The Lord's Day Morning
September 5, 2004
I Timothy 4:6-8
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter four, verse six. Last time we were together in I Timothy 4:1-5, Paul reminded us that in the latter days, those days that we are now living in, the time between the first and second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, in those latter days the church would struggle with false teaching, even in its very midst. And Paul warns Timothy, this young pastor, about that and the affect that it could have: the bad affect, the harmful affect it could have on the life of his congregation. Then, here in I Timothy 4:6-8, the passage we're going to read from God's word and study together today, Paul turns his attention on Timothy as a minister. And you will notice even from the pronouns, what he has to say is very much directed to Timothy, to his ministry, to his character, to things that he's to be on the lookout for.
Now, don't breathe a sigh of relief! You as a Christian are not out of the scope of Paul's focus here in His word, because all of Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for your reproof and correction, and training in righteousness. Even those passages that are directed to ministers have something to say to God's people. So, as we come to this passage, though yes, indeed, in the first instance Paul has in view Timothy in his ministry, bearing in mind certain things that he needs to do and be as a good servant of the Lord, all of us are called to be good servants of the Lord, and so there is something for every single one of us to learn.
Let me outline this passage before we pray and read it, so you’ll appreciate something of its shape. There are five things that Paul tells Timothy here are important for his life and ministry.
First of all, if you look at the first half of verse six, you’ll see that Paul says that Timothy, in being aware of and warning his congregation about false teaching (the false teaching that Paul has talked about in verses one to five), Timothy will be ministering faithfully. He’ll be a good servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, if he warns his congregation about these things, if he points out these things. That's the first thing that he says to Timothy.
The second thing that he says, you’ll see in the second half of verse six. That is that faithful ministers, ministers who are good servants of Christ Jesus, are nourished on what? They’re nourished on sound doctrine. They’re nourished on solid biblical teaching. They’re nourished on the words of the faith and sound doctrine, Paul says in the second half of verse six. And that's the second message that he has for Timothy.
The third message you’ll see in verse seven. It's in the very first part of verse seven. There he says that false doctrine hurts people because it's unprofitable. In fact, in the first half of verse seven, Paul compares false doctrine to old wives’ tales, as we would say.
Now, the fourth thing that Paul says to Timothy, you’ll find in the second half of verse seven. That is where he tells Timothy that faithful ministers ought to strive for the cultivation of personal godliness. Discipline yourself, he says, for the purpose of godliness.
And then finally, the fifth thing that he says to Timothy you’ll see in verse eight. That is that faithful ministers need to have a proper estimation of the importance of personal godliness. He makes a comparison between physical training and exercise and self-discipline, and spiritually disciplining ourselves: training ourselves, working out, exercising for the purpose of cultivating godliness. And he says the latter is more valuable than the former.
And so these are the five things that he has to say to Timothy. But Paul's words to Timothy, because they are God's words to all His people, are profitable for us, and every single one of us in this room today can and should benefit from the message that Paul has. Let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help as we look at this message.
Heavenly Father, we bow before You acknowledging that Your word is truth, and that Your Bible, Your revelation of Yourself and of Your will and of Your ways written down by holy men inspired by Your Holy Spirit, that word, that very word of God that the Bible is, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way. It shows us how to live. It's profitable. So by Your Spirit and by Your word, show us the truth that You would have us learn for the living of the Christian life together as believers here in this local congregation. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word from I Timothy 4:6
“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
We are all called to be good servants of Christ Jesus. Servant, as you know, is a word that Jesus applied to Himself. It comes right out of the Old Testament where the Messiah to come is referred to by some of the great prophets as the Servant of the Lord. It's not surprising then, that the apostles themselves often referred to themselves as servants of Christ, or servants of Christ Jesus. The word servant became a technical term for a particular office in the church. We've already seen in I Timothy 3 the word servant, or diaconos or deacon, used to title those who are the ministers of mercy in a local congregation. But we also know in the New Testament that the word servant is a word which is applied to all God's children, all those who are disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. We’re called to be servants. So even as Paul gives a specialized word to Timothy, who is a servant of the Lord in the sense of being a minister, a preacher and a pastor in the local church, and an apostolic helper to the Apostle Paul–even as Paul gives instruction to Timothy on how to be a good servant of Jesus Christ in his unique role, Paul's words apply to us. They’re not just for Timothy, they’re not just for the Ephesian church. They’re not just for preachers in general; they are for all of us, because we all long to be good servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And you’ll see in this passage Paul tell us first what a good Christian servant is on the lookout for; secondly what a good Christian servant is nourished by; thirdly, what a good Christian servant avoids; fourthly, what a good servant of Christ strives for; and fifthly, what a good servant of Christ highly values. And I'd like to look at those five things very briefly with you today, but I'd like to spend most of our time on the fourth and the fifth points.
I. The good servant of Jesus Christ uncovers and alerts his people to false teaching.
The first thing we see here in verse six is what a good Christian servant is on the lookout for. Paul's message here, in the very first words of verse six, is ‘watch out for bad theology.’ He's been saying this over and over again in the book of I Timothy, and he's just said it in I Timothy 4:1-6. He's reminding Timothy that one mark of a faithful minister is that he not only faithfully teaches what the Bible says is true, he also warns the people of God against that which is not in accord with the Bible. The good servant of Jesus Christ uncovers and alerts his people to false teaching. And so he's on the lookout for bad theology, and he teaches his people the difference between good and bad theology. But there's a message for us. There's a message for us in this. We ourselves are to be on the lookout for bad theology. We’re to care for good, solid, faithful, Bible preaching and teaching.
Many of you, in the next five or ten years, will be called to different places. Perhaps you’ll move to other cities, and you’ll have the responsibility of finding a church. One of the things you’re going to want to look for in that church is faithful, biblical teaching and preaching. That is the first and most important, the most indispensable thing for healthy local church life.
Now, you can find many people who are faithfully expounding the Scripture, but you won't find many who will talk about the specific theology and doctrine of that Scripture, and will not only teach you what's right, but will warn you against what's wrong. So one of the things you’re going to be looking for in a faithful teacher of God's word is someone who not only says what the Bible teaches, but also says what the Bible teaches against, and helps you to become more discerning about the dazzling variety of false teaching that is out there. That's what a faithful minister of God's word does, and so a Christian is going to be on the lookout not only for good, solid, faithful Bible preaching and teaching, but also good, solid, faithful Bible teaching and preaching that identifies false teaching and helps the Christian discern the difference.
II. The good servant of Jesus Christ is nourished on sound teaching.
The second thing we see here is in the second half of verse six, where Paul comments that a good servant of Christ Jesus is constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine. Paul is reminding Timothy that good pastors, good preachers, good ministers themselves are nourished on doctrine. They’re nourished on sound biblical teaching and theology. The good servant of Jesus Christ is one who is nourished on sound Bible doctrine. And if that's true for ministers, it's also true for members. If that's true for shepherds, it's also true for the sheep. If that's true for preachers, it's true for those who sit in the pews of the church listening to preaching. Paul's message to you in verse six is ‘grow up on sound doctrine. Be nourished by sound teaching. Feed on Bible instruction and application.’ The good servant of Christ is nourished on the words of the faith and of sound doctrine. That's what we need. The only way we’ll ever grow up in the faith is to be nourished on this sound Bible teaching.
We are able to face the challenges of the Christian life because our minds have been transformed, being renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit so that we no longer are conformed to the thinking of the world, but we have been renewed in our minds —according to what? According to the word of God. And the way that happens is when we are nourished on sound doctrine, on the words of the faith. And so Paul tells us not only that we are to watch out for bad theology, but that we are to grow up on good doctrine.
III. The good servant of Jesus Christ realizes that false teaching is unprofitable.
But he doesn't stop there. Look at verse seven, the very first words: “Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women….” Paul's not making slurs against our senior sisters in Christ. He's actually taking a poke at the false teachers. He's saying, “These men who say that they have a profound message, a better message for you than me, than the apostles, than you've heard before–these men, well, what they’re teaching you is just old wives’ tales.” That's what Paul's saying in this passage. He's saying that false teaching is empty, it's unprofitable.
And because it's empty and unprofitable, it's harmful, it hurts people. Why? Because it can't build them up! It can't really help them in the Christian life. If truth is for life, if God's truth is for the living of the Christian life, if God's truth is to make us more like Him, more loving, more faithful, more obedient–then false teaching can't produce those things. And so the more we are preoccupied with something which is not the truth of God's word, the less we are becoming like Jesus Christ, the less we are growing in grace. False doctrine contributes nothing constructive to the Christian life, and consequently is harmful. And so Paul says to Timothy, “…have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.” And so for us, for those of us who are not preachers but who are members of the church, serving the Lord, sitting in the pews, ministering day to day, we need to be aware that false teaching is unprofitable, and avoid it, just like Timothy was to avoid it.
IV. The good servant of Jesus Christ engages in spiritual discipline with the goal of godliness in view.
Then, if you look at the second half of verse seven, Paul positively gives an imperative word to Timothy, and to you and me. “On the other hand,” he says, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” And Paul is saying to Timothy that the good servant of Jesus Christ engages in spiritual discipline, with the goal of godliness in view. The good servant of Jesus Christ deliberately practices and trains with a view to the cultivation of spiritual worship in all of life.
Paul has just been teaching about false teachers who have been suggesting to the people of God that read godliness is gained through these external manifestations, through keeping these un-biblically-commanded fasts; through keeping these external rites and rituals; through going through these formal motions–that's the way you gain godliness. Paul has said that's not how you gain godliness, but he says this: you do need to discipline yourself. You do need to exercise and work to grow in grace, with a goal to godliness.
Paul is saying in verse seven, ‘work out for godliness.’ Deliberately practice and train with a view to the cultivation of spiritual worship. We are to actively pursue, he's telling us, we are to actively cultivate godliness. He's telling us to discipline ourselves that we might live the Christian life. You see, discipline doesn't make the Christian life easy. But it does make it easier.
I was reading yesterday an article about a fellow who had walked on to his college football team, and this year for the first time, he's a fifth-year senior, he was given a scholarship. And he played his first game as a tackle, as a lineman, yesterday. And they were interviewing him afterwards. People were rightly proud. This kid who walked onto a major college program finally got a scholarship, persevered through all those hours of practice, never played a down, and all his buddies who were experienced, even some who hadn't been there as long as he had been there, had said to him before the game, “Now, look. The game's going to be easier than practice.” And so they were asking him about it after the game, and sure enough, he said to the reporter, “You know, my friends were right. The game was easier than practice.” Now that's not because the game was easy, but it was easier because for five years he had been practicing for that game. He knew what he was supposed to do. He knew when he was supposed to do it. He knew what his job was. He had been training physically for it, and it was easier to do because he had been disciplined for it. He was ready!
And that's what Paul is saying to us: Discipline doesn't make the Christian life easy, but it makes it easier.
That Christian woman who is struggling with a husband who is mean, who is unkind to her, she disciplines herself for the purpose of godliness in prayer, in the word, in meditation upon the word, in attending the means of grace. And when she has prepared a beautiful dinner, and he comes home and he's once again unkind and mean to her, it's not that it's easy for her to respond in a Christian way to him, but it's easier because she has been disciplining herself for the purpose of godliness.
That man who's been wrestling against lust, against fornication, who's been trying to carefully guard what he looks at and what he reads, and what company he's in, and where he is, and how he is or is not alone when he's away from home–when he's in that airport, when he's in that hotel and the temptation comes, and a woman makes an advance and he walks away–it's not that it's easy for him to do that, but it was easier because he had been praying. He had been accountable. He had been under the means of grace. He’d been attending the worship of the living God, he’d been reading his Bible, he’d been praying for God to give him strength. He had been disciplining himself so that he could be godly when the challenge came.
And that's how it is. Prayer, meditation, attendance upon the means of grace: these things prepare us for the living of the Christian life. Just as a squadron briefing to a wing of fighter pilots is vital to their success in the service that they will perform for their country; just as the football practice and pre-game briefing prepare the players for their responsibility; just as the hours and hours of agonizing and lonely gymnastic training prepare those Olympians to do the amazing things that they do on parallel bars, so also are we to discipline ourselves for the living of the Christian life.
We’re to actively pursue and cultivate godliness, and it doesn't come easily. There's nothing easy about the Christian life. You are invited into the Christian life into a fight! Preparing for that is not going to be easy. The fight's not going to be easy. But the fight will be easier if you have disciplined yourself for the purpose of godliness.
V. The good servant of Jesus Christ realizes the value of becoming more like Christ.
Finally, notice in verse eight that Paul tells us that we are to prize godliness. We are to esteem, to value, to hold dearly, to think highly of and much of, and to treasure godliness. He says, “…for bodily discipline is only little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things., since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Paul is saying to you, you ought to want godliness more than perfect health. You ought to want godliness more than a perfect body. You ought to want godliness more than six-pack abs!
You know, those of you who are out there in the weight room or at the Health-Plex at four-thirty in the morning, doing your laps, or at five, doing your treadmill–that's an encouragement to the rest of us. All of us ought to be taking care of our bodies. I’ll think about you and lift up a prayer for you! Maybe one day I’ll see you out there myself, who knows. That's good, that's an encouragement to us. We ought to want to take care of our bodies. It's the Lord's creation, and we're to take care of it. It's the only one we’ll ever have.
But Paul is saying as important as it is to do that, remember that your spiritual discipline, your spiritual exercise, your spiritual workout makes a difference in this life and the life to come.
Now, my friends, we can only be godly by grace. It takes the work of God's Holy Spirit in us to grow in grace. But Paul makes it clear that growing in the Christian life is something that is both passive and active. It is something that is both dependent upon God, and it is also something to which we must consecrate ourselves. What does he say to the Philippians? “Work out your sanctification with fear and trembling, for it is God at work in you.” You see both sides of it: God's at work in us to grow us in grace, but we must work out that sanctification in fear and trembling. God wants us to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. May God grant by His grace that we would commit ourselves to this.
Lord God, by Your grace make us to be soldiers of the cross. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.