Save Yourself and Others

I. Be warned that some teachers will deny fundamental doctrine (verses 1-5)

A. Context: qualifications for an elder [3:1-7] and the importance of a succinct confession [3:16] – Truth is central to every aspect of the church’s witness.Immediately after the confession’s summarizing the christocentric nature of truth and the church’s message, Paul warns against destructive error. Wrong living comes from wrong thinking and perverted affections.  The only antidote is continual nourishment on revealed truth. This ordering is virtually the same as that seen in 2 Peter 1:19-21, emphasizing the importance of a deep knowledge of Scripture (Pay attention to the whole of Scripture as a light that shines in a dark place until Jesus returns)followed by the warning against false prophets, 2 Peter 2:1-3 (There were false prophets among the people and there will be false teachers among you; they will lead you to sensuality with their greed and false words).

B. Apostasy is specifically predicted by the Spirit 4:1  Paul does not consider divine revelation in human language either philosophically absurd or inherently unclear [cf. 1 Cor 2:10-13; 2 Tim. 3:16; Eph 3:3, 4, 5]  A person may believe the Bible or not believe the Bible.  No doubt is possible, however, that the apostles claimed to speak words explicitly revealed by God through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Christian claim that the Bible is the word of God is built, first of all, on the claim that the books make to that status.  On that basis, then, we may examine its history, its doctrines, its worldview, its morality, its impact on lives, and the relation of its principal doctrines to credible witnesses. In addition, we come to know that it uncovers the truth about ourselves to our own deepest consciousness.

C. Note that the ultimate origin of erroneous doctrine is clearly demonic 4:1 (“deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons”); See 1 John 4:1-6 for another expose of the spirit behind false teaching. Satan continues to oppose God’s purpose and has plenty of willing followers. Compare also 2 Tim. 2:26. Jesus recognizes Satan’s part in Peter’s refusal to hear the word of the cross {Matthew 16:22, 23] so soon after speaking the revealed truth of Christ’s person.

D. The means of propagating erroneous destructive doctrine is through unregenerate teachers 4:2; cf. 2 Peter 2.

  1. This is the case, for the unregenerate have vested interests in disproving the truthfulness of Scripture, its moral standard, its witness to certain judgment, and its clear demonstration of the exclusiveness of Christ’s qualification as a savior.
  2. We know both historically and from personal experience that earnest people can be in error. They are normally willing to be corrected to the glory of God. Often, however, there are differences of interpretation that Christians have not been able to reconcile for centuries. These disagreements, however, do not involve errors concerning the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the reality of sin, the necessity of a substitutionary atonement, God’s sovereignty over creation, providence, redemption and revelation, the certain return of Christ and the eternal consequences of final judgment.

E. Attack on God through a false principle of moral rigor and piety4:3 [cf. Col 2:20-23] Promiscuity and promotion of immorality are most often seen as an attack on God’s law and holiness [Romans 1:28-32]. Just as devastating, however, is a false morality, built on deceptive theology, that promises righteousness through personal achievement [also Romans 10:3.]

  1. The specific errors in mind are a false view of the superiority of celibate singleness to the relations involved in marriage. This is a denial of God’s own act of creation in bringing Adam and Eve together and pronouncing the relationship good (Genesis 2:18, 21-25. It also minimizes the importance of his original mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:27, 28).
  2. They saw certain dietary restrictions as promoting piety; Abstemiousness denoted, in their mind, a higher spirituality.
  3. These are precisely among the errors that characterized Roman Catholic practices against which the Protestant Reformers objected and offered corrections.

F. Their resistance is particularly aimed at God as creator and his prerogative of establishing the purpose and proper use of everything. (4:4) Relate this to the prohibition of women as the bishop of the church on the basis of its violation of God’s purpose of creation (2:12-14).See also Romans 1 for the devastating results of human, as opposed to divine, sovereignty over sexuality.

G. The key always is to enjoy creation with a view to its holy purpose of discerning the goodness of the Creator 4b, 5 [Psalm 8, Matthew 6:19-34, but Rom 1:25].



II. Place all of life in the perspective of eternity 6-11 [cf. Psalm 17:13-15]

A. As opposed to the false teachers, Timothy, as a “good” servant as opposed to a destructive purveyor of falsehood, is to instruct according to the full body of doctrine, as centered in the Gospel 4:6, 7a.

  1. As Timothy places the Ephesian church under that authority of apostolic truth, he himself will be nourished and find true spiritual health through his constant engagement with these revealed truths.
  2. Paul throughout his ministry pointed out the importance of the words that are used in conveying truth. In 1 Corinthians 2:13, he talks about words “taught by the Spirit.” In 1 Timothy 6:3 he pointed to “sound words” as he did again in 2 Timothy 1:13. Here he focused on “the words” of “the faith” and of “the sound doctrine.” The use of these two phrases together shows that the wordsis modified both byof the faithand of thesound doctrine.Any teacher who would minimize the importance, even the necessity, of sound doctrine built on the words of the biblical text is not consistent with the instructions of the apostle Paul.
  3. Paul shows that sound doctrine is designed to produce the changed life, the life of belief. Review 1:5, 6.

B. Central to his teaching will be personal discipline, particularly for godliness[4:7, 8; the Greek word gumnazefrom which we get “gym” or “gymnasium” means vigorous, determined exercise.] We must go to the gym for godliness. Timothy must unequivocally reject speculations disguised as true religion. Doctrine is not to be learned in the fantasyland of gossip.

  1. It seems that in the dualistic religions [a proto-gnosticism?] older women perpetuated the silly stories that promoted the doctrines against which Paul is warning. Contrast this with Paul’s expectations for older widows, 5:9, 10.
  2. The advantages, however, of godliness, are great. Compare the accusations against both John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus did not follow an ascetic way of life but “was not for that reason any whit inferior” [Calvin].  Godliness involves laying aside the “old self which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” and being renewed in the spirit of the mind, putting on the news self “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” [Ephesians 4:22-24.]  We see the contrast, therefore, between falsehood and truth directly at the heart of godliness.  Conformity to truth in the whole man has lasting advantages.
  3. Promise for this life – note the devastation wrought by ungodliness in the present life – embrace opportunities for showing how godliness supports true happiness and fulfillment–Steady marriages, disciplined children, frugal and honest lifestyles, lasting and edifying friendships. On the other hand, ungodliness may give a veneer of success and worldly power and admiration from the world, but also produces, envy, jealousy, division, divorce, murder, suicide, disease, and massive confusion.
  4. And that to come – hellishness in this life only faintly previews the hell of eternity. Not only will one suffer the wrath of Almighty God, but he will be hated by all his companions in hell.

C. Godliness[“unto this”] is worth more effort than any other goal –

  1. Paul’s example – Labor and strive cf. Col 1:28, 29; see 2 Cor 6:1-10 – no amount of labor or suffering is too much for the goal; Also see Paul’s expression of seeking the status of resurrection from the dead in Philippians 3:11-15. Freedom from the power and presence of sin and from all that hinders a clear view of the glory of Christ is the present goal of the Christian.
  2. This life is lived in the light of hopein the Living God; precursor to his teaching in 6:17-19 cf. Titus 2:12, 13 – no disappointment in hope, for hope “maketh not ashamed” Romans 5:5 – hope focuses on a future condition of imperishable riches consisting of the presence of God himself, our glorified incorruptible status, in which we are free from indwelling sin and any sinful predisposition that clouds our vision of the infinitely desirable fellowship with the triune God.
  3. “Saviour of all men” (10). caretaker in general; all receive his kindness, Romans 2:4, which shows that God’s goodness should drive people to repentance, thus showing a double goodness, not only in earthly provision but enduing such provision with an allurement to eternal blessing. James 1:17 shows that every good thing for every person comes from God; but, to those upon whom his effectual calling has come, his providence is especially gracious in that they have learned to see in every event an opportunity to attain true godliness.

D. Timothy must never tire of announcing and teaching these truths. “Prescribe and teach these things (11). A Christian teacher must resist the urge to novelty and realize the power of truth reiterated. See Peter’s concern in 2 Peter 1:12-21. There is, moreover, endless applicatory power of the gospel to all issues, religious, moral, and philosophical as well as holy wisdom for difficult personal issues (Hebrews 5:11-14.).



III. Personal life and conviction is the foundation of teaching others 12-16.

A. Youthfulness is a disadvantage only if it partakes of youthful folly (12). Again, godliness is the key. In the way that asceticism is not superior to normal enjoyment of provisions of food, clothing, and shelter, so age is not determinative of superiority apart from godliness.

B. Until Paul comes, his ministry must be word-centered 13- It seems that Paul is on his way [Translate “While I am coming”]. Though it is possible [see below] that he could do otherwise, Timothy is to emphasize the Word. Perhaps Paul out of his apostolic office will deal specifically with an issue that calls for revealed insight, but the normal procedure and that that is incumbent on us is to proceed with the inscripturated word.

C. He should cultivate the gift of teaching to which he was set aside by the presbytery (14) [Either at Lystra or at Ephesus before Paul left (1:3 cf. w/ 2 Tim 1:6)]. With Timothy, this is a true “charisma” and might include a gift of Spirit-revealed knowledge, but in light of the instruction throughout these letters, it refers to an obligation to give sound exposition of Scripture [cf. 2 Tim. 2:15].

D. Even if a charisma, its stewardship demands aggressive discipleship and may be developed into maturity. Verse 15 admonishes him to “take pains” so his increasing competence in the word will be “evident to all.” This will necessarily involve greater knowledge of and ability to give pertinent application of the written word.

E. Perseverance in godliness and consistent cultivation of gifts has eternal benefits for the minister and those who hear him. This summarizes Paul’s concerns

  1. Giftedness is of little value without godliness. Compare with Paul’s concern that the highly gifted Corinthians not use their gifts as a pretense for personal lack of holiness. He illustrates his concern by showing that even the position of an apostle and all the special gifts granted him does not give him an exception to personal holiness (1 Corinthians 9:26, 27).
  2. Timothy’s ministry should consist largely of instruction, aspects of which follow in subsequent chapters. Paul follows the instruction to “take pains” with the command to “Pay close attention.“ He is to give unceasing attention to the state of his own soul, his own progress in both holiness and knowledge of the word.
  3. Salvation involves perseverance. The effectual grace that brings us to faith, draws us to rely on Christ alone, and to look in faith to grace alone, also makes us long for greater holiness in anticipation of the return of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. This perseverance is tied immediately to the word of God. Therefore, Timothy’s own spiritual well-being and assurance depends on the faithfulness with which he execustes his pastoral office of teaching.
  4. Since he is given by God to be the shepherd of these people, “those who hear you,” their eternal well-being depends on the carefulness in truth of Timothy’s ministry. How compelling this should be to every teacher and every gospel minister, that, to a large degree, eternal destiny depends on the truthfulness of what is believed.



IV. Application

A. Take note of how basic revealed truth may be perverted for the service of error

B. Likewise, pursue the implications of basic revealed truth throughout the whole fabric of Christian doctrine. [connections of creation, revelation, fall, incarnation, redemption, resurrection, ascension, session, intercession, return, etc].

C. We must cultivate aspiration to godliness as infinitely superior to worldly applause and pleasure and see with spiritual eyes the opportunities God provides.

D. Word-centeredness is not antagonistic to but is inherently intrinsic to godliness.

E. We should encourage ministers and all the redeemed to take pains in developing Spirit-endowed gifts.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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