A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 4:6-10. ii) An ethical test: godliness (Continued).
How then are we to ‘exercise ourselves unto godliness’? What spiritual gymnastics are we to undertake? Paul does not go into detail. But the context, and in particular the parallel between nourishment and exercise, together suggest that we are to exercise ourselves in the same way that we nourish ourselves, namely in the Word of God. Certainly it has been a long-standing Christian tradition, belonging to the wisdom of the ages, that disciplined meditation in Scripture is indispensable to Christian health, and indeed to growth in godliness. For in contrast to ‘godless myths’, Scripture is the most godly book that has ever been written. It is a book by God about God. It might even be termed the autobiography of God, since in it he talks to us about himself. Consequently, we cannot become familiar with his godly book without becoming godly ourselves. Nothing evokes the worship of God like the Word of God.
In verse 8 Paul emphasizes the importance of spiritual exercise by contrasting it with physical exercise: *physical training is of some value* (8a), since it contributes to our physical fitness in this life, *but godliness* (including, it is implied, the training which promotes it) *has value for all things* or ‘is valuable in every way’ (NRSV), *holding promise for both the present life and the life to come* (8b). In brief, it prepares us for eternity.
This statement of verse 8 about the profit of godliness must surely be the *trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance* (9), which Paul now endorses, rather than verse 10 which follows. For, although verse 10 could be described as ‘more theologically weighty’ than verse 8, yet verse 8 is not without theological importance and is certainly more pithy, more like a proverb. *For this we labour and strive*, Paul continues, that is, we ‘exercise ourselves unto godliness’, because *we have put our hope in the living God*, who is the author and giver of both life and life to come (8b), and is also *the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe* (10). The precise relation between ‘all men’ and ‘those who believe’ has perplexed all commentators. In what sense is God the Saviour of all and specially of believers? This is not universalism, since Paul is not a universalist. Nor can it express the difference between the potential (God’s desire to save) and the actual (God saving), since the text says he *is* the Saviour of all, not just that he wants to be. Some therefore propose that God is the preserver of all, but exercises a special providence towards believers. But, as we have had occasion to mention before, salvation language in the Pastorals seems to refer to spiritual salvation, not physical preservation. Several scholars have drawn attention to some research by T.C.Skeat in 1979, in which he claims that the word *especially (malista)* should rather be translated ‘to be precise’ or ‘in other words’. In this case, Paul ‘is not saying that God saves believers more than he saves others; he is simply modifying his general statement that God is the Saviour of all men by adding the limitation that you cannot be saved unless you believe’.
Looking back over the first half of this chapter, we can now bring together the two tests which Paul gave Timothy, and which can still be applied to doubtful teaching today. The theological test is the doctrine of creation: does this teaching honour God as the Creator and giver of all good things? The second test is ethical, and concerns the priority of godliness: does this teaching honour God by drawing out our worship? We need have no hesitation about any teaching which glorifies God the Creator and promotes godliness.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:11-5:2. 2) The commendation of true teaching.
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.