5. Sample Small Group LessonRelated Media
The provided sample lesson serves several purposes: (1) The content of Becoming Good Ministers of Christ (1 Tim 4:6-16) is very useful for small group leaders to read and apply to their ministries. (2) It is written in a way that a small group leader might teach a lesson—providing a potential model. (3) It introduces leaders to the type of resources available in The Bible Teacher’s Guide series. Becoming Good Ministers of Christ is the combination of a two-part lesson from BTG 1 Timothy. It provides a catching intro and a Big Question that will guide members to seek principles in the text about a good minister. It provides Observation, Interpretation, and Application Questions that leaders can use to facilitate discussion in the group. It can be used by a leader to make his own lesson or it can be read in a small group—stopping after each main point to interact over the content and application questions.
Becoming Good Ministers of Christ
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:6-16
How can we become good ministers of Christ?
Paul says this to his son in the faith Timothy, “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus.” The word good can be translated “noble,” “admirable,” “excellent,” or “beautiful.” Minister can be translated “servant.”1 A minister of Christ is someone who ministers for Christ and in the way 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 this in Galatians 6:10, “Let us do good to all but especially to those in the household 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
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus
1 Timothy 4:6
Interpretation Question: What is Paul referring to when he says, “If you point these things out…, you will be a good minister of Christ”?
When Paul says if you point “these things” out 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). “Point these things out” 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
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths 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 message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
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
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths 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,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
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 says, “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” 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
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly
1 Timothy 4:7
Another quality of good ministers is that they avoid ungodly teaching. He says have nothing to do with “godless myths and old wives’ tales.” When he says “godless myths and old wives’ tales,” 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: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly 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,
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to 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 to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive,
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 to be godly” (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 to be godly?
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?
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, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down 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 is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive.” No doubt, this describes a good minister’s spiritual training. “Labor” and “strive” were used of wrestlers in an athletic contest. “Labor” means “to work to the point of weariness and exhaustion.” “Strive” can also be translated agonize. It means “to engage in a struggle.”10
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 is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
1 Timothy 4:9-10
The final characteristic of good ministers is their growing hope in God. Paul said, “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” 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 those who believe?
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 those who believe, 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 those who believe, 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 those who believe, 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’.11
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. Paul says,
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
Why does the Lord’s servant not quarrel? 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?
Good Ministers Teach with Authority
Command and teach these things.
1 Timothy 4:11
Interpretation Question: What does command and teach “these things” refer to?
In 1 Timothy 4:11, the word “command” can be translated “to order.” It is a “call to obedience by one in authority.”12 It is a military word that reflects the fact that the church is God’s army and that spiritual leaders are called to pass down instructions with authority and conviction because they come from God.13 When Paul says command and teach “these things,” he refers to the instructions given to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-10: He should warn the flock of false teaching and avoid it himself. He should discipline himself to godliness and train others to do so. However, these instructions weren’t just for Timothy; they were also for the Ephesians. In this we see another quality of good ministers; they preach and teach with authority.
This was clearly seen in Christ’s ministry. The Jews marveled at Christ’s teaching because he spoke with authority. Rabbis simply quoted other rabbis, but Christ spoke for God (Lk 4:33). Before Christ’s ascension, he declared that all authority had been given to him and therefore we should make disciples of all men (Matt 28:18-20). Believers are meant to minister in his authority. First Peter 4:11 says that we should speak as the very “oracles of God” (ESV).
John MacArthur said this about the sad state of most preaching and teaching:
Paul’s command to Timothy contrasts sharply with much contemporary preaching. Preaching in our day is often intriguing, but seldom commanding; often entertaining, but seldom convicting; often popular, but seldom powerful; often interesting, but less often transforming. Paul does not ask Timothy to share or make suggestions to his congregation. Rather, he is to prescribe the truth to them.14
Application Question: How can ministers preach and teach with authority?
Preaching and teaching, whether in our private or public ministry, is not something conjured up from inside of us; it comes from understanding and applying these principles:
1. Ministers must believe that God’s Word is inspired and without error (2 Tim 3:16-17, Matt 4:4, Psalm 19:7-9). If we believe there is error in Scripture, it robs the Scripture and our teaching of authority. Billy Graham once struggled with whether the Bible was fully inerrant. One of his fellow ministers leaned towards liberal doctrine and that was affecting him. He even wondered if he would have to give up preaching. One day, he went into the forest and put down his Bible on a tree stump. He cried out to God, “Father, I am going to accept this as thy Word by faith!” Franklin Graham, his son, attributes that declaration as the beginning of a great move of God in Billy’s ministry. Shortly after, droves of people began to respond to Billy Graham’s ministry in a way that had never happened before.15
2. Ministers must properly interpret Scripture. If we are unsure of what a text means, again, we will lack authority in sharing it with others. Proper interpretation comes from diligent study and comparing Scripture with Scripture (2 Tim 2:15).
3. Ministers must recognize that they are called to please God and not men in their preaching. In Galatians 1:10, Paul said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Sadly, the church is full of men pleasers and very few God pleasers. God’s approval should be our motivation in everything we do, but especially in our preaching and teaching. When we seek to please God instead of others, there will be authority in our ministry.
4. Ministers must serve others out of an abiding relationship with Christ. Christ said, “If you abide in me and I in you, you will produce much fruit” (John 15:5 paraphrase). No doubt, this fruit includes God’s authority and power on our ministry to heal, to encourage, to strengthen, to build up, and even to tear down. If we neglect abiding in God, we will lack authority and power in our ministry.
Good ministers preach and teach with authority which comes from God. Christ has sent us forth with authority from heaven to make disciples, and when we are faithful, we operate in that authority (cf. Matt 28:18-20, Eph 2:6).
Application Question: Why is belief in the inerrancy of God’s Word so important to preaching and teaching with authority? How would you teach the inerrancy of God’s Word to somebody who doubts (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17, Matt 4:4, Psalm 19:7-9, Titus 1:2)?
Good Ministers Are Models of Godliness
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12
Application Question: Why is godliness in the life of a minister so important for ministry?
Next, Paul calls Timothy to not let anyone look down on his youth. Most likely, Timothy was around 30 to 35 years old.16 In that context, a great respect was given to age and wisdom, and therefore a youth was anybody from birth to forty years old.17 No doubt, some of the people in the Ephesian church struggled with Timothy’s young age. Maybe, they thought, “What can he teach me? He is so young!” However, Timothy was called to calm their fears by being a godly example.
John MacArthur said, “The single greatest tool of leadership is the power of an exemplary life.”18 Puritan Thomas Brooks said, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.”19 By being a godly example, Timothy would quiet the mouths of those who questioned his ministry.
Observation Question: In what areas was Timothy called to demonstrate godliness, and how can good ministers be examples in these areas?
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12
1. Good ministers model godliness in their speech.
Proverbs 10:19 in the ESV says, “When words are many transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Young ministers are often prone to excessive talking instead of listening. James 1:19 says, “be quick to listen and slow to speak.” Excessive talking often leads to sin. Good ministers must be good listeners—listening to what people say, what they are not saying, and listening to God. Only after deeply listening should ministers speak, and when they do, it should be in a loving manner (Eph 4:15). Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Our manner of speaking is just as important as our words. Good ministers understand that.
Are you modeling godliness in your daily speech, especially when others fail or hurt you?
2. Good ministers model godliness in their conduct.
Conduct refers to our behavior and lifestyle. In how we handle our money, our family, our friendships, our personal appearance, our work, our entertainment, and anything else, ministers must seek to glorify God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Are you modeling godliness in your daily conduct—your eating, drinking, and everything else?
3. Good ministers model godliness in their love.
Good ministers model biblical love. This love is not simply comprised of emotions, as is often considered by the world, but includes self-sacrificing service regardless of how one feels. In John 13:34, Jesus said, “‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Christ loved us by giving his life for us, and therefore, we must demonstrate this love to others. Good ministers sacrifice their time, money, and even goals to love God and people. As others watch, they are inspired to love more deeply as well.
Are you modeling godliness through your sacrificial love for God and others?
4. Good ministers model godliness in their faith.
This probably refers both to faith in God and faithfulness. Sadly, though Christians are saved through faith, most aren’t living by faith. They have no expectations of God. They don’t approach God in faith for him to move powerfully and change lives through Sunday worship. When they encounter difficulties, instead of trusting God, they fret, worry, and often quit. Even though Christians are believers, they often do not actually believe. Jesus said he couldn’t perform very many miracles in his hometown because of their lack of belief (cf. Matt 13:58). Sadly, this is true for most. They believe in a supernatural God but their worldview and faith are largely natural.
In addition, as mentioned, faith also applies to faithfulness. Our yes must mean yes and our no must mean no. If we say, we are going to do something, we must follow through. These are qualities of good ministers. They are models of faith in God and faithfulness in their daily lives.
Are you modeling godliness through your faith?
5. Good ministers model godliness in their purity.
This would have been especially important for Timothy, as he pastored in Ephesus. Ephesus was the location of the temple of Diana—the love goddess. She had thousands of temple prostitutes, and immoral sex was one of the ways people pleased her and sought prosperity. Sex and sexuality was exalted throughout the city and the Greco-Roman world for that matter.
Timothy needed to model purity both in his conduct with young women (1 Tim 5:2) and his thought life. Purity is not just an outward issue but a heart issue. Christ taught that a man committed adultery simply by lusting after a woman that was not his wife (Matt 5:28). To demonstrate purity in heart, Timothy needed to constantly take his thoughts captive and confess them to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). He needed to battle to keep his mind and heart pure by avoiding ungodly entertainment, practices, and relationships that characterized the Greco-Roman world.
Are you modeling godliness through your purity—your conduct with the opposite sex and in your heart? Good ministers model godliness in every area of their life—provoking others to godliness.
Application Question: If you had to pick one, which area of godliness—speech, conduct, love, faith and purity—do you struggle with most and how are you going to strive for godliness in that area?
Good Ministers Are Bible-Centered
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
1 Timothy 4:13
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by public reading and preaching and teaching?
Paul told Timothy to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching. Public reading of Scripture was very important in that culture, as many were illiterate and very few owned manuscripts. Books in general were very expensive. After reading, Timothy was to preach or exhort, which refers to challenging people to apply God’s Word. Teaching refers to the passing along of biblical doctrine.
This method of disseminating God’s Word was originally practiced in Judaism. In synagogues, Jews would stand to hear God’s Word read and then somebody would explain and apply the text. In Nehemiah 8, Ezra and the Levites read the OT for six hours and explained it to Israel, as they stood listening. Nehemiah 8:8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Similarly, Christ and Paul read and explained Scripture in the synagogues (cf. Lk 4:16, Acts 13:15).
It seems clear from Scripture that the Jewish method of presenting the Word carried over to the apostolic Christian church. This is often called expository preaching, as people teach verse by verse through Scripture after a public reading. It “exposes” truths in the text to the hearers by explaining the text in the ancient context and applying it to the contemporary setting.
John Stott said this about exposition: “It was taken for granted from the beginning that Christian preaching would be expository preaching, that is, that all Christian instruction and exhortation would be drawn out of the passage which had been read.”20 Kent Hughes concluded, “Therefore, any preaching that does not guide the listener through the Scriptures is an aberration from the apostolic practice.”21
Sadly, exposition is often not practiced in churches today. A pastor approaches the pulpit to read a text and then everybody waits anxiously to hear it explained. Then the pastor launches into a series of stories and jokes with a moral, political, or social conclusion and hardly even references the text or other Scriptures.
As a result, the church is malnourished, and most don’t even know what biblical preaching is. They come away from sermons saying, “That was so encouraging!” However, they don’t understand their Bibles any better. All they know is a bunch of stories, illustrations, and devotional thoughts.
It is important not only for pastors to expositionally preach God’s Word but also for the church to be expositional listeners. This means congregants listen to preaching to both understand the text in its original context and apply it to their contemporary life and situation. We have a lack of exposition in the pulpit, in part, because most congregants don’t really desire to understand and apply God’s Word. They just want to be encouraged or entertained. Paul said this in 2 Timothy 4:2-4:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Again, exposition is often neglected simply because people don’t want to hear it. Those who preach the Bible are mocked and criticized—called intolerant, irrelevant, and sometimes even boring. This doesn’t remove the responsibility of the preacher to preach God’s Word, but it does put responsibility on the hearers to demand God’s Word, instead of messages that simply itch ears and make people feel good.
In addition, good ministers are expositional not only in their public teaching but also in their private teaching. When a person is depressed, angry, or lost, ministers open their Bibles to present Scripture, explain its meaning, and apply it to that person’s life. They do this because they believe Scripture is useful for thoroughly equipping men and women for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Are you an expositional teacher? Do you share Scripture with people and apply it to their life or situation to help them grow? Are you an expositional listener? Do you come to worship to understand Scripture in its original context and applied to the contemporary setting? Good ministers are Bible-centered—they have a wholly biblical ministry.
Application Question: What is your experience with expository preaching—verse by verse teaching of Scripture? How has the church often strayed from its Jewish and apostolic roots in this area? Why is being expositional in preaching and hearing so important?
Good Ministers Faithfully Exercise Their Gifts
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
1 Timothy 4:14
As Paul instructs Timothy, he also commands him to not neglect his gift. We don’t know what spiritual gift Timothy had. If the context is considered, most likely his gift was preaching and teaching (cf. v. 13). Since “Do not neglect” is a command in the original, it implies that Timothy was being tempted to not use it and maybe abandon ministry all together.22 Timothy had a timid disposition (2 Tim 1:7). People looked down on him because of his youth. False teachers in the church twisted the Word, and persecution came from outside the church. One of Satan’s tactics has always been to intimidate the church into silence. He is a “roaring lion” seeking whomever he can devour, and fear is one of his tactics (1 Peter 5:8).
The tendency towards not using spiritual gifts is not unique to Timothy; it’s common for all believers. In the Parable of the Talents, the person who received one talent said to the Lord, “I was afraid so I hid my talent in the ground” (Matt 25:25, paraphrase). Fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of persecution, etc., all hinder believers from faithfully using their gifts.
God gives each person a gift at salvation, if not many gifts (1 Cor 12:7). However, at times, God gives gifts later in life to meet a need in the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:31, 14:1). This is probably what happened with Timothy. Second Timothy 1:6 says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” When Timothy was called into ministry, Paul prayed for Timothy and some gift was imparted into his life. Timothy had the responsibility not only to use it, but to develop and fan it into flame.
Our spiritual gifts must be developed and cultivated. They must become skills, as we use them and refine them for God’s kingdom. If we instead choose to neglect them, God may remove them. In Matthew 25, the master took the neglected gift away from the servant and gave it to another (v. 28). Afterwards the master responded, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (v. 29). Therefore, we all bear the responsibility to use and cultivate our gifts, lest God removes them.
Application Question: How can we discern our spiritual gifts?
There are several ways:
1. First, God gives gifts to serve the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:7), and therefore, we must serve in order to identify them. As we serve, we will find areas that we’re gifted in and areas we’re not so gifted.
2. Another way we discern our gifts is by whether we are edified by using them. Typically, while using our gifts, we will feel built up and encouraged (cf. 1 Cor 14:4). Serving outside our gift-set will be less edifying and even burdensome at times.
3. Not only will we be edified by using our gifts, so will others. This provides further affirmation in discerning our gifts (cf. 1 Cor 14:4). If one’s gift is teaching, others will be edified by his teaching. If ones’ gift is helps, others will be built up and motivated by his serving. As others are built up, God will affirm one’s spiritual gifts through them. When Paul mentions the body of elders laying hands on Timothy, this probably referred to his ordination to ministry.23 At some point, the elders publically recognized his gifts and affirmed his call to ministry. Something similar happened to Paul when he was called to missions in Acts 13:1-3.
Are you faithfully using and cultivating your spiritual gifts? Good ministers are faithful stewards of God’s gifts. They don’t hide them in the ground, they use them to build up others and expand God’s kingdom. In addition, they affirm the gifts in others and encourage their use of them (Heb 10:24).
Application Question: What spiritual gifts do you have? How has God called you to use and cultivate them as you serve the church? What specific people do you feel God is calling you to encourage and affirm their spiritual gifts?
Good Ministers Are Progressing Spiritually
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.
1 Timothy 4:15
Next, Paul tells Timothy to, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Often, there is a misconception in the church that pastors are perfect. Sometimes pastors reinforce this by never sharing their weaknesses or struggles (cf. Paul in Romans 7:14-25). However, they are not and are far from it. They must be “blameless” (1 Tim 3:2)—nothing in their lives should disqualify them from ministry—but they are not perfect. Pastors and ministers must continually be growing and progressing spiritually, and it is important for the congregation to watch their growth. As the members watch, they are inspired to grow, as well.
The word “progress” is a military term. It means a “‘pioneer advance.’ It describes the soldiers who go ahead of the troops, clear away the obstacles, and make it possible for others to follow.”24 As spiritual leaders grow in speech, conduct, love, and faith, they inspire the church to follow along the same path. No minister can lead others where he has not gone. Therefore, this is a quality of every good minister—they are constantly growing.
Observation Question: How was Timothy supposed to continue his spiritual progress and not plateau? How should all ministers continue their spiritual progression?
How was Timothy called to continue this growth? By being “diligent” in these matters and giving himself “wholly to them.” “Give yourself wholly to them” can literally be translated “‘be in these things so as to be absorbed in them.’”25 Timothy was called to be absorbed in the endeavor of seeking godliness, knowing God’s Word, and sharing it with others.
If this is how one keeps from plateauing spiritually, then it is easy to tell why many are not progressing. It’s simply because they are not giving their whole self to God’s calling. They give everything to work, school, family, and friends, but their spiritual life is continually neglected. Our spiritual life must come first, and from that, grace spills over into every other endeavor. Only those who are diligent, those who are “all in” will continue to grow in their prayer life, their knowledge of the Word, their teaching of it, and ultimately their ministry to others.
Are you all in or only partly in?
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” God’s grace was on his life to be an apostle; however, that didn’t mean he could be spiritually lethargic. He worked to complete the work God began in his life, and therefore, the grace of God was not without effect. Sadly, for many Christians, God’s grace is without effect. God gives much grace that is often neglected. He gives every believer power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7) and everything needed for godliness (2 Peter 1:3); however, many come up with excuses. They say things like: “I’m not a morning person,” “I don’t speak well,” or “That’s not my gift!” It is easy to toss God’s grace to the side by focusing on ourselves or others instead of our resources in him.
God’s grace is available. Are you using it? Are you working hard to fulfill God’s call? Paul said, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13, paraphrase). Good ministers are progressing spiritually, as they wholly give themselves to their work.
Application Question: Have you had seasons where you were more “all in”—fully absorbed into your spiritual life and ministry? What did those seasons look like? How can you better or more consistently give yourself fully to your calling?
Good Ministers Are Balanced
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:16
Interpretation Question: What does life and doctrine refer to?
Finally, Paul calls Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely, and if he did so, he would save both himself and those who listened to him. This is probably a summary statement of 1 Timothy 4:6-15—encompassing all the qualities of a good minister. “Life” obviously encompasses everything—his speech, his faith, his love, etc.—and “doctrine” includes both what he believed and taught. Paul told Timothy to stay away from godless myths and old wives’ tales (4:7) and also to give himself to public reading, preaching, and teaching (v. 13). His life, beliefs, and teaching needed to be guarded.
Paul probably mentions this because ministers are often prone to a dichotomy—a separation between their true life and their beliefs/teaching. In one scenario, the minister preaches and teaches but allows weeds to grow in his own life. He neglects his devotions and his family and children. He allows pride, anger, and bitterness to sprout in his heart. When he does this, he pushes people away from God—leading some to never accept Christ and others to fall away from him. This neglect may also precipitate his own stumbling away from the faith.
For others, they selfishly focus on themselves and neglect teaching. Because of this, many congregations are malnourished. This opens the congregation to a plethora of attacks from the enemy—leading some to fall away from the faith all together.
But again, this doesn’t just apply to pastors but to every minister. Parents must cultivate their spiritual lives and their teaching so they can raise godly children. When they don’t, they endanger their children’s spiritual lives and ultimately their eternal destiny.
When Christians cultivate their life and doctrine, those who watch them daily are inspired either to be saved or to grow in their faith. When they fail at cultivation, others are pushed away, and they also endanger themselves.
Are you cultivating both your life and doctrine? Good ministers are balanced. Their faith and the faith of others depend on it.
Application Question: How can ministers stay balanced by cultivating both their life and doctrine? What makes this difficult at times?
What are qualities of good ministers?
- Good Ministers Warn the Flock
- Good Ministers Constantly Nourish Themselves on God’s Word
- Good Ministers Are Obedient to God’s Word
- Good Ministers Avoid Ungodly Teaching
- Good Ministers Practice Spiritual Disciplines
- Good Ministers Continually Hope in the Lord
- Good Ministers Teach with Authority
- Good Ministers Are Models of Godliness
- Good Ministers Are Bible-Centered
- Good Ministers Faithfully Exercise Their Gifts
- Good Ministers Are Progressing Spiritually
- Good Ministers Are Balanced
Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown
The primary Scriptures used are New International Version 1984 unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version. In the “Sample Small Group Lesson,” the primary version used is the NIV 2011.
Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible. All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added. BTG Publishing all rights reserved. 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 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 165). Chicago: Moody Press. 11 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 167). Chicago: Moody Press. 13 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 227). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. 14 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 167). Chicago: Moody Press. 15 Accessed 5/18/2016 from http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/44815-while-preaching-billy-graham-once-wrestled-over-what-bible-teaches-son-admits 16 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2093). Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 17 Guzik, D. (2013). 1 Timothy (1 Ti 4:11–16). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik. 18 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 171). Chicago: Moody Press. 19 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 171). Chicago: Moody Press. 20 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 116). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 21 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 116). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 22 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 177). Chicago: Moody Press. 23 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 122). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 24 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 227). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. 25 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 118). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.
BTG Publishing all rights reserved.
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 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 165). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 167). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 227). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
14 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 167). Chicago: Moody Press.
15 Accessed 5/18/2016 from http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/44815-while-preaching-billy-graham-once-wrestled-over-what-bible-teaches-son-admits
16 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2093). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
17 Guzik, D. (2013). 1 Timothy (1 Ti 4:11–16). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
18 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 171). Chicago: Moody Press.
19 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 171). Chicago: Moody Press.
20 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 116). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
21 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 116). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
22 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 177). Chicago: Moody Press.
23 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 122). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
24 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 227). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
25 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 118). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Related Topics: Leadership