33. Personal Exhortations

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 33:  Personal Exhortations

1 Tim 5:21   I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism.

Paul has just covered the serious subject of elders and in particular dealing with elders who go astray. It has been serious stuff and it requires a serious commitment to the church and its ministry to follow through these things. They are sometimes difficult and the temptation may be to ignore misdemeanors of leaders and hope the problem will go away, but that is not the way of righteousness.

It may be because of this that Paul brings a very strong exhortation to Timothy: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (v.21) Look at that language: “I charge you.” That is as strong as you can get when giving an instruction. But it is more than that: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels.”  i.e. I stand before God the supreme authority and Jesus his Son, the secondary authority, both who are over me and over us, and before them I make this demand. That is strong stuff. With all of heaven looking on to back up what I say, I make this demand of you.

So what is the demand? “to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (v.21b) Now why is Paul saying this?  No reason is given but I wonder if it is because Timothy is a young man and may be swayed by emotions that have not yet been tempered by the wisdom of the years.  If there are elders not up to the mark, you are not to let your feelings for one or other of them cloud your judgment. The fact that some of them are probably a good bit older should also not affect your judgment. You are a minister of God, answerable to Him and you don’t act or make judgments on your own whims or fancies!

But then comes another exhortation or, rather, three mini-exhortations that seem linked together: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” (v.22) Now because this all follows on from the fairly lengthy passage about elders, there is no suggestion that this is a general instruction but one linked to the ordination of elders. We have seen previously (4:14) how this procedure took place with the laying on of hands and prayer and prophecy. It is again mentioned in 2 Tim 1:6. We must assume, therefore, that this is a warning not to ordain men hastily, men who have not been checked or proven, men who may have things wrong in their lives and if they do, and Timothy ordained them, he would be sharing in that wrong. No, says Paul, “Keep yourself pure.” i.e. keep yourself free from carelessness and sin by doing these things hastily.

In all this Paul is aware that Timothy is a young man who needs both encouragement and exhortation, a young man who possibly veers towards being too timid (see 2 Tim 1:7). It is possible that worry and concern are tendencies that Timothy has as a young leader and these cause him to sometimes have an upset stomach so that Paul now gives him health encouragement: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (v.23) Some have suggested that the water was not good but I suggest the use of wine was more to help his digestive system.

It is a difficult role being a leader, having to be alert to all that is going on with the local flock, working constantly to fend off the temptations of the enemy and his endeavors to bring down the people of God, so it is no surprise that Timothy needs all these encouragements. So Paul adds what are almost afterthoughts about the behaviour of people: “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” (v.24,25) What is he actually saying?

“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them.” (v.24) Sometimes observing human behaviour is simple and straight forward because the sins of men are sometimes quite obvious and the consequences of their sins quickly come to fruition and they are brought down by those consequences. Little discernment is required here for it is clearly obvious what is going on, but sometimes “the sins of others trail behind them.” i.e. their sins are not so obvious and the outworking or consequences of them seem to take a little while to become apparent. This is more difficult because until the consequences make obvious the sin that has been going on, it may need discernment or a word of knowledge to reveal it.

Then, “In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” (v.25) The truth is, declares Paul, that good deeds are always obvious and can be clearly seen, but even deeds that are not good will eventually be revealed because they will have consequences and those consequences will always become visible. So, Timothy, (implied) don’t rush into things; take your time over this matter of raising up other leaders. Let their lives reveal what they are really like and let the flock judge, so that your role is simply one of confirmation or acknowledgement of what God has done in them, and also, if there are wrong things in them, they too will become obvious and stop you acting wrongly. It’s not easy being a leader!

32. Correcting Elders

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 32:  Correcting Elders

1 Tim 5:19,20   Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

There seem two opposite sets of behaviour that appear in churches in respect of attitudes towards ‘leaders’. The first is to elevate the leader(s) to such a pinnacle of authority and power that never a word dare be spoken against them, even when behaviour is questionable. The second is to see the leader as a lower servant who is up for constant gossiping criticism. Neither is good.  Whereas we neither want to elevate our leaders to sainthood nor pull them down to caretaker level, we should maintain a balanced view of those who lead our local churches.

On the one hand we need to recognize they are frail individuals like ourselves who are prone to the same struggles that we have, needing our support and encouragement (gifted as they may be!), as we noted in the previous meditation, but on the other hand that ‘frailty’ of humanity does mean they can get it wrong and fall off the rails. Tragically the history of the Christian Church in the last twenty years is littered with great men who have fallen. The fall usually has to do either with financial irregularities or with illicit relationships; those appear the most common things that have occurred.

Now whereas we are not to go looking and expecting for our leader(s) to fall, there are times when it becomes obvious to one or another that things are not right. How does one deal with this? Does one just gossip the concern around to see if others concur? No! I would suggest that the wise course is first to pray and seek God’s wisdom. If you are sure of your concerns then the next stage, I suggest, it to take them to someone else in the church of maturity or even in some leadership role and share your concern.

Remember Paul’s injunction: “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” (v.19) There need to be at least two of you who constitute ‘witnesses’ and a witness knows, doesn’t just ‘think’, they know something is wrong. Now please, realise our aim is not to pull down our leader and so casual or careless spreading of rumors is out!

Even back in the Law of Moses the requirement was for more than one witness: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deut 19:15) Jesus established the procedure for dealing with someone who sins against you in the church: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:15-17)  The difficulty of course, is to determine what is a sin but in the case of illicit relationships, say, it is quite obvious: it is wrong!

We have suggested a slight variation against this general procedure because what we have talking about is the possible sin of a leader and the relationship of leader to member of the flock is an unequal one and so going on your own to confront him is an unwise approach. One warning: where sexual sin is involved I have observed that the ‘sinner’ almost invariably denies it and even in the most plausible way. Sexual sin always seems to be accompanied by deception. This is why being sure of facts and having another ‘witness’ is essential. Now remember what we said earlier: our intent is not to pull the man down. Our intent must be for his good as well as the good of the church. We are looking for repentance – but there is a further problem. This man, if we are talking about some serious sin as we have been referring to above, cannot continue in his present role. He needs to be dealt with correctly – dealing with whatever wrong it is in the appropriate way. Financial irregularities would involve crime. Child abuse would also involve the authorities. Adultery would not only require an ending of the relationship but would also require marital counseling. There are likely to be ongoing issues to be dealt with.

Paul’s teaching was, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (v.20)  At the very least this means it must not be covered up so that the extent of the sin is seen and is not trivialized. Now so far we have only covered what we might consider serious sins but in one sense all sins are serious. Suppose our leader got angry with a member of the flock and hit them – serious sin! It needs confronting, dealing with publicly with public apology etc. What if the leader just spoke very strongly to a member of the flock. Sin? We are now moving in more difficult areas. If he does it with one, he will do it with another and we, perhaps, have a behavioral or attitudinal issue to deal with. The more one thinks into these issues linked with Paul’s words here, we realise we are moving in difficult waters that need the wisdom of God.

31. Honouring Elders

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 31:  Honouring Elders

1 Tim 5:17,18   The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

It is interesting that Paul moves from widows to elders, from vulnerable women to men in authority. But perhaps it requires a knowledge of men in ministry to understand the leap. Actually, I would suggest that elders are actually another group of vulnerable people who need looking after!  Now that may seem strange for many of us because we look up to the vicar, the minister, the leader, the elder,  and so we do not realise that they have the same struggles that the rest of us have. They are still redeemed sinners and are still working out their sanctification, they still struggle with family relationships and even relationships with others. They still get tired, have worries, and get old; they are still very much human beings – and they need looking after! Perhaps our greatest danger is that we take them for granted. Having observed church leaders in lots of different denominations, streams etc. over the last forty years, I believe this word from Paul is particularly needful.

We have considered the role and qualifications of elders in earlier meditations (17 & 18) and here we see Paul identifying their activities as directing “the affairs of the church” and “preaching and teaching”. The way he speaks of preaching and teaching might suggest that not every elder does this. He is speaking of those who fulfil their role “well”. How does an elder do these things ‘well’? I suggest he does them carefully, diligently, wisely, with grace, and with his whole heart, listening to the Lord and conveying the Lord’s heart to His people, and being there for them. That will do for starters!

But then Paul says that such men are worthy of ‘double honour’. What does that mean? At the very least it means we stop taking them for granted and we think about them and care for them. Now in some churches where the ‘elder’ is an authority figure that may require others in supportive roles ensuring they build their relationship with their leader so that they can speak into his life and be there for him.  Practically I realise it is not always easy with some of the church structures and expectations that we have in this country. Nevertheless I would maintain that I know of men in the ministry – Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, free church – who have struggled with life and ministry and who have not been looked after!

But Paul does allow us to think that this means thinking well of our leader(s) for he uses two illustrations that clearly indicate that they is a material or financial dimension here as well: “For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (v.18)  The first quote comes from  Deut 25:4 and is literally about oxen, while the second quotes Jesus in Lk 10:7 and both of them are about material and financial reward for service.

Now this is a difficult subject but it is one where I believe, looking back over many years as I have commented already, the church often fails. Yes, there are exceptions and sometimes (in the American mould it seems) there are leaders of big churches who seem to take this over the top and are paid and have lifestyles of top executives which divide them from the ordinary people of their congregation; they are superstars and seem out of place in the church of Jesus Christ. But they are few and far between and Paul would not have been able to imagine such a situation. No, he envisages the more normal church situation of the smaller church. What is common in the church of today is the full-time leader whose family struggles with the low wages the church gives him.

Perhaps this emanates from a wrong mentality that here is an employee and we then start assessing what he does with his time and so on. This is the mentality of those who have little understanding of the life and ministry of an elder, a man of God who must spend much time developing his relationship with the Lord on behalf of his flock. This cannot be ‘assessed’ or ‘measured’ in the same way as a man working a machine. The life in the ministry is too complex for that.  Incidentally, in passing, sociologists often declare that the role of the church minister is often one of the most stressful jobs going! So we add to his stress by giving him a pitifully low salary, often below the national average, so he is having to worry about how to make ends meet and explain to his wife and children why they cannot have the same as the neighbours have!

Church, this is not honouring the elder and I have seen it again and again and again.  We do not want to create a financial megastar but we do want to honour such men and provide for them reasonably. Simply ask yourself, IF you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you give the elder(s) of your local church “double honour”?  Be honest, do you? And if not, why are you disobeying God? It’s as simple as that!

30. Caring for Widows (2)

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 30:  Caring for Widows (2)

1 Tim 5:9,10   No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

What we now find in this consideration of care for the vulnerable in the church – specifically widows – are a number of very practical guidelines. “No widow may be put on the list of widows”  (v.9a) suggests that the early church ‘registered’ or made a list of such ladies who qualified for care by the church. A problem that arose in the church at Jerusalem shows this daily care when a complaint arose by the Greek Jews that “their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1). Such was the very practical caring of the elderly in the church of those who had lost their husbands.

For this caring to be warranted the lady in question had to conform to a threefold requirement: (i)  she is over sixty, (ii) has been faithful to her husband and (iii) is well known for her good deeds” (v.9,10) These clearly are the expectations of a woman in the church and any shortcoming would suggest possibly a backslider, or someone who is not part of the redeemed community. The age requirement is fairly obvious and we must suppose that even as today there are age requirements for receiving a pension, that was an age that it was obviously considered a woman might be showing signs of older age. Faithfulness in marriage was also a ‘given’ in the early church.

The fact that she is well known for her good deeds again reveals the expectation on women believers and Paul spells out what this might include: “such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (v.10) That is an interesting list that may bear more private meditation and reflection.

If there are sometimes criticism of Paul being sexist, perhaps these verses that follow, which appear somewhat harsh, give some credence to that claim: “As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.” (v.11) However this may not be as bad as at first sight. The comments don’t apply to just any younger women but those who apparently have entered into a vow of service, which appears to have been a practice of those days.  This seems a reasonable assessment of what Paul is saying when he speaks of them sometimes having “overcome their dedication to Christ” and then going to say, “Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.” (v.12) Now it is possible that he means their first commitment to Christ but he doesn’t spell that out.  Instead he says that he sees that some of them at least “get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (v.13) In other words they are contributing  nothing to the church and should not expect the church to look after them (remember his first call is for families to look after their own women who are now widows).

Now there are times that some readers of Paul’s writings think he is against marriage because they take out of context, “to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.” (1 Cor 7:8) and “Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.” (1 Cr 7:27), but actually that may have more to do with the difficult times than it does with any personal feelings Paul has. Indeed if we read on in both of those above quotes we find, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Cor 7:9) and “But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” (1 Cor 7:28) That latter verse reinforces what we said about difficult times.

Now, in our present verses we find he continues, “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” (v.14) In other words if there are young widows, marriage is probably exactly what is best for them in that time. The concern to be married is often a strong pull and can draw young women away from Christ – any man rather than none!  Paul is aware that in his day, “Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan,” (v.15) i.e. have gone away from Christ.

Reverting back to his original call for families to look after their own women, he specifically speaks to Christian women before he finishes: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.” (v.16) What a piece of common sense! If it is possible, let those in families look after their family members who are now widows. How much better than leaving them to the church to look after. In every way that builds family relationships and unburdens the church.

29. Caring for Widows

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 29:  Caring for Widows

1 Tim 5:3,4   Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

From the outset it is clear that the Lord is concerned for those who are vulnerable or weak and thus we find early in the Law, “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.” (Ex 22:22) Later we read, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing,” (Deut 10:18) and this turns into practical protection and care: “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge,” (Deut  24:17) and “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow,” (Deut 24:19) and so on.

In a day of benefits and pensions and so on, we may find it difficult to understand the plight of a widow in earlier times. If her husband had been wealthy that had been one thing but if he wasn’t she would have to rely upon the care and generosity of nearest family to provide for her. Again, it wasn’t easy, or probably even possible, to just pop out and get a part time job. Thus caring for widows was a real concern on the heart of God.

So as Paul continues to give Timothy practical guidance as how to handle specific groups within the congregation, he now says, “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” (v.3) i.e. be alert to those who are widows in the congregation and especially those widows who are needy, who don’t have large family resources and who genuinely need care.

It is for this reason that Paul then moves on to consider the support that a widow may actually already have: “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” (v.4) The guidance is quite clear: if there are members of the family who are Christians, they should take on the responsibility for caring for their mother or grandmother. It shouldn’t have to go to the church; this should remain a family matter.

But then there is the matter of widows who do not have family support available: “The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.” (v.5) Paul sees the Christian widow who is all alone appealing to God and the implication is that the church should be the one who provides the answers to her praying and provide for her.

So much for a godly widow, but Paul gives a sideway warning to widows who are not godly: “But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” (v.6) The implication from these words is that here is a widow who is out for self, is not godly and, by implication, is not a Christian, and as such is spiritually dead and, by further implication, is not the responsibility of the church.

But actually Paul’s concern is for the household of God and so he instructs Timothy to teach his people these things: “Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame.” (v.7) People in the church sometimes get it wrong simply because they are not taught properly, so make sure they are taught in respect of these things and then no one will find themselves in a place where they are guilty and are going to get blamed for lack of care. To drive home the point, he adds, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (v.8)  Look, he is saying, your family is your responsibility – you make sure you care for them and look after them.

In the previous meditation we commented there, that with the general command to love one another, such an instruction as we find here is surely superfluous?  The trouble is that we are very good at having partial spiritual sight! Yes, we may know the teaching about loving one another but that doesn’t stop us having blind spots, so things are going on around us that really we should be attending to – and we miss them! Such teaching as we find here puts practical definition to the overall command to love. There is a lot more to come in respect of widows but we’ll consider it in the next meditation.  

28. Respect & Honour People

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 28:  Respect and Honour People

1 Tim 5:1,2   Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

We have seen, we have said, Paul instructing Timothy on various facets of leading the church in Ephesus. He has focused so far on general issues of exercising his ministry and upholding the word. Now Paul turns to more personal matters, or issues of dealing with people in the congregation.

Implied within all that he says, we should note, is the idea that leaders / elders / shepherds / overseers, call them what you will, are responsible for their flocks and not only does that mean preaching and teaching the flock, but caring for it and on occasion correcting it. Because he is a young man, Paul sees that Timothy may have a particular difficulty and it is in the way he deals with older men in the congregation. There may be times when a situation arises where he, as the leader, ought to speak to an older man about his behaviour.

How we treat other people is a sign or measure of how much God has done in us. Leaders can forget they are servants and think they have power and authority to throw around, but Paul thinks otherwise (read 2 Corinthians to catch his heart in this whole area). The apostle Peter taught, Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers.” (1 Pet 2:17). Paul in his teachings made it more specific: “the wife must respect her husband,” (Eph 5:33), “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect,” (Eph 6:5), “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you,” (1 Thess 5:12), “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect,” (1 Tim 3:4), “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect,” (1 Tim 3:8), “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect,” (1 Tim 3:11), and “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect.” (1 Tim 6:1)

Paul thus sees certain people worthy of respect by nature of their position. Peter teaches a more general respecting of all persons and he extends this to non-Christians: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15) Respect for those older than you was, of course, built into the Law: “Each of you must respect his mother and father,” (Lev 19:3) and “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” (Lev 19:32)

If you have to rebuke a man older than yourself, he challenges Timothy, don’t resort to harshness but see him and respect him as if he were your father. Respect for the aged, we have just noted, goes right back to the Law.  Oh that it would be restored to the church today!  But this raises the question about how we should treat all people. We might say it seems an almost irrelevant question because surely we are called to love everyone, for example Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mt 22:39 quoting Lev 19:18) and then, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Surely, therefore, it is obvious how we should treat one another – with love. But what does that mean?

Well the apostle John spelt it own in practical terms: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:16,17) Of course Paul spelt it out in 1 Cor 13:4-8  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”  So it seems fairly obvious.

So why does Paul say to Timothy, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1,2)?   How do we treat brothers, mothers and sisters? (at least when the family is not dysfunctional!) Very simply, we are for them, we love them and we respect them and we think honourably about them. We would think nothing wrong about them and want nothing wrong for them. This is the bench mark that Paul sets for Timothy when he has to deal with men and women in the congregation and perhaps correct them. How would you correct your sister? Hopefully with love and care, wanting to maintain a good ongoing relationship. How would you correct your mother? Carefully! With gentleness and tenderness and not wanting to say or do anything to upset or hurt. How about correcting a brother? Surely with wisdom and in such a way as he might receive you and your words of correction, again knowing that you want to maintain a warm ongoing relationship with him. All of these things thus apply when the leader finds himself in a position when it is necessary to admonish and correct a brother or sister in Christ. See them as your literal brother, sister or mother and treat them accordingly. In that way they will get the best treatment from you. May that be how it is in church life. 

27. Fulfil your Ministry (2)

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 27:  Fulfil your Ministry (2)

1 Tim 4:15,16   Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

We have seen Paul starting to encourage the young Timothy in his ministry as a leader in the church there in Ephesus. He had told him to be bold (implied) and command and teach the things spoken about in this letter (v.11), not letting people look down on him because of his youthfulness and, instead, aim to let his life be an example to the believers in the church (v.12). He urged him to uphold the word by ensuring public reading of Scripture and by preaching and teaching (v.13), exercising the gift that God had spoken of when he was being prayed over by the leaders (v.14). That’s how far we got in the previous meditation.

But he hasn’t finished and being mindful of Timothy’s youthfulness, he encourages him to keep on learning, keep on developing, keep on maturing. That is what is behind the words before us now. “Be diligent in these matters.” (v.15a) When we speak about being diligent, it tends to be in respect of learning or education. There is a sense that Timothy is learning a lot of new things, (or maybe being reminded of things) it seems, from Paul’s teaching in this letter. We’ve seen and will yet see more, instructions as to how the church should behave, and how it should be lead. Diligence suggests careful industry, persevering work, steady application of all that Paul says. Then he continues, “give yourself wholly to them.” (v.15b). Be wholehearted in learning and applying these things is what Paul now says. But he has a reason in mind: “so that everyone may see your progress.” (v.15c) He has already called Timothy to be an example to the believers and Paul is aware that the flock always watches the lives of its leaders carefully, so let them see you are growing in your ministry.

There is behind all this the whole area of the influence leaders have by their lives. I am aware that in the past my life has been greatly influenced by a variety of leaders. I hesitate to use their names but there have been many. Some have stirred or challenged me by their teaching and some have stirred or challenged me simply by their lives. We, the leaders of the church, do influence people by who we are; we may wish we didn’t but we do! Perhaps, therefore, it is more important that we let the grace of God work in us than in any others in the flock. Yes, they are to change but one of the things that the Lord will use to bring change to them is us!

He continues, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” (v.16a). Now there is a sense where this back up what we have just been saying. Paul doesn’t just say “Watch your doctrine, what you believe and teach,” but he says, “Watch your life.” He is emphasizing even more how important it is for the leader’s life to reflect Christ, to be a visible example of sanctification with grace and goodness clearly there and, we might suggest, being an example of availability and obedience to God. How easy it is for little things, not good things, to be tolerated in our lives, or to creep into our lives. Under the pressure of pastoral ministry the minister has to battle against hardness of hearts, false or confused beliefs and people doing their own thing and even falling into sin. All of these things can have an adverse affect within the life of the minister. How easy it is to become critical or jaded or cynical. It takes the 100% grace of God to overcome all those things and remain a gentle but firm, loving and caring minister who perseveres against all the pressures that come from people and from the world and from the enemy. No wonder Paul says, “Watch your life.”

But it is also a call to watch his doctrine, the things he believes and preaches and teaches. The leader, more than any other person, has to be constantly alert to fend off wrong thinking, wrong teachings, even wrong behaviour tolerated in the church. He is the main mouthpiece to the church – yes there are other gifts etc. being exercised in the church which should also work in this manner – but he and the other elders is the one who has the greatest opportunity to speak into the hearts and minds of the flock.

When Paul says, “Persevere in them,” (v.16b) he has a specific reason in mind which we’ll come to in a moment, but it is also an indication that these things are not easy and the temptation for the minister / elder is to give up and take the easy path and just bring pleasant platitudes to the people. Constantly bringing the truth to the people requires effort, physical, mental and spiritual, and it is tiring and wearing and the temptation is to bring nice, simple expository teaching of simple passages of Scripture that bring little challenge to change and to grow and to be further sanctified. No we need the call to “persevere” when we are in the ministry, when we are any form of leader in God’s church.

Yet, as we said, Paul has a reason in his mind for Timothy doing that: “because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (v.16c) Salvation is (i) something that happened when you were born again or converted (both terms used in Scripture when you turned to Christ) and (ii) it is also the ongoing life while on this earth, and (iii) it is also the end product of eternity with God in heaven. When Paul uses the word ‘save’ here he means the second aspect of it and so perhaps we might expand that sentence and suggest he is saying, “when you do all these things you will be working out God’s purpose of salvation in your own life and you will also be helping others to receive what God is doing in their lives, His purpose of salvation in them. By persevering in these things you will be extending the kingdom or rule of God in both your life and the lives of those over whom you keep watch as an elder or overseer. What an opportunity! No wonder Paul had used one of the church’s ‘sayings’ earlier in the letter, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (3:1) It may be hard work at times, but what a wonderful work! Go for it!