Take Hold of Godliness

Biblical Truth: When God gives a person an opportunity to lead, He also encourages and empowers the person to lead.

Receive Nourishment: 1 Timothy 4:6-7a.

[6] In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. [7] But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.   [NASU]

Paul makes it plain that it is the good teaching [6c] which makes the good minister, and that in two ways, namely that he both instructs people in it and nourishes himself on it, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. This seems to be a general rule. Behind the ministry of public teaching there lies the discipline of private study. All the best teachers have themselves remained students. They teach well because they learn well. So before we can effectively instruct others in the truth we must have really digested it ourselves. What our spiritual food is he has already clarified. It is the truths of the faith and of the good teaching, in other words, the doctrine of the apostles. For this is nourishing. But we are to have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales, for they are spiritual junk food.

Train Yourself: 1 Timothy 4:7b-10.

[7]  On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; [8] for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. [9] It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. [10] For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.  [NASU]

[7-8]  Turning to the metaphor of exercise, Paul tells Timothy to exercise yourself unto godliness. The New Testament word for godliness conveys the idea of a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to God. This personal attitude toward God is what we call devotion to God. But it is always devotion in action. This attitude of devotion is composed of three essential elements: the fear of God, the love of God and the desire for God. The practice of godliness is first of all the cultivation of a relationship with God, and from this the cultivation of a life that is pleasing to God. Our concept of God and our relationship with Him determine our conduct. The fear of God and the love of God form the base of the triangle, while the desire for God is at the apex. The fear of God is the soul of godliness. Nothing could be more significant than that the fear of the Lord should be coupled with the comfort of the Holy Spirit as the characteristics of the New Testament church [Acts 9.31]. The Bible uses the term “fear of God” in two distinct ways: that of anxious dread, and that of veneration, reverence, and awe. Fear as anxious dread is produced by the realization of God’s impending judgment upon sin. The Christian has been delivered from fear of the wrath of God. But the Christian has not been delivered from the discipline of God against his sinful conduct, and in this sense he still fears God. For the child of God, however, the primary meaning of the fear of God is veneration and honor, reverence and awe. Fear is the attitude that elicits from our hearts adoration and love, reverence and honor. It focuses not upon the wrath of God but upon the majesty, holiness, and transcendent glory of God. The essential ingredients of the fear of God are (1) correct concepts of the character of God, (2) a pervasive sense of the presence of God, and (3) a constant awareness of our obligation to God. How much we appreciate God’s love is conditioned by how deeply we fear Him. We must see God in the glory of all His attributes. So we see that devotion to God begins with the fear of God – with a biblical view of His majesty and holiness that elicits a reverence and awe of Him. And then we see that the fear of God leads naturally to an apprehension of the love of God for us as shown in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. As we contemplate God more and more in His majesty, holiness and love, we will be progressively led to the apex of the triangle of devotion – the desire for God Himself. True godliness engages our affections and awakens within us a desire to enjoy God’s presence and fellowship.

How then are we to exercise ourselves unto this godliness? Paul does not go into detail. But the context, and in particular the parallel between nourishment and exercise, together suggest that we are to exercise ourselves in the same way that we nourish ourselves, namely in the Word of God. Certainly it has been a long-standing Christian tradition that disciplined meditation in Scripture is indispensable to Christian health, and indeed to growth in godliness. Nothing evokes the worship of God like the Word of God. We exercise ourselves unto godliness because we have put our hope in the living God, Who is the author and giver of both life and life to come [8b]. We can now bring together the two tests which Paul gave Timothy, and which can still be applied to doubtful teaching today. The theological test is the doctrine of creation: does this teaching honor God as the Creator and giver of all good things? The second test is ethical, and concerns the priority of godliness: does this teaching honor God by drawing out our worship? We need have no hesitations about any teaching which glorifies God the Creator and promotes godliness.


[9-10]  Paul concluded verse 8 with a statement that the practice of godliness held a promise for both the present and the future. In verse 9 he designated this as a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. In verse 10 Paul provided a reason for his statement that godliness is profitable for all things. The verb for labor suggests a strenuous toil that saps energy. The verb for strive presents the picture of the athlete putting the last ounce of his energy into the race in order victoriously to reach the goal. Godliness demands energy. The use of a Greek present tense for both verbs (labor and strive) suggests a continual outpouring of this energy. Because explains why Christians go through the difficulty of laboring and striving: we have fixed our hope on the living God. The perfect tense for fixed our hope suggests a settled confidence in God; one that will not be shaken. Thus we see that the incentive for exerting energy for godliness is the faithfulness and reliability of God Himself.

Paul writes that God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. This statement has provoked much discussion among commentators. In what sense is He the Savior of all men? To interpret this in terms of universal salvation would be contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture. William Hendriksen explains at considerable length how God is the Savior of all people in the general meaning of watching over them and delivering them in the sense of common grace. But Christ is only the Savior in terms of making possible one’s righteous standing before a holy God for only those who believe. Thus Hendriksen’s answer is based on two different meanings or understandings of the term Savior. Or perhaps Paul is talking about the sufficiency/efficiency nature of the atonement. Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient for all men, but it is efficient only for those whom God has chosen to renew their heart thus enabling them to exercise saving faith in His Son.

Demonstrate Godliness: 1 Timothy 4:11-16.

[11] Prescribe and teach these things. [12] 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. [13] Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. [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. [15] Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. [16] 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.  [NASU]

This section begins with a dramatic contrast between verses 11 and 12, which sums up the problem Timothy faced as a young leader. On the one hand, he had been put into a position of considerable responsibility as Paul’s representative. On the other hand, he was still a relatively young man, probably in his thirties. His command to prescribe and teach was in danger of being undermined by his youthfulness. How then should young Christian leaders react in this situation, so that their youth is not despised and their ministry is not rejected? Paul give Timothy five ways in which he should commend his ministry and gain acceptance for it.

1. Timothy must watch his example [12b]. The great temptation, whenever our leadership is questioned, threatened or resisted, is to assert it all the more strongly and to become autocratic, even tyrannical. But leadership and lordship are two quite different concepts. The Christian leads by example, not force, and is to be a model who invites a following, not a boss who compels one. Moreover, Timothy’s example was to be comprehensive in speech and in life, in word and deed; especially in love, faith and purity. The traits listed by Paul divide into two groups. The terms speech and conduct are outwardly observable or public traits. Speech refers to all types of verbal expression, and conduct describes general behavior. The second group, consisting of love, faith, and purity, refers to inner traits. Paul desired a love that demonstrates itself for both God and others. The term faith likely represents an attitude of faithfulness or trustworthiness rather than right belief. The call for purity demands both sexual purity and integrity of heart.

2. Timothy must identify his authority [13]. Instructing and exhorting are exactly what Paul goes on to require, when he adds preaching and teaching to the Scripture reading. It was taken for granted from the beginning that Christian preaching would be expository preaching, that is, that all Christian instruction and exhortation would be drawn out of the passage which had been read. Timothy’s own authority was seen to be secondary, both to the Scripture and to Paul. All Christian teachers occupy the same subordinate position as Timothy did. They will be wise, especially if they are young, to demonstrate both their submission to the authority of Scripture and their conscientious integrity in expounding it, so that their teaching is seen to be not theirs but the word of God.

3. Timothy must exercise his gift [14]. Paul’s purpose in recalling the circumstances of Timothy’s ordination was to urge him not to neglect his gift, but rather to fan it into flame. From this we learn that a charisma is not a static or permanent endowment from God; its human recipient must use it and develop it. It is still important today for Christian leaders to discern, cultivate and exercise their gifts, and be helped to do so by others. For the people will be receptive to their ministry, once they are assured that God has called them and they have not appointed themselves.

4. Timothy must show his progress [15]. Paul points out Timothy’s need for concentration and perseverance. Immerse yourself in these matters, devote yourself to them with all your heart and soul. In all three spheres so far mentioned (his example, teaching and gift), it is not only Timothy’s devotion to duty which must be seen, but his constant growth. The example which Christian leaders set, then, whether in their life or their ministry, should be dynamic and progressive.

5. Timothy must mind his consistency [16]. Timothy is to keep a close eye on two things equally. First, his life, literally himself, his character and his conduct. Secondly, he is to watch his doctrine, his teaching of other people. Then there will be no dichotomy between his public and his private life, or between his preaching and his practice. Instead, he will manifest that most necessary of all leadership qualities, personal authenticity. Of the two possible inconsistencies mentioned above, the more common is surely the first. It is fatally easy to become so busy in the Lord’s work that we leave no time for the Lord Himself in our own spiritual life; to be so concerned for the welfare of others that we fail to keep a watchful eye on ourselves. It is only by careful discipline that Christian leaders achieve a balance, determined not to neglect either duty for the other.

Summary. The best antidote for error is a positive presentation of the truth. It is also mandatory for the teacher of truth to accredit the presentation with personal supportive evidence. Paul mentioned two types of personal supportive evidence. First, he appealed to Timothy to demonstrate godliness. A reverence for God offers promise in this life and hope for the life to come. Second, Paul directed Timothy to persevere. To overcome error and misunderstanding, we must endure with stamina in the practice of righteousness.

Questions for Discussion:

1.    When confronted by false teaching, what are we to pursue; to avoid?

2.    What does Paul mean by godliness? How can you pursue godliness? What priority should this pursuit have in your life?

3.    In what five ways does Paul encourage Timothy to commend his ministry and gain acceptance for it? How do these apply to Christian leaders today?


The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges, Navpress.

Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, William Hendriksen, Baker Books.

1 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of 1 Timothy, John Stott, InterVarsity Press.

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