A Portrait of a Good Servant, Part 3: Duties for a Faithful 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)
These verses make up a single paragraph with a single flow of thought running through them. And yet we stopped our study of them when we were only half way through. I confess that this decision was made for purely pragmatic reasons. Namely, there was simply too much detail here to gloss over. To do the text any justice at all, it requires the attention of at least two weeks. But let us reorient ourselves.
Paul began by addressing the church as a whole. In 2:1-7 he calls for evangelist fervor. In 2:8-10 he makes clear the need for the members to come with holy hands and adorned in righteousness. Chapter 2 concludes with an exhortation for women (and men by implication) to take up their God-given roles at home and within the church (2:11-15).
Once the members have been addressed, Paul turns his attention to the leadership. The overseers are identified (3:1-3), exposed (3:4-5), and protected (3:6-7). After Paul explains the qualifications of the church’s spiritual fathers he explains the nurturing expectations of the spiritual mothers, deacons (3:8-13). Chapter 3 ends much like chapter 2 began, with an exhortation of the church’s commission and confession (3:14-16).
Chapter 4 returns to the topic of false teachers and the apostates that follow them. This is how Paul began his letter to Timothy back in 1:3-20. False teaching is nothing less than demonic doctrine designed to pull men away from the saving grace found only in Jesus Christ through Word of God. Timothy was commissioned to remain at Ephesus primarily to combat this teaching in any and every form that it reveals itself (1:3). In order to be an effective combatant of heresy, Timothy must proceed with caution.
Beginning in 4:6, Paul exhorts and instructs Timothy on a very personal level concerning his ministry there in Ephesus. In order to feed the sheep and fend off the wolves he will need to remain laser focused upon the task at hand (4:6-10). There can be no room for distractions.
Verses 11-16 turns a corner in the sense that Paul begins giving Timothy direct commands. As you recall, these six verses contain ten imperatives, commands given specifically and directly to Timothy. Each of these commands carries the sense of constant, continuous, and consistent obedience. We shouldn’t think of these commands as correctives, but encouragements for Timothy to constantly, continuously, and consistently keep doing what he has been doing. Last week we studied the first five imperatives, which revealed five duties of a public ministry. Timothy was commanded to give direction for obedience and instruction in doctrine (v. 11). He was directed to give correction to the misinformed and become an example of faithfulness (v. 12). And he was ordered to give precedence to the preaching of God’s Word (v. 13). This brings us to our current text.
The next three verses contain another five imperatives, commands to be constantly, continuously, and consistently obeyed. While the first five detailed the duties required of a public ministry, these five reveal the duties required of a faithful ministry.
Obey Your Calling (v. 14)
“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.”
We see the command right at the beginning. Neglect reflects the Greek word ἀμέλει or not caring for/not being concerned with. If you have no concern or care about something or someone, you neglect them. But the command is not to “have no care for!” or “neglect!” but to “not not care for!” And so, what our Bibles translate as do not neglect is actually a double negative in the Greek. Just as three lefts make a right, a double negative makes a positive command. To “never neglect” becomes “always be concerned with/care for.” But what is it that Timothy must take such pains to never neglect or always take care of?
The spiritual gift within you
The Greek simply says gift (χαρίσματος – from which we get charisma or charismatic). The most frequent use of this word in the New Testament refers to divine gifts from God given to His people. Paul uses this same root repeatedly throughout Romans in reference to the gift of grace or the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:11; 5:15-16; 6:23; 11:29). The final use of the term in Paul’s letter to the Romans appears in 12:6. Chapter 12 is where Paul finally gets to the point of his letter, as the first 11 chapters consist of necessary background information. Paul is directing the church in Rome to act and function as a unified body. In 12:6 he begins speaking of the gifts given to individual members that are given for the intention of being used as a collective whole.
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)
The church had been given gifts like prophecy (the gift of speaking for God which ceased upon the closing of the canon), service, teaching (the Word of God), exhortation (applying the Word of God), giving, leadership, and mercy. This is hardly an exhaustive list (see Ephesians 4:11-13) but it illustrates Paul’s point. Upon conversion each member of the body of Jesus Christ is endowed with a divine gift that is to be used for the edification of the rest of the body.
Coming back to Timothy, his point is simple. Don’t you dare toss away the gift that the Holy Spirit of Almighty God has placed within you!
But what is this gift? Allow me to answer that question with another question. What has Paul been exhorting Timothy to do for the past 54 verses? What is the content of the verse just prior to this one? Timothy was stationed in Ephesus to combat false teaching and strengthen the church, but how was he supposed to do that? By preaching the Word! Timothy was ordered to be consumed with the reading, the exhortation, and the teaching of God’s Holy Word because that was what God had designed and gifted him to do.
The prophetic utterance and laying on of hands do not signify the means by which the gift was given. God gave Timothy this gift upon conversion, as He gives all of our gifts. The prophecy concerning Timothy (probably similar to the prophecy concerning Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3) and the elders (presbytery = the body of elders) laying hands upon them are simply external confirmation of what the Holy Spirit had already accomplished. God gifted Timothy with the ability to preach and teach. That gift was confirmed through prophecy and recognized by the local elders. This command is very simple: Timothy, obey your calling.
Practice and Devote Yourself to Your Calling (v. 15)
“Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.”
I think that it is necessary to understand that we are reading two commands and not a repetition of a single command. What the NASB translates as take pains (μελέτα) means to work hard at something with the aim at improvement. These things points back to the all that we have discussed thus far, all of the duties required of Timothy. Practice, study, and cultivate the gifts within you. Take great pains to preach, teach, and exhort. Make a great effort to feed the sheep and fend off the wolves through a right understanding and application of God’s Holy Word.
As with any gift, practice improves it. But because all of God’s gifts are for the benefit of the body, to leave any gift dormant or to neglect the sharpening of that gift has a direct negative impact upon the whole body. God has placed each Christian within a local body and has given them gifts for the body’s good and His glory. This imperative is given to Timothy, but the application is easy enough to understand. However God has gifted you; use it, sharpen it, improve in it.
Be absorbed in them
Perhaps I’m a bit of a nerd, but I find this phrase fascinating. A very wooden (and somewhat awkward) translation would be something like: Be in them! How can Timothy be in his gifts and duties? What does this mean?
In his commentary, George Knight wrote of this phrase, “Each attempt [to translate] seeks to capture in English idiom the total involvement and intensity of the exhortation” (The Pastoral Epistles, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 210). This explanation is helpful, but I think there’s a more vivid way of understanding the phrase.
This is a very similar construction to the way the gospel writers would describe a person being possessed by demons. Mark 1:23 for example states, “Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.” The construction in the Greek is very similar as here. The sense is that, in the same way that this man was possessed, controlled, absorbed by an unclean spirit, Timothy is to be possessed, controlled, and absorbed in these things. The first command in v. 15 orders Timothy to continue pursuing his duty, to work hard with the aim of improvement. This second command within the verse orders him to be utterly consumed by his duty.
Both of these actions come with the same result, “So that your progress will be evident to all.” I don’t think Paul has in mind Timothy’s personal progress in holiness, but the progress and effect of his ministry. The more attention and focus that Timothy devotes to his duty, the greater impact his ministry will have. And this progress will become evident to all. That all refers to all, those inside the church and those outside.
Latch on to Your Calling (v. 16a)
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching”
The imperative here comes from the Greek ἐπέχω, which means to hold fast/grasp on to/stand fast. It carries the idea of holding onto an object, idea, or concept with no intention of letting go. Patrick Henry’s famous quote, “Give me liberty or give me death!” well reflects this attitude. Notice what Paul is commanding Timothy to latch on to.
Yourself and your teaching
If you boil it all down, there are only two things that make or break any minister of the gospel: his person and his teaching. By commanding Timothy to latch on to “yourself”, Paul certainly includes Timothy’s personal holiness, but I think that the emphasis goes well beyond that. One can be holy and still be a train wreck emotionally, physically, or financially. This could well be a reminder that what was stated in 3:1-7 applies to Timothy as well. No man is above being personally qualified.
The second object to which Timothy is to hold fast to/latch on to/stand fast upon is his teaching. There are many men who begin well, but end poorly. I can think of a few men in our own day that began their ministry by faithfully teaching and preaching the Scriptures. But somewhere along the way they began paying attention to worldly fables and the tales of old women. I’ve known others who have completely turned away from certain doctrines that are clearly taught in Scripture. As a man grows in the faith his theology develops, grows, and expands but it never evolves. To evolve is to change. God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Likewise His Word remains steadfast and unchanging. If one is already able to teach (3:2), then what he teaches must never change.
Persevere in Your Calling (v. 16b)
“Persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you”
We should all be familiar with what it means to persevere, to “keep on keeping on.” The imperative here (ἐπίμενε) is an intensified version of the verb normally translated as dwell/abide/remain. How do you intensify a verb that basically means to “stay put?” The implication is that Timothy is not only to remain in these things (yourself and your teaching), but he is to be unmovable. Like an alligator with a bad case of lockjaw, he is to latch down on himself and his teaching so that no one can pry him loose.
This is not a passive endurance, just trying to stay on your feet. This is an active death-grip upon the ministry. Nothing less will do. Because the failure to be this committed has eternal results.
For as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you
What a perfect way of concluding a section that began with a warning of those who will fall away, apostatize (4:1-5). There are two ways that we can know for certain that a person has never been redeemed by the blood of Christ, those who reject the gospel outright and those who turn their backs on the faith. The one group never claimed Christ and the second pretended for a while but never had root and thus withered away. There is only one way that we know for certain who has indeed been given eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to believe; those who constantly, continuously, and consistently obey their Lord right up until the very end.
Timothy’s duty to continue in his faithful ministry demonstrates to those under him that he is indeed a qualified man, but it also has serious implications for those under him. If he neglects the ministry, in any or all of these duties, there is a tremendous risk to the sheep. While we cannot guarantee that those who hear the true gospel will be effectually called by God, we can guarantee that those who never hear it will never be saved. As John Calvin writes of this line, “Just as the salvation of his flock is a pastor’s crown, so all who perish will be required at the hand of a careless pastor” (p. 78).
The ministry is not something that we are free to reinvent. There are ten strict commands given to Timothy that have direct implications and application to every man that dares enter the pulpit. These commands do not recede when he descends those glorious steps from the preaching platform, but maintain their intensity for every movement of every day. The church has no use for weekend warriors. Christ’s bride has a desperate need for faithful men who understand and hold to their duty day-by-day.