A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/4/2001

1 Timothy 4:6-5:2


Throughout 1 Timothy Paul has been instructing his young disciple on the Church: its origin and its outreach, its offices, and its organization; its mission and its ministry, its makeup, and its message. In the passage before us today he addresses Timothy more personally with some advice that is good for all Christian workers.


We are called, first, to be SERVANTS (v. 6). It is impossible to be a disciple of Jesus Christ without taking on the role, the identity, and the self concept of a servant. We follow as Lord one who repudiated the gentile concept of leadership as "lording it over" their subordinates and said, "I am among you as the one who serves" (Lk. 22:24-27). We follow the one who washed the disciples' feet and then asked them, "Do you understand what I have done?" (Jn. 13:1-17). If we do understand, then we cannot follow Him and do any less.

Interestingly, the primary form this service takes is TEACHING (v. 6, 11, 13, 16). Teaching is the primary description of how we serve. Now, this sounds rather strange. How can Teaching adequately summarize Servanthood? But the problem is our rather superficial, limited, even truncated view of what Teaching is. We think of a teacher as someone who stands up in front of a group of people and spouts words, which they take down in a distorted form which they are pleased to call their "notes." But the biblical concept is modeled by Jesus in the Upper Room. How did He teach? He girded himself with a towel and washed the disciple's feet. And THEN he asked them, "Do you understand what I have done?" I am painfully aware of the irony in the fact that I am standing in front of a group of people spouting words myself. Well, there is a place for that. But it is TEACHING in the biblical sense only if the spouting can legitimately be heard as a form of Jesus' "Do you understand what I have DONE."

TEACHING, in other words, has two poles which must be kept together if it is to be teaching as the Bible understands it: There is a Lesson, but first there is a Life; there is Exhortation, but first an Example; there is Saying, but first there is Serving; there is the Word of Faith, but first the Washing of Feet; there is the Mouth, but first the Ministry; there is the careful Definition of God's love, but first the Demonstration of it. And neither is complete without the other. With Talk only there is no credibility. But, while the Walk is no doubt more crucial than the Talk, the Walk without the Talk is also incomplete. Jesus summarized it best: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and conclude what a nice person you are?" No. "That they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven." We cannot say "Do you understand what I have done?" until we have done something ("good works"); but the Doing is also incomplete without the Saying. The whole point of Christian Servanthood-as-Teaching is to put ourselves in the position where we can ask Jesus' wonderful Socratic Question, and thus point people to the Answer.


If this is our ministry, how do we prepare or train for it? The answer is in vv. 7-8. We discipline ourselves for godliness in a way that parallels but transcends the "bodily exercise" which "profiteth [relatively] little." This involves two kinds of training.

A. Our DIET (v. 6b).

We must be "constantly nourished on the words of faith and the sound doctrine we have been following." Anyone in serious athletic training has to watch his diet; he can't clog up his system with too much fat, and he needs lots of protein to build muscle and complex carbohydrates for energy. There is a reason why you find the protraits of Olympic athletes on Wheaties and not on Cap'n Crunch. Paul points out here the intimate connection between teaching and learning. We can only give what we have received. If the Bible and other teachers have not nourished me, this sermon will not nourish you. Christians are called Disciples. The word means Learner. And we are supposed to be going into all the world and making others into disciples. So every Christian is called to be both a Learner and a Teacher in the full, rich, holistic biblical sense we have seen above.


We discipline ourselves (v. 7); we labor and strive (v. 10); we take pains (v. 15). Is this a doctrine of salvation by works? Of course not. It is not even a doctrine of sanctification by works. It is not even a doctrine of WORKS by works. Nevertheless, we must throw our whole selves into this process in a deliberate, serious, and sustained manner. Why? Because our own efforts are worth anything? No. Because our hope is in God (v. 10). Or as Paul puts it elsewhere, "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling BECAUSE it is GOD who works in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure." Grace alone rightly understood does not lead to passivity but to action with hope. Because God in His Grace has promised to bless certain disciplines, in other words, they are worth working at so that He can bring forth the fruit. So we work because practice makes perfect. You will never be a witness for Christ, for example, if you are not willing to make a fool of yourself, any more than you can learn to ride a bycicle if you are not willing to fall off. If it were up to you it would be futile; because it is up to God, it is worth working at.


Timothy is a young man to be pastoring the Church at Ephesus; it is possible that his flock will be tempted to patronize him. How is he to avoid this? By being an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. In other words, by being the Servant/Teacher through the Diet and Discipline described above; by being able to ask, "Do you understand what I have done?" That is where our credibility comes from, and there are no short cuts to it. In v. 15 he is to take pains so that his PROGRESS may be evident to all. You do not have to be perfect to have credibility; but you do have to be real, and that means you have to be growing yourself in order to help others do so.


Growth then is critical in the Christian life. Sanctification is not a plane to which we attain but a mountain we climb whose peak is hidden in the clouds of eternity. We will not reach that peak in this life. What matters, then? That we be found climbing; that we be higher today than we were yesterday, and that we are able to help others along the same path. How? By understanding that our Calling is to be Disciples which is to be Servant/Learner/Teachers; by being faithful to our Calisthenics in the spiritual disciplines God has promised to bless; by thereby acheiving Credibility, i.e. by being real. May God make it so in our lives, so that we may say with power, "Do you understand what I have done?"

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams