Timothy was a young man in the church in Ephesus, and there were many older people in that church. So Paul tells him not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). A young preacher can feel intimidated by older people in his church, particularly if some of them are rich and influential people. Paul urges Timothy not to allow them to intimidate him, but to be an example by his life, in the godly way he speaks, in the way he conducts himself, in his love for them, by his faith in the midst of all his trials, in the purity he has in his life and in every area. This is in direct contrast to what Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:1–4. False teachers merely teach, whereas true teachers teach by example. False teachers teach theories. True teachers teach by their lives. 1 Timothy 4:13 emphasises public reading of the Scriptures, because in those days, believers did not have Bibles. So the one who had a Bible had to read out large sections of it for the people to hear. Today, believers can read large sections of the Scripture at home.
Then Paul reminds Timothy that he needs something more than a good life and Scripture-knowledge. “Be a good example and give attention to Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:12, 13). That is good. But “don’t neglect the gifts of the Holy Spirit” (1 Timothy 4:14). Paul reminds Timothy that he had laid hands on him along with other elders to impart a spiritual gift to him. We need the gifts of the Spirit also to serve the Lord. We must “earnestly desire to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1) – that is, to speak in such a way that our words go home to people’s hearts like an arrow, like the words of the prophets in the Old Testament, like the words that go out of God’s mouth that never return empty (Isaiah 55:11). To minister like that, we need the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Jesus needed it and we all need it too – all the time. This is not something we can get once for all. No. We must seek to be anointed at all times.
Young people: Don’t feel that you have to wait until you are 40 years old to serve the Lord. I was born again when I was 19 and baptised when I was 21. And I started preaching immediately. I didn’t know much then. But with the little I knew, I could teach the “A, B, C…” of the Christian life to those who knew less than me. As I grew up I could teach people more. A first-standard student can teach a kindergarten-student. Why do you have to wait until you are old before you start to preach God’s Word? The moment you are converted, start sharing with those who know less than you – especially with those who are not yet converted. Always be ready to share God’s Word and to seek God for the power of His Spirit to share it effectively.
In 1 Timothy 4:15, Paul urges Timothy to “take pains with these things.” A businessman takes a lot of pains to earn money and to establish his business firmly. If you are serious about the Christian life, you will take a lot of pains to study the Scriptures, seek for the gifts of the Spirit and cleanse your life from everything impure. One translation of this verse reads, “Be absorbed in them.” When you are absorbed with these things your progress will become evident to everybody.
Let me give you a negative example of what “being absorbed” with something can mean. A family was watching a popular television programme in their home and totally absorbed with it. Some thieves who knew that the family was thus occupied, quietly got into their house and stole whatever they could! And the family never knew about the theft until the TV programme was over.
In the same way, but in a positive sense, we can be so absorbed with Jesus Christ and His Word that the temptations of this world don’t attract us so much. And we won’t be chasing after the many things that worldly people chase after. If you live an “absorbed” life like that, you will make progress constantly. Every year you will be a better Christian and a more effective servant of the Lord.
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul urges Timothy to pay close attention to two areas: his life and his teaching. These are the two areas that we must watch constantly. Our life and our teaching must both be pure. Paul says that if we persevere in these two areas, we will save ourselves and others as well. We first need to save ourselves. Only then can we save others. What that means is: If you yourself have not been saved from some sinful habit, how will you be able to save others from it? If you preach above the level of your life, you will be a hypocrite and God will not bear witness to your words. We must be serious about our Christian life, just as businessmen are serious about the way they run their businesses. They are wholehearted about making profits. In the same way, we must persevere and give ourselves wholly to living for God and serving Him.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon