If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. – 1 Timothy 4:6-11
The passage before us is about practicing what you preach. It casts a light on what we practice and exposes the idols and sins so common among Christ’s ministers. Paul exhorts Timothy to “put these things before the brothers” in v. 6. What things? 1 Tim. 3:15 “how one ought to behave in the household of God.” That’s what the whole book is about – the aim of our charge in 1:5.
How do God’s children behave? Those nourished and trained in the words of faith and good doctrine? Paul says put the answer before the flock, which is a matter of both word and deed. This is a theme for Paul throughout his letter to Timothy.
Chapter 1, verse 16 says Paul received mercy from Christ so that Christ might demonstrate His transformative and saving work in Paul’s life, as an example for the flock. Jesus puts Paul and Timothy and you before the flock so that you can put Jesus before the flock.
We are messengers who are the message. God is love. God’s loving kindness and faithfulness are certainties. The minister’s life ought to be his primary example. How do you overcome sin? How are we healed? What is the aim of our charge? How do we love our wives as Christ loved the Church? What is submission? What is selflessness? What is service?
Behold the ministers who say, “behold the Lamb of God!”
The problem is, bad servants either do not teach it or do not do it, which makes them hypocrites also. Or, knowing they don’t do it, they teach something else which makes them false teachers. Either way, they are bad servants. Good servants, good Christians are trained by the words of faith and good doctrine – godliness. And 1 Timothy 3:16 says that Godliness is Christ. Our moral standing, our obedience – the way, the truth and the life – is Jesus. Good pastors are good Christians and good Christians are followers of Jesus. And following is about more then mere mental assent.
Paul goes on to finish the thought in 4:10. Paul tells Timothy that good Christians and good pastors toil and strive in the hope of the living God, the savior of the world. The aim of our charge is love. And Love is the living God. His way of life and His kingdom are the standard and the telos of our ministries because they are the standard and telos of mankind. That is what our text is about and wrestling with that exposes a great deal of weakness, folly and sin in our own lives.
Paul says in Ephesians that ministry workers are equipping the flock for the work of ministry and building up the body till we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God, to mature manhood.” The telos of our life and ministry is the ultimate victory of Christ over every heart and every inch of creation – the coming of His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
So, what we have to consider in our own lives is where we have gone astray in our standing and in our aim. What justifies us day in and day out? What is the point of our life and our ministry? Where have we strayed? Are we being good servants by practicing and preaching the words of faith and good doctrine?
Are we living in Christ? Are we preaching Christ in word and deed? Lets look at a few traps that pastors fall into and weigh them against our lives….
Traps for Pastors
What leads us from the true path to be bad servants? Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “come to me all you are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” But so often this is not our message. We are here to sanctify and cleanse after all – the authority and weightiness of our calling as teachers lends easily to overburdening, instead of unburdening.
Being Calvinists and reformed, we take sin seriously and amen, but how often does our teaching and our life resemble the teachers that Peter confronts in Acts 15:10 “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will”? This happens to us because we want to see fruit. We want to see behavior changed. We want to see maturity.
So, we heap burdens on our listeners instead of preaching the unburdening ministry of Christ. All too often, we preach from a place of frustration instead of hope. We don‘t pierce hearts, we tan hides. We preach and teach moralism, behaviorism, law and fundamentalism. This error stems from a confusion about our own standing and justification. We preach what we practice. We run the treadmill of works righteousness and so we preach the treadmill of works righteousness.
We are trying to be good ministers so that we would be considered good Christians. Reputation, instead of true godliness, all too often, is the foundation of our standing and we are well trained long distance runners on this particular treadmill.
But, the words of faith and good doctrine teach us that Jesus is our Godliness. Through confession and repentance He cleanses us. Its fleeing to Christ when tempted that keeps us from sin. Jesus takes the burden off of Christian backs. And good pastors are Christians first. It’s not about what we don’t do, it’s about what we do do. Do we regularly confess our need of a savior?
James said; confess your sins one to another, explaining that accountability is crucial to the Christian life. To whom are you accountable? We are not as ready to confess sins to one another because we protect our reputations. We live guarded lives because our moral standing is part of our qualification as a pastor. We don’t have confessors. We aren’t generally known for our humble confessions or moral accountability to peers. Who speaks into our lives? Who confronts us?
It’s lonely at the top. We don’t always create this situation, it’s just naturally part of the vocation. It reminds me of Sea captains in the age of Nelson. No one could talk to them unless the captain first spoke. He had no peers, in fact he was second only to the king when at sea. The hierarchy created isolation and isolation created all kinds of problems.
In our sessions it does as well. Who are our peers? Our teachers? Our confessors? Are we holding one another at bay? It forms all kinds of bad habits. We protect our image among one another and certainly among the flock. But all Christians need teachers, mentors, confessors and peers.
We fear man and the fear of man guides us more often then the fear of God.
And not only that, we like our honor and our titles. There is nothing new under the sun and religious leaders are always prone to the same temptations. Jesus says of the religious leaders in His day, in Matthew 23:5-7 “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”
We clothe ourselves with comportment instead of Christ. We like to be called pastor and we like the honor. People give us gifts – good whiskey and cars and good seats to mariners games and call us teacher and pastor and we relish it. So, isolated we receive honor among the flock and confuse it for our standing, our justification. And we seek to cling to it because it’s more than mere words and reputations.
Our pastorate, for most of us, is our livelihood. It is rightly said, that the ministry attracts a certain kind of guy – the one who doesn’t like heavy lifting. But it retains – long after the zeal and passion for Christ have grown cold – another kind of guy also, one who exclaims with Richard Geer in an Officer and a Gentleman – “I got no place else to go.”
Pastoring is a profession for some of us and after a certain amount of time, its all you know, whether you are a good servant or bad. The pastor has a family to provide for, a distinct education within a limited professional field. He has children to feed, clothe and educate. He has real worldly and material concerns that can easily take the place of both their standing and their aim as pastors. Phil. 3:19-20 “their end is destruction, their god is their belly and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
As Calvin wrote in the preface to his institutes, “He, accordingly, who is most anxious about his stomach, proves the fiercest champion of his faith. In short, the object on which all to a man are bent, is to keep their kingdom safe or their belly filled: not one gives even the smallest sign of sincere zeal.” This is the worldly-concern trap; a thorn that chokes true godliness. Ceasing to lead, this minster becomes a mere manager. Ceasing to address sin, they become promoters of false comfort. Ceasing to mess with the status quo, they spurn reformation in God’s house and their own hearts.
Their aim is not Christ’s kingdom, but their own. Their ferocious veracity in this trap is for their position and financial wellbeing.
But this isn’t the most common trap. The most common trap is losing our sense of wonder.Just as a husband takes the mysteries and beauty and grace of his wife for granted after long years of intimacy and familiarity, so too, we can lose our wonder for God’s word, for the intimacy of prayer, the glory of standing by the Lord’s side in His service, used as the vessels to feed His flock.
B.B. Warfield explained “As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross earthly materials of which it is made. The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you—Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, and inflections, and connections in sentences. The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms, with premises and conclusions, fitly framed, no doubt, and triumphantly cogent, but with no further significance to you than their formal logical conclusiveness. God’s stately steppings in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history, curiously interplaying to the production of social and religious conditions, and pointing mayhap to an issue which we may shrewdly conjecture: but much like other facts occurring in time and space, which may come to your notice. It is your great danger. But it is your great danger, only because it is your great privilege.”The privileges with which we are graced – learning, understanding, honor, service, and handling the sacred furniture – can become routine, mere objects; mundane and common. We have grown numb to the true beauty of God. The awe is gone. But good Christians relish the joy of salvation. The wonder of creation, incarnation, salvation, sanctification.
1 Timothy 4:6 “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. What things? We put before the flock what we ourselves follow for good or for ill.
V.7 says “train yourself for godliness.” “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” If we are going to put Christ before the flock, Christ must be why we toil and strive. His healing-saving sovereignty over every person. Including ourselves. We cannot forget that and we easily do, just like all men do. And we are mere men after all. And what do we proclaim to a man who toils and strives for anything other than Christ? Repent and believe. Repent and believe. Live it and don’t just teach it.
Titus 2:11–14 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” As long as it is today, you need the grace of God – to be saved from yourself and every other idol your heart can create. And Jesus is at hand – with grace that does not run out. Grace that trains us to renounce our sin, our self-justifying, idol ridden hearts.
Train yourself in this fact. Grace alone trains us. Nothing else. Christ has dawned; He’s risen. With healing in His wings, bringing salvation for all men – including you – and that grace alone trains you to renounce this world. Grace alone trains you to live godly lives today in this world, waiting for the final grace – life everlasting. What do you preach to hypocrites? What do you preach to sinners? What do you preach to idol-worshippers? What then do you preach to yourselves?
Repent and believe. It’s faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for God’s glory alone. Nothing else. Not your pulpit or collar or exegetical skills or counseling chops or liturgy or ordination. It’s Jesus. The only hope for all men….including you.
 Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Religious Life of Theological Students,” from an address given by Warfield at the Autumn Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary, October 4, 1911, public domain.