Pastoral Letters.3 — 1 Timothy 4: 1-16

by admin on January 24, 2017

1 Timothy 4:1-16
Reflections for 22 January 2017

Gene Peterson entitles this chapter, “Teach With Your Life” and his translation gives a superior rendition of what is really happening in Timothy’s church in Ephesus—people are voting with their feet.  A new teaching—shiny things—comes down the pike and congregants are enamored with the fog machine, the loud band, the video and constant streaming, and the hip preacher.  It’s difficult to sustain the original vision of Jesus’ Kingdom life.  How does a church maintain the founding vision, not of the denomination or the preacher’s desire to build a mega church, but the vision of the Kingdom of God unleashed here in earth?   This chapter has rich implications for today’s faith communities.


Two focal points in this chapter: vv1-10; 11-16. 

Vv1-10 –  The writer apostle draws a contrast between the false teachers in Ephesus who are emphasizing celibacy and physical asceticism (vv1-5); and Timothy who actually gains nourishment – intended pun on the food issue – for godly training (vv6-10). 

Vv11-16 –  Instructions to help Timothy to be an example for progress—another pun/reference highlighting the rigors of athletic competition—progress of others.  In other words, this ministry that Tim has been given is about training the next generation of Jesus apprentices/followers.  NB.  Paul is not interested in establishing the Pauline fan club. 

V1 –  later times—this explains the advent of false teachers as an eschatological phenomenon.  That is, Jesus expected it, and every human institution heads down the path of atrophy unless preventive measures take place.  Diversion in teaching and direction are apt to appear. The apostle here is warning Tim to expect the natural progression of wandering.   False teachers are credited with causing division because the original vision of the Christian movement is fading.  

Vv2-3 –  seared with a hot iron—branded for ID.  This suggests that the false teachers are like slaves to their master the deceitful spirits.  Interesting there are no further details emerging about the content of the false teachers message other than here.  What we know –  they promoted celibacy and a certain strict abstinence from food.   Both of these are outward observable signs.  Easy to make judgments about whom was spiritual and whom was not.

V4 –  The false teachers have a very negative view of creation.  That critique says that vibrant Xn faith has a positive view of creation and that has serious implications on how it is revered. 

V6  These instructions—that material which separates from the false teachers.  Sound teaching provides the necessary nourishment for spiritual formation and sustained growth.

V7 –  myths and old wives tales—another philosophical slur  – lacks value.  Not worth the time.

Vv8-10 –  athletic images.  Paul uses a number of these in his writings to be analogy to path of discipleship to familiar images already known. 

V12 –  speech and conduct—Philosophical ideal espoused by Stoics (Epictetus) and later Judaism.  Apostle eager for others to imitate him (Phil 3:17).

V14 –  Laying on of hands—antiquity’s typical gesture to indicate transmission of a gift/authority.

V15  Put these into practice—another athletic metaphor paired with “progress”—an expression for advancement in philosophical circles.


  1. In every church in which Paul ministered, or the earlier generation of Jesus preachers/teacher—the Apostolic tradition—the main message was Jesus as proclaimer and initiator of the Kingdom of God.   The rule of God in life here and now.  How was God’s eternal presence manifested in each and every individual life of those gathered around in memory of Jesus?   How did they model the Jesus life? 

The vision of the Kingdom of God was the message and content of Christianity  faith movement.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  How was that accomplished?  Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Love, Humility, Generosity, Being at Home in the world.   Please note these are both attitudes and actions.   Missing from the list is the desire to be happy or financially independent—both major ideals in today’s world and often the core of some churches teaching menu.

In another one of his profound and disturbing essays, Dallas Willard writes in “How Do We Assess Spiritual Growth?” – it’s not attendance or giving, but about monitoring anger, contempt, honesty and the degree to which we are under the thumb of lusts. 

Quite naturally for the preacher/teacher this is an uncomfortable place to be.  Remember the recipient of 1 Timothy is a pastor.  When pastors don’t have rich spiritual lives with Christ they become victimized by other models of success—models conveyed to them by training, experience in church or culture itself.  Ministry becomes the management of ministry activities, and success is measured by getting more people involved in activity. 

Here in the Pastoral Letters Paul is dead certain that the focus must be on the Vision of Jesus Christ.  When that is diminished, shiny things appear.  Jesus Christ is the living source of the Grace of God.   Grace = God is acting in our lives to accomplish what we can’t accomplish on our own.   Test this out with your resentment list.  How’s you will power working for you? 

  1. Inter-generational Transmission. What is happening in Tim’s church is apostasy.  (standing away from)  This is natural and normal in life.  It should be expected and not be surprising.  It’s rarely a failure of belief, doctrine of conscious decision.  It is a subtle shift of vision feeling and will.

Henri Nouwen:  Nothing conflicts with the love of Christ like service to Christ.   Well-meaning service has a tendency to undermine the kind of vision of God that fuels greatness for God.   When there is intense devotion there comes substantial outward success.  Outward success = sense of accomplishment and then a sense of responsibility for that achievement. 

For the outside onlookers that outward success is the whole thing.  This success is its natural – human – progression leading to reorient our vision away from God to what we are doing.   And we get applause for that.  I like applause.  Our mission shifts to be the vision.  And that is what we spend our thoughts, feelings and strength upon.  What about the love of God in all that?  

Now the earliest generations of Jesus followers were remarkably successful in passing on the sacred vision of Jesus.  But here in the Pastorals we are facing a new generation of believers.  Identifying and sustaining the Jesus vision of God, self and world that pervaded and animated that first generation is the critical issue. 

We are a long way from that first and second generation, but the transmission process is identical.  What is the vision of Christianity that we wish to convey to the next generation?  There’s a saying that Christianity is just one generation away from extinction.  In a culture where the predominate religious affiliation is “none” what is to be done?    If we hold to the truth that Christianity is a movement of attraction rather than promotion, what is the substance of or evangelistic effort? 

  1. Programmatic Effort. In another one of his disturbing essays (Living in the Vision of God) Dallas writes: There are many things a person can do—must do—to receive and sustain the inner spiritual fire that keeps mission and ministry in its proper place, preventing them from becoming a limiting vision that obsesses us and eventually strangles us. 

So what are some things?  If we’ve been paying attention to what Paul writes to Tim we can make some stabs at that. 

  • Heartily acknowledge the practical inevitability of a loss of vision. Just one generation away from extinction.  We must do this regularly and honestly.  And with a sense of humor BTW.  Nothing is better here than a good dose of humor.
  • Identify and adhere to the founding vision of Jesus. Love the Lord your God. 
  • Take practical steps to live in the central content of that vision. And don’t think you’ve got it figured out.

In 2 Cor 5:14 Paul write, The love of God urges us onward.  To develop and sustain such a life of loving abandonment to God an overall plan of life is necessary.  Put into place regular practices that focus on the love of God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. 

In other words, don’t wait to think your way into a new way of acting.  Act your way into the Jesus way of practicing the presence of God.   Take a chance.  Try it out.  Report aback next week. 

NEXT WEEK:  1 Timothy 5


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