It may be well to note carefully that Paul had stated what the subject matter, the content of the preaching of Timothy shall be, with refutation of all errors repugnant therewith; particularly the error of those who, having fallen from the faith, seek their ethics in fleeing from the world, rather than conquering the world by faith!
Now Paul proceeds to exhort Timothy that he is to be a faithful preacher of the Mystery of godliness.
It strikes us that Paul speaks here in this entire passage of a (1) good minister, (2) of a minister who is to exercise himself unto godliness, (3) of the incentive of the reward—the reward held before the good and striving minister, who has his hope set upon the living God.
The passage in question reads as follows: “If thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of faith, and of the good doctrine which thou hast followed until now, but refuse profane and old wives’ fables. And exercise thyself unto godliness; for bodily exercise is profitable for a little, (or: little profit) but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of which is to come. Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptation. For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe (I Tim. 4:6-10).
In the first place, we would point out that “good minister” here should not be equated with a “good man.” See Romans 5:7. Paul does not speak here of a “man,” but of a “minister,” good minister, if you will! Now it is an indisputable fact that not all agree on what constitutes a good minister. The reason for this is that too often all attention is given to the term good minister and not to the term good minister! And since the term “minister” remains undefined the term good can have about as many shades of meaning as there are people. The popular notion of a good minister varies. Some feel that a good minister is one who has a good, clear and sonorous voice, a good, fluent speaker. (Incidentally Paul and Moses would hardly qualify.) Others intimate in some vague way that a good minister is one who is up to date; he is young, handsome, knows how to insinuate himself into the graces of the young people, can still go roller skating, and swing the old ball-bat at the young people’s outing or the Youth Convention. He’s a good preacher since he is so “nice” and so “young.” After all we need something for our young people. (Strange that God did not give young people fathers and mothers of their own ages!) When the young minister speaks, “Youth speaks!” Or, if he is a good visitor, who knows how to say exactly the right thing at the right time; one who moves easily and smoothly, and who is never a triangle in a square. But why go on? We only desire to intimate that in all of these reasons, “earmarks” (?) of a good minister, nothing is yet said about the minister. They are all things about the man. Surely the man must have certain qualifications. However, they must all be subservient to his being a minister, a “diakonos,” as the Greek has it!
The question is: is your minister a good minister of the Word? Is he truly what his official title says: Verbi Dei Minister! That is the question. The question is not is he a good sport, a good speaker, a good mixer. That is wholly beside the point. The question is not either is he learned, erudite, can he sport an A.B. degree, a D.D. or Ph. D. degree or even a Doctor of Literature degree. He may have all these and still be a very poor preacher, or what is worse, a very evil preacher, who, notwithstanding all his learning still does not know the first rudiments of godliness or the Mystery of godliness that is great! That he is learned is a good thing; just so that it is not an obstacle to overcome instead of an asset in the ministry.
Is your minister a good minister?
That is the concern of Paul concerning Timothy.
A good minister has the earmarks here enumerated by Paul.
Let it not be overlooked that Timothy is to be a minister. He is to serve the congregation with the bread of life when he speaks from the pulpit, in the home or otherwise. He is not to be a Lord, a Dominus, but a minister, a doer of little things. He is to be a servant in the house of God to feed the children of our heavenly Father with the bread of life, and to give them to drink from the water of life that floweth from the throne of God. He must not simply tickle the ears of the people who have itching ones, but he must preach the Word! The minister is there for the benefit of the flock and not the flock for the benefit of the minister; a good salary, a large congregation, giving a coveted prestige, good working conditions, a nice parsonage. He is a good minister in the same measure that he administers the Word to the flock of God!
Hence, he is to be a brother amongst the brethren. And Paul exhorts Timothy to be such a minister, a good minister. A man worthy of the name of a minister rightly divides the Word; he does not quarrel with the flock, but he teaches her the Mysteries in Christ. And he preaches carefully, exactly, concisely and to the point; he exegetes the Word and preaches the full counsel of God, the Mystery of godliness, applying sound rules of Hermeneutics. That requires much time and prayerful application of efforts and energy.
When Timothy will thus quit himself of his task, putting the brethren in remembrance of the teaching of God in the Mystery that is great, the revealed Counsel of God concerning our redemption, he will be a good minister. And then he will prove that he is nourished in the Word. He does not simply dabble a bit, employing the text to hang his own philosophy and observations on; a convenient hat rack for his philosophy, but he will preach the Word: thus saith the Lord. And always the congregation will hear Christ speak to her in the preaching. Such is a good minister!
It takes a long time to become a minister. Timothy had already had the faith at the knee of his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. Timothy grew up on the menu of the Word. That is evidently why often ministers and good teachers come forth from the parsonage, a home where they are nourished in the Word. Timothy grew up in a family where the grandmother did not tell “old wives’ fables” but where the Word of the prophets, fulfilled in Christ was on the “daily Manna” calendar of their life. Paul appeals to this. He says: “which thou hast followed up till now.” Timothy was steeped in the Word. He must remain in it and without fear or favor preach the Word, putting the brethren in mind of the truth in Christ. A minister must have eaten the Word. The prophets ate the roll, the scroll of God, so to speak.
These words are “the words of faith,” that is, they are Word which are the content of what we believe. We do not wholly understand and comprehend the word concerning the doctrine of God, the Trinity, Creation, Providence, the Conception by the Holy Ghost, the Birth of Christ from the virgin, Mary, the Suffering and Death, atonement and reconciliation, the Resurrection from the dead and the Renewal of all things. We believe them. We know in part and prophesy in part, but presently we shall know even as we are known. It is, therefore, words of faith.
And that is “good doctrine” and also “good ethics!”
All the rest, all philosophy of man to find God, which denies that in Christ we have Immanuel, God-with-us, is simply “old wives’ fables.” Paul called attention to the particular fables, which are concocted under the inspiration of Demons, by those who departed from the faith, in lying hypocrisy and deceit, proceeding from a seared conscience.
This must all be rejected in the preaching.
There are those who say: Let’s not talk about the teaching of other churches; let’s be positive. Now this latter remark is true. However, our positive preaching of the Mystery of Godliness allows for no error which is repugnant to the truth. The truth and the lie cannot both have the right of way on the high-way of the King. The lie is outlawed in Christ’s Kingdom; it belongs to the realm of the Devil, Satan, the Liar from the beginning!
For the teaching of error is always “profane.” The term for profane in the Greek is “bebeelos.” That which is profane is accessible to all, allowable to tread upon, and is closed against none. The broad-minded man is the profane man. The ta bebeela were the unconsecrated spots. And when employed of men it referred to those who were unconsecrated. Thus it was employed by the Greeks; thus it is employed by the Scriptures too. The profane fables are those which allow unbelievers a place. It is void of all key-power and the exercise of the same. It does not put the believers in the kingdom and unbelievers out of the kingdom of God; it lacks the two-edged cutting characteristic of the pure preaching of the Word. It is profane. Old women, irresponsible men may tell them with much pomp and tradition, with long robes and surrounded by much ritual and ado, they remain profane and fables under whatever titles they are named, or in whatever setting they are placed.
Timothy must reject this; he must rightly cut the word, the bread of life. The second exhortation of Paul to Timothy, his son in the faith, is, that the latter is to “exercise himself unto godliness.” The term exercise is the translation of the Greek “gumnazoo” from which our English term is derived. The term literally means: to be naked. Those who took part in the games were naked in old Greece. All such words as gymnasium, a gymnast, gymnastics are derived from the aforementioned Greek term. The English termexercise comes from the Latin “exercitium: to drive on, to keep busy. The entire section of Paul’s exhortations from here to the end of this chapter comes under the watchword: Exercise thyself unto godliness, press forward, study unto godliness and salvation; work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
The minister’s study is a gymnasium, a spiritual gymnasium in which each week he exercises, presses forward constantly toward godliness; it is a gymnasium of prayer and the exercise of faith, so that on Sunday he may preach the Word and be a good minister. And, O, it requires so much strength and prayer; each Sunday is to be viewed again as the supreme contest—a contest unto godliness, reaching forth unto the promised hope.
There are physical gymnasts in the world. It is sometimes called physical culture; the Greeks spoke of the perfect body, the perfect development of all the potentialities of the body. The world has its “Mr. America” and our “Miss America.” No one will deny that the development of a strong and healthy body does have merit. It has some profit, only the profit is a “little.” The term little may mean a “little while” (James 4:14) or it may mean a little profit. We do not believe that Paul here refers to the spiritual and mental gymnastics of the ascetic, the man who inflicts with pain his body. In the first place, Paul does not call sucherror profitable, I would say: not even a “little.” Besides, the entire idea of the term Gymnastics refers to the arena, the world of contests in the games. This all, purely as physical development, has value for this life, and then only for a little while. We all fade and die like flowers that grow in beauty; the strongest and most robust man is soon cut off. But in the spiritual gymnasium of study and prayer, rooted in faith, there is great gain, both for this life and for the life to come. Well may we be busy in this activity—in the study. The first duty in the office of the minister is prayer!