A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 4:11-5:2. c) Timothy must exercise his gift.
It would not be an anachronism to refer to this as Timothy’s ‘ordination’. Although we are not told when or where it took place, Paul does remind Timothy that it had three constituent parts. Indeed all three of them are referred to again elsewhere in Paul’s two letters to Timothy. First mentioned is a gift (*charisma*) bestowed on him, which is later specifically called ‘gift of God’ (2 Tim.1:6). What it was we do not know because we are not told, although it evidently related to Timothy’s ministry. Calvin wrote of ‘the grace with which he has been endowed for the upbuilding of the church’, Alford of the gift of ‘teaching and ruling the church’ and Hendriksen of ‘that gift of discernment between the true and the false, and consequently of being able to exhort, teach and guide’. Perhaps Timothy’s gift was his teaching ministry, together with the authority and power to exercise it.
Secondly, Paul mentions a ‘prophetic message’, which had been uttered about him (1:18), and through which the gift was given. Presumably this identified or designated him as a person God had called, much as the Holy Spirit had singled out Paul and Barnabas in Syrian Antioch for their service (Acts 13:1ff.). Thirdly, ‘the body of elders’ (was this in Lystra?) had ‘laid their hands’ on him, including Paul (2 Tim.1:6), in order to signify the church’s confirmation of God’s call and gift. Although the precise relationship between the prophetic message, the divine gift and the presbyters’ action is not clear, these three belonged inextricably together.
Paul’s purpose in recalling the circumstances of Timothy’s ordination was to urge him not to ‘neglect’ his gift, but rather to ‘fan’ it ‘into flame’ (2 Tim.1:6). For this we learn that a *charisma* is not a static or permanent endowment from God; its human recipient must use it and develop it. True, Timothy was young and inexperienced. But let him remember (and remind others) that God had called him (through the prophetic word), equipped him (through the heavenly gift) and commissioned him (through the presbyters’ hands), and the people will not despise his youth or reject his teaching.
It is still important today for Christian leaders to discern, cultivate and exercise their gifts, and be helped to do so by others. For the people will be receptive to their ministry, once they are assured that God has called them and they have not appointed themselves.
d). Timothy must show his progress.
Having referred to Timothy’s example, to the biblical authority under which he must teach, and to his divine call, gift and commissioning, Paul goes on to Timothy’s need for concentration and perseverance. *Be diligent in these matters, give yourself wholly to them* (15a). The second of these exhortations means literally ‘be in them’, that is, immerse yourself in these matters, devote yourself to them with all your heart and soul. The REB catches the emphasis well: ‘Make these matters your business, make them your absorbing interest.’ And the purpose of this commitment is *so that everyone may see your progress* (15b). That is, in all three spheres so far mentioned (his example, teaching and gift), it is not only Timothy’s devotion to duty which must be seen, but his ‘constant growth’.
The example which Christian leaders set, then, whether in their life or their ministry, should be dynamic and progressive. People should be able to observe not only what they are but what they are becoming, supplying evidence that they are growing into maturity in Christ. Some Christian leaders imagine that they have to appear perfect, with no visible flaws or blemishes. But there are at least two reasons why this is a mistake. First, it is hypocritical. Since none of us is a paragon of all virtues, it is dishonest to pretend to be. Secondly, the pretence discourages people, who then suppose that their leaders are altogether exceptional and even unhuman. Paul himself conceded that he had not arrived. ‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…’ (Phil.3:12) In the same way we should not give the false impression that we have reached our goal; on the contrary, we are still on the road, still pilgrims. Not that we should go to the opposite extreme, parade our failures, or make embarrassing public confessions. That helps nobody.
Tomorrow: Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:11-5:2. e). Timothy must mind his consistency.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.