“A Portrait of a Good Servant, Part 1: Focus” – 1 Timothy 4:6-10
“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 of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
Paul has taken great care to clearly explain and articulate the necessary function, form, and standard of Christ’s bride, the church of the living God. Beginning in 2:1 and concluding in 3:13 Paul exhorted all the members, leaders, and potential leaders as to their roles, obligations, and qualifications. There are many things to learn from these verses, but there is one general truth that encompasses them all: There is no room for indifference. It matters not whether you are a faithful member who sits in the pew week after week or if you are a small group Bible study leader, the piano player, Sunday school teacher, or the pastor; there is no room for indifference within Christ’s bride.
Within these verses, all of that momentum, all of the implications coming from Paul’s high standard of the church, is about to come down on Timothy in a very personal way. All of the verbs within this section are 2nd person singulars, meaning that they are directed at Timothy specifically. The main idea of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is found in v. 6:
You will be a good servant of Christ Jesus
Paul desires that Timothy will be a good servant of Christ Jesus. That concept will carry us through the rest of chapter 4. There is a single theme with several applications running through these verses here; the theme of focus. A good servant of Christ Jesus is focused, undistracted, giving his undivided attention to the task at hand. But what is the task at hand?
Focus on Teaching
“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.”
I think that it’s very telling, given the previous discussion of apostasy and demonic teachers who lead the church astray, what Paul directs Timothy to do. Timothy was not commanded to devote himself to polemics and apologetics (exposing false teaching and defending the true faith) but simply to teach the truth. There will always be a time and a place for polemics and apologetics. The sheep need to be warned and the sheep need to be assured. But that cannot be the primary focus of Christian ministry.
In point out these things to the brethren
“These things” specifically points back to 4:1-5 and the dangers of apostasy. The verb point out (ὑποτίθημι) literally means to lay before/to bring up. Because we’re not speaking of something physical to lay in front of a person (the brethren) but rather information, this carries the idea of instruction/teaching. The tense implies that these things are constantly/consistently/continuously being laid before the brethren.
You may be thinking that this most certainly does sound like polemics based ministry. But a careful look back at vv. 1-5 reveal more than a warning against apostasy. Half of the material there warns of coming apostates and their demonic deceivers, but the other half explains the nature and gravity of apostasy. In other words, Paul’s position and exhortation is based upon his teaching of Scripture. In laying out/point out these things Paul is in reality teaching what the Bible has to say on the subject. Every faithful ministry will be polemical. Every faithful ministry will deal with apologetics. But the primary focus of a faithful ministry, of a good servant, will be that of teaching Scripture.
Teaching is not only for the sheep, but for the shepherd as well.
Constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following
The NASB inserts the word constantly because this verb matches the tense of the constant, consistent, continuous pointing out/laying before/instructing already mentioned. The first speaks of what Timothy is to do to the brethren. He is to instruct them. This speaks of what he must do to himself (passive voice). He must be nourished.
The Greek ἐντρέφω literally means to rear or to train with the normal context being that of children. To rear or train a child is to nourish them, providing all that they need now and for the future. It encompasses so much more than simply feeding them. To rear a child is to care for their present needs, but also to equip them with the skills, discipline, and knowledge for the future. This is the attitude that Timothy must take to his own care. He must nourish, train, and rear himself. But on what?
On the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine
What does “of” mean? We use this word all the time with little thought. But is it a bucket of wood (a bucket made of wood) or a bucket of wood (bucket containing wood)? This simple word is capable of communicating possession (a ward of the state), material (a house of brick), content (a bucket of coal), relationship (father of the bride), and a host of other things. So I repeat the question here, what does “of” mean?
I think it becomes obvious that the “words” (note the plural) in question are they that contain the faith and the sound doctrine. To which “words” is he referring? What words contain the faith, the sum total of Christianity? What words contain the sound (or good) doctrine, as opposed to the doctrines coming from demons (v. 1)? In short, the words that have Almighty God as their source placed upon the pages of Scripture. Timothy, be nourished, trained, and reared by these words!
The pastor must certainly preach the truth of Scripture. But he must also feed upon, wrestle with, and become strong by the truth of Scripture. Every teaching opportunity requires hours of preparation. That time is required to translate, exegete, and examine the text from every conceivable angle. But it is also required so that the preacher can first feed his own soul before attempting to package it for the others’ consumption.
Which you have been following
This has been Timothy’s practice up to this point. Paul is saying, “Timothy, don’t you dare take your eye off the prize now! You’ve served well. Continue doing what you know to be right.”
“But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women”
The commitment to teach, to lay before the brethren the words of faith and good doctrine means that everything that does not fit into that category should be abstained from, refused, forsaken. The word translated have nothing to do with (παραιτοῦ) is an imperative, a command, and is quite strong. There are two things that Timothy is commanded to constantly, consistently, and continuously to stay away from; that which is worldly and that which sounds like old woman fables.
The word worldly (βέβλος) indicates what is common. It refers to that which is so ordinary and so accessible to anyone and everyone that it ceases to have any significance at all. The fables of old women is of a similar meaning. This was a common note of derision in the 1st century. In a public debate, if someone’s argument was void of any real significance or bearing, one might reply that they are speaking like a senile old crone. Their words are fitting only for the myths an old woman would tell unsuspecting children. There is nothing worth considering here.
Too many pulpits are occupied by men giving political or social commentary. These things are found in every newspaper and on every social media website. They are common, profane, and worldly, devoid of significance. Where is the man who will stand and lay the words containing good doctrine before the brethren? Too many parishioners are left asking, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
Focus on Application
“On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
The verb discipline (γύμναζε – where we get our English word “gymnasium”) is another imperative/command and forms the other half of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. It brings the picture of athletics and the vigorous toil that is required in training. But the goal is not to win a physical context. Paul says quite plainly what the purpose of discipline should be: godliness.
What is godliness? Let’s give simple and direct answers to simple and direct questions. Godliness is to be God-like. We become God-like by knowing Him and obeying Him. This is only possible through study and obedience of His Word.
How to be godly: Know the Bible and obey it. Yes, it is that simple. In fact it is precisely at the point when people doubt the simplicity of this obvious fact that things begin to go awry.
For bodily discipline is only of little profit
There are two ways of understanding this statement. It could be speaking directly to physical exercise and the limited profit that it brings. To be physically fit does have some benefit, for the text does not say that it is without profit. But physical fitness has absolutely zero eternal value and is even limited to the present.
The phrase could also indicate the physical or bodily observances of worship; i.e. church attendance, fasting, giving, visiting, etc. These things are also good and have some benefit, but they are not the definition of godliness and are of only limited value.
I lean in the direction of this second understanding as it better fits the context (coming immediately after apostates who are consumed with the physicalness of worship). It would just be curious for Paul to have a sidebar conversation about physical fitness here.
But godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come
While “doing good” is of some value, it cannot hold a candle to true godliness (knowing and obeying God). To be considered a good servant, Timothy is expected to preach/teach/lay before the brethren nothing but the unfiltered truth of Almighty God. But he must also model this truth before them. Show the people that godliness is not only for the pastor. Show the people what obedience looks like. Show the people that there is genuine benefit to godliness NOW!
I prefer to translate this portion in this way: But godliness is profitable for all things because it holds a promise of life, for the present and that which is coming. Godliness is profitable in all things for the expressed reason that it holds a promise. The promise = the blessings that accompany obedience (i.e. sanctification, growing in holiness, increased obedience, victory over sin, love of the brethren, etc.). That promise will be realized now and in the life to come.
Do you believe that godliness is profitable for all things? Because I look around me and see the vast amount of people claiming the name of Christ ready to cast off godliness at the drop of a hat. The old adage goes, “He’s too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” The fact of the matter is that if the pastor is not heavenly minded, he is of no earthly good.
Focus on Motivation
“It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
Verse 9 should remind us of 1:15 and the statement there is well worth holding on to. One noticeable difference here is that instead of introducing the statement, this verse concludes the statement. In other words, v. 10 is not the faithful saying. The trustworthy statement is found in v. 8 with Paul’s call to godly discipline.
Why phrase it this way? Because in case you want to doubt Paul’s word on the matter, you must know that this is a faithful saying that deserves full acceptance. In fact, it deserves the same kind of acceptance as the statement said in 1:15 “That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” It’s as if Paul was saying, “Care to argue any further? I thought not.”
Sound doctrine producing genuine godliness in the lives of Christ’s people is the soul reason Paul and Timothy did what they did. A good servant, a man who is called to the ministry, labor and strives (laymen’s = work their tales off) so that the people under his care would know God and obey Him.
Because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers
As we’ve said many times before, hope is not wishful thinking. The word (ἐλπίζω) indicates a fixed and assumed expectation. Paul and Timothy work night and day to teach and model Christ before the brethren assuming that the living God will save and sanctify his people.
Just as in 2:1-7, all men (πάντων ἀνθρώπων) ≠ every single man, but indicates that God will save men of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Paul is placing his trust in the God who will fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:3) and bless all the nations of the world.
Rather than especially, as indicating a class above and over the rest, a better translation might be that is. “Because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all men, that is of believers.”
Paul and Timothy have kept their eye on the prize, remained focused and refuse to become distracted with irrelevant things because it is their anticipation and expectation that through their faithfulness God will continue to save His people, to include you and me and those in the future. Until our Lord returns. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Faithfulness goes hand in hand with focus. A family will never be more faithful or more focused than the father. A church will never be more faithful or more focused than the men who lead her. This is a quote from an unknown source I’ve recently rediscovered on my bookshelf. I think this sums up quite nicely what a faithful and focused servant is to look like. Concerning the congregations’ expectation of the pastor:
“Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before the texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.
Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.
Shut his mouth forever spouting remark, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.
Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.
Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!
Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day –“Sir, we would see Jesus!”
When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the communities’ weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.
Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.
And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left–God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around in it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.
And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God” (MacArthur, John. Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Word Publishing, 1992, p. 348-9).