Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at the final section of chapter 4, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions for church leaders (if you missed Part 1 and Part 2, I encourage you to read them now).
A Growing Minister Progresses in the Word (1 Tim. 4:13–16)
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The key thought in this section is “that your progress will be evident to all” (v. 15). The word progress is a Greek military term; it means “pioneer advance.” It describes the soldiers who go ahead of the troops, clear away the obstacles, and make it possible for others to follow. As a godly pastor, Timothy was to grow spiritually, so the whole church could see his spiritual progress and imitate it.
No pastor can lead his people where he has not been himself. The pastor (or church member) who is not growing is actually going backward, for it is impossible to stand still in the Christian life. In his living, teaching, preaching, and leading the minister must give evidence of spiritual growth. But what factors make spiritual progress possible?
Emphasize God’s Word (v. 13). “Devote yourself” means “be absorbed in.” Ministering the Word was not something Timothy was to do in his spare time, after he had done other things; it was to be the most important thing he did. Reading means the public reading of Scripture in the local assembly. The Jewish people always had the reading of the Law and the Prophets in their synagogues, and this practice carried over into Christian churches. Jesus read the Scriptures in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16) and Paul often read the lessons when he visited a synagogue (Acts 13:15).
In my travelling ministry, I have noticed many churches have dispensed with the public reading of God’s Word and I am disappointed. They have time for “special music” and endless announcements, but there is no time for the reading of the Bible (the pastor may read a text before he preaches, but that is a different thing). Every local church ought to have a schedule of Bible readings for the public services. It is commanded by God in Scripture that we read His Word in the public assemblies. (I might add those who read the Word publicly ought to prepare themselves privately. Nobody should be asked “at the last minute” to read the Scriptures publicly. The Bible deserves the best we can give.)
Exhortation (v. 13). This literally means “encouragement” and suggests the applying of the Word to the lives of the people. The pastor was to read the Word, explain it, and apply it.
Doctrine (v. 13). This means “teaching” and is a major emphasis in the pastoral letters. There are at least twenty-two references to “teaching” or “doctrine” in these thirteen chapters. “Apt to teach” is one of the qualifications of a minister (1 Tim. 3:2); and it has been correctly said, “Apt to teach implies apt to learn.” A growing minister (or church member) must be a student of the Word. Before he teaches others, he must teach himself (Rom. 2:21). His spiritual progress is an example to his flock and an encouragement to others.
Use your spiritual gifts (v. 14). So much has been written in recent years about spiritual gifts that we have almost forgotten the graces (“fruits”) of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). The word gift is the Greek word charisma. It simply means “a gracious gift from God.” (The world uses the word charisma to describe a person with magnetic personality and commanding appearance.) Every Christian has the gift of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) and at least one gift from the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1–11). The gift of the Spirit and the gifts from the Spirit are bestowed by God at the moment of conversion.
However, when God calls a believer into a special place of ministry, He can (and often does) impart a spiritual gift for that task. When Timothy was ordained by the elders, he received an enabling gift from God. But for some reason, Timothy had neglected to cultivate this gift which was so necessary to his spiritual progress and ministry. In fact, Paul had to admonish him in his second letter: “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).
It is encouraging to know the God who calls us also equips us to do His work. We have nothing in ourselves that enables us to serve Him; the ministry must all come from God (1 Cor. 15:9–10; Phil. 4:13; 1 Tim. 1:12). However, we must not be passive; we must cultivate God’s gifts, use them, and develop them wherever God puts us.
Devote yourself fully to Christ (v. 15). Timothy’s spiritual life and ministry were to be the absorbing, controlling things in his life, not merely sidelines that he occasionally practiced. There can be no real pioneer advance in one’s ministry without total dedication to the task. “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
While I do not want to sound critical, I must confess I am disturbed by the fact that too many pastors and Christian workers divide their time and interest between the church and some sideline activity. It may be real estate, trips to the Holy Land, politics, civic duties, even denominational service. Their own spiritual lives suffer and their churches suffer because these men are not devoting themselves wholly to their ministry. “This one thing I do” was Paul’s controlling motive and it ought to be ours too (Phil. 3:13). “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).
Take spiritual inventory (v. 16). Examine your own heart in the light of the Word of God. A servant of God can be so busy helping others that he neglects himself and his own spiritual walk. The building up of the saved and the winning of the lost are the purposes for our ministry, to the glory of God. But God must work in us before He can effectively work through us (Phil. 2:12–13). As good ministers, we preach the Word; as godly ministers, we practice the Word; as growing ministers, we progress in the Word.
To Think About and Discuss
1. Paul commanded Timothy to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture.” What does God expect from those of us who are being taught from His Word?
2. How is the reality of personal salvation demonstrated in our lives?
3. It has been said, “The great purpose of life is the shaping of character by truth.” How does this apply to you?