is a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this life and for the life to come. That's got a kind of ring to it, doesn't it? That's the kind of thing you can imagine being repeated around. People say, now, here's a trustworthy saying. Now, if that's the case, then this is how it goes. Here's a trustworthy saying in verse 8. This deserves full acceptance, verse 9. On account of this, we are laboring and we are striving. And the conjunction is not that, but because, which is a justifiable translation.
You'll find it in some versions. Here's a trustworthy saying, verse 8. It deserves our full acceptance, verse 9. We're committed to it. We labor and strive in relationship to it.
Why? Because we have put our hope in the living God. Our lives have been transformed by the power of Christ.
Therefore, we have a full-blown commitment to spiritual fitness. And the God in whose hands we have placed our life and in whom we hope is the living God, who is the Savior of all men, potentially, and of those who believe actually. Or, if you like, what the New Testament is teaching here is what it teaches throughout, that the divine mercy of God is universal in its scope, and it is particular in its application. You're listening to Truth for Life, that is, Alistair Begg explaining why it's so important for us to carefully investigate the Bible and apply its lessons in our own life before we try to proclaim God's Word to others.
We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. While pastors have a distinct calling to preach, every one of us as Christians is called to tell other people about Jesus. But sharing the gospel can be intimidating for many of us.
It's often hard to know, is this a good time to initiate a discussion about Jesus? If you need a little boost of confidence, some encouragement, some helpful tips on how to get started, we want you to request a book we're offering titled, Before You Share Your Faith. In this book, you'll get a toolkit of helpful insights to not only help you overcome any reluctance you might have about sharing your faith, but to help you make your conversations more effective. Request your copy of Before You Share Your Faith today when you donate to the ministry of truthforlife.org slash donate, or when you call us at 888-588-7884. And by the way, tomorrow is the last day in our current study in First Timothy. If you've missed any of the messages, you can catch up online at truthforlife.org. All of Alistair's teaching can be heard or watched for free on our website and through our mobile app. You can find the series by searching for a study in First Timothy. The entire study is also available on USB at our cost of $5. It's in our online store at truthforlife.org slash store.
I'm Bob Lapine. Often the area of our greatest talent or usefulness also has the greatest potential for our downfall. Tomorrow we'll learn why as we hear the conclusion of today's message. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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