A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 4:6-10. ii) An ethical test: godliness.
The doctrine of creation has wide ramifications, as we have seen. It is the secret of developing a positive, world-affirming, grateful attitude to life, and of having a strong conscience which liberates us to enjoy the good gifts of the good Creator. Timothy is to *point these things out to the brothers* (6a). For what Paul teaches Timothy, Timothy must teach others also (2 Tim.2:2). Indeed, he is to ‘put these instructions before the brothers and sisters’ (NRSV), like a waiter serving guests at a table, like a merchant displaying merchandise to a customer. Or perhaps the verb *hypotithemi* (literally, to ‘lay under’) likens Timothy to a builder, who lays down truths ‘as a foundation for their faith’.
Whatever picture Paul has in mind, he adds that if Timothy is a faithful teacher, he *will be a good minister of Jesus Christ*(6b; the noun is *diakonos*, but Paul is not here using it in its technical sense ‘deacon’ as in 3:8, 12). I have always loved this expression. Jesus Christ has ministers of all sorts – good, bad and indifferent – but I cannot imagine a nobler ambition than to be ‘a good minister’ of his. Moreover, Paul makes it plain that it is *the good teaching* (6c) which makes *the good minister*, and that in two ways, namely that he both instructs people in it and nourishes himself on it, *brought up (REB ‘nourished’) in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed* (6). This seems to be a general rule. Behind the ministry of public teaching there lies the discipline of private study. All the best teachers have themselves remained students. They teach well because they learn well. So before we can effectively instruct others in the truth we must have ‘really digested’ it (JB) ourselves.
With verse 7 the metaphor changes from the nourishment of a child to the exercise of an athlete: *Train yourself to be godly* (7b) for *physical training is of some value* (8a). Paul uses the verb *gymnazo* and the noun *gymnasia*, and it requires no knowledge of Greek to recognize his reference to gymnastics and the gymnasium. As a young man Timothy knew the importance of taking exercise; he also knew that training was essential for athletes intending to compete in the games, which were very popular throughout the Graeco-Roman world at that time. In fact, combining Paul’s two metaphors, disciplined eating and exercising are both indispensable for bodily health. It is the same in Christian discipleship. What our spiritual food is he has already clarified. It is ‘the truths of the faith and of the good teaching’ (6), in other words, the doctrine of the apostles. For this is nourishing. But we are to *have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales* (7a), for they are spiritual junk food.
Turning to the metaphor of exercise, Paul tells Timothy: *train yourself to be godly* (7b), or, literally, ‘exercise yourself unto godliness’. Of the fifteen occurrences of *eusebeia* (‘godliness’) and *eusebes* (‘godly’) in the New Testament, thirteen are in the Pastoral Letters, nine of them in 1 Timothy. So clearly it is an important concept in this letter. Its basic meaning is ‘respect’ or ‘reverence’, and in secular Greek it was used of respect of rulers, magistrates and parents. In the New Testament, however, it is used exclusively as a synonym for *theosebeia*, meaning reverence for God (e.g. 2:10). Although sometimes *eusebeia* seems to mean ‘religion’ in a formal sense, it usually has a more personal connotation as ‘that mingled fear and love which together constitute the piety of man toward God’. Godly people are God-fearing people. They have experienced the Copernican revolution of Christian conversion from self-centredness to God-centredness. Previously it could be said of them that in all their thoughts ‘there is no room for God’ (Ps.10:4; cf. 36:1). But now they say ‘I have set the Lord always before me.’ (Ps.16:8). They have heard God’s call to renounce ungodliness and to live a godly life (Tit.2:12), and so to anticipate on earth the God-centred life of heaven, which is dominated by God’s throne (Rev.4:1-2).
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:6-10. ii). An ethical test: godliness (continued).
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.