Maintaining Faith and Practice
In the previous message, we explored Paul’s warning to Timothy that, in the latter times, including our day, some leaders would try to influence others to depart from the faith. As we examine verses six through eleven in chapter four, we will see Paul counsel Timothy on how to combat these false teachers and the harmful effects of their teaching.
I know you agree that to be proficient, competent, and skilled in anything we do, we must practice. We have the saying, “Use it or lose it.” This is true whether the skills are technical, mechanical, intellectual, or spiritual. We must constantly be practicing, maintaining, and developing our skills and abilities.
Our relationship with Jesus Christ has both responsibilities and privileges. The Scriptures make it clear that we must strive diligently to maintain this relationship. That’s not because of any lack or failure on God’s part, and it’s not to earn our salvation. It’s because of our tendency to be lazy. When we follow those tendencies, we’re much more likely to be deceived by the error Paul warns about at the beginning of this chapter.
The instruction Paul gives to Timothy in this text is primarily focused on those in leadership, but all of us can benefit from the principles presented. I’ve titled our study, “Maintaining Faith and Practice.” Our text is I Timothy 4:6-11.
Paul counsels Timothy to engage in certain EXERCISES in order to maintain faith and godliness. We can benefit from integrating these exercises into our lives.
The First Counsel is,
Every day we make a myriad of choices. No one has time to go everywhere or be involved in every worthwhile activity! We weigh things in our minds to estimate the value. How will this activity, this investment of time, this expenditure of energy, or finances benefit me? How will it help me reach my goals or fulfill my responsibilities? We constantly exercise discernment. We make choices, and our choices reveal what’s really important to us.
Paul reminds Timothy of the need to continually remind his flock of the errors promoted by the false teachers. The goal of these false teachers was not to draw people to Christ. Rather, it was to gain a following they could control for their own personal gain. There are many like them today.
We must continually exercise a discerning spirit. Otherwise, you and I will be led away by the errors of the false teachers. This exhortation is just as needful today as it was when Paul wrote it to Timothy. Today, with our modern communication, an error can be disseminated more widely, more convincingly, and more quickly than ever before! A good leader is aware of those things that distract or endanger his people and will help them be on their guard.
Paul wanted Timothy to be a good minister of Jesus Christ. The word, minister, is diakonos – servant. Paul reminded his young protégé that in order to be an effective servant to the church, he must continue to educate himself in the words of faith and approved doctrine.
The words, “nourished in the words of faith,” are a present participle. Timothy is to be “constantly nourishing himself,” constantly spending time in the words of faith and truth, i.e., the Scriptures and the Christian teachings. According to Paul’s comment, Timothy was already doing a good job of feeding himself from the Word. You and I can develop a more sensitive spirit of discernment by taking that advice to heart.
In verse six Paul is taking Timothy back to the foundation of his faith! A skillful coach will often return to the basics of the sport to pull the team or a player out of a slump. Paul exhorts Timothy to return to the basics to keep his church on track. In my own life, I’m often looking for shortcuts to success. I want the results without the patient, disciplined efforts needed to achieve them. I need to go back to basics.
As part of this exercise of discernment, Paul warned Timothy not to become embroiled in refuting the fables of these false teachers. Have you ever had a conversation with someone whose goal seemed to be to waste your time? I have. They’re not interested in the truth; they’re only interested in a good argument! Timothy had more important things to do than spend time chasing down silly stories and worthless myths. These were pointless for building and maintaining his faith and practice. By faithfully proclaiming the Word of truth, Timothy would be equipping himself and the church to be discerning of error. By knowing the Word, we can spot error no matter what form it takes or what source it comes from.
The Second Counsel is,
At the end of verse seven, Paul uses our keyword, exercise. The word speaks of the Greek athlete’s vigorous exercise in the gymnasium. The exercise Paul is recommending is not physical, but spiritual. It involves the mind, will, and emotions. He tells Timothy that instead of exercising himself in refuting the “old wives’ tales” he should exercise himself to excel in godliness.
This godliness is the exact opposite of what we see from the false teachers in the opening verses of this chapter. The “bodily exercise,” or the disciplines they required were things that ultimately led to death, not life. The things they abstained from MAY have lengthened their physical lives, but they didn’t prepare them for eternity. Many people today exercise faithfully to preserve their physical bodies but give little or no thought to preserving their souls.
The self-discipline of our physical bodies is an important part of the exercise of godliness. Some spiritual disciplines require it; but it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Paul admitted that the practices taught by the false teachers may yield some limited value for physical health and longevity, but they were worthless in developing holiness of life.
The godliness which Paul encourages Timothy to pursue speaks of an externalized piety, a visible lifestyle difference; an outward demonstration of the transformation that has taken place in the heart of the person who exhibits it. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes, “Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul isn’t telling them to earn their salvation; NO! He is telling them to demonstrate godliness, to live out the results of their salvation. This is a constant theme of the New Testament.
While the false teachers and their followers try to impress God and others with their self-denial, true believers know their acceptance by God comes through Jesus. And according to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, their spiritual disciplines are quietly practiced for the glory of God. Our Heavenly Father, who sees in secret, openly rewards genuine godliness.
Timothy is urged to continue the exercise of godliness in his life and in his congregation because it is profitable unto all things. Godliness involves a promise for this life and for the next. Our present life as it reflects the heavenly life, is shaped, and controlled by it, and bears its impression. Godliness has promise for the present life because it has the promise of the life which is to come. Only the life which is in Christ Jesus is lifeindeed.
If you and I could better understand what Christ has done for us, if we could just get a glimpse of what He has in store for us in the life to come, we would realize that no sacrifice, no discomfort, no lack of physical comforts, no, nothing at all, is too great a sacrifice in our pursuit of godliness. Our exercise of godliness, motivated by the Holy Spirit and our desire to please our Savior, is a crucial part of maintaining our faith and practice.
The Final Counsel is,
Verse nine states, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.” A faithful saying is a trustworthy saying; a saying one can accept as truth. This sentence joins verses eight and ten. Godliness and faith are closely related. Without faith, there is no need for godliness. And without godliness, there is no evidence of faith. They cannot exist independently of each other.
Paul begins verse ten with, “for to this end.” This is the connector with the statement of verse nine and the contents of verse eight. In the pursuit of godliness, Paul says, we both labor and suffer reproach. Why? Because we trust – we exercise faith – in the living God.
Paul speaks of labor expended in the pursuit of godliness. This is not “all in a day’s work,” it is hard labor, toil to the point of exhaustion. Our belief that this life is only a training ground for the life to come, motivates our willingness to endure hardship.
According to Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, the words, “suffer reproach,” translate the Greek word, agonizomai, a Greek athletic term speaking of the participation of the athlete in the Greek games.” From this, we get our English word, agony. Both of these terms; labor and suffer reproach, denote strenuous, painful, agonizing effort. That’s something most people want to avoid, isn’t it? Yet Paul tells Timothy and us to expect this.
The reason we engage in this exhausting labor, the reason we willingly suffer reproach and agony, is because “we trust in the living God who is the Savior of all men…” Apart from our faith and hope in God this kind of sacrifice and dedication Paul talks about is insanity! And the world looks at us in that light. That’s because the natural man has no spiritual discernment. The preaching of the cross, the disciplines of following the Savior, and our expectation of eternal rewards are foolishness and sheer lunacy.
But true followers of Jesus, you, and I, we believe in the LIVING GOD! We don’t follow some historical person who died years ago, whose followers venerate his memory by visiting his tomb. We don’t read a holy book cobbled together by borrowing from the philosophies of men and the thoughts of mythical gods! No, praise God, our hope, our confidence, is in the God of the living, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have the authentic and authoritative record of his revelation in the Holy Scriptures. We have experienced the death sin brings and we have been delivered into new life by the power of the resurrection. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
To those who trust in the living God, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It’s the transformation of our lives! And we should be so grateful to God for rescuing us from sin, for giving us His divine nature, and for making us heirs with Jesus Christ. No labor, no sacrifice, no expense, is too great as an expression of our gratitude. We agree with Jim Elliot, missionary to the Waodani Indians of Ecuador, who said; “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
Our God, the living God, is the Savior of all men. Paul isn’t teaching the idea that all humanity will eventually be eternally saved. He recognizes that without God’s benevolent care for mankind, none of us would survive! Jesus said that His Father “…makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.” He saves human beings physically by providing for their needs. But he saves specifically, “those that believe” by giving them eternal life. That’s the reward for their surrender and commitment to Him.
Paul closes his exhortation to young Timothy with the words of verse eleven. “These things command and teach.” This can be better translated as, “These things be constantly commanding and teaching.” This is not a one-time “come to the altar” and you’ll never need to again. No, it’s a reminder that maintaining faith and practice takes continual attention and exercise. And if this was true in the days of Paul, how much more necessary is it today?
If you and I hope to maintain faith and practice, we must be willing to exercise discernment. Deception is increasing, and false prophets and false messiahs are on the rise. We MUST nourish ourselves by constant exposure to the Word of God. The truth will set us free!
Our knowledge of the truth will lead us to exercise a life of godliness. What’s on the inside will be expressed outwardly. We will live according to God’s commands, not the desires of our flesh.
And we will do this willingly because we exercise faith and hope in the Living God! We will make any sacrifice to walk in obedience to Him because we trust Him completely and we know what the reward is – eternal life.
So, I ask you, “Will you be one of those, like we spoke of last week, who are departing from the faith?” Or “Are you one of those maintaining faith and practice? The choice is yours!