Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but 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.
This is an urgent assignment from an apostle to an evangelist. It is the call to holy duty. Timothy must demonstrate in his actions that he is a “minister.” The title refers to all who are officially called to feed the “flock of God.” “Flock of God” is the term used here for the men and women who are called the “brethren” by the apostle Paul. It is a term of distinction. This distinction is given to those who have been foreordained of God to receive the Spirit of adoption; those who are anointed with the holy anointing of Christ -prophets, priests, and kings.
In the text they are singled out as the brethren. They are thus set apart as a class of men and women from those who are not brethren in the Lord Jesus, and who are not recognized by God as belonging to the flock of God that was bought with the blood of the Son of God on the Cross.
These “brethren” must not be deceived by the very adversaries of the Gospel, called by the text “apostates from the faith.” And what must Timothy do? Is he sent to seek the agents of the demonic world to repent? Agents and servants of the demonic world cannot be renewed unto repentance. (Compare Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26-31.) To attempt to do this would be disobedience to the will of God. The glorious task of an evangelist in this regard has the same great design as does that of all the other officebearers who are called to be busy in a work that results in the perfecting of the saints. (Cf. Eph. 4:11-16.)
Evangelists also have an office that is very carefully circumscribed and limited. It is limited to the gathering of the church and to the spiritual nurture of the “brethren.” Only the brethren are able to be anchored firmly in the “words of faith and good doctrine.” They can perform this exalted “ministry” only if they themselves have “obtained” a thorough expertise and training in teaching and exhorting.
It was to this class of evangelists in the church that Timothy had attained. (Cf. verse 6.) The verb in the Greek, translated in the KJV as “attained,” deserves careful attention. Let us try to see this. The verb in the Greek means: “to follow behind closely; to pay good attention to; to listen well.” In II Timothy 3:10 Paul makes the important point that, since Timothy has followed this manner of life and doctrine for nearly fifteen consecutive years (A.D. 50-65), he is completely knowledgeable about the pure apostolic doctrine. In the KJV we read, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life….” In II Timothy 3:10 the Greek perfect tense is used. The text reads as follows: “But thou hast closely followed my teaching…” This could not be said about any other evangelist. Besides, it cannot be said of every evangelist that God gave him the Spirit, “not of weakness, but of power, love, and sobriety.” This was given in a special manner with the laying on of hands by Paul in the midst of the brotherhood. (Cf. I Timothy 1:18ff.)
It is certain that Timothy understood very well the character of such arch-heretics as Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, whose heresies and words ate as a canker or gangrene and whose teaching took away a good conscience. (Cf. I Timothy 1:19, 20, and II Timothy 2:17.) These suffered shipwreck in the faith. Could these heretics have known the warning of Jesus to the twelve disciples, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6, 12)? Did not the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees permeate all the doctrine of these heretics- Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander? The Pharisees’ doctrine of work-righteousness denied the need of the perfect redemption of God’s people by the blood of the Lamb. The leaven of the Sadducees was revealed in this denial of the resurrection.
Yes, Timothy was very aware of these horrible heresies. Paul must have spoken often and repeatedly of them already in the first sermon during the first missionary journey when Timothy was converted some fifteen years earlier. (Cf. Acts 13-15.) Timothy knows intimately that only the truth of the Gospel makes a sinner free. He knows that all other preaching is mere Jewish proselytizing which prevents a sinner from entering the kingdom of heaven-a proselytizing that makes the unbeliever far more a child of hell than he was before in his unbelieving ignorance. Timothy must have learned that all the teaching of those who denied and departed from the faith were so many profane and old wives’ fables – Jewish fables. Even as a lad, when he believed the Holy Scriptures, he must have known that the religions of the Greeks (of his own Gentile father) were so many lies when compared to the teaching of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, i.e., the God of the burning bush. (Cf. Exodus 3:16; Matthew 22:28-33.)
Refer to Matthew 22:23-28 and notice how the “fable” concerning the woman who had seven husbands is used by the Sadducees to dispute the resurrection. Notice too how this fable withers before Jesus’ “searching of the Scriptures.” With a careful review and search of the Scriptures this fabulous idea of the Sadducees concerning the resurrection is demolished by Jesus’ infallible use and explanation of Exodus 3:16. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Paul says, “Yes, Timothy, you will prove yourself to be a good minister if you rebuke the errors of all who depart from the faith when you preach the full counsel of God without flinching.” (Cf. Acts 20:25-32.)
Timothy is instructed by Paul that he must exercise himself unto godliness. This exercising is part of his holy duty. When we are exercised unto godliness this is done by the Holy Spirit through the inspired Scriptures. Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures since he was a “child.” He had learned these first from his grandmother, Lois, and then from his mother, Eunice. He had tasted the power of these Scriptures. He had experienced that these Scriptures were able to make one “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:14-16). This is the bottom-line for Timothy as a mature evangelist, a good minister of Jesus Christ, one who can be addressed as a “man of God” (I Tim. 6:11). He knew the Gospel which powerfully works true godliness.
In these “last days” which Paul vividly and graphically describes in II Timothy 3:1-7 it is proudly asserted that men and women must seek “godliness.” There will be those who are “ever learning” to bring about a certain morality in life and in government. Yet, the very best that can be achieved-is an impotent form of godliness. It is a powerless godliness. All fails because of a lack of the true “exercise unto godliness.” At bottom it is all pure and! simple “ungodliness.”
The Holy Spirit tells us in II Peter 2:1 that false prophets privily shall bring in damnable heresies. They are those that shall “deny the Lord that bought them,” and thus bring upon themselves swift destruction. These God will not spare. These will be like the world that perished in the Flood. They are like the evil angels who were cast down by God into hell. In His righteous wrath God delivered the angels that sinned and put them in chains of darkness to be preserved unto the great judgment (Jude 6). Among the ungodly are those who are exercising themselves from ungodliness unto more ungodliness. These are in the gymnasium of the false prophets who teach, let us eat, drink, and be merry. They have the fear of torment in their empty boldness. They flee from the preaching of the Gospel and the royal law of liberty. (Cf. James 2:7.)
All that these, who once claimed that they were saved, can do is “exercise” themselves unto more ungodliness. The Holy Spirit writes of these sinners that they are those “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin, beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous (idolatrous) practices; cursed children” (II Pet. 2:14). Read II Peter 2:17-21.
Turn again to I Timothy 4:6-9. Was it not impossible for Timothy to do anything but exercise himself unto godliness with every fiber of his being? As a well-informed and godly evangelist, could he do anything but “refute” such profane teachings? Does note very good minister of Jesus Christ cast away all that is profane and that which does not belong in the living confession of the church? That which is vile and blasphemous must be cast out because it violates the holy and saving mystery of godliness, which is as great as God is great in loving kindness and mercy. Profane teachings that must be “refused” by the good minister is that which blasphemes God – a God which no vile, unsaved sinner can see and live (Ex. 34:19-23; II Cor. 3:7-16).
Is it even conceivable to propose that Timothy would try to demonstrate with rational grounds the error of those who “depart from the faith” and put a yoke of the law’s bondage upon the “brethren”? Timothy is called to reject these profane preachers and their demon-inspired’ teachings once and for all. He is to give no quarter to the lie of the great Liar from the beginning.
There is another “exercise” unto godliness – an exercise unto more godliness. This exercise unto godliness can be seen both in the preaching and in the walk issuing from a pure conscience – a conscience that has been purified from dead works to serve the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This exercise is not an exercise in old wives’ fables but it is an exercise in the gymnasium of God. It is an exercise according to which we receive God’s sure promise-the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Paul says that the bodily exercise of the profane profiteth little, but the true exercise of godliness has a “promise” of God.
This promise of God is yea and amen unto the glory of God the Father. Writing as a saved minister of the gospel, Paul, the chief of sinners, wrote, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Tim. 1:15). Paul wrote this as he looked forward across the entire first epistle to Timothy. Using the same phrase in I Timothy 4:9 Paul, who is counted worthy to be a minister, writes looking back on the words we have studied in this lesson. In this instance the apostle Paul gives an attestation concerning the spiritual unity between the words of faith and good doctrine.
…to be concluded
1. Is it not a trivial matter to develop an argument for or against bodily exercise from I Timothy 4:8? Does the “little profit” with respect to exercise spoken of here fit into the category of the “spiritual exercise” of those who are chastened of the Lord because they are “sons” and not spiritual bastards?
2. Does not the question persist, What can be said about the little “profit” of those who do bodily exercise? To what does the bodily exercise (somatikoos) refer? Does it refer to physical exercise that we all need? Does it refer to the Jewish abstaining from eating too much food? Does it refer to the practice of severe moderation in all things? Does the man eating without moderation not suffer the ill effects of eating too much? Why did Timothy need to be admonished to drink a little wine for his “oft infirmities”? Is Paul thinking about bodily, self-inflicted exercises where everything is relative and basically meaningless?
3. What should be our judgment concerning the view that Paul has reference to the physical self-mortification as practiced by the ascetic who attempts by his rigid ascetic exercises to liberate himself or herself from the physical creation and thus liberate his spirit from the imprisonment of the “evil body”? Would the Holy Spirit permit the teaching that the “work religion” of theosophical-mystical gymnastics has a little profit in this world apart from the exercise unto godliness? Does it not seem that all spiritual sobriety is lacking when the bodily exercise of paganism and work righteousness is permitted to have even a little place in spiritual exercises? Could this exercise refer to an exercise permitted by God in the battle against all ungodliness of the flesh as Paul speaks of this in I Corinthians 9:19-27? I welcome any good answer to this question which operates according to the teachings in which one is exercised unto sound doctrine of godliness.