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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

1 Timothy 4

Verses 1-5


Paul moved on from instructions aimed primarily at Timothy’s person to those the young minister needed to heed in his pastoral work.

Verses 1-3

In contrast to the true revelation of God (1 Timothy 3:16), false teaching would arise as time passed. Whether Paul referred to a special revelation he had received by the Holy Spirit or simply to previously revealed revelation ("the Spirit explicitly says") we cannot determine for sure. Nevertheless God had revealed through Christ that as time passed some who held the truth would repudiate it (Matthew 13:21; Matthew 24:10-11; Mark 4:17; Mark 13:22; Luke 8:13; cf. Acts 20:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-13; 2 Peter 3:1-18). This would come about as a result of their listening to persuasive arguments put forth by God’s spiritual enemies and, behind them, demons (1 Timothy 4:1). [Note: See Gregory H. Harris, "Satan’s Work as a Deceiver," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:622 (April-June 1999):190-202.]

". . . one of Paul’s concerns here is almost certainly to arrest any doubts about the permanence of God’s church." [Note: Towner, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 102. Cf. Matthew 16:18.]

Are these who fall away from the truth believers or unbelievers? The Greek verb Paul used to describe their activity (aphistemi, to withdraw from, lit. to stand away) and the noun he used to describe their action (apostasia, defection, apostasy) do not answer this question. Either could be in view. The context must determine whether the one departing is a believer or an unbeliever. In some passages the context argues for Christian apostates (called "backsliders" by some Christians; Luke 8:13; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; Hebrews 3:12; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12 b, 16-18; 1 Timothy 3:13; 1 Timothy 4:3-4). A Christian who follows the impulses of his or her sinful human nature rather than those of the Holy Spirit is a carnal believer (1 Corinthians 3:3).

"It comes as a shock to some people that Satan uses professed Christians in the church to accomplish his work. But Satan once used Peter to try to lead Jesus on a wrong path (Matthew 16:21-23), and he used Ananias and Sapphira to try to deceive the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5). Paul warned that false teachers would arise from within the church (Acts 20:30)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:224. Cf. Dillow, p. 338-39.]

In other passages the context points to non-Christian apostates (Luke 13:27; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11). In still other passages either or both may be in view; we do not have sufficient information in the context to say (2 Thessalonians 2:3; cf. Titus 1:14). It seems quite clear that Christians can stop believing God (Matthew 10:33; Mark 8:32; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:8). [Note: See TDNT, s.v. "aphistemi, apostasia, dichostasia," by Heinrich Schlier, 1 (1964):512-13.] This does not mean, however, that they will lose their salvation since salvation is God’s work, not ours (John 10:28; Romans 8:31-39; 2 Timothy 2:13). One of my professors at Dallas Seminary used to say, correctly, I think, "I believe in the perseverance of the Savior, but I do not believe in the perseverance of the saints." [Note: S. Lewis Johnson Jr.]

These apostates had developed cauterized consciences by refusing to respond to the truth that they knew. Now they called lies the truth, and that is hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:2).

The teaching of the apostates Paul warned Timothy and the Ephesians to watch out for was asceticism (cf. Colossians 2:20-23). Asceticism is the idea that abstinence from physical things is essential for spiritual purity. Specifically these teachers forbade marriage and the eating of some foods. Probably Gnostic teaching that later achieved its most influential strength in the second century A.D. had influenced them. Gnosticism taught that matter was evil and people should try to live with as little attachment to physical things as possible. Judaism appears to have been another root influence on these teachers since it taught that some foods were fit (Heb. kosher) and others unclean (cf. Colossians 2:16-17). There may be physical reasons for not eating certain foods (e.g., allergies, too high fat content, etc.), but there are no spiritual reasons. Likewise there may be physical reasons why in individual cases marrying may not be wise or desirable (e.g., passing on genetic defects, the demands of a particular ministry, etc.). Nevertheless God has approved the institution of marriage.

Paul reminded his readers that God created marriage and food for us to enjoy (1 Timothy 4:3). Since the coming of Christ, the distinction between clean and unclean foods is one we can eliminate (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15; Romans 14:14; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33).

Verses 1-5

E. The problem of apostasy in the church 4:1-5

In this pericope Paul reminded Timothy of the apostasy that Jesus Christ had foretold to equip him to identify and deal with it. [Note: See Barth Campbell, "Rhetorical Design in 1 Timothy 4," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:614 (April-June 1997):189-204.]

"1 Timothy 4:1-5 does not begin a new topic. Paul, who has given his instructions on the true understanding of law, grace, and salvation (1 Timothy 1:3 to 1 Timothy 2:7) and on church behavior and leadership (1 Timothy 2:8 to 1 Timothy 3:13) and has paused to put his instructions into proper perspective (1 Timothy 3:14-16), now concludes by pointing out that these types of problems should have been expected because the Holy Spirit had clearly prophesied their occurrence . . ." [Note: Mounce, p. 233.]

Verses 4-5

Everything God created is good (1 Timothy 4:4; Genesis 1:31). We can abuse God’s good gifts (e.g., fornication and gluttony), but marriage and food are essentially good, and we should enjoy them with thankfulness to God for giving them. Thankfulness is the only condition connected to their use. This verse is not saying that everything is good for us (poisons, pornography, etc.), only that all God has created is essentially good (Genesis 1:31).

When we thank God for His good gifts we remember that they come from Him and consequently we treat them as set apart for our benefit. We recognize that He has sanctified (set apart) them when we pray (give thanks) for them and reflect on the Scriptures that tell us they come from our heavenly Father for our benefit. [Note: Cf. Lea, p. 132.] Paul’s idea was not that through a ritual of Scripture recitation and praying marriages and food become acceptable for God’s people. We learn that God has set apart what He has created for our enjoyment through the Word of God, and we acknowledge that through prayer. [Note: See Michael Haykin, "’Sanctified by the Word of God and Prayer,’" Banner of Truth 275-76 (August-September 1986):55-58.] The Greek word translated "prayer" in 1 Timothy 4:5 (enteuxis) means "petition" (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1), but in this context it serves as a generic term for prayer and clearly refers to thanksgiving (cf. 1 Timothy 4:4). [Note: See Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 299.] Alternatively with his reference to the Word of God Paul may have been thinking of biblical expressions that the early Christians, and the Jews, used when they gave thanks for their food. [Note: Idem, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 104.]

"Paul’s words certainly sanction the Christian practice of grace before meals. To eat without giving thanks is base ingratitude. But the scope of the passage is much wider than that." [Note: Hiebert, First Timothy, p. 80. Cf. 1 Samuel 9:13; Matthew 14:19; Acts 27:35.]

To give thanks for a meal or our marriage and then complain about it is inconsistent.

Advocates of asceticism are still with us today, as Paul wrote they would be. Roman Catholicism, Seventh-Day Adventism, and some cults, to name a few advocates, have promoted this false teaching.

Verse 6

Timothy was to "point out," a very mild approach, the truth about God’s good gifts that Paul had just articulated. Paul considered the Ephesian Christians "brethren," not enemies or antagonists. A faithful servant of Christ must pass along the truth God has revealed without distortion. To be such Timothy would have to continue to nourish himself on the truths of the faith contained in his Bible. He would have to abide in the sound teaching he had received from the Lord and His apostles as he had been doing so far (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14-17) rather than apostatizing. Sometimes ministers are so busy finding food for their people that they fail to feed themselves.

Verses 6-16

A. The leader’s personal life and public ministry 4:6-16

Having reminded Timothy that the apostasy he was witnessing in Ephesus was not unexpected but prophesied (1 Timothy 4:1-5), the apostle next clarified Timothy’s responsibility in dealing with it (cf. ch. 1). Paul wrote these positive directions to enable Timothy to overcome the influences of the ascetic apostates that threatened the church at Ephesus. He also wrote to remind him of the importance of his personal life and public ministry, so he would not fall into the same errors.

"Just as a skillful coach will often return to the basics of the sport to pull the team or a player out of a slump, Paul returns to the basics to keep this church on track." [Note: Towner, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 105.]

The apostle selected three essential spiritual priorities, out of many that he could have chosen, in 1 Timothy 4:6-10.

Verses 6-25


Paul proceeded to give some specific instruction about leadership of the church. This included direction concerning the leader’s personal life and public ministry, basic principles of effective interpersonal relationships, and the proper treatment of widows and elders.

Verses 7-8

Timothy should not become embroiled in refuting the fables of these false teachers (1 Timothy 1:4) that have a certain appeal, but only as curiosities. These fables are godless and worthless.

Rather, he should train himself in godliness. This requires rigorous self-discipline. In allowing marriages and eating all kinds of food Paul was not advocating undisciplined Christian living. However, Timothy should direct his discipline at the development of spiritual rather than physical strength. Physical self-discipline has a very limited value compared with spiritual self-discipline that results in future as well as present improvements.

In view of the context (1 Timothy 4:3) Paul may have had the asceticism the false teachers advocated in mind in his reference to "bodily discipline" (1 Timothy 4:8). The Greek word translated "life" (1 Timothy 4:8) is zoe, the higher principle of life, the perfect antithesis to death (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3), rather than bios, the physical aspect of life. [Note: Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 86-90.]

Verse 9

The "trustworthy statement" Paul referred to here seems to have been what he had just said (1 Timothy 4:8). Several schools of philosophy in Paul’s day denigrated the excessive physical conditioning that many Greek young men practiced. [Note: Kelly, p. 100.] They believed the development of the inner man was more important. So perhaps this "trustworthy statement" was one that they had popularized. Paul agreed with this viewpoint whatever its source may have been.

Verse 10

It is for godliness that the believer should strive and discipline himself or herself primarily (cf. 2 Peter 1:1-11). The reason for this is that we look forward to a genuine hope beyond the grave. That hope rests in the "living" God (1 Timothy 3:15) who is the "Savior of all man" (1 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 2:6). God is the Savior of all in the sense that He has provided a salvation that is available to all. He is the Savior of believers in a special sense since they are those who have accepted His provision of salvation. Salvation is sufficient for all but efficient only for those who believe. [Note: See Gary L. Schultz Jr., "God’s Purposes in the Atonement for the Nonelect," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:658 (April-June 2008):145-63.]

Some strong Calvinists say that God is the Savior of all men only in the sense that He saves all people from temporary disasters. [Note: E.g., Hendriksen, pp. 154-56.] While it is true that God does this, Paul’s use of "Savior" has led most interpreters to conclude that he was describing God’s work of providing eternal salvation here as in 1 Timothy 2:4 (cf. 1 Timothy 1:1; 1 Timothy 2:3).

"Paul advises his readers to concentrate on the basics: steady nourishment from the Word of God, pursuit of the godly life in the Spirit and the priority of mission." [Note: Towner, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 108.]

Verse 11

Paul charged Timothy to insist regularly on these things that he had just been saying and to teach them to the Ephesians (cf. 1 Timothy 5:7; 1 Timothy 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 2:15). The verbs are in the present tense in Greek suggesting continuing action. These are the first two of 10 imperatives in 1 Timothy 4:11-16. Evidently Timothy needed some prodding to make him more assertive.

Verse 12

The Greek word translated "youthfulness" described people up to 40 years of age. [Note: Lea, pp. 137-38; Knight, p. 205.] As a comparatively young man Timothy may have felt reluctant to instruct the elders in the Ephesian congregation, who were probably older than he. [Note: Guthrie, p. 97.] Most people regarded older people with great respect in his culture. Paul promised that no one in the church would discredit his teaching ministry if he backed it up with a godly lifestyle. In his words as well as by his actions, by his love for people and his trust in God, and by his moral cleanness he should provide an example of godliness. Purity includes sexual purity and integrity of heart.

"It is the first duty of a minister to display in his own life that which he wishes his people to be." [Note: Hiebert, First Timothy, p. 85.]

Verse 13

Timothy had other responsibilities as an apostolic representative in the Ephesian church. He should give attention to his public ministry as well as to his private life. Three duties were crucial. First, he should continue to make sure the church leaders read the Scriptures in the meetings of the church. This practice, carried over from temple and synagogue worship, was central in the corporate worship of God’s people (cf. Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 31:11; 2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 8:7-8; Luke 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). [Note: See Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 317.] Second, exhortation should continue to accompany the reading of the Word. "Exhortation" describes the explanation and application of the text the preacher reads (i.e., the expository sermon; cf. Acts 18:15). [Note: See Steven J. Lawson, "The Passion of Biblical Preaching: An Expository Study of 1 Timothy 4:13-16," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:633 (January-March 2002):79-95.] Third, teaching was necessary. This appears to have been systematic instruction in the doctrines of the faith. It may have been a thematic approach to instruction as contrasted with section by section exposition of a passage. [Note: Kelly, p. 105.]

Verse 14

Timothy needed further encouragement to keep using the abilities God had given him to serve the Lord. Timothy had received ordination for service to God by the laying on of Paul’s (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6) and some elders’ hands. When that happened a prophet who was present received a revelation from God that Timothy would serve Christ in a particular way. Another possibility is that these were two separate episodes in Timothy’s life. [Note: Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 325.] Paul called on Timothy here to remember that event, or those events, and the responsibility that was his in view of that special revelation (cf. 1 Timothy 1:18-19). The "presbytery" means a group of elders. The procedure described in this verse has, along with other similar instances of this practice described in Scripture, served as a pattern for the formal ordination (setting apart) of people for ministry.

"The nature of succession in the ministry was certainly present [when Paul wrote], but it was regarded as primarily a succession of teaching or tradition rather than as an ’apostolic succession’ of ordination reaching back to the apostles." [Note: Hanson, p. 37.]

"The Bible never speaks of a corresponding group identity for deacons. The notion of deacons functioning as a ’board’ is never mentioned in the Bible." [Note: Litfin, p. 741.]

This does not imply, of course, that such a group is wrong.

Verse 15

As Timothy concentrated on (i.e., attended to, cared for, practiced) these responsibilities (1 Timothy 4:6-16), his personal progress in godliness would become evident to his fellow saints in Ephesus. There is a play on words at the beginning of 1 Timothy 4:14-15. "Do not neglect" (Gr. amelei) contrasts with "Take pains" (meleta).

"No one who really wants to count for God can afford to play at Christianity. He must make it the one great business of his life." [Note: Ironside, p. 109.]

"While I do not want to sound critical, I must confess that I am disturbed by the fact that too many pastors and Christian workers divide their time and interest between the church and some sideline. It may be real estate, trips to the Holy Land, politics, civic duties, even denominational service. Their own spiritual lives suffer, and their churches suffer, because these men are not devoting themselves wholly to their ministry." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:228. Cf. Philippians 3:13; James 1:8.]

"It is inspiring to see a young preacher grow for then the church will grow with him." [Note: Robertson, 4:582.]

Verse 16

In summary, Timothy was to watch both his personal life and his public ministry carefully. [Note: See Joseph M. Stowell III, "The Effective Leader," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 315-22.]

"No matter how straight a person may be in his doctrine or how effective he may be in his teaching, if there is a flaw in his inner or outer life, it will ruin him. This is where many ministers have failed tragically. While he is watching over others, the pastor must keep an eye on himself." [Note: Earle, p. 375.]

Timothy should not grow slack but should keep up the good work he had begun.

"Stickability is an essential quality for effective leadership." [Note: King, p. 83.]

The rewards would be deliverance for him from failure and a wasted life (cf. 1 Timothy 2:15; James 1:21) and the deliverance of those to whom he ministered from error and retrogression. Obviously Paul was not saying God justifies us because we perform our duties faithfully. [Note: Cf. Dillow, pp. 126-27.]

Christians do not always remain faithful to the Lord either in their beliefs or in their behavior. Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were evidently fellow workers with Paul and possibly elders in the Ephesian church, denied truth regarding the resurrection (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17) and vigorously opposed Paul’s teaching (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 4:14). Paul warned Timothy not to wander away from the true teachings of the faith (1 Timothy 6:20-21). When cultists come knocking on the door, they want people to adopt their unbiblical views and to abandon their belief in the truths of orthodox Christianity. Paul’s warning in chapter 4 is very relevant, much needed, and vital for us to heed as genuine believers. [Note: See Robert N. Wilkin, "Saving Faith and Apostasy: Do Believers Ever Stop Believing?" Grace Evangelical Society News 6:11 (November 1991):1, 4.]

Even though Timothy was an apostolic legate his responsibilities were mainly pastoral. Consequently what Paul said to him is directly applicable to pastors today.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.