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11. Becoming Good Ministers of Christ (1 Timothy 4:6-10)

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By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness. For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers.

1 Timothy 4:6-10 (NET)

How can we become good ministers of Christ?

Paul says this to his son in the faith Timothy, “By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.” The word good can be translated “noble,” “admirable,” “excellent,” or “beautiful.” “Servant” can be translated “minister.”1 A minister of Christ is someone who ministers for Christ in the manner Christ would minister if he were here (cf. 1 Peter 5:2, 4).

Certainly, this applies specifically to pastors and teachers, but it applies generally to all Christians, as we are all called to serve and minister. Paul said in Galatians 6:10, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” Christians are supposed to serve their neighbor, co-worker, family, other believers, and even their enemies. How can we be good ministers of Christ?

As we consider this text, we can discern qualities of good ministers of Christ.

Big Question: What qualities of good ministers can be discerned from Paul’s exhortations to Timothy?

Good Ministers Warn the Flock

By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

1 Timothy 4:6

Interpretation Question: What is Paul referring to when he says, “By pointing out such things…, you will be a good servant of Christ”?

When Paul says if you point out “such things” to the brothers and sisters, he refers to the false teaching and apostasy that will characterize the church in the last days (cf. 1 Tim 4:1-5). “Pointing out such things” can also be translated “to remind” or “to suggest.” It is a present tense participle which indicates that Timothy should be continually pointing out error to his congregation.2

Sadly, in our Christian context, it is often considered unloving and intolerant to point out error. However, it is one of the most loving things a minister can do. A shepherd does not just feed the flock; he also protects it. And this is also true of good ministers. In fact, a great deal of Paul’s ministry was exposing and correcting false teaching and warning of false teachers. In the book of Galatians, he corrects bad teaching about the law and works-righteousness. In Corinth, he corrects the abuse of spiritual gifts and the false teaching that the resurrection had passed. With the Thessalonians, he corrects bad teaching on eschatology. At times, as seen with Timothy, he even named false teachers—Hymenaeus and Alexander—so that others would not be led astray (1 Tim 1:20).

Obviously, this should not be the primary aspect of Christian teaching. Ministers are called to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and everything that Christ commanded (Matt 28:20), but there are also negative aspects to this teaching. Warning is an essential part of shepherding, and those who fail to do so open the door for their flock to be led astray and even apostasize (1 Tim 4:1).

Many ministers are out of balance in this area. Some only focus on guarding the sheep by pointing out false teaching and error and therefore the flock grows weak. Others only feed the sheep but leave them open to deception. There is a need for balance.

Certainly, these warnings don’t only apply to false teachers and false teaching, they apply to anything that could be harmful to another believer including sin and unwise practices. Proverbs 27:6 says faithful are the wounds of a friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (paraphrase).

Are you a good friend? Are you a good minister—willing to warn and point out error?

Application Question: How can a minister be balanced in his guarding and nourishing of the flock? How have you seen or experienced ministers who were unbalanced in their teaching?

Good Ministers Constantly Nourish Themselves on God’s Word

By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

1 Timothy 4:6

Another quality of good ministers is that they nourish themselves on God’s Word. “Nourished” can be translated “constantly nourished” as it is a present participle.3 It should be the continual discipline of a minister. Sadly, very few ministers truly nourish themselves with the Word of God—a good number are essentially anemic. Many, because they were raised in a Christian family or went to seminary, feel as though they already know it and therefore are not constantly studying God’s Word. It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. Unfortunately, this often happens with God’s shepherds. The reality is we can’t feed others if we have not first been fed. That is the life of a good minister. They are constantly being nourished by God’s Word, and because of that, they nourish others.

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.”

The word “dwell” means “to be at home with.” It is the opposite of being a visitor. When the Word of God is at home in our hearts richly, we naturally begin to teach and admonish others with all wisdom. For many, the Word of God is more like a visitor. They think, “Maybe, I’ll read the Word of God today or maybe I won’t.” Christians like that won’t be effective ministers; they certainly won’t be effective teachers.

Are you letting the Word of God be at home in your life? Are you constantly nourishing yourself on its truth? Not just the Psalms when you’re depressed, but a balanced diet of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the major doctrines of Scripture? This is necessary to be a good minister of Christ.

Application Question: Why is it so important for ministers to constantly nourish themselves on the Word of God? What happens when they don’t? What are your disciplines like when it comes to reading and studying the Word?

Good Ministers Are Obedient to God’s Word

By pointing out such things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, having nourished yourself on the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

1 Timothy 4:6

However, it must be known that good ministers do not just know the Word of God, they also practice it. Paul said, “the good teaching that you have followed.” Timothy not only had been trained since a child in the Scriptures but he was obedient to it (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-15). Ministers who study and teach but don’t practice, discredit the truth they proclaim. I heard the story of one pastor whose teaching was so good, no one wanted him to leave the pulpit. However, his life outside the pulpit made them never want him to return.

Sadly, this is all too common with ministers. They teach, “Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouths,” yet they are known for harsh comments and crude jokes. They teach to “forgive as Christ forgave you,” but they constantly hold grudges. These are not good ministers; they are bad ones.

James 1:22-24 says,

But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.

To study and teach the Word and not practice it is as foolish as a person constantly looking in a mirror but never fixing his hair, brushing his teeth, or straightening his clothes. It’s idiocy!

Are you both a hearer and doer of the Word? If not, James says you’re deceived about the reality of your faith (cf. James 1:22, 2:17). Obedience is not only a characteristic of a good minister but a proof of one’s salvation. Matthew 7:21-23 says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

Sadly, the church is full of those who prophesy, cast out demons, and do many mighty works in God’s name and yet Christ doesn’t know them—they are not saved (v. 22-23). Only those who do the Father’s will are saved.

Are you doing the Father’s will?

Application Question: Why is being a doer of God’s Word so important for a minister? Are there any specific areas that God is challenging you to be obedient in?

Good Ministers Avoid Ungodly Teaching

But reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness.

1 Timothy 4:7

Another quality of good ministers is that they avoid ungodly teaching. He says have nothing to do with “myths fit only for the godless and gullible.” It can also be translated “godless myths and old wives’ tales.” When he said this, he, no doubt, referred to the false teaching that forbade marriage and certain types of foods in the previous passage (4:4-5). However, it didn’t refer to those alone. “Old wives’ tales” was a common epithet used to describe something that was unbelievable.4 These teachings and others were void of Scriptural truth and therefore to be rejected. Good ministers must test and reject anything that is void of Scripture or that compromises Scripture.

Sadly, many ministers major on things that have nothing to do with Scripture—whether that be pop-psychology, self-help, eastern practices, or secular business principles. The problem with these ministers is that they have a faulty understanding of Scripture. Paul said this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Scripture teaches its sufficiency. It is sufficient to train in righteousness and to thoroughly equip the servant of God for every good work. Every minister must ask this question: “Is the Word of God really sufficient for righteousness or is it not?” One’s answer to this and application of it will affect whether they are a good minister or not. Good ministers, instead of giving themselves to godless myths (secular teachings void of God and Scripture), use God’s tools to minister to others. Second Corinthians 10:4-5 says,

for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.

Good ministers don’t use secular weapons because God’s weapons are both commissioned and sufficient. They use spiritual weapons that have divine power—the Word of God, prayer, worship, fellowship, repentance, etc. No doubt, when Christ returns and his servants must give an account, he will take notice of whether they used his weapons or not. Again, sadly, many neglect them for secular weapons with no spiritual power. Explicitly or implicitly they declare God’s weapons as insufficient to train God’s people in righteousness.

Are you willing to reject the godless teachings of the world and rely on God and his weapons alone? This is what good ministers do—they reject godless teachings.

Application Question: In what ways are ministers prone to rely on godless teachings instead of God’s teaching? What happens when they do this? Should ministers use secular teachings and if so when?

Good Ministers Practice Spiritual Disciplines

… train yourself for godliness. For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. In fact this is why we work hard and struggle…

1 Timothy 4:7b-10

John MacArthur said, “There is no effective spiritual ministry apart from personal godliness, since ministry is the overflow of a godly life.”5 It is for this reason that good ministers devote themselves to becoming godly. However, godliness doesn’t just happen. Paul told Timothy to “train yourself for godliness” (v. 7). The Greek word for “train” is “gumnazo” from which we get the English words “gymnasium” and “gymnastics.” It can be translated “exercise” or “discipline.” “The word speaks of the rigorous, strenuous, self-sacrificing training an athlete undergoes.”6

Paul encourages Timothy to exercise himself to godliness because the benefits are eternal. Unlike physical training, it holds promises for both the present life and the life to come.

Application Question: What are some aspects of this discipline or training? How can we train ourselves for godliness?

1. Discipline is an ongoing process.

The word “train” is a present imperative pointing to a continual process.7 It doesn’t happen overnight. Nobody can ever say, “I made it! I am godly, and therefore, I don’t have to work anymore!” (cf. Phil 3:12). When we stop disciplining ourselves, sin, compromise, and spiritual lethargy overtake us.

2. Discipline means getting rid of spiritual hindrances.

The Greek word “train” literally means “to exercise naked.”8 Ancient Greeks used to exercise and compete in the buff because clothing could hinder their performance. In a similar way, believers must get rid of anything hindering them from godliness. Christ said if our eye, hand, or foot causes us to sin, we should cut them off (Matt 5:29-30, 18:8-9). This means if what we are watching or reading with our eyes, if where we are going with our feet, or if what we are doing with our hands causes us to sin, we must get rid of it. Great athletes are ruthless in removing hindrances to their goals such as junk food, relationships, jobs, etc. Sadly, many Christians can’t become godly because they won’t rid themselves of spiritual hindrances—instead, they cling to them.

What is hindering you spiritually? What is God calling you to get rid of so you can look more like him and be a more effective minister?

  1. 3. Discipline means keeping our eyes on the goal.

Godliness comes from the old English Word “God-likeness.”9 It means to have a character and attitude like God. Like an athlete training to win a race, that is our ultimate goal. We must keep our eyes on our Lord Jesus and seek to be like him in every way. Hebrews 12:2 says, “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What is your ultimate goal? Is it wealth, success, friendships, or family? Or is it being like Christ and hearing him one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”?

4. Discipline includes working hard.

In verse 10, Paul says, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. In fact this is why we work hard and struggle.” No doubt, this describes a good minister’s spiritual training. “Work hard” and “struggle” were used of wrestlers in an athletic contest. “Work hard” means “to work to the point of weariness and exhaustion.” “Struggle” can also be translated to strive or agonize.

Spiritual discipline often includes not only fighting our mind but our body. It is a struggle to meditate on God’s Word in the morning and at night. It is a fight to pray when we don’t feel like it. It is a labor, even at times to exhaustion, to serve others when we ourselves are emotionally, physically, and spiritually broken; however, in the midst of this, there is God’s blessing and the fruit of godliness.

Sadly, many know nothing about labor or agony in their spiritual life. Their spiritual life is the easy road. They go to church when it is easy or convenient, but when there is a little agony—a little discipline—they are nowhere to be found. Good ministers discipline themselves to godliness.

5. Discipline includes getting proper rest.

One of the most important aspects of athletics is getting proper rest. Our bodies need rest in order to perform at their peak. But this is also true spiritually. For many Christians, Satan wins the battle before the day even begins because they were undisciplined with their sleep. They went to bed late and therefore could not get up to pray, read their Bible, or even go to church. And those who do faithfully serve and seek the Lord without proper rest, at some point, burn out. Sleep is essential to both physical athletes and spiritual athletes. An essential part of exercise or discipline is not just work but rest.

Are you getting proper rest including a Sabbath so you can effectively serve the Lord and others? God rested on the seventh day, not for himself, but to teach humanity their need for rest.

Application Question: What are some spiritual disciplines that aid in becoming godly? Which ones do you commonly employ and how have they helped you? In what ways is God calling you to grow in your practice of spiritual disciplines?

Good Ministers Continually Hope in the Lord

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers.

1 Timothy 4:9-10

The final characteristic of good ministers is their growing hope in God. Paul said, “we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers.” Hope is another word for faith. It is faith in something future. Paul and other ministers labored to exhaustion and strove to help others because they believed in a God who was living—not dead like pagan idols—and who was the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

While good ministers hope in God and heavenly things, unfaithful ministers primarily have earthly hopes. They hope in money, retirement, and secular success. Since their hope is secular, it manifests in their lives, and therefore, they become worldly. But for those whose hopes are eternal, as they hope in God, it manifests in a life of ministering to all and awaiting God’s kingdom.

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by saying God is the Savior of all people and especially of believers?

There is a lot of controversy over the meaning of this phrase. Most tend to accept one of these three views.

1. God is the Savior of all people, especially of believers, refers to God being a potential Savior for some and an actual Savior for others.

Christ died for all, and therefore, his death was indeed adequate to save all but only effective for believers. Scripture certainly teaches that not all will be saved, in contrast with universalist teachings (cf. Matt 25:41). However, this interpretation is unlikely since the text deals with God being the Savior of all, not a potential Savior.

2. God is the Savior of all people, especially of believers, refers to God’s common grace for all and his saving grace for some.

In this view, “Savior of all” does not refer to an eternal sense but a temporal sense. God is the Savior of all people in that he withholds his judgment on sin for all. He does not destroy us immediately, as we deserve, but is patient with us, hoping that we will repent. God provides rain, food, and clothing for us. He gives us life, breath, and everything else. In a temporal sense, God is the Savior of all, but in an eternal sense, he is the Savior of the church—those who believe in Jesus.

3. God is the Savior of all people, especially of believers, refers only to believers.

Some believe this passage has nothing to do with nonbelievers at all. John Stott’s comments are helpful in understanding this view:

Several scholars have drawn attention to some research by T. C. Skeat in 1979, in which he claims that the word especially (malista) should rather be translated ‘to be precise’ or ‘in other words’. In this case, Paul ‘is not saying that God saves believers more than he saves others; he is simply modifying his general statement that God is the Saviour of all men by adding the limitation that you cannot be saved unless you believe’.10

Either way, good minsters have a growing hope in God who is the Savior of all, especially of those who believe. A good picture of this is seen in 2 Timothy 2:24-25. Paul says,

And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth

Why does the Lord’s servant not engage in heated disputes? It’s because he hopes in God who grants repentance. It is God who saves souls; not us. It is God who changes hearts. Good ministers understand this, whereas, bad ones are prone to trust in themselves, their arguments, or the wisdom of this world.

Without this growing hope in God, many ministers quit and give up on ministry all together. Only hope in God who is a Savior will enable us to faithfully persevere, especially in difficult times.

What are you hoping in? Are you hoping in God who is a Savior? This is a motivating quality of good ministers. They hope in the living God, and this hope enables them to be faithful regardless of difficult people or circumstances.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to hope in him more and his characteristic of being a Savior? How can we grow in this hope? As ministers, what are the consequences of losing our hope in God?

Conclusion

What are qualities of good ministers—good servants of Christ?

  1. Good Ministers Warn the Flock
  2. Good Ministers Constantly Nourish Themselves on God’s Word
  3. Good Ministers Are Obedient to God’s Word
  4. Good Ministers Avoid Ungodly Teaching
  5. Good Ministers Practice Spiritual Disciplines
  6. Good Ministers Continually Hope in the Lord

1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 157). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 157). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 159). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 162). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 162). Chicago: Moody Press.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 163). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Accessed 5/5/16 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-13-discipline-matters-1-timothy-46-10

8 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 108). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

9 Guzik, D. (2013). 1 Timothy (1 Ti 4:7–10). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

10 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Leadership, Pastors

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