1 Timothy 4

Verse 1 of chapter 4 must be read in connection with the last two verses of chapter 3. God dwells in the church as His house by the Holy Spirit and the church is the pillar on which the truth is inscribed. Now the indwelling Spirit speaks in defence of the truth, warning of the devices of the devil to be expected in the latter times, and He speaks expressly, there is no indefiniteness about His utterances.

When the Apostle wrote the Holy Spirit was still giving inspired messages through prophets, as we see in Acts 13:2. The apostles and prophets who were the vehicles of inspiration belonged to the foundation of the church (See Eph.2:20) and inspiration has ceased, though we have as the result of it the Holy Scriptures. Still though He no longer speaks in that authoritative way He abides with us for ever and His direction may often be perceived by those who have eyes to see.

The Spirit's warning in the first three verses has often been taken as applying to Romanism. We believe that the reference is rather to that deliberate trafficking with demons which we see today in spiritism. It is true that Rome imposes celibacy on her clergy which looks like a fulfilment of the opening words of verse 3. Spiritism advocates both celibacy and vegetarianism as necessary if anyone aspires to be a good “medium,” and this fulfils both parts of the verse.

The Holy Spirit then warns us that His speaking will be imitated by unholy and seducing spirits, their object always being to turn away from the faith. They may pose as being very cultured, and as wishing to refine our food on aesthetic grounds, and this may be all that is in the mind of their dupe, who acts as the medium, yet the unclean demon who manipulates the dupe has other thoughts and his ulterior aim is ever the overthrow of the faith. If they can divert from the faith and inculcate their doctrines their end is achieved.

Men may raise prejudice against sound doctrine by calling it dogma, but they only end by substituting some other doctrines, probably the doctrines of demons. So, you see DOCTRINE DOES MATTER after all.

In the early verses of our chapter the Spirit's warning is against the doctrines of demons, which, if received, altogether turn men from the faith. In verse 7 the warning is against a danger of a somewhat different order, “Profane and old wives' fables.” Timothy is urged to stand firm against both errors.

The Apostle's instructions in verse 6 seem to have specially in view the first of these dangers. We are to be kept in remembrance of “these things,” and here he alluded not only to what he had just written in verses 4 and 5 but also to the great truth unfolded in chapter 3:16, and indeed to all his instructions given earlier in the Epistle, for verse 6 of chapter 4 cannot be disconnected from verse 14 of chapter 3. Thus we as well as Timothy may be nourished with the words of the faith and of good doctrine and this will effectually render us proof against the seducing doctrines of the devil. But this must be “attained” or “fully followed up” for it is only as we become fully acquainted with the truth that we can detect error and consequently refuse it.

Godliness is set in contrast with the profane and old wives' fables, from which we gather that they were mainly concerned with the superstitious ideas and customs which have always played so large a part in heathendom and which creep so easily into Christendom. The poor heathen mind is in bondage to endless superstitions connected with the bringing of good fortune or the averting of evil, and all these customs appeal to, and bear far more hardly upon, the womenfolk than the men. Hence the Apostle's term – “old wives' fables.” Now godliness brings GOD Himself into the details of one's life, since it is based upon that “trust in the living God” of which verse 10 speaks.

It is instructive though sad to note the great increase in recent years of superstition amongst nominal Christians. The war doubtless gave it a great impetus when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of charms were made for the protection of soldiers. The cult has spread everywhere and now mascots abound, and more and more people observe customs which are designed to bring “good luck” or avert “bad luck.” All this argues the decline of godliness. If God is shut out of the life these stupid abominations creep in.

Our God is the LIVING God. Nothing escapes His notice and He is “the Saviour [or, Preserver] of all men, specially of those that believe.” ­The poor heathen enjoying a wonderful deliverance may attribute his escape to the potency of the charm given to him by the medicine man. The British motorist, a nominal Christian, just escaping a fearful crash may declare that he never comes to any harm so long as he has his black cat mascot on board – he has never known it to fail. They are both wrong though the latter is far more guilty. Both are victims of profane and old wives' fables. The truth is their deliverances came, whether directly or indirectly from the hand of God.

God's preserving mercy is specially active towards those that believe, so a simple trust in Him should mark us. It marked Paul and carried him through his labours and reproaches. We are to exercise ourselves to godliness. This is a mental exercise of far greater profit than mere bodily exercise. That is profitable in some small things whereas godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of life, both now and to eternity.

Here let us recapitulate for a moment. Godliness is, we may say, the main theme of the epistle, and it is enjoined upon us because we are of the house of God. The knowledge of God Himself as He has been revealed in Christ is the secret spring of it, and it very largely consists in that God­consciousness, that bringing of God into all the details of our daily lives, which is the result of trust in the living God. All this has come before us, and the question would now naturally arise in our minds as to whether any practical instructions can be given which will help us in exercising ourselves unto godliness according to the instructions given in verse 7?

Verses 12 to 16 supply us with a very ample answer. Timothy was a young man yet he was to be an example to the believers who were to see godliness expressed in him, a godliness which affects us in word, in conversation or conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. To this end he was to give himself with all diligence to reading, to exhortation to teaching. The reading enjoined upon him was, we suppose, that public reading in the presence of believers generally which was so necessary when copies of the Scriptures were few and far between, yet it should impress upon us the importance of reading the Scriptures both privately and publicly. When Paul came Timothy might have the joy of hearing God's Word from the inspired lips of the Apostle; until then he must pay all heed to God's inspired Word in its written form.

The Christian who neglects the study of the Word of God never makes much progress in the things of God nor in the development of Christian character. “Give attendance to reading” should be a watchword with all of us, for only as we are well furnished ourselves can we be of help to others.

Timothy was to exhort and teach others and for this a gift had been deposited in him in a special way. Hence “neglect not the gift that is in thee” is the second word of instruction. By reading we take in: by exhortation and teaching we give out. Not all of us have received a special gift but all of us are responsible to give out in one way or another, and we neglect it at the peril of our own spiritual good.

“Meditate upon these things” is the third word that comes before us. By reading our minds become well furnished with truth. By meditation the truth in its force and bearing is brought home to us. Just as the ox not only feeds in the pastures but also lies down to chew the cud so we need to ruminate, to turn things over in our minds, for it is not what we eat that nourishes us but what we digest. If we meditate upon the things of God, getting right into them so that they control us then our profiting, our spiritual advancement, becomes apparent to all.

A fourth word of great importance if we would grow in the ways of godliness is that in verse 16, “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine.” First of all we must get the truth itself, which is set forth in the doctrine, clearly before us. Secondly, we must take heed to ourselves in the light of the truth, testing ourselves and our ways by it, altering them as the truth demands. This of course is the crucial matter.

Too often the truth of God has been taken up in a purely theoretical way, when it becomes just a matter of argument, a kind of intellectual battle­ground. When however we come face to face with it in practical fashion we at once become aware of discrepancies between it and ourselves and our ways, and serious questions are raised. Now comes the temptation to somewhat alter or pare down the doctrine so that we may leave our ways untouched and the discrepancy largely if not entirely disappears. May God give us all grace to reverse that procedure and rather alter our ways that they may be in conformity with the doctrine. Thus we shall be rightly taking heed to ourselves and to the doctrine as well, and continuing in the truth we shall be saved. The salvation here is from the dangers of which we are expressly warned by the Spirit in the earlier part of the chapter, whether doctrines of demons or profane fables.