We are pleased to present to you the final three chapters of this wonderful book. In this post, Brad Carter talks about the importance of sound conduct for leaders in keeping with the teaching on sound doctrine. He challenges the notion that verse 12 is directed only to young people, and argues that every Christian leader is put under that admonition. To catch up on previous posts on this series, you can click the links (Introduction, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3). Enjoy the read and be blessed.
Have you ever wished you could take back something you said or did . . . right after it came out? I have.
In a recent meeting at work, I lost my cool. Ongoing frustrations with a colleague came to a boil and I responded poorly. I immediately wished I had responded differently, but it was already too late. Thankfully, others kept their cool. But not me, the team leader; I lost my cool. I am still disappointed in myself that I failed in that moment to be the leader I want to be.
Leadership is difficult. Being a Christian leader even more so.
The Apostle Paul knows this. After all, he suffered for Christ – not only as a follower of Jesus, but as someone who led missions to spread the Kingdom of God to new frontiers. He knows that leadership would be difficult for Timothy, too. Not just because Timothy is young, but because leadership is difficult no matter what age you are.
When we began this study on 1 Timothy, it was said that 1 Timothy 3:14-16 is the heart of the letter. It is here that Paul clarifies the reason for his letter: so that ‘you’ll already have these instructions on how to conduct the affairs of the church of the living God.’
CORRECTING FALSE TEACHING
The teaching in chapter 4 follows this heart immediately and, so, directly connects with its message. Paul spends the first half of the chapter talking about false teachings that will come from ‘hypocritical liars’ and demons (4:1). The specific false teachings that he lists – not getting married, abstaining from certain foods (4:2-3) – are not the important part of his message and we won’t dwell on them. Instead, we need to listen to Paul’s advice about what to do about these false teachings. In verses 6 and 7, he offers two bits of instruction in response:
“Nurture others in the living words of faith and in the knowledge of grace” (4:6). Maybe it’s important to note that Paul is not instructing Timothy to go around telling nonbelievers how wrong they are, but that this is about handling false teachings within the body of Christ. Instead, he says to ‘teach the believers’ (4:6) and nurture them in the faith so that they will be able to discern the truth.
“Be quick to abstain from senseless traditions and legends” (4:7a). I’m quoting from The Passion Translation (TPT) in this essay, largely because this verse is much clearer than more common translations that say ‘old wives’ tales/fables’ (NIV/KJV). ‘Senseless traditions’ captures clearly what the Western phrase ‘old wives’ tale’ means.
In other words, Paul is teaching to avoid cultural stories, traditions, and legends. The teachings about marriage and foods from verses 2-3 are likely examples of the types of ‘senseless traditions’ he is referring to.
What traditions, teachings, and advice from our cultures do we follow (and sometimes even teach in our churches!) that are not aligned with the Gospel? This question is worthy of some prayerful consideration and correction, because Paul’s advice is to avoid such teachings and to ‘instead be engaged in the training of trust that brings righteousness’ (4:7b).
But Paul is not finished here. There’s more to leading than knowing or teaching the right things.
MORE THAN JUST TEACHING
Paul shifts in the last half of the chapter (4:8-16) to talk about how Timothy should conduct himself as a church leader. The advice is summed up with a comparison between athletic training and spiritual training. Both have value, but spiritual training ‘contains the promise of life’ (4:8). Paul is not saying we should not engage in physical training nor is he teaching that our physical world is not important. He acknowledges the value of physical training along with the lasting value of spiritual nourishment.
But then he gets to the difficult stuff when it comes to leading: conduct. How we conduct ourselves is important because what we know or believe loses it’s meaning when we don’t live it out. Spiritual training should lead to spiritual living (not just knowledge).
A MESSAGE FOR LEADERS
Too often, we focus on Paul’s message in this chapter as a message for young people. (How many youth camps have chosen 1 Timothy 4 as the theme?)
The idea of being looked down on because of being young (4:12) is relevant to most of our cultures. And Timothy, being placed in a position of high leadership as a young and unmarried boy would be met with disapproval in most of our churches today. But in this biblical example, the elders had blessed Timothy as a minister and sent him out to lead (4:14).
Age does not automatically disqualify someone from ministry or leadership; nor does age automatically qualify someone for ministry or leadership. But, if we see the teaching in this section as limited to young people and not all of us (especially leaders), then we miss the important point Paul is making. Paul’s teaching is not for Timothy the youth, but to Timothy the leader.
While Paul says, ‘Don’t be intimidated by those who are older than you’ the lesson he offers is solid guidance for all of us: ‘Simply be the example they need to see by being faithful and true in all you do. Speak the truth and live a life of purity and authentic love as you remain strong in your faith’ (4:12).
It’s not what you know … what title you have … or who placed you in charge that matters. We are to be an example. How? ‘Be diligent in devouring the Word of God, be faithful in prayer, and in teaching the believers’ (4:13).
YOU’RE BEING WATCHED
In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul writes, ‘I want you to pattern your lives after me, just as I pattern mine after Christ.’ This same idea of followership is echoed in his final words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4. The way we live as leaders show others how to also live:
‘Give careful attention to your spiritual life and every cherished truth you teach, for living what you preach will then release even more abundant life inside you and to all who listen to you’ (4:16).
This is serious. Our titles, positions, and knowledge are not near as important as how we live before those entrusted in our care as Christian leaders in our homes, workplaces, and congregations.
May the God of love help us to be the people we are called to be.