Let’s open our Bibles to 1 Timothy chapter 4. We’re looking at verses 6 through 16. First Timothy 4:6 through 16. I want to read that passage for you so you’ll have it well in mind as we look together at what the Spirit of God would teach us. Beginning in verse 6 of 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes: “If you put the brethren in remembrance of these things, you shall be a good minister” - or an excellent minister - “of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine unto which you have already attained.
“But refuse profane and old wives’ fables and exercise yourself unto godliness, for bodily exercise profits little but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For therefore to this end we both labor and struggle because we trust in the living God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth but be an example of the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in loyalty, in purity.
“Until I come, give attendance to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching. Stop neglecting the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of hands of the elders. Meditate upon these things. Give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all” - or thy progress may appear to all. “Take heed unto thyself and unto the teaching. Continue in them for in doing this you shall both save yourself and them that hear you.”
The key statement in this passage is found in verse 6. It is the statement “you shall be an excellent minister” - or servant - “of Jesus Christ.” That is really the substance of the whole point of this passage. Paul is calling Timothy to excellence in the ministry. And he’s delineating the elements of such excellence throughout this text.
The problems facing Timothy were monumental. He had been left in Ephesus. Paul had met him there after the conclusion of his imprisonment. They met there to discern the state of that great church where Paul had given three years of his life. They found that the church had drifted doctrinally and was literally filled with error. They had found that the church was filled with sin and had abandoned its pursuit of godliness. Wrong doctrine then and wrong living were rampant in Ephesus.
Tragically, much of the leadership in the drift had come from pastors and elders, two of whom Paul himself put out of the church, by name, Hymenaeus and Alexander, as chapter 1 verse 20 says. But Paul left Timothy there, needing to go on to Greece and said, “Timothy, I want you to set everything else in order and I want you to have an excellent and effective ministry here, and on the basis of that, here are the ingredients necessary in your life.” And so, from verse 6 through 16, he clearly outlines what are to be the qualities of ministry characteristic of Timothy.
The congregation at Ephesus would demand the very best. It had already been infested by the wasps of demonic doctrine and unholy living who were stinging the people with very, very tragic effect. It was in danger of losing its testimony, along with its theology and its character. The task called for the very finest kind of spiritual leadership, and Timothy, of course, had to be the focal point of that. And so the specifics of the excellence of ministry, which Paul demands of Timothy, become very instructive to us.
In fact, I would venture to say that though this was written from Paul to Timothy, what he says here in the main is normative for anyone who leads in the church. Today in our churches, whether willfully or by neglect, we have seen the loss of commitment in the very areas to which Paul speaks. The prostitution of the role of pastor has taken place before our very eyes in so many, many cases and has led to the death of power. And really, the restoration of power and impact in the church is dependent upon the excellence of those who lead the church, and so, what Paul says here should pierce our hearts as well as it must have pierced the heart of Timothy.
Let’s look to the text, then, and follow the list of excellent qualities of a minister of Christ. Number one: An excellent minister warns his people of error. Verse 6 says, “If you put the brothers in remembrance” - or if you remind them or if you, present tense, continually lay before them these things - “you will be a noble minister” - an excellent minister - “of Christ.”
“These things” has reference to verses 1 to 5, in which Paul has explicitly identified false doctrine as demon teaching coming from seducing spirits through lying hypocrites who have already done radical acts of apostasy to the extent that their own consciences are insensitive. And he says if you want to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, you must be continually laying before your people the danger of error. For three years, night and day, he had done that in Ephesus. He says that in Acts 20. But he also knew that after his departure, grievous wolves would come in and perverse men would rise from within the church and do everything they could to lead them astray, and he was indeed a prophet.
It is essential that the man of God who would serve with excellence be continually reminding his people of the imminent reality of encroaching error. And that people know that many who appear to be godly, religious, good, pious, pure, devout leaders of the church or of religion may be nothing more than masked men and behind the mask is a seducing spirit.
The real culprit is not a seminary professor who teaches heresy. The real culprit is not a liberal minister. The real culprit is a seducing spirit who has found a willing vessel in a hypocritical lie speaker, as the terminology of verse 2 indicates, who will speak the teaching of demons whether wittingly or unwittingly. And any minister who will serve with excellence must have a warning ministry. He must be able to understand, to warn his people against error.
Secondly, in verse 6 we find that Paul says if you are to serve with excellence, you must be an expert student of Scripture. At the end of verse 6, he says, “Nourished up - or literally, being continually nourished up - “in the words of the faith and of the good teaching which you have closely followed,” is perhaps a better rendering. You have a great foundation, you’ve closely followed the proper teaching. You’ve closely followed the Word of God. Now you must be continually being nourished up in those words of the faith and the good teaching.
The “words of the faith” refers to Scripture. The “good teaching” refers to that which Scripture affirms or that which Scripture teaches. You are to be an expert in the Word of God, continually in the process of feeding yourself, continually in the process of nurturing your own soul on the words of Scripture and good teaching. You had a great beginning. Lois and Eunice, your mother and grandmother, wonderful people who knew God and taught you the Scriptures. The opportunity to be a part of the church in Galatia, the opportunity to be discipled by the apostle Paul, the opportunity to be influenced by other godly elders who even laid their hands on you at your ordination, all of these influences, Timothy, bring to bear upon you a very great heritage. You have already laid the foundation, now build on it with a constant nurturing in the Word of God.
Great Bible teacher of the last generation, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, said, “If I had only three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying.” It’s a great statement. The man understood the impact of a ministry that is deep and rich in the Word of God. And if it is true of every believer that they are to allow the Word of Christ to dwell in them richly, how much more true is it of the one who stands in the place of teaching that truth? Yes, the love of truth is basic to ministry. And somehow, some way, and for some reasons, that has in many cases been set aside in ministries today.
Perhaps we need to refresh ourselves with what went on, say, 300 years ago or so. If you were being ordained into the ministry in 1662 in England, this is what you would have heard. This was part of the exhortation given to every ministerial candidate, and I’m quoting: “Seeing that you cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work pertaining to the salvation of man but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same, consider how studious you ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures.
“We have good hope that you have well weighed and pondered these things with yourselves long before this time, and that you have clearly determined by God’s grace to give yourselves wholly to this office whereunto it hath pleased God to call you. So that as much as lieth in you, you will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing and draw all your cares and studies this way and that you will continually pray to God the Father by the mediation of our only Savior Jesus Christ for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost, that by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures, you may wax riper and stronger in your ministry,” end quote. To be an expert student of Scripture certainly puts us in a position to warn people of error, as well as to affirm truth.
Thirdly, in the qualities of an excellent minister, we find that an excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching, verse 7. “Refuse,” he says - it’s a very strong word, much stronger than the word “refuse” in the English can convey. “Refuse profane,” and that word simply means a radical separation from what is holy. It means unholy. “Refuse unholy and old women’s tales.”
You probably could put “old women’s tales” in quotes because it was a somewhat familiar epithet at the time in which Paul wrote. It was a sarcastic reference in philosophical circles to some idea or concept that was infantile, ridiculous, incredulous, or stupid. They would say, “That’s an old wives’ tale.” And what he is saying here is stay away from anything that is unholy and stay away from spending your time on anything that is silly, stupid, incredulous, or a fantasy. Don’t let your mind, that precious thing you possess, be cluttered with things, as chapter 1, verse 4 says, that only minister questions and do not edify. Guard your mind.
Philippians 4:8, “Think on these things, set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth, let the controlling factor in your life be the Word of Christ dwelling there richly.” Be biblically dominated in your thinking and do not allow that which is error and unholy error to intrude upon the precious territory that must be reserved to occupy the Word of God. Things that confuse, things that produce questions have a way of sucking out our confidence, sucking out our courage, sucking out our conviction, and watering down our message.
Fourthly, Paul says an excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness, or holiness - disciplined in personal holiness. Verse 7 says, “And exercise yourself unto godliness.” The word “exercise” comes from a Greek word gumnazō, which we get gymnasium from, gymnastics. It means training, disciplined training. They were into athletics, the Parthian games, the Isthmian games, the Corinthian games, the Olympic games. And the physical body was of great concern to them and participation in athletics was of great concern to them. They were into the body quite extensively. Many of them philosophically were into that. Others were into it because the culture was.
There was in that time, like there is today, a great tendency to be preoccupied with physical fitness to the rejection and, sadly, the dissipation of the spiritual part. And so the apostle says if you’re going to exercise, if you’re going to train yourself, train yourself to be godly. And that word “godliness” is a major key word in the pastoral epistles. We have looked at it in the past as we’ve worked our way through 1 Timothy. The mainspring of ministry, the heart of it all, is the virtue of life - the virtue of life.
I was sitting here and I said to Dewey Bertolini, I said, “Isn’t it sad that so many churches call a man on the basis of personality rather than virtue when the power is not in personality, the power is in virtue?” If you’re going to train yourself for something, train yourself for holiness. Because if you seek to stand in the place of spiritual leadership and lead other people to godliness, it is necessary that you be there as well.
When one is less than godly and seeks to lead other people to godliness, he is described by Spurgeon in these words, “He is a blind man elected to the professorship of optics, philosophizing on light and vision while he himself is absolutely in the dark. He is a dumb man elevated to the chair of music. He is a deaf man fluent on symphonies and harmonies. He is a mole, professing to educate eagles. A snail elected to preside over angels. An impossible contradictory task.
“It is better to abolish the pulpit,” said Spurgeon, “than to fill it with men who have no experimental knowledge of what they’re teaching because the hand that means to make another clean must not itself be dirty.” And so, the pulse - the pulse of vital godliness has to be strongly and regularly in the life of one who is an excellent minister. Spurgeon also said, “I question, gravely question, whether a man who has grossly sinned should be very readily restored to the pulpit. Open immorality in most cases, however deep the repentance, is a fatal sign that ministerial graces were not in the man’s character,” end quote.
The life of godliness is the priority. And if it is the priority, then it is that to which we must train ourselves. And in order for us to understand by contrast what he has in mind, he says this in verse 8, “For bodily exercise,” which was the big pursuit then as it is now, “profits a little.” A little what? A little time and a little effect. It produces a little effect only for time, that’s all. You get a little benefit for a little time. “But godliness is profitable unto all things because it contains the promise of the life that now is” - that’s time - “and that which is to come” - that’s what? - “eternity.”
So why would you spend yourself exercising for a little effect for a little time when you could spend yourself exercising for something that brings eternal benefit? In fact, this is so obvious, this is so patently obvious, this is so clear, this is so axiomatic that it became, as verse 9 says, a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. Which is a statement used five times in the pastoral epistles, each time to refer to a common saying known to the church.
Everybody knew this and this was common understanding and perhaps a common saying. Bodily exercise profits a little, godliness profits unto all things because it not only deals with the life that now is, but the promise of the life which is to come. An excellent minister disciplines himself to holiness.
Number five: An excellent minister works hard - and this is vital - in view of eternity. He works hard in view of eternity. Look at verse 10. “For to this end,” the Greek says, “for to this end,” here’s our purpose - what end? - eternal life, mentioned back in verse 8. “For to this end” - that is, the life which is to come, that’s the antecedent of that - “because of the life which is to come, we work to exhaustion and we agonize and struggle.” We give everything we have because we understand the eternality of the consequence of our effort. Why? “Because we trust in the living God, not a dead idol.”
The eternally living God is implied. We are serving an eternally living God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. He is saying we work because we understand the life which is to come. We work because we understand we have a living God that lives eternally. There is an eternal heaven. And there is an eternal hell. And awareness and knowledge of those places compels us to a maximum effort. We work to exhaustion. We struggle, agōnizomai. We lose sleep, we forfeit pleasure, we experience loneliness, we experience weakness, deprivation, whatever.
Whatever goes with the task in view of eternity is a small price to pay. Paul put it this way: Why do we worry about what we suffer in this life when we can see ahead the things that are to come? No suffering in this life is worthy to be - what? - compared with the glory which shall be revealed in the future.
So we live in the hope of eternity because we serve a living God who is able to give life now and give life forever and has proven it because He is the Savior of all men, and especially of those that believe. What does that phrase mean? In what sense is God the Savior of all men? Well, in some sense, very much like He is the Savior of those that believe, that’s demanded by the adverb malista. It demands that all men enjoy to some degree the same kind of saving that believers enjoy.
Well, in what sense is God the Savior of all men and also the Savior of believers? And the answer is that He is the deliverer, He is the deliverer. Not in the redemptive sense but in the sense of a temporal deliverance. Put it this way: Every sinner deserves instant death. Every sinner deserves constant pain. And every sinner deserves permanent deprivation.
Instant death, constant pain, and permanent deprivation because of sin. The wages of sin is death. There’s in us no good thing. We all deserve hell. We deserve it instantly. We deserve pain and we deserve it constantly. We deserve to be separated from God and deprived of His blessing forever and ever. We all deserve it - we all deserve it immediately. But God delivers man from that. In common grace, generally because of God’s goodness and His tender mercy, God saves the world from instantaneous wrath, constant pain, and permanent deprivation. And God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
God brings into the life of unregenerate sinners love and joy, in romance, in the birth of a child, in the warmth of a family. He brings into their life the wonder of beauty, the joy of human experience, the thrill of all that life can bring to bear of good things. He delivers them from a just judgment by His grace. The unregenerate in the world are then delivered, they are spared. They are saved from death in the sense that they don’t instantly die. It comes inevitably, but there is a time in which God delivers them from that.
In the same sense that He was the Savior of the whole nation Israel, delivering them out of Egypt, yet was pleased with only a few of them - that is, He was the deliverer of all of them but the true Savior in the salvation sense of only a few of them, so He is the deliverer of all men in a temporal sense but especially is He the deliverer of those who believe in Him in a spiritual sense.
And so what Paul is saying is we know God to be the eternal God and we know that He will be able to deliver and to save those who believe in Him eternally because we have seen His ability to save temporally. The same God who is gracious and merciful on a wide scale in time gives evidence of being a God who will save on a narrow scale His own in eternity. In that sense, He is the Savior of all, especially of those that believe. That’s why we work hard. Because our God is alive and because the consequence of our ministry is eternal. He has the power to save eternally. We have seen it manifest temporally.
And so we, then, work hard, and I - I think we have to get a grip on the fact that that’s how it is in the ministry. I like what Adam Clarke said. He said, “Kill yourselves with work and then pray yourselves alive again.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote in 1876, “If you have any message to give” - rather, “If I have any message to give from my own bed of sickness, it would this: If you do not wish to be full of regrets when you are obliged to lie still, work while you can. If you desire to make a sickbed as soft as it can be, do not stuff it with the mournful reflection that you wasted time while you were in health.
“People said to me years ago, ‘You will break your constitution down with preaching ten times a week and the like.’ Well, if I have done so, I’m glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty constitutions, I would rejoice to break them all down in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You’ll never regret having done all that lies in you for our blessed Lord and Master. Crowd as much as you can into every day and postpone no work till tomorrow. Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Good advice.
Richard Baxter gave us that great line in his poem, “Love Breathing Thanks and Praise,” when he said, “I preached as never sure to preach again as a dying man to dying men.” It’s a matter of effort. He works hard, the excellent minister.
Number six: An excellent minister teaches with authority. Verse 11 says, “These things command and teach.” We teach in a command mode. We teach in a confrontive way. We teach in a demanding way, a commanding way. We are not called to some chit-chat behind the microphone. We are not called to stroke people, to make them feel good about themselves no matter how bad they are. We are not to be vacillating, passive, non-confrontive, but we are to move in the power of sovereign authority out of the Word of the living God. “And we are to teach all men to observe whatsoever I have commanded you,” Jesus said.
We are always in a command mode, that’s the great commission, Matthew 28:20. “We are to teach in the church, not to get the applause of men,” said Richard Baxter, “but to set in motion the groan, and the tears of the hearers are our praises.” It’s not always popular. It’s not always popular to be confrontive. Not always popular to command. In fact, sometimes popular preachers are popular because they don’t do that. One English writer said, “Clergymen who can’t preach are such a blessing that they are often bribed to continue to adhere to their incompetence.”
But the Word of God is binding. The Word of God is demanding. The Word of God is commanding. It’s not a place for suggestions, the pulpit.
Number seven: An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue - a model of spiritual virtue. Verse 12, “Let no one look down on your youth.” Timothy was approaching 40 years of age, but still considered in that culture to be young. In fact, some felt that 40 was the breakpoint. Neotēs, the word used here, usually means someone up to 40. Some would even say that no one had a right to spiritual leadership who wasn’t at least 50, so by their standards, he was still young.
He says don’t let anybody look down on that, think little of it. You can overturn that by being an example, a tupos, a type, a pattern, a model. You can be the model for everybody. The believers can look at you and they can see how they ought to live. And you be the model in speech, how you talk; conduct, that’s lifestyle; love, that’s relationships; loyalty, that’s faithfulness, trustworthiness; and then purity is the word for moral purity. It has not only to do with chaste conduct but pure intentions as well. And may I sum that up by saying the single greatest tool of leadership is the power of an exemplary life.
The single greatest tool of leadership is the power of an exemplary life. The heart of the leader is far more important than the art of the leader. What really communicates is integrity and personal authenticity, being what you preach in speech, in lifestyle, in love, in reliability, in loyalty, in purity. That’s the heart of it. So many people unsay with their life what they say with their lips. It’s just essential that character match message, that’s Matthew 23. Jesus said, “Don’t be like the Pharisees, for they say and do not.” The ultimate hypocrisy.
Number eight. Number eight, verse 13: Paul says an excellent minister has a thoroughly biblical ministry - a thoroughly biblical ministry. “Until I come,” he says - “And I’m coming” - chapter 3, verse 14, “as soon as I can, at least I hope to.” “But until I get there, give your constant attention to” - here’s what you’re supposed to be all about. “Here’s what I want you to do. This is the center and circumference of your ministry, here it is. First of all, “To the reading - to the reading.” The definite article leads us to believe that it was that very special part of the service when the Scripture was read and exposited.
The reading, which had become a very important part of the early church, as it was a very important part of the synagogue, such as in Luke 4 where Jesus stood up to read the Scripture, then sat down to exposit its meaning. That was carried right into the church and the Scripture would be read. Sometimes the apostles’ writings would be read and then they would be explained. Give yourself to that, he says, to expository preaching, expository teaching, explanation of the Word of God. That is an essential part of the service of the church. Give your whole attention to the exposition. It’s more than just the public reading of the Bible.
It is based upon Nehemiah 8, that great, great moment in the history of Israel where the Scripture was read and then they stood up and gave the sense of it. It’s the whole of that that’s embodied in the term “the reading.” So the man of God is not only to be an expert student in the intake, but he’s to be an expert proclaimer in the output.
And by the way, when it’s used with this verb, when it says give your constant attention to the reading, it implies more than just a public reading of Scripture because you wouldn’t have to give your constant attendance to that. It implies the idea of the exposition with all that goes into it, of preparation and power. Give yourself to the whole process of expositing the Word of God.
Secondly, to the exhortation, which would be the application of that. Come alongside the people and give them the exhortation and application that takes that explanation and pounds it into their life. And then to the teaching. That’s the systematic delineation of divine truth. You could say you start your ministry expositing the Word of God. You move to the application of the Word of God. And then you move to the systematization of the Word of God so that you’re putting everything together for people.
That’s kind of the way I like to preach. You tell them what the Scripture means. Drive it home through application and show how it fits into the big picture of God’s Word, how it fits in the teaching.
We could also take this same verse and apply it in a little different way by saying do the exposition then get close to your people in a more personal way with the application and the encouragement, and then the teaching could be where you really personally, systematically, and individually apply God’s Word to their lives, such as Paul in Acts 20 who went from house to house teaching, teaching, teaching.
But whatever might be the interpretation you prefer, whether all three refer to the public preaching role or whether they refer to the whole of the teaching ministry, the sum is the same: We are to give ourselves wholly to the matter of dispensing the Word of God. It is a relentless teaching of the Word. That’s why the elder that’s worthy of the double honor in 1 Timothy 5 is the one who works hard in the Word and the teaching - the Word and the teaching.
Number nine: An excellent minister fulfills his calling. An excellent minister fulfills his calling. Verse 14 should read this way, “Stop neglecting the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy” - or through prophecy - “with the laying on of the hands of the elders.” Now follow very carefully this thought. As I have said to you on occasion, it is thrilling to me and it is especially motivating to me to find a man of God who has filled out his whole life with ministry, who finishes strong, who finishes committed, who finishes with a sweet spirit and a dedicated heart. That is a marvelous thing to me.
I see so many men dropping out and I am in awe of men who fill out their ministry until Jesus takes them home or until they’re totally incapacitated. And that’s really what is demanded of all of us, as it’s demanded of Timothy here. And there are three elements that bind Timothy to his ministry. He says, “Stop neglecting,” and I think he was neglecting his ministry. I think the pressure of his youth, youthful lusts, mentioned 2 Timothy, the pressure of his own timidity, the pressure of high-powered Ephesian errorists with their philosophy that was pretty difficult for him to handle, the pressure of direct persecution mentioned in 2 Timothy 3.
All of these things were causing Timothy to sort of shut down a little bit and wane in the ministry, and he said, “Stop it. There are three things you’ve got to take into mind. One, the gift that is in you. This is the subjective inward gifting of the Spirit. You cannot stop ministering. You were designed for ministry by the Spirit of God.” In other words, if you neglect your ministry, you neglect your reason for existence within the economy of God. Stop neglecting the very purpose the Holy Spirit has for you. Stop neglecting the very ministry you are gifted to do.
I mean that’s God’s design. I look at my own life in the same way and I say, “Hey, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do because that’s what I was made for.” I received a phone call this week, just broke my heart. I can’t get over it even now. A gifted young man, tremendous talents, marvelous ability to communicate the Word of God, great grasp of Scripture, decided that he would become enamored with some woman in his congregation. Ruined his ministry. Totally ruined it. And for all the rest of his life, the thing for which he was gifted cannot happen. It’s done. He is useless. Really a tragic thing. But it happens all the time. Stop neglecting your gift - and that applies to all of us.
Second thing he says, not only is there the inward subjective gifting of the Spirit but there’s the upward objective revelation of God. He says, “This was given you by prophecy.” He doesn’t mean that the actual gift was given through prophecy. We know the gifts are given by the Spirit. Given in the sense of publicly or officially granted in the official meeting of the church at some point that’s not recorded. Probably around Acts 16 when Timothy went to join Paul, the church elders got around him, they confirmed him, they affirmed him.
And God must have affirmed through the voice of a prophet that Timothy was suitable for ministry, much as the Holy Spirit revealed to the pastors of the church at Antioch in Acts 13 that they were to set apart Paul and Barnabas to go out as missionaries. Some prophetic word came directly from God, officially, publicly through a prophetic utterance, the word came.
In 2 Timothy, the same kind of thing is indicated, that there was this tremendous commitment of Paul to ministry. There was a tremendous commitment on Paul’s part to Timothy to follow him as his son in the faith. And so there was the - there was the consensus of the apostle and the people but the real - the real clinch - clinching issue here was that God spoke. God spoke. Chapter 1, verse 18, of 1 Timothy says, “This charge I commit unto you son, Timothy, according to the prophecies which pointed to you.” There may have been more than one. You’re supposed to be in the ministry and God sent a message. The prophecies came.
Now, what is this? Well, this is God’s affirmation. This is extraordinary, not ordinary. Ours would be ordinary but nonetheless would be from God. You say, “How would God do it if He didn’t do it through revelation? How do we know God has His stamp on our ministry?” Well, we would know it through how God ordered providential circumstances and opportunities, just like with Timothy. Yes, God spoke, but God also had Timothy in the right place at the right time to meet the right man, right?
He had put him under the right teaching, the right parents, the right grandparents, in terms of influence, and by the time the apostle Paul comes through Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, he happens to run into this young man who is at the right point in life, at the right city in the right period of time, and he’s right where God wants him so he can match up with Paul. God affirms it through revelation, but the providence ordered all the attendant circumstances. And I believe that we are called to minister not only because we have that inward subjective ministry of the Spirit, but we have that upward objective providence of God that gives us that opportunity.
Said to a young man yesterday, he said, “I don’t know if I belong in a ministry,” and I said to him, “Are you in a ministry now?” He said yes. I said, “God put you there? Don’t question it. If your heart is right and He put you there, that’s God’s way of ordering providence to put you where He wants you. Don’t question that.” It is the work of God to set us apart for ministry. We are set apart for ministry. It says, “And the Spirit of God has made us overseers.”
Third thing is the laying on of the hands of the elders. And this is the sort of outward collective affirmation of the church. The elders that gathered - and we don’t have the record of that scene, but they must have collectively gathered around Timothy. Inwardly, subjectively he was gifted by the Spirit, upwardly and objectively he was put in the providential place where God could begin to work that ministry out in just the way He wanted, and a revelation was given to confirm that. And collectively and outwardly, the men of the church came around him, the leaders, and said he is suitable to ministry. We affirm that and we want to place our hands on him.
That’s an act of solidarity, that’s a way of appointing him to a task. I suppose that’s the best way to define “laying on of hands,” it was an appointment. Such as in Numbers and Deuteronomy when hands were laid upon the priests and they were appointed to the task. We appoint him to the task, we stand behind, we support, we appoint.
So he says, “Stop neglecting your gift. You’ve got to go on in the ministry and fill it all the way to the end,” he says. “You can’t stop, you can’t even slow down, you’ve got to do it all, all the way to the end, because you were gifted for it, you were called to it, and you’re confirmed in it.”
So you can see that if I neglect my ministry, I violate the intention of the Holy Spirit in gifting me, I violate the intention of God in calling me, and I violate the intention of the church in setting me apart to that. And I’m at odds with everybody. I’m not in this by myself, nor is any minister.
Finally, two qualities remain. Number ten: An excellent minister is totally absorbed in his work - an excellent minister is totally absorbed in his work. Verse 15, the word in the Authorized is “meditate.” A better one would be “be diligent, be diligent in these things, give yourself continually to them.”
Now let me explain what this part means. It’s very, very good, very helpful. An excellent minister is a one-minded man, he’s not a double-minded man who is unstable and vacillating in all his ways, as James 1:8 says, but he is more like the apostle Paul that said, “This one thing I do.” He is really a single-minded person. Ministry is all-consuming. The word “be diligent,” by the way, it could be translated a lot of different ways, but in looking at every use of that verb, meletaō, in the New Testament, the best meaning is the idea of thinking through beforehand, planning, strategizing, or simply to premeditate.
So what he is saying is this: Premeditate these things, think them through beforehand, and then give yourself totally to them. So if you’re not doing it, you’re planning it. There’s an element of strategy here, an element of anticipation, an element of premeditation. We’re totally absorbed if - and, you know, these are the two things that make up life, I’m either doing ministry or I’m planning to do ministry. I’m either teaching the Word of God or I’m getting ready to teach the Word of God. That’s all of life. Nothing less and nothing more.
“Give yourself wholly to them” is an interesting statement. In the Greek, it’s actually just the verb “to be.” It literally would read this way, instead of give yourself wholly to them, it would read, “Be in them,” the verb “to be,” eimi, be in them, be wrapped up in them, be totally absorbed. The construction expresses totally absorption, completely immersed. Somebody said, “It doesn’t take much of a man to be in the ministry but it does take all of him.” Bury yourself in your pursuit. That’s so very, very basic. And so an excellent minister is totally absorbed in his work.
I mean if you’ve got a double agenda, you want to do the ministry but you also want to, you know, become a tennis pro, you want to do the ministry but you want to be a golf professional, if you want to do the ministry but you also want to make a million bucks, you want to do the ministry but you want to run a restaurant, you want to do the ministry but you also, you know, want to develop some business, I mean, if you go through like that, what happens is you’ll never be what you could be because there are too many weeds growing in your garden. They’re not necessarily bad, they just suck up a lot of energy.
Bury yourself in your pursuit. Do the chief thing. Like Epaphroditus, who was near unto death for the sake of the ministry, he was really involved. You see, if you’re not doing ministry, you’re preparing to do ministry or you’re praying that ministry will be done. Paul said, “Preach the Word,” 2 Timothy 4:2, then he says “be instant.” You ever look at that word, “instant”? Very interesting word in the Greek. It’s a military word, it means to stay at your post, means to stay on duty your whole life. You’re never off duty. You say, “Boy, that would get tiring, that really is just too exhilarating.”
But you’re never off duty, don’t ever go off duty. Stay on duty all the time, be instant. You’re always on duty. You’re always at your post. My dad used to say to me, “A preacher ought to be able to preach, pray, or die within a minute.” I’m ready - point me in the right direction.
But you’re always on duty, you’re never off duty. And to be honest with you, there’s a certain - there’s a certain preoccupation in the ministry that never goes away. It is not an insensitivity, but it is a preoccupation. And I confess that sometimes when I may seem a bit distracted, that’s probably true. There is a certain consuming nature of ministry, but that’s in a sense as it ought to be because we are always on guard, always at the post, always on duty. Always.
And then he says, “Be instant in season” - that means when it’s convenient - “and out of season” - that means when it’s not convenient. You’re on duty whether you like it or not. You’re on duty whether it’s convenient or not convenient. That’s just how it is.
I went home last Sunday night and I said to Patricia, “I’m really tired.” I said, “I just want to sit down and I just want to drink a cold drink and just sit in this chair and I just need a rest.” She said, “That’s fine.” Then the phone rang. I mean about ten seconds after that. And a huge disaster had happened in a family. And so that went on and Marcy came in and she said, “Daddy, I made you something to eat.” “Thank you, honey. Put it down.” Forty minutes later, it had all curled up, you know, and it was unedible - or inedible, I guess. I hung the phone up and I said, “Well, that’s ministry.” And the phone rang again. Bigger disaster this time.
And I suppose, in a real sense, that’s just the Lord’s way of saying, “I hope you’re on duty, MacArthur. Just in case you’re not, I got a few items I’d just like to just bring your way.” But that’s how it is in ministry, there’s a certain total absorption in it. Because he says in verse 4 - or verse 5, first he says, “Be instant in season, out of season,” and then he goes down a little bit and then he says, “Make full proof of your ministry,” 2 Timothy 4:5. You’ve got to fill it up to the full. You’ve got to do it all and all the way out, you know, so you’re totally absorbed in it. Well, you understand.
Warning of error, studying diligently the Word of God, avoiding unholy teaching, cultivating a disciplined holy life, committing to work hard in view of eternity, teaching with authority, modeling spiritual virtue, maintaining a thoroughly biblical ministry of the Word, fulfilling completely the call of God, that demands being totally absorbed in the work. There’s no other way to do that.
And one more thing. This is really very practical - I love this. An excellent minister is progressing in spiritual growth. Boy, that’s so practical. He’s progressing because by the time you get down to verse 15, you say, ”This is only for perfect people. Man, oh, man, I’m not even qualified for this.” But look what he says in verse 15, “That your progress may be made manifest to everybody.” Now, what does “progress” admit? It admits that you aren’t what you should be yet, right? So don’t run around trying to play God. Don’t try to convince people that you have no flaws, just let them see you growing. Be that honest.
Even with all the high qualifications, there’s the obvious fact that we’re short of the standard. Paul says - Philippians 3:13 and 14 - “Not as though I have already attained, I haven’t attained, but I press toward the mark.” Paul had his faults. Paul wasn’t perfect. I mean you remember what he said to the dignitary he faced in the book of Acts. He said, “God smite you, you whited wall.” Now, that’s not very spiritual. Just let the people see your integrity and humility. I mean I’m not perfect. I hope I’m progressing.
The word “progress” is used in a military sense for an advancing force. It was used by the Stoics to refer to advancing in learning or understanding or knowledge. It was used of a pioneer cutting a trail by strenuous effort and advancing toward some new geographical location. We are to be advancing toward Christ-likeness. Just let them see that you’re advancing. Don’t try to convince them you’re perfect. Be honest enough to just let them know you’re growing - you’re growing.
When anybody says to me, “You know what you said on your tape back in 1973? And then you contradicted that in 1984. Did you know that?” What’s my answer? “I’m growing, I’m growing, give me a break.” I didn’t know everything in 1980, 1973, and I don’t know everything now, so get ready for another tape. I’m growing. They have to see your growth, that’s honesty. There’s humility there.
You say, “Who is fit for this kind of task?” Not me. “Who qualifies?” Nobody in the flesh. The Lord knows that. The same Lord that gave us the standards knows that none of us can meet them, right? You say, “Well, how does that resolve itself?” Only one way, and that’s by yieldedness to the Spirit of God for what we could not accomplish in the flesh, the Spirit can accomplish in us. That’s what Paul had in mind in Colossians when he said, “For this I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” That great? We can’t be this kind of person. But God through His Spirit can enable us. I’m so grateful for that.
Now listen. Somebody says, “Boy, I’m sure glad all these pastors are hearing this, it doesn’t apply to me.” Yes, it does. Does apply to you. I’ll tell you why it applies to you. It applies to you, my friend, because we are to be what we are to be in order that you can see what you ought to be. You got that? We are to be what we are to be in order to be patterns for what you ought to be so you can be what we are so someone else can see what you are and follow that. Not off the hook. This is simply modeling for you, for those who follow you. What a marvelous standard.
And Paul concludes with a summary in verse 16, a summary, and he says this: “Take heed to yourself and unto the teaching, continue in them.” Stop there for a moment. “Take heed” means pay attention. Focus your attention in on two things, yourself and your teaching is what he says. May I suggest to you that the whole of life comes to that for ministry? The whole of life boils down to those two things, take care of yourself and your teaching. That’s it. All of those eleven things can be boiled back to two. Number one: Take heed to yourself. Acts 20:28 says the same thing, take heed to yourself.
That sums up what’s in verse 6B: Be nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine; 7B: Exercise yourself unto godliness. Verse 12: Be an example. Verse 14: Don’t neglect your gift. All of those are embraced in the statement, “Pay attention to yourself, your own life.” Everything starts with your own life. Are you an example? Are you exercising toward godliness? Are you being nourished up in the Word? Are you an example? It’s all summed up in that.
And the second one, give your attention to your teaching. That sums up verse 6A, stay away from unholy teaching; verse 7A - I’m sorry, verse 6A, warning about error; verse 7A, stay away from unholy teaching. That sums up verse 11, “These things you command and teach.” Verse 13, “Until I come, give yourself completely to the reading, the exhortation, and the doctrine.”
So the sum of all of these things is boiled down to these two statements: Continue to concentrate on your own spiritual life and your exposition, exhortation, application of the Word of God. So the total concentration of the life of one who is an excellent minister is a concentration on personal holiness and accurate teaching.
Now, why do we concentrate on personal holiness and accurate teaching? Here it comes. “For in doing this, you will both save yourself” - that’s why you continue in personal holiness - “and those that hear you” - that’s why you continue in accurate teaching. In what sense - in what sense does personal holiness save me? In the sense of the perseverance of the saints. Jesus said in John 8, “If you continue in my Word, you’re my real disciple.”
The Scripture is loaded with texts - I wish we had time (we don’t) to develop them, we’ve done it in the past, that say you’re genuinely saved if you continue in the faith, right? And he says, “Look, Timothy, if you continue in personal holiness and continue in accurate teaching, you will keep moving along the path of the perseverance of the saints to your full and final and glorious salvation.” He’s simply approaching it from the vantage point of perseverance. He doesn’t mean you’ll save yourself in the sense that you’ll be your own redeemer. He means you’ll persevere in godliness and guarantee your full salvation.
John said if you go along for awhile and depart, you never were of us. You remember that, 1 John 2? The one who perseveres gives evidence of being in the faith. So he says if you persevere in holiness and truth, you will save yourself. You’ll come right along to full salvation. Also, if you persevere in godliness and truth, you’ll affect others who hear you by bringing them the message of salvation. We don’t actually do the saving, we don’t save ourselves and we don’t save other people, but we are the agent of that as we preach the Word of God, as we live a godly life.
So the personal persevering of godliness along with the faithful teaching of the Word spreads the impact of a man’s life to embrace everybody who hears his message and will bestow salvation on some of them. Now listen, that’s where the climax comes. All of this excellence and all of this call to ministry and all of these qualifications are ultimately to result in the salvation of souls. You see that? What else? What else?
If we, as I have said to you in the past, if we are here in this world after we have been redeemed, there is only one reason: the salvation of the lost. If we were saved to be worshipers and all God wanted was worship, then get us out of here so our worship will be perfect. If we were saved in order to know Him, get us out of here so we can know Him in perfection. If we were saved for perfect fellowship, get us out of here so the fellowship can be perfect.
The only reason we’ve been left here is because we are the agents by which God brings the grace of salvation to lost people. That’s the sum of ministry. And holiness and commitment to truth moves us along the persevering path of true salvation and makes us a blessing to all who hear the message.
It’s a high calling. It’s a holy calling. It’s a glorious calling. And I trust that by the power of the Spirit of God, we shall experience its fullness in all of our lives for His glory. Let’s pray together.
Father, these are wonderful truths that have come to our hearts and yet they are so demanding of us and we are so weak. Help us, Lord, to be what you want us to be. I pray for every minister here, every pastor, every leader in your church, oh, God, that we would be these kind of people, that we would continually give our attention to our own personal spiritual life and the message we preach, to holiness and truth, that we might be a model to the rest of the church that all who see might come to the same standard of commitment to holiness and truth, that many souls might be won.
Lord, if we as pastors live godly and teach truth and become the agents of salvation, that is true of the people as well in our flocks. They, too, living godly lives, speaking truth, will be the agents of the salvation of the lost. To that end we pray, oh, God, for our joy and your glory with thanksgiving.
While your heads are bowed in just a closing moment of meditation, we’ve gone rapidly through these and yet we’ve spent several weeks discussing them. I feel like much is still unsaid, but I know you understand the main thrust. And what is impressed on my heart is to just remind you that while we talk about the role of Timothy, the role of a pastor, we really are talking about the obligation of every believer to be all that God would have them to be. \If a pastor is less than the perfection of Jesus Christ, then he is less than he should be. And if a believer is less than the perfection of Jesus Christ, he is less than he should be or she should be. We all have the same standard. And so we call upon those in leadership to set the standard of this kind of life in order that others may follow to be more like the Savior.
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