Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
. . . and exercise thyself rather unto godliness . . . godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.
For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
These things command and teach.
Our lesson includes the apostolic exhortation to Timothy, who is a Christ-appointed minister of God. He became this through the laying on of hands by the presbytery in the presence of the entire church at Lystra and Iconium. I Timothy 4:14 indicates that Timothy was equipped with wonderful and astounding spiritual gifts, which are referred to by the term “the gift.” Paul says to him that he is not to “neglect the gift* which was given thee by prophecy (i.e., through a prophetic message) and with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” As a man of God, Timothy would be able to engage in a good warfare (cf. I Tim. 1:18). For this warfare Timothy would need spiritual weapons. With the sword of the Spirit he could pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ -i.e., take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (Cf. II Corinthians 10:4-5.)
In the previous lesson we noticed that Timothy is urged to exercise himself unto godliness. Paul often speaks of godliness. He does so in I and II Timothy and also in Titus. We noticed in former lessons that godliness is really the God-ordained end or purpose (i.e., telos – end) of God’s work of salvation. Christ came into the world to bring this about and to establish all those ordained unto life unto perpetual godliness. For this purpose Christ arose from the dead, ascended on high, and was received in glory as the head of the church, which is Christ’s body. Through Christ and His work the saints have been made new creatures. (Cf.Galatians 6:12-16.) Is it not the sanctification of the saints that is the very end, purpose, or telos of our having been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus?
Hence, it is only they who exercise themselves in godliness who enjoy a good conscience. They experience that what the Law could not do, Christ did by fulfilling the Law for them. It is, likewise true that it is only when a minister enjoys a good conscience which has been purged from sin that he can be a good and faithful minister.
So that Timothy may understand the importance of being exercised unto godliness, the Holy. Spirit through Paul tells him that this is a “faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.”
Three times in I Timothy Paul says that something is faithful and worthy of acceptation.
The first instance is in I Timothy 1:15. In this passage Paul refers to the great mystery of gracious salvation. He had spoken of this in Romans 5:20 which says, “Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Stated most briefly the mystery is that the “gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our, Lord.” This is the basic saying which is worthy of all acceptation. It is the truth and the fulfillment of the great Protevangel spoken by God to Eve and Satan (Gen. 3:15) as well as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham spoken by God on Mount Moriah. (Compare Genesis 22:15-18 andHebrews 6:10-20.) This is a clear case-study of the faithfulness of all the covenant sayings of God.
An exhibition of the most profound and significant fulfillment of the truthfulness of the Word of the Lord occurred on the outskirts of the ancient city of Damascus when Saul of Tarsus was saved by sovereign grace. Paul had been counted faithful to serve as a chosen vessel. He was a vessel of Christ called to bear the message of the Cross. He stood before kings and the Gentiles. He was one through whom Christ would show what great things one must suffer for the sake of the gospel of grace.
If ever there was a thankful sinner saved by grace without the works of the law, it was Paul. (ReadPhilippians 3:1-15.) This saved apostle must often have comforted and instructed poor sinners to take heart. How people must have experienced unspeakable joy as Paul expounded the theme of the gospel – “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.”
The second instance in which Paul speaks of the “faithfulness of the word” is I Timothy 3:1. “This is a true (faithful) saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
The third instance is found in the text of I Timothy 4:9, in which Paul affirms that Timothy and all believers must exercise themselves unto godliness. Timothy and all believers are encouraged to accept the faithfulness of the saying in the confidence that God will surely keep His promise. Paul encourages Timothy to be faithful in his godly exercise as an evangelist. There is a good reason for this command to accept the faithful word. InII Timothy 4:5 Paul commands Timothy to “endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” He must do this so the brethren will come to the unity of the faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the truly mature man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Cf.Ephesians 4:10-16.) This is the reason for the command to accept this faithful saying.
Paul himself was a noteworthy and wonderful example of the work of God’s grace. He had been converted from the errors of Judaism and work righteousness. Paul had not merely had a confrontation with Christ, but he had learned to say, “… when it pleased God to reveal his Son in me” (Gal. 1:16). This was a wonderful manifestation of all the goodness of God toward him, so that in one moment the emissary of the Jews and the Sanhedrin became the beloved apostle of Christ to the Gentiles.
Wonder of wonders, Paul now has but one desire, and that is that he be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness but the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ. He now has but one joy and that is to walk in the hope of Israel, the hope of the resurrection from the dead. This was the central theme of his preaching. (Cf. Philippians 3:8-15.)
Paul writes in I Timothy 4:9-11 that because of the faithfulness of this saying we “both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach.”
It is crucial that we properly understand these words which have often been misinterpreted to mean that Paul is here teaching that God intends to save all human beings. This is not the meaning. This text cannot be used to teach the universalist heresy and Arminian heresy that all men can be saved. This is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture in John 6:44. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
First, let us notice that the phrase “faithful saying” refers to a word which God speaks. We can only accept this as the word of God when by faith we believe that this is God’s solemn oath which He sware by Himself, and out of His own holiness. He is a God who cannot lie. (Cf. Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13-19.)
Second, it should be noticed that the covenant oath which God sware to Abraham concerning the salvation of all men in His only begotten Son must be commanded and preached in all the world. It is emphatically stated that it must be preached clearly, so that Jesus may be powerfully set forth as the Son of God as this is made manifest through His bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul himself had been convinced most profoundly concerning the importance and significance of the resurrection through the glorious heavenly appearance of the resurrected Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. (Cf.Acts 9:15, 16; Acts 23:1-11; Acts 26:4-29.) That which he had once denied became his supreme and undying confession. Those whom he had once persecuted now became his friends.
Third, we should notice that Paul speaks to Timothy about his own toil and labor which results in reproach. Paul uses himself as an example to Timothy of one who suffered reproach for the sake of the gospel. (Cf.Acts 9:15, 16; II Corinthians 11:16-33.) Notice also the testimony of Paul in Galatians 6:17b where he says, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
The passage under consideration concludes with the command of Paul to Timothy in the brief and meaningful words, “These things command and teach.”
Timothy must be concerned not merely about this life but about the life which is to come. This is the resurrection life earned by the work of Christ. This was glad-tidings written not merely for Abraham and the Jews but also for the Greeks and Gentiles. The message of righteousness by faith without the works of the law was the universal rule for all men (all humans) who believed, whether they are Jews or Gentiles (i.e., all kinds of people). (Cf. Romans 4:24, 25.) This was a message for all men-all kinds of men who had been ordained unto life eternal. These are those concerning whom Christ said, “… those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost…” (John 17:12b).
Two things Timothy must do. He must “command” and “teach” men everywhere to believe the gospel of the Cross. We should notice that in reality these were the very words contained in the Great Commission. (Cf.Matthew 28:19-20.)
Although the words “command” and “teach” belong together, Timothy is told that he must “command men” everywhere. The term “command” in the Greek means “to announce” the Gospel – the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ to all men everywhere. To all those who have been ordained to life and are saved in Christ Timothy and all preachers of the Gospel must give the assurance of Jesus Christ – that He has all authority in heaven and earth. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). He who says these words is the Lamb of God who carries away the “sin” of the world – not the sin of all men head for head, but the sin of the cosmos – the world that Jesus Christ was sent to save. (Cf. John 3:16.)
Paul gives this command because there is work for Timothy. He must reject the old wives’ fables of all those who leave the faith. He must labor so that the foundation stands. This he must do in the assurance of the Son of God who is at the Father’s right hand and who has the authority over all the powers of hell. Christ says to Timothy through Paul, “These things command as my authorized evangelist.”
But Timothy must not neglect “to teach.” Basic to the work of the key power of the Word is that of authoritative teaching. It is by sound teaching that we come to health-producing doctrine. The great mystery of godliness is a matter of teaching accurately the basic doctrines, i.e., “… that God is manifest in the flesh, is justified by the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up in glory” (I Tim. 3:16).
The church gathered by the truth of the gospel is the pillar and ground of the truth. Paul shouts triumphantly in II Timothy 2:19, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
This is true godly exercise which Paul teaches and which the church is called to practice.
Some Questions to Consider:
1. Is it possible for any person to teach the Bible and not teach some form of doctrine – either false or true?
2. What does Paul say in Ephesians 4:14 concerning the sleight of men and of those who would shipwreck the children of God so that they will lose faith?
3. What is the strong weapon of the believer according to Ephesians 4:15?
4. Can a godly man deny the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
5. If one denies the mystery of godliness that is great (cf. I Tim. 3:16) can he or she be one who speaks the truth in love?
[*It seems correct to assume that no one but Paul know exactly what the special gift was that Timothy possessed. Paul, knowing this, encourages Timothy not to neglect this gift.]