Watching Both Ourselves and Our Teaching

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. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:6-16, ESV)

Sometimes, as I read portions of the Bible, I try to imagine what it would have been like to be one of the characters in the story. When I was younger, I sometimes wondered what it would have been like to be Timothy, appointed to lead in his church at a young age, watching Paul leave as his mission journey continued. Most likely, I would have felt both deeply sad to see Paul go, and intimidated with the new responsibility I was commissioned for. Paul understood at least some of what Timothy might have been wrestling with, and his letters addressed several issues that are as important to us today as they were to Timothy.

In this passage, Paul affirms the soundness of the teaching Timothy has received, reminding him that the purpose of this instruction was for training in godliness. The goal for us, as well, is not to be clever or smart, up on the latest irreverent and silly myths. Though these may be interesting and make a person feel superior to others, God’s goal for our training is for us become more like Christ, and to share more in the character of God Himself. Inner transformation matters most, including our own transformation as people who lead Bible study groups, and it comes from giving attention beyond just knowing the Scriptures and good doctrine. These truths must impact how we walk with God, how we live our lives in light of the truths we affirm. Paul demonstrated its importance in how he and others toiled and strove for it, because they had set their hope on the living God, their Savior. God can accomplish this as we set our hope on Him and His ability to work within us—such an important reminder for us all. I know I need it!

Paul goes on to encourage Timothy not to let his young age hinder his ministry, but to set an example for others both in what he says and does, in his faith in Christ and love for God and others, and in living his life in obedience to God. Paul’s directives reflect what he wrote earlier about godliness being the goal of training, and he urges Timothy to lead and teach by example, not just words. But words are important and have power to help others grow in their faith. So, Paul urges Timothy to devote himself to sharing the Scriptures with the gathered church, to exhort them to respond to God’s instruction, and to teach them the great truths of the Bible. Paul has confidence in the power of God to transform people as they attend to His Word, understand it, and respond to it. This is why our own group Bible studies are so important. God meets us as we gather together to hear, read, and study His Word, so that we might respond in faith and obedience. He is always ready to work in us as we seek His help to live out what we learn. Like Timothy, we need to devote ourselves to the ministry of the Word, trusting that as we do so, God is at work.

Finally, Paul clearly reiterates how important Timothy’s life example is for his ability to shepherd others. Paul urges him to “Keep a good watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Both Timothy’s life example as someone God is growing, as well as the truthfulness of his teaching, are important. The example of his life is testimony to the power and impact of the gospel, and the truthfulness of his teaching is foundational to a faithful response to God. Both are critical. God calls us today to exercise similar care, in the life example we live out before those we teach, and the accuracy of our teaching itself. Both aspects matter to God, and both impact those we teach. May God help us to attend well to both!

Father, I am grateful for your ability to use me in ministry with others, whatever my age. Thank you for the power of your Word to transform lives as your Spirit works within me. May my own life as a Bible study leader increasingly show your gracious renovating work in me, helping me live out what I share with others and exhort them to pursue. Help me pay attention both to my talk and to my walk, so that I honor you in what I say and do. Amen.

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