Paul’s Advice to Timothy

Timothy was a faithful Christian who served with Paul during most of his ministry. Timothy is mentioned often in Acts and in several of Paul’s letters. He was born in Lystra, the son of a converted Jewish woman and a gentile father (Acts 16:1). He was converted during Paul’s first missionary journey. Timothy eventually became the pastor of the church at Ephesus, where he was when he received this letter (1 :3).

Paul wrote his letter to Timothy in order to provide some advice on how to administer the affairs of the church as well as to help him deal with the problem of false teachers. The presence of these false teachers in Ephesus reflects the beginning of gnosticism, a problem that plagued the
church in the first and second centuries after Christ. These people claimed to have a special knowledge that made them superior to the average Christian.

False Teachers (Timothy 4: 1-5)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

At the beginning of his letter, Paul mentioned to Timothy the need to abstain from involvement in the teachings of these false teachers (Timothy 1 :3-6 ). Paul now declared that the Spirit of God has revealed, probably through some of the prophets of the church, that false teachers would appear in order to deceive many people.

These false teachers taught false doctrines by a deceitful spirit. They would appear “in the latter time.” This is not a reference to the end of the world, but to the days in which the apostle himself lived. The early church believed that they were living in the last days for they expected an imminent return of Christ.

Their teachings included the view that Christians should abstain from marriage and food. Against such a perversion, the apostle declared that marriage, food and everything that God had created should be received with thanksgiving. Paul said that these teachers lied because their conscience had been “seared” or branded by their own deceitful teaching. The word “branded” meant the mark that an owner placed upon his slave. Paul argues that these teachers were teaching demonic doctrines because Satan himself was behind their teaching.

True Ministers (Timothy 4:6-10)

If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

Paul advised Timothy how to deal with these false teachers. In order to deal effectively with them, Timothy must become an example to his own congregation. By being a model to his own flock, Timothy would become a “good minister of Christ Jesus” (v.6). The Greek word “minister,” diakonos, means ‘servant ,” the same word used for deacon. Every true minister is a servant of God and of His church.

The minister must be nourished on the word of faith. The Greek “being nourished” suggests that Timothy must feed himself daily upon the word and that he must diligently practice the truth of the gospel. As a minister he must train himself in godliness (v.7) in the same way an athlete trained himself for competition in the stadium. While bodily exercise is only valuable for this life, spiritual exercise is good for this life and for the life to come.

This training in godliness involved abandoning the fables, myths (v .7) and the endless genealogies (Timothy 1:4), because these only promoted speculations. Rather, Timothy must diligently study “the word of faith” and “good doctrines” (v.6), because these promote spiritual edification. This truth, that godliness is of great value, was a fact, and it was worthy of being accepted by Timothy (v.9).

As a minister, Paul worked hard and agonized much in order to spread the gospel, because there was a reward awaiting him. God is the giver of life, and those who genuinely live a life of godliness will enjoy the blessing that God promises to give to him who believes (v.8, 10).

Godly Teaching (Timothy 4:11-16)

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul encouraged Timothy by giving advice on how to be an effective minister. Timothy was urged strongly to teach his congregation all that Paul was writing to him. Paul remarked that no one should despise Timothy’s youth. Even though these words were addressed to Timothy, Paul was speaking to the whole church in Ephesus. Timothy’s Christian character should compensate for his youth.

Timothy was urged to become an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. Moreover, he must devote himself to the public aspect of his ministry: reading the Scriptures, preaching and teaching. These three practices were common in the synagogue. They were adopted also by the early church as part of their public worship.

Timothy had received special gifts from God which were confirmed to him at his ordination. These gifts were given to him in order that he might exercise his ministry; he must not neglect them. To the contrary, he must practice them as an athlete prepared for a competition. If he did these things, everyone would see his progress and would cease regarding him as an inexperienced pastor.

Paul concluded his exhortation by saying that Timothy must practice these things. By doing so, he would help the people under his care to come to the knowledge of Christ in order that they might be saved.

False teachers still exist today. The advice that Paul gave to Timothy is relevant to our own situation. The best way to combat false teaching is by faithfully teaching and preaching the gospel and by practicing the truth of God’s word in our daily lives.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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