Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers
Leaving to one side problems of authorship and dating, Chapter 4 offers important elements of advice for today, being addressed to all who have pastoral responsibilities within the Church. Specifically this means advice to pastors, but it can equally be applied to the care of each Church member for the other.
I recall the inscription from 1Timothy 4 on an ordination gift (a book) to me some 32 years ago. It quoted verses 12-15, starting with the words ‘Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct , in love in faith, in purity’. Even though I wasn’t in the first flush of youth, I had cause to recall these words with gratitude. Age is not a reliable guide to spiritual maturity.
Chapter 4 instructs Timothy on his duty to restrain false and useless teaching. It also reminds him of the prophetic character of his calling and encourages him to exercise it. The letter starts with a stern warning against the teaching of those who shamelessly claim to preach the truth, but who actually lead folk into a rigorism which is alien to God’s abundant generosity. We recognise this tendency today in those who insist that ever greater discipline on our part is necessary before we can be confident of our salvation. Timothy is urged to reject this. And so should we. It is the grateful heart, full of thanksgiving for all that God gives us, that gives us confidence in our faith, not a reliance on ever stricter practices. We are not called to be less generous than God, but as generous.
What the life of faith means in practice is a sustained and sustainable lifestyle, one that has to be worked at. An attitude of thankfulness to God when things are going well for us is not too difficult. However, when we are mired in the mud of life, struggling to maintain our temper, dignity and confidence, gratitude to God is not as easy. Verses 8-10 remind Timothy of the hope that is in us – a hope that can sustain us through thick and thin, and today we may need reminding of this!
‘Do not neglect the gift that is in you’ (v14) is a reminder and encouragement to all church workers to be ‘intentional’ in what they do. No one person, no matter how talented she or he is, possesses all the gifts the Church needs. But the harvest of God given gifts members possess – sustains and enriches the whole Church.
Gracious God, when siren voices urge us to doubt our experience of you in favour of new certainties, help us to value the wisdom of others according to the kindness, the generosity, the love which you have shown and are showing to us in the life of your Son, who gathers us together to be your people in word and action. Amen
The Rev’d John Young is a retired minister and member of Giffnock URC in Glasgow.