IV. The Hard but Essential Work of Ministry (1 Timothy 4:1–6:2)
IV. The Hard but Essential Work of Ministry (4:1–6:2)
4:1-2 The Spirit revealed to Paul that there would be those who would depart from the faith—false teachers who would listen to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (4:1). He thus describes these propagators of heresy as liars whose consciences are seared (4:2). The conscience, rightly trained, helps us to know right from wrong. But these false teachers had burned theirs to the point that they were numb; they could no longer discern goodness from wickedness.
4:3 As a result of their hardened hearts, the heretics were getting their doctrine from demons. What did their demonic teachings look like? Were they commanding animal sacrifices? Were they instructing people to commit murder and mayhem? No. They were forbidding divinely ordained institutions and provisions like marriage and certain foods—things that God had created to be received with gratitude.
We don’t typically associate a lack of gratitude with demonic influence, but that’s what this wicked teaching produced. Paul says in Romans 1 that though human beings knew something of God’s great power from the world he created, they refused to show gratitude to him (Rom 1:19-21). Moses warned the Israelites not to forget how the Lord had provided them with everything they needed when they entered the land of Canaan, otherwise they would follow false gods (Deut 6:10-15). When we fail to thank God, acknowledging that all we have comes from him, we quickly forget him, which leads to idolatry.
4:4-5 Instead, we are to confess that everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (4:4). There is nothing from which you receive godly enjoyment and benefit that cannot be traced back to God. Therefore, we are to give thanks to God “always” and “in everything” (Eph 5:20; 1 Thess 5:18). This should be one of the chief characteristics of a Christian. Anything that we receive from God is sanctified—rendered holy—by the word of God (which establishes the boundaries for our lives) and prayer (through which we express our gratitude).
4:6 How would Timothy prove himself to be a good servant of Christ Jesus as he provided leadership to the church at Ephesus? First, by taking the truths that Paul had taught him and pointing them out to the brothers and sisters. Shepherds of God’s people are called to feed his Word to the flock. If they don’t, the church will end up malnourished and useless. Second, Timothy was to himself be nourished by the words of the faith and good teaching. If pastors and teachers do not sustain their own spiritual development by feeding on Scripture, it will be impossible for them to provide spiritual sustenance to others.
4:7-8 Timothy was to have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths—that is, popular, speculative fables and unbiblical stories that have no basis in reality and no positive affect on one’s life. Instead, he was to train himself in godliness (4:7). Godliness—becoming more like God in actions, attitudes, character, and conduct—should be the Christian’s goal. Listening to silly myths produces nothing of value in a person’s life, but the Word of God produces godliness when obeyed. This, however, requires training and hard work.
People are willing to pour extensive money and effort into physical training of the body, even though it has limited benefit. How much more, then, should we devote ourselves to training ourselves for godliness, which provides benefit for the present life and for the life to come? (4:8) Godliness provides a deeper experience of God’s reality at work in our lives. Our passion for and pursuit of spiritual growth should be greater than our drive to be physically fit. Our souls need a regular workout program. You don’t become godly by chance.
4:9-10 Given the value of the reward, Paul urges Timothy to labor and strive in the pursuit of godliness—both for himself and for those he serves. In fact, hard work with a heavenly focus is required because of our hope in the living God. He is the Savior of all people in that Christ’s death removed the guilt of original sin so that everyone can come to him in repentance and faith. The cross made all mankind savable. But he is the Savior especially of those who believe (4:10)—those who have received the gift of eternal life through placing faith alone in Christ alone.
4:11-12 Command and teach these things (4:11). Pastors are to instruct the people of God in the truths of God, admonishing them to believe and obey so that they may properly respond. Paul counsels Timothy not to let anyone despise his youth. Though Timothy was young, he had demonstrated profound faithfulness—and that’s the key. It’s hard to disregard someone for their youth, when their character and conduct are impeccable. Therefore, he needed to serve as an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (4:12). Teaching the truth is not enough; church leaders must model the truth they teach.
4:13-14 To what was Timothy to give his attention? To the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation to apply the truth to life, and to teaching how to understand and follow the Word (4:13). Passivity in ministry is sin. Timothy couldn’t neglect the spiritual gift given to him by the Holy Spirit and affirmed by the council of elders (4:14).
You must not neglect the development and use of your spiritual gifts either. God gives gifts to be used for the benefit of others, not to be buried for safekeeping. You will be called to give an account of how you used the spiritual and physical blessings God entrusted to you.
4:15-16 Timothy was to devote himself fully to his ministry so that his spiritual progress would be evident to all (4:15). Gospel ministry should produce growth in the gospel minister, not only in those to whom he ministers. He does not serve others well, in fact, if he doesn’t pay close attention to his own life and teaching. By persevering in spiritual development, both personally and professionally, he will save—in the sense of “deliver”—both himself and those under his care (4:16). Timothy had already experienced personal salvation through faith in Christ, but through the delivering and transforming power of God’s Word, he and the church could experience daily victory over the power of sin.
5:1-2 Through Jesus Christ we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. So the church is the family of God. Thus, Timothy was not to sharply rebuke an older man, but to exhort him as a father (5:1). Likewise, he was to treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters (5:1-2). Such a family mindset transforms how we think about and respond to fellow believers.
5:3-8 The church is to support widows who are genuinely in need (5:3). The care of widows and orphans is a priority for the people of God (Jas 1:27). The church should recognize and support a widow who is truly in need, has no family support, and who serves God and his people with prayers and a life that is above reproach (1 Tim 3:5-7).
But those widows who have adult children and grandchildren should receive care from them. Children have an obligation to practice godliness toward their parents for the investment they made in their lives (5:4). No widow should be in want who has believing children. Importantly, if anyone will not provide for his own family members, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (5:8). God calls parents, and especially husbands, to provide for their families. Men are to reflect the fatherhood of God. A man who will not take care of his wife and children lies about what God is like. Believing men should also care for widows in their families because God is “a champion of widows” (Ps 68:5). Believing men and women with widows in their families share this responsibility (1 Tim 5:16).
5:9-10 A widow without family assistance is eligible for support from the church if she is at least sixty years old and was the wife of one husband (5:9). She should also be well known for good works—that is, deeds that glorify God and benefit other people. This would include raising children and helping those in need, such as through offering hospitality, serving the saints, and caring for the afflicted (5:10). A widow who has demonstrated faithful service to the church deserves the faithful support of the church.
5:11-16 Younger widows, however, should not be enrolled. They might make a pledge to remain a widow, but they’ll likely be drawn away and desire to get married again (5:11). Thus, they’ll incur condemnation for renouncing their original pledge (5:12). Moreover, young women with nothing to do will be tempted to be idle, to act as gossips and busybodies (5:13). So, instead, Paul says the younger women should marry, have children, manage their households. Through this kind of noble service and productivity, they will give the adversary no opportunity to accuse the church of promoting sin (5:14).
Notice that Paul does not give cultural reasons for this directive. Rather, he provides a theological and spiritual reason. By devoting her primary focus to her home, a kingdom woman protects herself and her family from Satan (5:15).
5:17-18 In 5:17-25 Paul discusses the church’s ministry to elders. The church is to be governed by elders (i.e., overseers; see 3:1-7), males designated as the spiritual leadership and final human authority of the church. They are to be considered worthy of double honor. Elders engaged in pastoral work, preaching and teaching, should not be expected to work without generous financial support (5:17). As Scripture says, if an ox is provided with food for his work (see Deut 25:4), how much more is a hard-working minister of the gospel worthy of his wages (5:18)?
5:19-21 An accusation of wrongdoing against an elder is serious business. It should not be easy for a disgruntled church member to falsely accuse an elder. Therefore, all accusations must be confirmed by two or three witnesses (5:19). If an elder is found guilty of unrepentantly continuing in sin, he must be rebuked publicly, so that the rest of the elders (and the congregation) will fear the consequences of sin (5:20). Paul delivers a solemn charge to Timothy that he carry out any cases of disciplines without prejudice or favoritism (5:21). God’s people see that their leaders are held to the same standards as they are—and to an even higher level.
5:22 Churches should not be too quick to appoint someone as an elder. We don’t want to unintentionally share in the sins of others because we fail to do the proper vetting of a candidate. We also do not want to fail to take the appropriate time to observe a man’s life and spiritual condition, as outlined in 3:1-7.
5:23 Paul encourages Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach and frequent illnesses. In a day before modern medicine, a moderate amount of wine provided medicinal benefits to those who needed them.
5:24-25 Paul reminds Timothy that, most of the time, sins and good works are obvious. Over time, then, he’ll be able to evaluate candidates for leadership in the local church by observing their lifestyles. But even those who commit sin or good works unnoticed will not be able to keep them hidden forever. What we do—whether good or bad—will come to light.
6:1-2 On slavery in the Bible, see commentary on Ephesians 6:5-9. Slaves were to show respect for their masters and not, through ungodly behavior, cause God’s name and teaching to be blasphemed (6:1). They were to protect the integrity of God’s Word and character through their service. Those with believing masters were to serve them as brothers, since both slave and master are sons of God and one in Christ (Gal 3:26, 28). Their masters were dearly loved by God, so they should honor them (6:2). These principles apply to employer-employee relationships today.