1 Timothy
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you. Practise these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers' (4:12-16)

In the last section we saw the things that a person needs in order to become a good servant of Jesus Christ - spiritual food, spiritual exercise and spiritual work. In this section the apostle speaks of the most important attitudes in the life of a servant of Jesus Christ.

a. The way he lives

Timothy was still quite a young man when Paul wrote this letter to him. He may have been thirty years old or even a little more, but alongside the 'elders' of the church he must often have seemed very young. People despised his youth, and sometimes he was discouraged because of their attitude. What was he to do when people despised him? Was he to try to build up his own importance, or the authority of his position? No, there was one thing he could do - he could pay all the more attention to being an 'example'. In his words and in his actions, he could be an example to all, and especially in these three ways. 1. In love. Whatever others might do or say, he must show love, an unfailing love for the Lord Himself, and a sincere desire for the good of others. Notice Paul's tribute to Timothy later in Philippians 2:19-22. 2. In Faith. In his own reliance on God, and in his reliability, he must be an inspiration to others. 3. In purity, He was to stand out from other men because he kept himself free from every form of evil. We have read of these same three things in the apostle's words to Timothy right at the beginning of the letter: 'The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith' (1:5). Timothy, however, must not only have these things - love, faith, purity - but be an example in them, even to those who are older than himself.'

b. The way he teaches

Chapter 1 also had an emphasis on teaching. There Timothy was warned to have nothing to do with false or unhelpful teaching; he was urged to hold to the glorious truth of the gospel. In 4: 6, Paul has emphasized to Timothy that he should be 'nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine'. Only then would he be able to pass on the great truths of God to others. Timothy would be able to do this in three ways, Paul says, and he sets out these three ways in verse 13. 1. By 'the public reading of scripture'. We can be thankful that from the beginning the reading of the Bible has had an important place in Christian worship. Notice that Timothy was told to 'attend' to the public reading of scripture. 1t was important that he (and we too) should choose passages wisely, and then read so that people could hear clearly; then the words of Scripture would come to them powerfully as the word of God. 2. By 'preaching'. The reading of the Bible aloud is important, most important, but it is through preaching that God's Word is applied to life. If the preacher attends to his preaching, if he is prayerful, if he is thorough in preparation, in receiving from God his message, then God's Word will go right home to the hearts of his hearers, 3. By 'teaching'. Teaching is a little different from preaching. Preaching applies God's words to men in their particular situations. Teaching brings the truth of God to others so that they can increase in understanding. Through the ministry of teaching Christians grow to know more and more of the truth of God and so allow it to influence all their thoughts and mould their characters.

Not all Christians are called to the public ministry of God's Word - only a few. But many have the opportunity of reading the Scriptures to others: many have the opportunity of teaching the way of Christ to children; we all have opportunities of speaking of the gospel to friends and neighbours. All of us have gifts of the Spirit to use. We must not neglect our gifts (verse 14), our opportunities, our work of passing on to others the Word of God which has come to us. There should be a witness and an example in the way that we live; but we must witness by our words also.

c. The way he perseveres

Gifts to use, work to do, an example to give - but not just today and tomorrow, but next week and next month as well. 'Go on', 'keep going on', Paul says to Timothy. 'Practise these duties, devote yourself to them' are the apostle's words in verse 15. The New English Bible translation is: 'Make these matters your business and your absorbing interest.' Timothy was to be a dedicated and a single-minded man; and if we would be servants of Christ, we also must have a single purpose; and people should be able to see that we are going on in the Christian life. What does Paul tell Timothy to do when people despise him? 'Set the believers an example', and so live that 'all may see your progress' (verse 15). Someone has said that the Christian life is like riding a bicycle: you either keep moving forward or you fall off. There can be no standing still in Christian discipleship; we must keep going on, on to the end. Paul set himself to do this. In spite of all that he was, and all that he had done in twenty-five years as a Christian and a great missionary, he said 'One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus' (Philippians 3: 13,14). 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to 'grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'. If we do grow like this, and go on in our Christian lives, then our own salvation is confirmed and, we will be the means of bringing that eternal salvation to others (verse 16).


O Lord God, help us to grow constant in the knowledge of Thee, in love, in faith, in purity of life. Make us examples to others, witnesses to others, teachers of others: may many with whom we live come to know the great salvation which we know, by the grace of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. AMEN.

Notes. 1. In the Jewish synagogues there was the public reading of the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament), as we see in Luke 4:16 and Acts 13:15. We know that later on the Christians carried out this practice when they met together, and in Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27 Paul asks that his letters should be read publicly in the churches.

2. Verse 14 speaks of the laying on of hands, which symbolized the setting apart for ministry, by the church, of those men whom they recognized to be called of God. See Acts 6: 6; 13:1-3; 2 Timothy 1: 6. For the 'prophetic utterances' of which this verse speaks, see notes on 1:18.

Further Study. 1. In the light of verse 14., consider the teaching of Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:7-16 about the different spiritual gifts given to different members of the body of Christ.
Consider other passages which speak of the need for perseverance and progress in the Christian life. In addition to those quoted above, see Mark i13:13; Luke 18:1; Acts 13:43; 14: 2 1-23 and Hebrews 6: 1-3.