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“A Portrait of a Good Servant, Part 2: Duty to the Public Ministry” – 1 Timothy 4:11-13

Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:11-16 NASB)

It is difficult to jump directly into this text without re-teaching or re-preaching what has already been said in vv. 6-10. If you have not already read the brief on those verses, I strongly suggest that you do so now.

“These things” refers us back to the verses just mentioned; the verses that direct and compel Timothy to maintain focus on the ministry so that he will be a good servant. This truly is the second installment of the same message. One commentator observed that vv. 6-10 aim at general ministry truths while these verses are directed with much more precision. He is correct. In these six verses are ten imperatives, ten commands given to Timothy by Paul that continue to flesh out what a good servant of the Lord Jesus Christ looks like. If vv. 6-10 reveals the focus demanded of a good servant, then these verses reveal the duty required of a good servant. We’ll take these ten commands and look at them in two sets of five. Five commands this week, and five commands next week.

5 Duties for the Public Ministry (vv. 11-13)

Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.

Five of the ten imperatives are contained to these three verses. There is a common thread connecting all of these commands. There is a variety of ways to issue commands. We can issue orders for a task to be done immediately with the expectation that once the task is completed the command is no longer valid. If I tell my children to “clean your room,” they would expect that once accomplished there is no need to keep cleaning. But if I tell those same children to “obey your mother,” there is no end date in sight. They are expected to obey her and to continue to obey her.

The Greek language is a very flexible and specific language designed to capture all of these little nuances. Every single one of these imperatives are written with the sense of continuous obedience. Yet they are not corrective. In other words, Timothy has been doing these things up to this point. Paul is writing here to command him to continuously and consistently keep doing these things.

Prescribe and teach these things

This little verse contains two commands. The NASB is a little weak here in my opinion. The word “prescribe” translates παράγγελλε, which means to give orders/command/instruct what must be done. It’s much stronger than a mere prescription; it’s an order.

Teach (δίδασκε) is a term that we should be familiar with by now. There’s an inescapable intellectual element to teaching. But again, this is a command given to Timothy. He is charged to give orders that these things are obeyed, and he is also charged to teach so that the orders are properly understood.

Just as he has been, Paul commands Timothy to keep ordering obedience and to continue to instruct the people on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine (v. 6).

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe

This verse also contains two imperatives, two commands that Timothy has been obeying up to this point and is now being implored to keep implementing.

Let no one look down on your youthfulness is actually a command. It is here that commentators waste much time speculating as to how old Timothy must have been. All we know for certain is that he has been with Paul for close to fifteen years and at the time of joining Paul he was old enough to leave home. This makes Timothy in the vicinity of thirty years old on the short side. But frankly, that is entirely beside the point.

One would do well to review chapter 3 and the qualifications of the overseers and deacons. Is there an age requirement there? There is a command that the overseer not be a new convert (young in the faith). There is a charge that the deacons be grounded in the faith. But there is no restriction based on the arbitrary standard of age. Spiritual maturity has always been the point here. In many cases age just does not equate to spiritual maturity.

There are many grayhairs that are not much more discerning or sensitive to spiritual matters now than they were when they were first saved. There are younger men who have devoted their lives to the study and application of God’s Word and are light-years ahead of their older brethren. And yet, there remains a misnomer that pastors/elders/overseers within Christ’s church must be a certain age before shepherding the flock of God. Paul knows that this thought may be present among the Ephesian brethren, and this is why he commands Timothy to not let this be an obstacle, but an opportunity.

But rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe

“But” introduces an alternative. Instead of people looking down on Timothy, he is commanded to show himself an example of those who believe. Instead of “of” let us say “to” or even “for.” Timothy is to continue presenting himself as a type or example for the believers there in and/or around Ephesus. And just because Paul is thorough, he commands Timothy as to what that example looks like.

In speech, in conduct

We might say “in word and in deed.” The idea is that in everything that he says (in and out of the pulpit) and in everything that he does (all week long, not just on Sunday) Timothy is to exemplify himself as a model for the church to follow. But that seems like a broad statement, doesn’t it? The following three terms describe what exemplary speech and conduct looks like.

In love

What is the greatest commandment?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NASB)

What is the highest order of Christian virtue?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NASB)

Speech and conduct that demonstrates spiritual maturity for the brethren will be marked by genuine love for God, neighbor, and the brethren.

In faith

Even a casual reading of Paul’s other letters will find these two words, faith and love, in close connection together. There’s several ways of understanding this simple word, faith. We could understand it as speech and conduct that is faithful. A man does what he says he will do and can be counted on and depended on to act upon his word. While that is indeed a worthy example, and necessary in a man ordained for the ministry, I do not think that’s what is meant here.

By faith I believe Paul intends to capture the totality of Christianity, the gospel, the truth of God as revealed by His Word. Timothy must voice and model (in speech and conduct) the truth of God’s grace and justice. He is commanded here to continue modeling and proclaiming (in and out of the pulpit) a life that has been redeemed from Hell and destined for Heaven.

In purity

This term is used frequently of sexual purity, but can also have a broader nuance of describing what is clean/unblemished/pure. That is the point here. This of course would include sexual purity, but would also envelope every word and deed as an example to follow based on purity.

The best way for Timothy to overcome possible opposition to an arbitrary standard of age is to prove beyond all doubt that he is most certainly qualified for the position that Paul has placed him in.

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.

This verse contains yet another imperative from Paul (that’s five down and five to go if you’re keeping track) encouraging Timothy to continue doing what he has been doing.

“Give attention” is actually the same verb that we’ve seen already in 4:1 (“paying attention”) and 3:8 (“addicted”). Προσέχω carries the idea of being consumed/concerned with/caring for something or some one. The word is neither good nor bad, but relies upon the object of concern to determine its worth. With the same intensity that a drunk has for his bottle and an apostate has for deceitful and demonic teaching, Timothy is to be consumed with three things: the reading, the exhortation, and the teaching.

Our English versions seem to make the reading a primary focus, but the Greek lists all three of these things in identical fashion, so it’s best to place equal emphasis on all three.

The Reading

The term reading (ἀνάγνωσις) is only used three times in the NT. Once here, but also in Acts 13:15 as well as in 2 Corinthians 3:14. In both occasions the content being read is Old Testament Scripture and the setting is either in a public gathering of worship or public instruction. It is from these contexts that our modern versions insert public reading of Scripture. There is no doubt that Paul has in mind that Timothy must consume himself with the reading of Scripture as a foundational part of the ministry.

The Exhortation

This is a common term in the NT (παράκλησις) that literally means to call alongside. Whether in the tone of encouragement or to speak in imperatives, it assumes a standard that the hearer is called to conform to. There is no use in reading the Scripture if the people hearing are not then exhorted to obey it and shape their lives in conformity to it.

The Teaching

We’ve already seen the verbal form of this word in v. 11. To teach is to instruct, to inform, to explain. There’s an inescapable intellectual aspect to this. You cannot obey what you do not understand.

All three of these tasks we might simply sum up as preaching. To preach begins with the Word of God. The preacher must read the text, explain the text, and then call the people to obey the text. Anything that happens in the pulpit that does not fit this model is NOT preaching. Timothy is commanded to be consumed by a single task with three parts: Preach the Word!


Public ministry must be both instructional and exemplary. It is a both/and and never either/or. The pastor is a preacher of God’s Word or he is nothing. The pastor is a model of God’s Word or he is nothing.

Too many men in too many pulpits dabble around in the Scriptures without teaching the people a single thing. If the people leave without a better understanding of the Bible then when they came, it was a wasted morning.

Too many men in too many pulpits proclaim “Thus saith the Lord!” Yet do not model that conduct with their lives. They are like the man who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what kind of man he is (James 1:22-25).

It is imperative that the good servant understands his duty is to proclaim, explain, and model the Word of God. This is what it means to feed the sheep.

Five more imperatives await us with five more commands for Timothy to continue what he has already begun to do. Yet he must not waiver for a second. He must remain faithful.


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