1 Timothy 4:1,16
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
As we’ve already seen, Paul’s two letters to his young friend Timothy are those of a mentor to a mentoree.
We see the highly personal nature of his words of encouragement and exhortation as he writes, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (
Put yourself in the place of Timothy. Imagine yourself as one who is being mentored by Paul. You’ve received letters thus far filled with important instructions of faith and practice.
Now Paul gets highly personal, letting Timothy, you and me know that he would love to come and be with us and share these words in personal, oral, verbal conversation. Unfortunately, he is delayed and can’t do it, so he’s putting it in writing.
He therefore takes this opportunity to put in writing what is the real purpose of his letter. He’s telling us that he’s writing so that you and I will know how one ought to behave within the household of God, which is the church of Jesus Christ. He’s talking about us fleshing out our beliefs in God’s truth, both in faith and in action.
I’d like for us to look at five reminders.
First: Paul reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ is the pillar of the truth.
Remember, Timothy now is pastoring the church at Ephesus. The first century Ephesus was one of the great port cities of the Roman Empire. It was also the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the great Temple of Diana.
Travel to Ephesus today, and you will see the archeological remains some 2,000 years later of that once glorious city.
Today, the waters of the Mediterranean do not come all the way to Ephesus. Centuries of soil erosion have made the archeological site an inland city. Then, there was a great chariot way lined by huge pillars that led to where the ships were moored and docked right up to the center of the city. Back then, massive pillars held up the Temple of Diana.
So when Paul refers to the church of the living God as being the pillar and bulwark of the truth, there was no question what he meant. He was reminding Timothy, as he reminds us today, that the church of Jesus Christ is not a man-made, physical building, as impressive as was that great wonder of the ancient world. The church of Jesus Christ is more impressive than that. It is the temple of God, the household, the family of God. And the pillar that upholds the truth of who God is and how God functions is this great company of believers – past, present and future – this great household of the faith upheld by the very truth of God’s revelation of himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
At this point, Paul launches into a great, Christ-centered hymn. He writes, “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (
What a contrast this is to the pagan worship of the first century and all the competing religions and philosophies of today.
This is why every time we receive a group of new members into the life of St. Andrew’s, I give this charge: “Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ. He is the one, the only one, who will never let you down.” How important it is to realize that the church is not just another social organization. It’s not the Temple of Diana. It’s not a grand building or a wonderful social institution. As much as a church may have a fine facility and be providing programs that enhance the quality of civic life, ultimately, it’s important that we realize that we are men and women who are gathered together to sing our hymns of praise to Jesus Christ, building our individual and corporate lives upon Him. Jesus Christ is the pillar that upholds us in our individual and community life. Jesus Christ is the one great cornerstone. Centuries may come and go. Visible expressions of the local church, both in terms of physical facilities and even communities of faith, may grow up and ultimately disappear, but Jesus Christ is still alive, and His Church reemerges to evidence itself throughout the entire world and has done so for the last 2,000 years.
Second: Paul reminds us that the Christian faces constant challenges.
There’s never been a time in history in which God’s followers are not challenged in their faith by the surrounding culture.
Back to the Old Testament times, you see the foreign gods competing for attention and allegiance with the one true God of the Old Testament Scriptures of the Law, Prophets, and the Writings – whether it was Abraham setting out from the Ur of Chaldees, to the years of the Hebrew people in Egypt, to all those years of the judges and the kings and the various exiles returning to the land. Up until the first century, God’s people were challenged by the various cultures, religious expressions, and even specific gods of the people surrounding them. Moses went up against priests of Egypt. Elijah and his fellow prophets had to contend with the constant challenge of the prophets of Baal. Daniel and others had their lives threatened for their faithfulness to the one true God and their refusal to bow their knee to either foreign gods or foreign emperors.
In the first century, the Christians were pushed around by Jewish zealots at one extreme and hateful worshipers of pagan gods at the other. How easy it would have been for them to go native in a synchronistic blend of Greek philosophy, Greek/Roman pagan religion, and Roman emperor worship. In fact, some were pushed around. Some were led astray. Paul is urging Timothy to stand fast as he faces these challenges.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. (
1 Timothy 4:1-5)
We face the same pressures today. We accommodate ourselves to the political correctness of the times. The Temple of Diana at Ephesus has been replaced by the religion of Oprah today. You know this is not an attack on the personhood of an entertainer, who, in many ways, makes a valuable contribution to our society. At the same time, the Oprahs and the Dr. Phils of this world are seductive in the self-help that they give that sounds so good and even has a hint of positive-thinking religion but bends over backwards to avoid any mention of Jesus Christ and the faith once delivered to the saints. We live in an era in which anything goes. Any kind of religious notion is acceptable. But you dare not name the name of Jesus Christ.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, I agreed to once again “offer the invocation” at the Newport Beach City Council meeting. I knew that, because of some civil liberties suits, no longer would prayers be allowed to be prayed in the name of Jesus Christ. Behind the scenes, I’ve been assured by some of our city leaders, whose confidentiality I will protect, to feel free to pray however I choose to pray. However, I’ve received this communication in the mail that reads, “According to the Court of Appeal, prayers at the start of government meetings do not violate the United States Constitution as long as ‘there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance anyone, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.'” I would agree with that, but then the city council has gone on to be very specific, declaring that, “The invocation should not refer to terms associated with a specific religion, sect or deity such as ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Allah’ or ‘Our Father in Heaven.’ The invocation should not refer to a particular religious holiday, significant date, holy day or religious event. You should not read or quote from any sectarian book, doctrine or material.”
The question is, to whom is one praying? How can one even call this an “invocation,” which implies the invoking of blessing of some higher power? Even that statement becomes a religious statement in and of itself, doesn’t it?
The dilemma I face is whether or not I should accept the invitation at all. If I do and if I pray disregarding the instructions, knowing as I’ve been told by some of our civic leaders that the city is protected by having given me these instructions, to do that would be a kind of blatant, insensitive disregard for civic authority. So perhaps all I can do is go and wish them well, invoking my fellow citizens to encourage our civic leaders and to do our praying to God for them in private, when we can address, with great urgency and intimacy, the Creator, Sustainer God who has come in the person of His Son Jesus Christ and is present now in the power of His Holy Spirit.
Paul alerts us to the fact that not only do we have this larger cultural context with the multiplicities of religious philosophies and thinking about God or the lack of God, there are additional challenges. He mentions that there will be who those will take away from the faith.
He writes, “. . .some will renounce the faith. . . .”
We see some of this in our own denomination. More specifically, in recent months, we’re seeing this in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop John Spong has become one of the more controversial leaders in the Episcopal Church, attacking the historic doctrines of the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the biblical lifestyles outlined within the Bible and in the historic teachings of his denomination. What few people know is that he grew up in an evangelical environment, was active as a youth in Youth for Christ in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here is a person who has renounced the historic teachings of the faith, whose conscience has been “seared with a hot iron.”
I’ve been watching with prayerful concern the courageous stand of our brothers and sisters at St. James Episcopal Church here in our own community. They’ve had the courage of conviction to uphold the historic teachings of the church as expressed in the Bible, and they’re in the process of paying a terrible price for these convictions. They are trying to make clear in every public utterance the reason for renouncing the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church in the United States, in bringing themselves under the Diocese of Rwanda, is not the homosexual issue. The real issue is the departure of some of the major leaders in their denomination that attacks teachings of Scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and life standards as revealed in the Scriptures. The fact is that St. James Episcopal stands in solidarity with the great majority within the Anglican Fellowship worldwide that is meeting this month in the Lambeth Conference. This group is endeavoring to address precisely what Paul is talking about here, those who are renouncing the faith, whose consciences are “seared with a hot iron.”
And this is precisely what we’re dealing with in our own denomination. We are only a couple of years behind our Episcopal brothers and sisters in this painful odyssey.
Paul also notes that there are some who renounce the faith by adding to it.
He specifically refers to those who elevate esthetic practices as being essential manifestations of the faith. This week I’ve been reading through some of the early church writings of the first four centuries when wonderful, devout people of God chose to live monastic lives. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless one makes that normative for all believers. There were those who said you could not eat pork and be a believer in Jesus Christ. There were those who said you could not be married and be a follower of Jesus Christ. Paul is urging us to make certain that we do not add to biblical teachings those things that are not essential to the faith, majoring on minors and being disruptive to the community as a result.
The facts are, there are many challenges to the Christian faith on a daily basis, particularly difficult for our young people as they are exposed to peer pressure of friends who argue for the validity of alternative lifestyles and beliefs. And it gets extra tough when they are exposed to the secular education process when their very faith itself is challenged and even belittled by professors and fellow students who are hostile to biblical teaching and lifestyles.
Billy Graham writes in Day by Day with Billy Graham by Joan W. Brown:
It is not unusual for persons in their early 20s to defect from their early teaching. The reasons are many. Perhaps their exposure to unbelief “took” better than their exposure to belief. This is often the case, for the Bible says, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things.” The human heart is as prepared by sin to accept unbelief as faith. Someone they regard very highly has undoubtedly influenced their thinking; and for the time being they look on their early training as “bunk.” As someone has said, “A little learning may take a man away from God, but full understanding will bring him back.” Some of the staunchest Christians I know are people who had periods in their life when they questioned the Bible, Christ, and God. But as they continued to examine the matter, there was overwhelming evidence that only “the fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”
Third: Paul reminds us of the athletic nature of the Christian life.
If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (
1 Timothy 4:6-10)
There is much in this passage that you will have to unpack for yourselves in your own personal study and your covenant group discussions.
What I’d like to look at for a moment is this athletic metaphor that Paul uses. I find it most helpful in my own understanding of the Christian life.
Paul declares that, “Physical training is of some value.”
I’m grateful for an older friend who was a coach at a college that I did not attend who challenged me as a 14-year-old to regular, strenuous, physical exercise and cardiovascular conditioning. Back in those days, physical fitness was not as big a deal as it is today. Yes, there were some who, in the early days of black and white television, did their exercising along with Jack LaLanne. My grandmother on my mother’s side was one of those. The physical exercise and conditioning was primarily in the realm of the competitive athlete, not something that was committed to for the rest of one’s life. This friend challenged me to life-long conditioning, not just for my years of competitive football, basketball and baseball.
In college, I had a football coach who loved to quote this text to my fellow students who were not engaged in competitive athletics. He would say that even the Bible encourages physical exercise and then quote this verse.
Physical exercise is of value for this life.
I urge you, if you do not have some kind of a physical fitness program, however old you are, to get on one. Consult your doctor, if it’s a brand-new beginning for you. Do it wisely, but do it faithfully. Back in 1954, I started running four to five miles three or four days a week. In those days, people in cars would stop and offer to give me a ride, thinking I was in a hurry to get somewhere. That’s how uncommon jogging was in those days. Now after 39 years of jogging, I’ve gone to aerobic walking, daily stretching, and occasional use of light weights.
Paul, writing to Timothy who was pastoring in Ephesus in an environment where athleticism of the Greek games was important, underlines how profitable physical exercise is for this life.
But then he segues, building on that athletic metaphor to emphasize how important is spiritual conditioning. This spiritual conditioning is of value not only for this life, but for the life to come.
He writes, “Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (
The writer of Hebrews challenges us with the athletic nature of the Christian life, writing, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (
Paul writes to the church at Philippi, declaring, “. . . but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (
Are you training yourself in godliness? Are you taking it as seriously as you do physical conditioning?
Again, did you notice the charge I gave to the new members? Not only did I charge them to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the church, I gave them a four-fold charge, which is really the challenge to spiritual athleticism.
One, be faithful in church attendance. How easy it is to neglect that discipline and get out of spiritual shape. The Scripture tells us to not neglect the assembling of ourselves together. We need each other to stay strong and healthy in our faith.
Two, engage in adult education. You and I need to know the truths of the faith once delivered to the saints. That comes from study, individual study, but also exposing ourselves to the solid biblical teaching of others, involvement in the life of the local church, and through reading and listening to tapes and healthy, positive Christian broadcasting.
Three, be actively involved in Christian fellowship. Get active in a covenant group, if you’re not already active. Take seriously the privilege of knowing and being known by five to 12 other people with whom you can discuss the Scriptures, share your lives and pray.
Four, find a place of servant ministry, both within the life of the church and outside of the church. That’s part of the athletic nature of the Christian life, to be engaged in the service of others. You’ll grow flabby, seriously, if you’re just in it for what you can get out of it. The process of serving others provides you with spiritual muscle.
This kind of spiritual athleticism holds great promise for both the present life and the life to come.
Fourth: Paul reminds us to not let anyone put you down.
At this point, he’s dealing with the issue of self-esteem.
Imagine what it would have been like to have been Timothy, the sidekick, the mentoree of the great apostle Paul. Apparently, he, by nature, was somewhat timid. Imagine how intimidating it would be to live a good part of your life in the shadow of Paul.
Paul is affirming Timothy in the gifts that God had given to him. And he’s urging him to “Let no one despise your youth . . .” (
Remember, it’s never too early to exercise your spiritual gifts.
You may have been taught by teachers whom you admire who you will always see as much greater leaders in the faith. In some ways, that’s a sign of humility. Be grateful for those who have given leadership in the past. But the fact is, you’ve got to pick up the baton and carry it yourself, even though you may not feel that you’re quite the spiritual athlete as the one who is handing off the baton.
Paul is telling us, be the person God created us to be. Don’t just live in the shadow of your mentors. Stand up and see yourself affirmed by the Lord. Be everything God created you to be, no matter how young you are.
He is also saying it’s never too late to be of service for the Lord.
We live in a youth-oriented society. How easy it is as we age to see ourselves as old fossils, out of touch with the younger generation. The fact is, the younger generation needs to see some veterans of the faith who have been at it a long time and who, “through it all, have learned to trust in Jesus, have learned to trust the Lord.”
That’s one of the advantages of a church that’s not a niche-marketed church, a church that is committed to cradle-to-grave ministry where all ages are present, where, in a growth developmental process, no one is too young, no one is too old to be of value within this community of faith. The God of all creation gives you healthy self-esteem. See yourself as created in the image of God, fallen in sin, yes, but redeemed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and of ultimate worth and significance in His kingdom.
Fifth: Paul reminds us to set an example of believing the truth.
As we’ve already seen in previous messages, there will always be someone watching.
Paul tells us to set the believers an example in speech. Never minimize the impact of your words. They have the capacity to put down or encourage, to compromise or uphold truth, to be constructive or destructive.
Paul tells us to set the believers an example in conduct. You’ve all heard the statement, “I can’t hear his words; his actions speak so loudly.” We say a lot to others by our actions. How congruent are they with our words?
Paul says for us to set the believers an example in love. We can be eloquent in our words and magnificent in our accomplishments. But if our speech and actions are not undergirded by genuine love, we’re in trouble, aren’t we? Check out what Paul has to say about this in
Paul says to set the believers an example in faith. People are watching you and me. Are we men and women of faith? Do we really trust God to get us through one day at a time? Do we claim His forgiveness? Are we empowered by the Holy Spirit?
Paul says to set the believers an example in purity. In a world so filled with moral debauchery, are we people whose lives humbly, with God’s help, live up to the standards God’s Word sets for us?
There is a delicate oscillation of speech, conduct, love, faith and purity that work together in the life of the believer, bearing witness to the truth that is ours as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to take these five examples seriously.
Some 1,500 years ago, St. Augustine put his finger on the oscillation of these five when he wrote these words in his writing On Christian Doctrine:
However, the life of the speaker has greater weight in determining whether he is obediently heard than any grandness of eloquence. For he who speaks wisely and eloquently but lives wickedly may benefit many students, even though, as it is written, he “may be unprofitable to his own soul.” . . . And thus they benefit many by preaching what they do not practice; but many more would be benefitted if they were to do what they say.
Isn’t this the essence of integrity?
I love the way Paul ends this passage. He says:
Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (
1 Timothy 4:13-16)
Thursday, I was in Boston for the Board of Trustees meeting of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. What I experienced in two different parts of that board meeting drove home the teaching of this passage.
Thursday noon, four students addressed the entire Board of Trustees, each of them bearing their own personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.
One is a young American-Korean lawyer who got his call to Gospel ministry in a way that may still involve his legal training.
Another is an Afro-American young man who has had to battle economic deprivation and racism. God has called him and his wife of less than two months to full-time Christian service.
Another is a young woman of an Irish-Italian family who went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point but left because of some negative experiences. She drifted into radical, godless feminism and has remarkably come to vital faith in Jesus Christ. She is preparing for ministry in the spiritual renewal wing of the Episcopal Church.
Another is a typical white male, recent graduate of a Christian college who God has called, with six other of his fellow students, to move off campus in their second year of seminary to the toughest poverty and drug-ridden community of Salem, Massachusetts. They are having an incarnational witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.
We trustees were left in humble awe and, at points, even in tears as we heard these young people share their faith in Jesus Christ and their call to serve Him. All I could think as I heard these young men and women talk was Paul’s words to Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” That’s what these young people were doing. What a privilege it was to affirm them in that.
Then, that night, after dinner in the president’s home, an 80-year-old veteran of the faith, one who has been on that board for all 35 years I have been, was given 40 minutes to give his testimony. Again, I and the rest of us were moved to tears as he told of growing up in Washington State, coming to faith in Jesus Christ as a young man, going off to college, pastoring a couple of years out of college, then on to seminary, then to the mission field and back to the United States as an associate pastor, then pastoring for 20 years at the Park Street Congregational Church in Boston. Paul Toms so graciously and humbly gave testimony to God’s faithfulness in a way that balanced off the testimonies of these young people, whose most productive years lie ahead of them. This dear veteran of the faith wouldn’t have been presumptuous enough to say this about himself, but it was clear to us that, decade after decade after decade, he had been setting the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and purity.
That’s what it’s all about, my friends. Thank God for the privilege of such a life!
John A Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.