1 TIMOTHY CHAPTER 4.
The False Doctrines of the Last Days and Their Refutation. 1 Tim. 4, 1-5.
V.1. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; v.2. speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; v.3. forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. V.4. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; v.5. for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. Just as the apostle had begun this section of his letter with a warning against errorists, so he also closes it with a specific reference to some of the most dangerous doctrines of the last days: But the Spirit says distinctly that in the latter times certain men will apostatize from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and to doctrines of demons. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, who transmits the divine revelations, was especially active in the early days of the Christian Church, also by unveiling the future and thereby conveying warnings to the believers. In this case the Spirit, probably through the mouth of one of the prophets among the disciples, or through a revelation made to Paul personally, had expressly, with distinct words, declared that there would be a falling away from the truth in times to come. After the first love of the apostolic days had died down, many Christians remained with the congregations only for conventional reasons, just as many do in our days. But in addition to that, men would actually apostatize from the faith, would fall away from the sound doctrine of the Gospel. How extensively this was fulfilled is seen in the case of the great number of antichristian sects that have arisen in the very midst of the Church. Although many of these men were brought up in the true faith, they have deliberately denied it by giving heed and assent to the spirits of error, to such teachers as have not only left the paths of truth for their own persons, but are also making every endeavor to lead others astray. Spirits of error the apostle calls the false teachers, because they have yielded to, and are driven by, the spirit of lying and deceit. Therefore their doctrines are also called teachings of demons, the evil spirits themselves being the originators of their false ideas, of their perversion of the truth.
The apostle continues to characterize the errorists: In hypocrisy speaking lies, being branded in their own conscience. With a fine show of piety and interest in the welfare of men the demons, or rather the false prophets actuated by them, teach lies. The insidiousness of the temptation therefore consists in this, that it bears the appearance of godliness. Cp. Matt. 7, 15; 2 Cor. 11, 14. Such people are fully conscious of the fact that they are working harm with their hypocritical conduct, but they have branded, seared, their own conscience; they bear the knowledge of their guilt and culpability around with them at all times. The more actively they carry on their propaganda for their false doctrines, the more deeply they drive the hot iron into their conscience. Yet they harden their hearts and are finally lost with their false doctrines.
The apostle now enumerates some of the errors which would be taught in the very midst of the Church: Forbidding to marry and (commanding) to abstain from foods which the Lord has created for enjoyment on the part of them that believe and acknowledge the truth. The state of holy wedlock is God’s ordinance and institution, and it is His will that the average normal adult person enter into this state. But certain false teachers did not hesitate to pervert even this order of God by prohibiting marriage, by denying men and women the right and the duty of entering into holy wedlock. But their insolent arrogance did not stop there, since the same teachers also had the temerity to issue orders that men must abstain from certain foods. Not only meats were included in this commandment of men, but foods of every kind. The apostle’s judgment of the false teachers, therefore, is sharp, for he calls such teaching doctrine of devils, proclamation of lies. If we take the characterization of the apostle as a whole, it certainly applies, so far as deliberate lying, doctrines of men, the prohibition of marriage and of foods is concerned, to the Church of Rome. As one commentator has it: “There can be no doubt of its applicability to the papal communion. The entire series of doctrines respecting the authority of the Pope, purgatory, the Mass, the invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics, the seven sacraments, the authority of tradition, the doctrine of merit, etc., is regarded as false. Indeed, the system could not be better characterized than by saying that it is a system speaking lies.’ The entire scheme attempts to palm falsehood upon the world in the place of the simple teaching of the New Testament.” 8)
In refuting the false doctrine, the apostle says of the foods, first of all, that God has created them for the use and enjoyment, with thanksgiving, of those that believe and know the truth. The believers, those that know the truth, those that, by the grace of God, have come to the understanding of the truth of the Gospel and have made this truth their confession: they alone receive the gifts of God in the right spirit, namely, with thanksgiving with a heart that acknowledges Him as the Giver of all good things. It is true, indeed, that God lets His sun rise upon the evil and upon the just, and sends rain upon the good and upon the bad, but the only people that accept His goodness in the right spirit are the believers, who, in Christian liberty, make no distinction in foods and do not believe in false asceticism.
The Christians know, as the apostle writes: For every creature of God is good, and nothing objectionable that is accepted with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer. Here is a definite rejection of the errorist position as to foods. Everything that God has created, everything that His almighty power has brought into being, is good, is excellent even by virtue of its being a product of His goodness. Everything that God has intended for food should then be regarded as such and not prohibited as useless, dangerous, and sinful. It all depends upon the manner of acceptance, for if the heart of him that receives the gift is full of ungrateful, sinful thoughts, if he does not accept the goodness of God with thanksgiving, then the purpose of the Creator in donating the gifts is not fully realized. Luther’s explanation of the Fourth Petition shows that he really grasped the meaning of this verse: “We pray in this petition that God would teach us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” So far as God is concerned, His gifts are indeed not influenced by the conduct of those that receive them, but so far as men are concerned, their behavior in accepting the gifts and their use of God’s blessings make a big difference indeed. He that makes use of any of God’s gifts, including food and drink, only for the gratification of sinful desires, thereby profanes these blessings. On the other hand, the grateful acceptance of the gifts of God by the Christians with the Word of God and with prayer is a consecration of these blessings. Undoubtedly the apostle here had in mind the prayers at meat, which are usually clothed in Bible language, and which always make mention of the dependence of man upon the Creator, the Giver of every good gift. This spirit of the Christians incidentally keeps them from despising and abusing any blessing that comes down from above. The errorists with their prohibition of foods can gain no foothold in a congregation where this knowledge is still held.
The Personal Conduct of Timothy. 1 Tim. 4,6-16.
Timothy as a good teacher: V.6. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. v.7. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. V.8 For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. V.9. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. V.10. For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe. V.11. These things command and teach. In the first part of his letter Paul had summarized the doctrine of the Gospel, reaching the climax of his exposition in the burst of poetry with which he closed the third chapter. Timothy is now to pass the information on: in laying this before the brethren, thou wilt be an excellent minister of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which thou hast followed till now. Herein the office of Timothy consisted, and herein the office of all true pastors consists, that they teach the brethren, all the Christians entrusted to their care, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the Catechism truths. The subsidiary doctrines must indeed be treated also, but only in so far as they serve the fundamentals. By teaching first things first, by keeping the basic doctrines of the Bible before the Christians at all times, pastors prove themselves excellent servants of Christ Jesus, whose ministry accords with the precepts of the Lord of the Church. The Lord takes pleasure in their work and blesses it accordingly. Such a minister, furthermore, is nourished in the words of faith and of good doctrine. The words of faith, the words of Holy Scripture that teach faith, the doctrine of the Gospel, that is the daily spiritual food of every true pastor, in the use of which he must apply untiring diligence. The matter really should require little urging, since the words of the Gospel are those of a fine, excellent doctrine, which assures all sinners of the full and free forgiveness of all their sins through the atonement of Jesus. Only he that unceasingly receives the comfort and the strength of this doctrine is able to impart some of it to others. Timothy had followed the course of this doctrine, he had yielded a ready obedience to its instruction, he had made his whole conduct and life agree with its precepts. Thus he had a firm foundation in faith and love, and could therefore preach the doctrine of faith with conviction.
The apostle, in this connection, finds it profitable to repeat his warning of chap. 1, 4 in a slightly different form: But the profane and old women’s fables avoid. Fables, or myths, are not only stories that were invented, but especially doctrines and expositions, additions and traditions, that were the product of the false teachers. The Judaizing errorists were so firmly addicted to phantastic ideas and useless argumentation after the manner of the Talmud that they seemed to find it impossible to break away from their influence. But the introduction of such subject-matter into the Church invariably reacts upon the proclamation of the divine truth as contained in the Gospel, thus profaning its holy content. Besides, the employment of a minister of God with such trifles, with such old women’s talk, as the apostle designates the speculations of the false teachers, is unworthy of the Christian pastor’s calling. Therefore Timothy should avoid them, refuse to discuss them at all. In all cases of human doctrines and speculation it is the best plan to ignore their foolishness, and to give the errorists the good advice that they study the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Timothy could spend his time and strength to better advantage: Rather exercise thyself unto godliness. Just as he took care to obtain the proper strength through daily use of the spiritual food offered in the Word of God, so he should be careful to train his spiritual ability by such exercises as tended to confirm and to deepen true piety in his heart, Phil. 2, 12. The word used by the apostle implies a ceaseless activity in self-denial, in self-command, exercise in the various Christian virtues. If all these are practiced without self-righteous enthusiasm, the chances are that a proper reverence of God, as shown in a holy life, will result.
In connection with this admonition the apostle continues: For bodily exercise is of little value; godliness, on the other hand, has value for all things, having the promise of the present life and of that to come. Training of the body indeed has its value, it may be of great assistance in the exercise of many virtues, since the old maxim of a sound mind in a sound body holds good also in the life of the Christians. But in comparison with that other training which the apostle here urges, its secondary position must at all times be emphasized; for godliness, true piety, is of value at all times and under all circumstances. The strengthening of faith, of love, of hope, of patience, of all Christian virtues takes place at the same rate as its growth. Real contentment, true happiness, can be found only where piety is at home. This value, which follows the exercise of godliness, is so great for the reason, as St. Paul writes, that the promise which the Lord has given it includes the present life as well as that which is still in the future. We have the promise of God in His Word that He will give eternal life, with all the blessings included in this life, also in this world, as a reward of grace to the believers. To those that love Him God has promised all the things which they need for the present life; but the greatest and most glorious blessing is that which Christ has earned for all men through His vicarious suffering and death - salvation, eternal life, with joy in His presence forevermore. And lest Timothy and the Christians of all time overlook the emphasis of this admonition, the apostle adds: Trustworthy is this word and worthy of all acceptance. His urgent exhortation should be heeded at all times, should serve as a spur to all disciples of Christ to make progress in true holiness.
But there is another reason which the apostle urges in order to bring about a faithful observance of all the duties of the Christian ministry on the part of Timothy: To this end, namely, we toil and strive, because we have placed our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of the believers. Command these things and teach them. With perfection in godliness as the goal before their eyes at all times, the apostle, Timothy, and all ministers of the Gospel are most seriously concerned about the welfare of their souls Paul wants no gap to be found in his training, he wants to be ready to throw every ounce of his strength into the battle for Christ and the Gospel at the proper time. And this he does because his hope rests in the living God, 1 Cor. 15, 19; 2 Cor. 1, 10, who is the Source of all life. He thus has a firm and immovable foundation for the hope of his faith. Every believer whose confidence rests in the Lord, who receives life and strength from Him, will also have courage to meet all the conditions which may offer themselves in his life, and strength to overcome all attacks of his enemies. His faith rests in the Lord, who is the Savior of all men, who wants all men to be saved, whose gracious will extends over all mankind. If the apostle is obliged to add: “Above all of the believers,” it is not because God does not desire the salvation of the unbelievers just as seriously as that of the believers, but because the latter deliberately and maliciously reject the offered grace of God. This is the reason why the gracious will of God for the salvation of all men is actually realized only in the case of the believers, and He is thus chiefly the Savior of the believers. This entire doctrine of justification and sanctification Timothy was to transmit to the souls entrusted to his care, and that with all emphasis; he should command and teach. Only by constant teaching, repetition, admonition, and application is it possible to gain a satisfactory knowledge of the Christian doctrine and to make a perfect use of it in life.
Timothy’s spiritual growth: V.12. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. V.13. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. V.14. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. V.15. Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all. V.16. Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. The rules of conduct which the apostle here gives not only retain their interest, but also their full value to this day, and should be heeded by both pastors and hearers. A very important point is that made in the first admonition: Let no one despise thy youth, but set thyself as an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Timothy was at that time probably somewhat over thirty years old, thus being still regarded, especially in comparison with the apostle, as a young man. The admonition of Paul, therefore, although implying that a congregation owes due reverence to its pastors as God’s representatives, is meant principally for Timothy. He should at all times comport himself in such a manner as to give no one occasion to despise his youthfulness. How this may be done the apostle himself indicates by bidding him become, set himself as, an example of the believers. In full accordance with the dignity of his office and with the authority vested in him, his behavior should serve as an example to all Christian brethren. Whenever he spoke or taught, it was to be done with the consciousness that all men were looking upon him as the teacher of the congregation, and that he must avoid all offense. The same was true in his daily conduct and life, where the people would expect him to practice what he preached. The wise pastor will keep this in remembrance at all times and therefore avoid even the appearance of evil and the giving of offense in matters indifferent, where this can be done without denial of the truth. In this way some of the great virtues may well be practiced, especially love and faith. Wherever true faith is found, the certainty of salvation resting in Christ Jesus, there its chief fruit will be love toward God and one’s neighbor. Particularly in the case of the Christian minister the hearers must be able to notice and to feel that his knowledge is not a mere understanding of the mind, but a conviction of the heart. If a preacher is persuaded of this fact, then this faith will be reflected in his entire behavior in his ministry; his every act will be an expression of the verse: “The love of Christ constraineth us.” in that case also purity, cleanness of the soul in every respect, will be found. All laxity of morals in a preacher reacts upon his entire office and upon his whole congregation. A minister cannot be too careful in preserving his heart and mind unsullied from all forms of impurity.
In order to reach this ideal, however, to maintain the high standard demanded by the Word of God, one thing is necessary: Till I come, attend to thy reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. The apostle intended to visit or meet his pupil as soon as possible, but the arrangements had not yet been completed. Meanwhile, Timothy was to be actively engaged in the work of his calling, he was to give his entire attention to three functions of his office, reading, exhortation, and doctrine. The reading may refer to the public reciting or declaiming of the prescribed lessons from the Old Testament, but here probably at least includes Timothy’s personal study. For his own person he was to be most diligent in the study of the Holy Scriptures: he was ever to broaden and deepen his knowledge and understanding. And of the knowledge thus gained he was to make proper use and application in the work of his office, both in individual exhortation, in pastoral care, and in public teaching, in his sermons before the whole congregation. These three parts of a minister’s work are still the most important in his office and should at all times be given the attention they deserve as such Or, as Luther puts it: “Watch, study, attend to reading! Pray, read, study, be diligent! Truly, there is no time to idle, to snore, and to sleep in this bad and wicked age. Use the gift which has been entrusted to you and reveal the mystery of Christ!”
This thought the apostle carries out more fully in writing: Do not neglect the gift of grace in thee, which was given thee through prophecy with laying on of hands of the presbytery. At the time when Timothy had been ordained for the ministerial office, he had received a special gift of grace, namely, that of teaching, of presenting matters of the Word of God clearly. Through prophecy this gift had come to him. Having learned the prophetic sections of the Word of God from his youth and having received further instruction in the Scriptures from Paul, especially also as to the Gospel-message, Timothy had been declared fully prepared for the office of a teacher in the Church. This declaration of his fitness had been made in the presence of the assembled congregation. The laying on of hands by the members of the presbytery at Lystra was therefore largely, if not entirely, symbolical. Thus Timothy was called and inducted into office, the Lord incidentally giving him the cheerful confidence and boldness to preach the Word without fear.
The apostle considers this point, that Timothy make use of the gift of teaching which he possessed with all diligence, of such importance that he summarizes: Practice these things, be wrapped up in them, that your progress may be open to all. These matters, study, exhortation, teaching, were to be Timothy’s first care, they must be the prime concern of every true pastor. So assiduously was Timothy to attend to the work of his office, in doctrine and in life, that he would be entirely absorbed in them, wholly wrapped up in them, forgetting all other considerations. The minister that expects pleasure and an easy life in his office, that is always complaining and sighing for work of a different kind, has an altogether wrong conception of the highest of all offices. Only a complete and all absorbing devotion will satisfy the dignity and glory of this calling. In that case, however, the progress of the pastor in his work is bound to be noticed by his hearers as well as by others; it is the only proper may in which he may let his light shine, to the glory of Him who has counted him worthy of the grace to preach the unsearchable riches of God.
The apostle now concludes with the admonition: Attend to thyself and to the doctrine, continue herein; for in doing this thou wilt save as well thyself as those that hear thee. This verse would serve as an excellent motto for every minister. He that would teach others must begin with himself, must watch over his own person, over his every word and act. Incidentally, a faithful pastor, after the example of Timothy, cannot be too careful in preparing the matter which he uses in his public teaching. Every ambiguous, and above all, every false expression, must be avoided; vigilance in this point cannot be too strict. It is a case of restless, tireless watchfulness, of attending to these things, of heeding them always and always again. But the goal that is held out before the faithful pastor is certainly worth the most strenuous efforts, for, in the first place, it aids toward his own salvation, as a reward of grace, of course, not of merit. A faithful pastor searching the Word of God day by day, taking care of all the work of his office with loving devotion, will soon find that his trust in God and his certainty of salvation will be strengthened mightily, enabling him to overcome every attack of the old Evil Foe and to remain steadfast in his faith till the end. And the same wonderful object he will bring about in the case of many of his hearers. It is true, indeed, that many people hear with their ears only and do not accept the truth of God with their hearts. But where the entire counsel of God for the salvation of men is proclaimed with all faithfulness and in all purity, there will always be such as receive the Word with a willing heart and therefore will be kept unto life eternal. That fact is a source of comfort and strength to many a faithful pastor in his responsible work.
Summary. The apostle again discusses the errors of the latter times and then addresses himself to Timothy in words of counsel and admonition as to the work of his office and the preparation which he must continue in order to be an example to his hearers in both doctrine and life.