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Cultivating Spiritual Health
How to prevent apostasy and error–1 Timothy 4:6-16
Do not look up spiritual wellness, spiritual health, or spiritual wholeness on the web–talk about a truckload of manure. The world’s answer to spirituality is horrific. They say things like, “Explore your core”—meaning, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Then, “look for deeper meanings–express them.” Try yoga . . . travel so your mind can reflect and rest . . . think positively . . . take time to meditate . . . pursue inner peace . . . see a doctor . . . set goals . . . continue your education . . . eliminate stressors from your life . . . learn to be thankful . . . practice forgiveness . . . deepen your connection with others . . . get restful sleep.
Spend time in nature. Eat fresh foods. Get regular massages. Wow–a cheap, external, man-centered, all inward, non-factual, non-historical, imitation of the real thing. A load of vomit with tiny chunks of truth.
True spiritual health comes as God’s Word is applied by the third person of the Trinity. Spiritual health is a historically objective, propositional truth applied to a life in obedience. Genuine spiritual health is achieved from empowered repentance and dependent faith. For the individual believer, health comes as you depend upon God’s resources alone.
For the church, health comes as shepherds and sheep follow God’s plan for the Church. God’s plan for spiritual health for His Church is described in 1 Timothy 4:6 to 16. Open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 4 and follow along in your outline. Paul is out of prison, preaching the Gospel and planting churches in the New Testament world.
We assume he’s traveled to new cities and we know he has revisited several key cities, one of them being Ephesus. At Ephesus, Paul left Timothy to deal with problems of heresy and disorder. As Paul continued to minister elsewhere, he writes Timothy this first letter in order to strengthen Timothy for the task of leadership and to redirect this local church.
Chapter 1 was about rejecting false doctrine, then embracing true doctrine. Chapter 2 was about the correct behavior in the Church for men, then women. Chapter 3 was about the correct qualifications for elders, then deacons. As Paul wraps up chapter 3, he states the purpose of writing 1 Timothy, giving Tim and Ephesus the HOUSE RULES–how believers are to conduct themselves in the Church.
Next, in the midst of error and confusion, Paul seeks to instruct Timothy how to help the church remain spiritually healthy. In Chapter 4:1 to 5, Paul describes the serious sickness of apostasy. And now in verses 6 to 16, Paul tells his favorite apostolic assistant what Timothy must commit to for the church to grow spiritually healthy.
Like a doctor giving a prescription, or a nutritionist describing a special diet, in verses 6 to 16, Paul gives spiritual leaders the path to corporate spiritual health. This is definitely the clear diet for pastors and elders. It is also the prescription for community group and ministry leaders. It is also the remedy for parents who want their children to walk with Christ.
These verses are an important treatment for all who disciple other believers. It’s also the medicine to give to others who attend unhealthy churches. First Timothy 4:6 to 16 is how to cultivate health in the church and how to prevent heresy. Paul gives us four major steps for corporate health.
#1 EATING Godly Food
Read verses 6 and 7, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.”
Look at verse 6, when Paul says, “In pointing out these things to the brethren”–the “these things” is referring to the sick apostasy of verses 1 to 5. “Pointing out” is a continual warning, a continual reminder and a continual persuasion. And if Timothy continually lays out warnings about the error of apostasy, Timothy will be “a good servant”–he will literally be an admirable and excellent minister who serves on Christ’s behalf.
This is shocking in our day–churches don’t want to talk about error. Almost everyone avoids saying some teachings are wrong. And you’re seen as hateful and bigoted to say certain specific teachers are wrong. But God says if you do, you are “a good servant of Christ”–an excellent minister. Any pastor who points out error in truth and grace will hear from Jesus Christ, Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful slave.”
Why is pointing out heresy so important? When someone stops your hand as you’re just about to eat food, then says, “Don’t eat that, that’s poison! Don’t eat that, it’s rotten. Don’t eat that, it’s unhealthy.” That is true love. The excellent minister points out heresy because heresy is soul damning. False teaching is dangeous and some truths are spiritually unhealthy.
To help cultivate a healthy church in Ephesus and here, leaders must warn of error. But not only expose error, but personally feed on truth. Verse 6 continues, “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (verse 6b). All leaders are to be continually feeding on the Word of God. The Bible is your spiritual food–without regular intake, you’ll starve and not grow.
Growth is subtle and often noticed best by others. But for leaders, for parents, you are to be constantly nourished on a steady diet of godly food–God’s Word. Leaders are to learn the Word, memorize the Word, apply the Word and teach the Word. Timothy and all influencers in the church are to be feeding on the “words of the faith”, representing the entire body of Christian truth contained in the Scripture.
Love the Word, treasure the Word, delight in the Word and sound doctrine, which is healthy truth, which when embraced will make a person live like Christ. And if Timothy (or any leader) does not continually feed himself, he will be unable to feed others. Leaders, it’s not about you being a good communicator, or understanding the culture, or personally knowing the congregation or explaining contemporary issues–but learning the content of the Bible by reading, studying, meditating on and mastering God’s Word.
So reject the poison and continually feed on God’s Word and sound doctrine. And once more, Paul points out in verse 7, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.” In contrast to God’s never wrong, super healthy Word, Paul warns Timothy to completely reject profane myths, which belong only to senile old women who share fairy tales.
Paul is not trying to insult older women, but to comment on the bad doctrine. And Paul doesn’t say be careful what you read. No, much stronger than that. It has nothing to do with that–it means reject this sappy error. These errors, which are now easily found on websites and most Christian bookstores—it literally means refuse it.
Do not eat poison, munch on rotten teaching, nor fill up on Twinkie and Ding Dong teaching. No, eat the spinach of the soul which is God’s Word taught accurately and healthy doctrine. And only teach and preach God’s Word. Don’t be an ear tickler, tell the truth. Don’t be a senile saint, keep your mind saturated, alert and pure in God’s Word. Your spiritual health is conditioned on what you eat and how you work out . . .
#2 EXERCISING to Develop Godliness
Verses 7b to 10, “On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
There is no fruitful ministry apart from personal godliness. All true ministry in the church and in your home is the overflow of a godly life. JO Saunders says, “Spiritual ends can be achieved only by spiritual men who employ spiritual methods.” Look at verse 7, the word “discipline yourself” is the English word gymnasium. Using athletic imagery, the idea here is to train yourself to exercise self-control.
Proverbs 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” And 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and make it my slave.” Every city had a gym, including Ephesus, where youth 16 to 18 and athletes trained. Paul tells all leaders to lift spiritual weights in order to live godly.
Leaders in the church and leaders in the home are to work hard to live godly. Sadly, the super-talented and graciously gifted often rest on their gifts and do not develop discipline. But Paul tells Timothy he must develop discipline. “Timothy, build godly routines into your lifestyle.” Obviously, living self-controlled godliness means to flee sin and pursue Christ. But it really means lifting the weights of making daily tough choices.
Saying, “No,” to good things, even, “No,” to better things in order to say, “Yes,” to the best things. To grow a healthy church, community group, ministry, disciple or raise children, then discipline yourself to live godly. Godliness means knowing who God is, living life as an offering to God and making choices to honor God with everything you do. Discipline yourself means to exercise, work out, and build a good routine of godly habits.
Spurgeon says a shepherd without godliness is like a blind man teaching optics. Without godliness, you’re a deaf man who is a conductor of music. Without living godly in the home or church, you are a mole trying to educate eagles. Are you building a routine of discipline, exercising discipline that encourages you to live godly?
Have you made a commitment to attend church without fail–with few exceptions. Are you forcing yourself to read, study, listen to and apply the Word? To faithfully pray? Have you budgeted your paycheck so it’s spent in such a way that honors God with all of it? Are you treating others in order to honor Christ with love and respect?
Are you dealing with sin struggles by memorizing Scripture that address the struggle? Timothy is to fully exercise himself with discipline to live according to God’s character. This is not growth by circumstances. Not progressing because you’re on a mission team. Not maturity because you have more time. No, this is the active pursuit of choices.
Verse 8 states, “physical exercise gives little benefit” (little help, little usefulness or little advantage). But in contrast, living like Christ verse 8 adds–working at spiritual gymnastics has advantages. Literally, in every direction, in every way–in this life and the next. This type of self-control results in two great results—1) abundant life now, and 2) eternal reward later. Godliness results in joy now and blessing eternally.
Paul commands Timothy to live differently than the false teachers, but manifesting the fruit of the Spirit–demonstrating self-control to be like Christ. Paul ends verse 9 with, “This is a trustworthy statement,” telling Timothy–this is axiomatic. Every believer knows this is true.
Paul says, “Timothy, pursue heavenly reward, but remember it will be hard work on earth.” Verse 10, “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” Timothy, your commitment is to labor (work to the point of exhaustion), and to strive (struggle to the point of agony).
Godliness will not grow in an environment of instant gratification. Spiritual health does not result from a single commitment or after a single day, week or month. It will take work to the point of exhaustion (labor) and agonizing struggle (strive). Paul reminds Timothy we work this hard because we have placed all our trust and confident hope in the living God–not in the dead idols of false teachers, not with the false religions of error, not with the empty routines of errant worship, but in the one, living, alive, sovereign God.
And our Savior, who was tortured and died, then rose—giving His all for us. He pushed you out of the way and stepped in front of the speeding car meant for you. Paul adds a challenging statement, “who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” Paul reminds Timothy, God blesses everyone without Christ–God provides His creatures with food, keeps them alive, is deeply interested in them, often delivers them from disease, ills, hurt, famine, war, poverty, and peril in many forms.
God is, accordingly, their savior (He is their preserver, deliverer, and in that sense their savior). But God is especially glorious for those He has rescued from sin–genuine believers, Christians, are saved now and forever. We have Christ in abundance now and for all eternity. So Timothy, if Christ did this for you, then grow in your commitment. Labor and strive to grow in godliness–develop routines to live godly.
You can tell when a man loves his wife, because his wife comes up in conversation–he thinks of her with every event, every decision, every activity because they’re one. You can also clearly see when a believer is committed to Christ, because Christ comes up in every decision, is central in every event and the priority of every activity.
Eat the right food and avoid the poison. Exercise to develop godliness. Now Paul gives eight commands which form five sub-points that are part of the process of growing godly.
#3 ENGAGING the Do’s and Don’ts of Godly Exercise
What are the main do’s & don’ts to cultivating spiritual health and godliness?
First Pressing the PRIORITIES
Paul adds two commands for Timothy in verse 11, “Prescribe and teach these things.” Timothy, I want you to prescribe–call those you seek to impact to pursue a life of continual obedience to God’s commands. And teach these things–seek to impact them for Christ by teaching the authorial intent of the text. “Prescribe and teach”–do not stop communicating the importance of obedience to God’s Word nor stop teaching the author’s intended message in God’s Word.
Calling all spiritual leaders! Preaching, teaching, discipling is not about being intriguing, but commanding, entertaining but convicting, popular but powerful, interesting but life-transforming. But it’s more than speaking and preaching God’s Word–it is also living it.
Second Aging is not the issue, EXAMPLE is
Verse 12 adds two more commands, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” Timothy is about 30 years old at this point. But compared to the elders who are at Ephesus, Timothy is a young thing–a baby, almost immature.
So Paul prods Timothy, do not be insecure. Do not be afraid. Do not be silent. But actively, let no one look down on you with contempt. Do not allow others to dismiss you. Never allow anyone to despise you because of your young age.
In stark contrast Paul exhorts Timothy, don’t try to change older men by confrontation, but impact them by exemplification. Let your conduct speak for you. You are to be a model–an example to follow, a pattern for others to imitate. Read Hebrews 13:7, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
The greatest tool of leadership is the power of example, so Paul tells Timothy to focus on your behavior in order to be a model to all believers and the leaders. Teaching without example is the most serious sin of leadership. Teaching without example is with your mouth, saying you want to lead others to Heaven, but actually taking them by the hand and leading them straight to Hell.
Paul says Timothy’s words, behavior, sacrificial actions, unswerving commitment to Christ and sexual purity are to be an example. Timothy’s conduct is to be a pattern to follow. Then, in your home and in the church, you are to . . .
Third SATURATING your flock with God’s Word
Verse 13 adds one command, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” The word “public” is not in the Greek text, and is assumed here–why? Well, there were no printing presses in Paul’s time. Believers didn’t have Bibles. So Paul is telling Timothy to keep on reading to God’s people from the copies they have of the Old Testament, and now the New Testament scrolls. Keep reading the Scriptures to them.
Plus keep exhorting and teaching. Exhortation means to push towards obedience to God’s Word. Keep calling for obedience. Plus keep teaching–to instruct in doctrine. Never stop instructing. We have 2,000 years of example and current models to boot. The fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, was nicknamed “golden-mouthed.” Of him, John R. W. Stott writes, “He is justly regarded as the greatest pulpit orator of the Greek church. Nor has he any equal among the Latin Fathers. He remains to this day a model for preachers.”
He’s one of my heroes. Four chief characteristics of his preaching may be mentioned. First, he was biblical. Not only did he preach systematically through several books, but his sermons are full of biblical quotations and allusions. Secondly, his interpretation of the Scriptures was simple and straightforward. He followed the school of “literal” exegesis, in contrast to fanciful Alexandrian allegorizations. Thirdly, his moral applications were down to earth—practical. Fourthly, he was fearless in his condemnations and proclamations.
Parents/disciplers are to be saturated with the Word–formally teach it, informally talk about it every moment with every task, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Do not give advice, give God’s Word. Speak what Jesus would say–His Word. Plus, to cultivate health in the church . . .
Fourth Functioning the way God GIFTED you
In verse 14, Paul reminds Timothy of his special calling confirmed by the elders, as an apostolic assistant to Paul, a church planter and preacher and more. Like all believers, Timothy is also to exercise his spiritual giftedness in ministry. Paul pushes Timothy that he must never stop ministering the way God gifted him.
Verse 14, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” Paul says to Timothy, if you neglect the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, it will affect the Holy Spirit’s work through your life. But Timothy is to be concerned about more than ministry.
Fifth Positioning is not the issue, PROGRESSING is
Verse 15 adds two commands, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.” Take pains means plan your ministry and life–Paul says be engulfed, immersed and saturated, absorbed with what I’m teaching you, Timothy. Absorbed is not in the Greek text. It is literally “be in them”–immersed in them.
Make certain your growth in Christ, your progress in Christ, your changes from Christ–Christ’s impact in and through your life are splendidly obvious to everyone. The most dramatic impact you can ever have on your children, the greatest impact you can make on another Christian is for them to watch/observe Christ change you.
To watch you start to love your spouse, speak graciously, stop skipping church, forgive those who hurt you, kill a bad habit, develop a life of thankfulness will rock the world of those closest to you and prove the genuineness, the reality and the power of Christ. Timothy is to be captivated with Christ in such a way his ministry and life mature. Do not be distracted with lesser priorities, Timothy! Be captivated where it counts.
This bears repeating–we have an entire generation who can live really messed up lives. They themselves think they’re doing great because they’re #1 in their on-line game. Or they have 1,000 “likes” on their Instagram picture, or 20,000 Facebook friends. Their entire life is a disaster, but because they are doing epic in the artificial world, they believe they’re doing okay.
Paul says to Timothy, live captivated with Christ in the real world with real people, for the real living God. To grow healthy as a church and as a Christian, eat the right food, exercise to develop godliness, engage the do’s and don’ts of godly exercise, and finally, be . . .
#4 ENTRUSTING to what’s MOST important
Two final commands in verse 16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Paul summarizes all he says in verses 6 to 16 with a challenge to remain faithful. Timothy must concentrate on and hold fast to maintaining a personal life of integrity, and to diligently examine his own teaching to make certain it is accurate and clear.
Verse 16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things.”–entrust to the most important, or “Watch your life and doctrine.” Spurgeon calls this the self-watch—“for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Be like an editor over an article when it comes to your life–find the misspellings in your lifestyle choices.
And be like a home inspector as you teach. Look for any breakage or weakness in your teaching. Progress means to blaze a new trail, to mark progress in becoming like Christ. As Timothy maintains these two priorities, he provides assurance of salvation for himself and all those he teaches. Timothy’s invisible commitments result in visible growth.
Maturing as a Christian is a mark of assurance of salvation. Second Peter 1 says increasing Christ like character makes salvation certain. This morning, parent, ministry leader, deacon, community group shepherd, elder–is your lifestyle healthy? Is your teaching healthy? Then take the D’s home. Be . . .
A DINING on GOOD Teaching
Commit yourself to read through the Word in a year with the reading plan. Read through the MacArthur Theology this year. Listen to solid sermons preaching through a favorite book found on the website. Be . . .
B DISCIPLINING for WAR
Act as if you’re at war on this planet against a superior enemy and his army and choose to develop habits so you’re ready to not only fight, but win. Will you commit to attend church unless you’re deathly ill or on vacation only? Will you force yourself to read, study, listen to and apply the Word and pray? Set an alarm across the room–two alarms, one in the bathroom. Write on the mirror the judgments of Revelation. Wash your face first thing—then you won’t fall back asleep.
Will you budget your paycheck so it’s spent in such a way that honors God? Will you treat others with love and respect? Will you deal with sin struggles by memorizing Scripture that addresses your struggle? Be . . .
C DESIRING an intimate RELATIONSHIP
Pick some reading which will help you fall in love with Christ again. Knowing God, Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, What if I Don’t Desire God?, The Love of God. List out your daily duties, then write next to each duty how Christ can be your first love with each task. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
D DISCERNING that DELAYED obedience is disobedience
Don’t walk out of here today and continue unhealthy habits. Do not remain in a state of weakness. Join a ministry, join a community group, get discipled, get accountable and pursue Christ with all your heart with others. Do not delay—it’s disobedience to delay. And . . .
E DON’T try this at HOME
Don’t think you can live for Christ without Christ in you and through you–do you have Christ? Have you turned from your sin and surrendered your life to Christ? If not, ask God to open your heart. And Christian friend, you can only obey God’s Word by the power of the Spirit in order for you to grow healthy.
Don’t try to live for Christ in your own strength. Let’s leave here today trusting Christ and depending on the Spirit. Let’s pray.