Mighty to Save
(An exegesis of 1 Timothy 4)

"Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness..." Paul writes to Timothy, and he identifies this mystery as the truth of the gospel: "[Christ] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory." (1 Tim 3.16 *1)

In keeping with the theme of his letter, he goes on to express the importance of protecting this truth--of "holding" it well (1 Tim 3.9). Again, he defines the stakes: People will fall away, he writes (1 Tim 4.1 *2). The word used here, translated "depart," is aphistēmi (ἀφίστημι): literally apostatize. It's the same word Jesus used in the Parable of the Sower to describe the seed that fell on rocky ground. "But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away." (Lk 8.13) They aphistēmi from the truth of the gospel. They reject it. And then they leave. Except... they weren't leaving! Not in Ephesus, anyway. Paul was warning Timothy about folks who had apostatized from the gospel, and yet hung around and even desired to teach their non-gospel garbage!

Good thing we don't have that problem anymore.

Paul tells Timothy how to handle this situation in verses 6 and 7. First of all, he says to "put these things before the brothers" (1 Tim 4.6 *3). What things? Everything he's discussed so far:
  • The truth of the gospel (1 Tim 3.16)
  • That some will fall away (1 Tim 4.1)
  • What the false teachers are saying (1 Tim 4.2-3)
  • Truth that counters false teaching (1 Tim 4.4)
And he says the results of faithfully talking about these truths are:
  1. You will be a good deacon of Christ (*4)
  2. You will be nourished by the truth (*5)
All the verbs in 1 Tim 4.6 are present participles, that is, they express continuous or repeated action. So the verse should be read, "If you repeatedly put these things before the brothers, you will be continually a good deacon and be constantly nourished by the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed." This idea of being constantly nourished by the word of God is consistent with Jesus' teaching in John 6.35 when He said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." We don't just receive the gospel once and move on. We must feast on it daily (*6). So instruction #1 is: "Continually discuss truth."

Instruction #2 is two-fold. He commands Timothy not to partake in ungodly (*7) myths. Rather, train for godliness (1 Tim 4.7)! When Paul chose this word "train," he created quite an intense word picture for his readers in Ephesus. Of all the analogies he could have used, he decided on gymnazō (γυμνάζω) which is where we get our word "gym." It literally means "naked," but to the Greeks, the association would have been to strip down for the purpose of strenuous athletic exercise (think 1 Cor 9.24; 2 Tim 4.7; Heb 12.1). What he's saying is godliness takes work! We see this same type of language in verse 10; "labor and strive" (1 Tim 4.10) are indicators that godliness doesn't come automatically or easily.

"But," he assures them, "godliness is of value in every way," both for this life and the one to come (1 Tim 4.8). We have a great motivation! And not only is godliness of extreme worth, we also have another motivation--a hope--that drives us onward. Can you guess? Yes. It's the gospel. The gospel is the catalyst, the fuel, the reason we labor and strive for godliness.

Our God is mighty to save.
"To this end [godliness] we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (1 Tim 4.10)

Indeed, He is the unrivaled, aseitous Savior. Simply giving food and rain and breath to sinners makes Him a gracious, loving Savior. And to go beyond that level of love and eternally rescue and adopt sinners and call them His own in a scandalous act of redemption is unparalleled in all the universe. He is mighty to save. He is our hope. And He is the only hope of the lost as well.

"Command and teach these things," Paul says. He tells Timothy to set an example of godliness by the way he lives, and to devotedly, persistently, immerse himself in the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching, thus allowing the Spirit to move through him and save those who hear (1 Tim 4.13-16).


*1 - Considering the form of subject matters, I am convinced that 1 Tim 3.16 belongs with the body of chapter 4. Therefore I begin here.

*2 - Possibly a reference to Christ's prophecy in Mt 25.4 or perhaps these words are direct from the Holy Spirit to Paul (see also Acts 28.25-27).

*3 - The Greek word for "put before" is hypotithēmi (ὑποτίθημι) literally to lay down. The picture is of simply presenting the truth but nothing more. In Ro 16.4 Paul says two people had hypotithēmi'ed their necks for him. That is, they laid them down, risked them. That's what Paul is telling Timothy to do with these truths among the brothers in Ephesus: to offer them in an honest, humble, and vulnerable way.

*4 - The word for "servant" here, once again, is diakonos (διάκονος), the same word Paul used in Chapter 2 to label the office of Deacon.

*5 - NASB got this right. In the ESV this phrase reads "being trained in the words..." but the term Paul uses is entrephō (ἐντρέφω) which actually means nourished. The analogy, then, is to be nourished with words. Sure, "being nourished with words" can be paraphrased "training," and that's a correct interpretation. But it is an interpretation, not a translation, so let's be clear.

*6 -  "To the Christians in Rome Paul writes, "I am eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome" (Ro 1.15) so apparently the gospel is necessary even after conversion." - Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer

*7 - ESV's translation, "irreverent" myths, misses the point a little bit. I believe a better translation of bebēlos (βέβηλος) is worldly or profane. It is the opposite of holy and godly. Which is why Paul leads right into the contrast of what godliness actually is.

1 comment:

  1. Continuously dIscussing the truth means we must know what the truth is. Thank you for your exhortation to feast daily on The Gospel. The truth of the Good News of Christ changes lives for eternity. What better food is there to feast on? Taste and see that the Lord is good!