1 Timothy: Spiritual Discipline

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 5, 2004

1 Timothy 4:6-8

The Lord’s Day Morning

September 5, 2004


I Timothy 4:6-8

Spiritual
Discipline

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your
Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter four, verse six.
Last time we were together in I Timothy 4:1-5, Paul reminded us that in the
latter days, those days that we are now living in, the time between the first
and second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, in those latter days the church
would struggle with false teaching, even in its very midst. And Paul warns
Timothy, this young pastor, about that and the affect that it could have: the
bad affect, the harmful affect it could have on the life of his congregation.
Then, here in I Timothy 4:6-8, the passage we’re going to read from God’s word
and study together today, Paul turns his attention on Timothy as a minister.
And you will notice even from the pronouns, what he has to say is very much
directed to Timothy, to his ministry, to his character, to things that he’s to
be on the lookout for.

Now, don’t
breathe a sigh of relief! You as a Christian are not out of the scope of Paul’s
focus here in His word, because all of Scripture is given by inspiration and is
profitable for your reproof and correction, and training in righteousness. Even
those passages that are directed to ministers have something to say to God’s
people. So, as we come to this passage, though yes, indeed, in the first
instance Paul has in view Timothy in his ministry, bearing in mind certain
things that he needs to do and be as a good servant of the Lord, all of us are
called to be good servants of the Lord, and so there is something for every
single one of us to learn.

Let me
outline this passage before we pray and read it, so you’ll appreciate something
of its shape. There are five things that Paul tells Timothy here are important
for his life and ministry.

First of
all, if you look at the first half of verse six, you’ll see that Paul says that
Timothy, in being aware of and warning his congregation about false teaching
(the false teaching that Paul has talked about in verses one to five), Timothy
will be ministering faithfully. He’ll be a good servant of the Lord Jesus
Christ, if he warns his congregation about these things, if he points out these
things. That’s the first thing that he says to Timothy.

The second
thing that he says, you’ll see in the second half of verse six. That is that
faithful ministers, ministers who are good servants of Christ Jesus, are
nourished on what? They’re nourished on sound doctrine. They’re nourished on
solid biblical teaching. They’re nourished on the words of the faith and sound
doctrine, Paul says in the second half of verse six. And that’s the second
message that he has for Timothy.

The third
message you’ll see in verse seven. It’s in the very first part of verse seven.
There he says that false doctrine hurts people because it’s unprofitable. In
fact, in the first half of verse seven, Paul compares false doctrine to old
wives’ tales, as we would say.

Now, the
fourth thing that Paul says to Timothy, you’ll find in the second half of verse
seven. That is where he tells Timothy that faithful ministers ought to strive
for the cultivation of personal godliness. Discipline yourself, he says, for
the purpose of godliness.

And then
finally, the fifth thing that he says to Timothy you’ll see in verse eight.
That is that faithful ministers need to have a proper estimation of the
importance of personal godliness. He makes a comparison between physical
training and exercise and self-discipline, and spiritually disciplining
ourselves: training ourselves, working out, exercising for the purpose of
cultivating godliness. And he says the latter is more valuable than the former.

And so these
are the five things that he has to say to Timothy. But Paul’s words to Timothy,
because they are God’s words to all His people, are profitable for us, and every
single one of us in this room today can and should benefit from the message that
Paul has. Let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help as we look at this
message.


Heavenly Father, we bow before You
acknowledging that Your word is truth, and that Your Bible, Your revelation of
Yourself and of Your will and of Your ways written down by holy men inspired by
Your Holy Spirit, that word, that very word of God that the Bible is, is a lamp
to our feet and a light to our way. It shows us how to live. It’s profitable.
So by Your Spirit and by Your word, show us the truth that You would have us
learn for the living of the Christian life together as believers here in this
local congregation. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s
word from I Timothy 4:6

“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.
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other
hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is
only little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it hold
promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Amen. And thus
ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He add His
blessing to it.

We are all
called to be good servants of Christ Jesus.
Servant
,
as you know, is a word that Jesus applied to Himself. It comes right out of the
Old Testament where the Messiah to come is referred to by some of the great
prophets as the Servant of the Lord. It’s not surprising then, that the apostles
themselves often referred to themselves as servants of Christ, or servants of
Christ Jesus. The word
servant
became a technical
term for a particular office in the church. We’ve already seen in I Timothy 3
the word servant,
or diaconos
or deacon,
used to title those who are the
ministers of mercy in a local congregation. But we also know in the New
Testament that the word
servant
is a word which is
applied to all God’s children, all those who are disciples and followers of
Jesus Christ. We’re called to be servants. So even as Paul gives a specialized
word to Timothy, who is a servant of the Lord in the sense of being a minister,
a preacher and a pastor in the local church, and an apostolic helper to the
Apostle Paul–even as Paul gives instruction to Timothy on how to be a good
servant of Jesus Christ in his unique role, Paul’s words apply to us. They’re
not just for Timothy, they’re not just for the Ephesian church. They’re not
just for preachers in general; they are for all of us, because we all long to be
good servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And you’ll
see in this passage Paul tell us first what a good Christian servant is on the
lookout for; secondly what a good Christian servant is nourished by; thirdly,
what a good Christian servant avoids; fourthly, what a good servant of Christ
strives for; and fifthly, what a good servant of Christ highly values. And I’d
like to look at those five things very briefly with you today, but I’d like to
spend most of our time on the fourth and the fifth points.


I. The good servant of Jesus Christ
uncovers and alerts his people to false teaching.


The first thing we see here in verse
six is what a good Christian servant is on the lookout for. Paul’s message
here, in the very first words of verse six, is ‘watch out for bad theology.’
He’s been saying this over and over again in the book of I Timothy, and he’s
just said it in I Timothy 4:1-6. He’s reminding Timothy that one mark of a
faithful minister is that he not only faithfully teaches what the Bible says is
true, he also warns the people of God against that which is not in accord with
the Bible. The good servant of Jesus Christ uncovers and alerts his people to
false teaching. And so he’s on the lookout for bad theology, and he teaches his
people the difference between good and bad theology. But there’s a message for
us. There’s a message for us in this. We ourselves are to be on the lookout for
bad theology. We’re to care for good, solid, faithful, Bible preaching and
teaching.

Many of you,
in the next five or ten years, will be called to different places. Perhaps
you’ll move to other cities, and you’ll have the responsibility of finding a
church. One of the things you’re going to want to look for in that church is
faithful, biblical teaching and preaching. That is the first and most
important, the most indispensable thing for healthy local church life.

Now, you can
find many people who are faithfully expounding the Scripture, but you won’t find
many who will talk about the specific theology and doctrine of that Scripture,
and will not only teach you what’s right, but will warn you against what’s
wrong. So one of the things you’re going to be looking for in a faithful
teacher of God’s word is someone who not only says what the Bible teaches, but
also says what the Bible teaches against, and helps you to become more
discerning about the dazzling variety of false teaching that is out there.
That’s what a faithful minister of God’s word does, and so a Christian is going
to be on the lookout not only for good, solid, faithful Bible preaching and
teaching, but also good, solid, faithful Bible teaching and preaching that
identifies false teaching and helps the Christian discern the difference.


II. The good servant of Jesus Christ is
nourished on sound teaching.

The second
thing we see here is in the second half of verse six, where Paul comments that a
good servant of Christ Jesus is constantly nourished on the words of the faith
and of the sound doctrine. Paul is reminding Timothy that good pastors, good
preachers, good ministers themselves are nourished on doctrine. They’re
nourished on sound biblical teaching and theology. The good servant of Jesus
Christ is one who is nourished on sound Bible doctrine. And if that’s true for
ministers, it’s also true for members. If that’s true for shepherds, it’s also
true for the sheep. If that’s true for preachers, it’s true for those who sit
in the pews of the church listening to preaching. Paul’s message to you in
verse six is ‘grow up on sound doctrine. Be nourished by sound teaching. Feed
on Bible instruction and application.’ The good servant of Christ is nourished
on the words of the faith and of sound doctrine. That’s what we need. The only
way we’ll ever grow up in the faith is to be nourished on this sound Bible
teaching.

We are able
to face the challenges of the Christian life because our minds have been
transformed, being renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit so that we no longer
are conformed to the thinking of the world, but we have been renewed in our
minds —according to what? According to the word of God. And the way that
happens is when we are nourished on sound doctrine, on the words of the faith.
And so Paul tells us not only that we are to watch out for bad theology, but
that we are to grow up on good doctrine.


III. The good servant of Jesus Christ realizes that false
teaching is unprofitable.
But he doesn’t
stop there. Look at verse seven, the very first words: “Have nothing to do
with worldly fables fit only for old women….” Paul’s not making slurs against
our senior sisters in Christ. He’s actually taking a poke at the false
teachers. He’s saying, “These men who say that they have a profound message, a
better message for you than me, than the apostles, than you’ve heard
before–these men, well, what they’re teaching you is just old wives’ tales.”
That’s what Paul’s saying in this passage. He’s saying that false teaching is
empty, it’s unprofitable.

And because
it’s empty and unprofitable, it’s harmful, it hurts people. Why? Because it
can’t build them up! It can’t really help them in the Christian life. If truth
is for life, if God’s truth is for the living of the Christian life, if God’s
truth is to make us more like Him, more loving, more faithful, more
obedient–then false teaching can’t produce those things. And so the more we are
preoccupied with something which is not the truth of God’s word, the less we are
becoming like Jesus Christ, the less we are growing in grace. False doctrine
contributes nothing constructive to the Christian life, and consequently is
harmful. And so Paul says to Timothy, “…have nothing to do with worldly
fables fit only for old women.” And so for us, for those of us who are not
preachers but who are members of the church, serving the Lord, sitting in the
pews, ministering day to day, we need to be aware that false teaching is
unprofitable, and avoid it, just like Timothy was to avoid it.

IV. The good servant of Jesus Christ
engages in spiritual discipline with the goal of godliness in view.

Then, if
you look at the second half of verse seven, Paul positively gives an imperative
word to Timothy, and to you and me. “On the other hand,” he says, “discipline
yourself for the purpose of godliness.” And Paul is saying to Timothy that the
good servant of Jesus Christ engages in spiritual discipline, with the goal of
godliness in view. The good servant of Jesus Christ deliberately practices and
trains with a view to the cultivation of spiritual worship in all of life.

Paul has
just been teaching about false teachers who have been suggesting to the people
of God that read godliness is gained through these external manifestations,
through keeping these un-biblically-commanded fasts; through keeping these
external rites and rituals; through going through these formal motions–that’s
the way you gain godliness. Paul has said that’s not how you gain godliness, but
he says this: you do need to discipline yourself. You do need to exercise and
work to grow in grace, with a goal to godliness.

Paul is
saying in verse seven, ‘work out for godliness.’ Deliberately practice and
train with a view to the cultivation of spiritual worship. We are to actively
pursue, he’s telling us, we are to actively cultivate godliness. He’s telling us
to discipline ourselves that we might live the Christian life. You see,
discipline doesn’t make the Christian life easy. But it does make it easier.

I was
reading yesterday an article about a fellow who had walked on to his college
football team, and this year for the first time, he’s a fifth-year senior, he
was given a scholarship. And he played his first game as a tackle, as a
lineman, yesterday. And they were interviewing him afterwards. People were
rightly proud. This kid who walked onto a major college program finally got a
scholarship, persevered through all those hours of practice, never played a
down, and all his buddies who were experienced, even some who hadn’t been there
as long as he had been there, had said to him before the game, “Now, look. The
game’s going to be easier than practice.” And so they were asking him about it
after the game, and sure enough, he said to the reporter, “You know, my friends
were right. The game was easier than practice.” Now that’s not because the
game was easy, but it was easier
because for five years he had been practicing for that game. He knew what he
was supposed to do. He knew when he was supposed to do it. He knew what his
job was. He had been training physically for it, and it was easier to do
because he had been disciplined for it. He was ready!

And that’s
what Paul is saying to us: Discipline doesn’t make the Christian life easy, but
it makes it easier.

That
Christian woman who is struggling with a husband who is mean, who is unkind to
her, she disciplines herself for the purpose of godliness in prayer, in the
word, in meditation upon the word, in attending the means of grace. And when
she has prepared a beautiful dinner, and he comes home and he’s once again
unkind and mean to her, it’s not that it’s easy for her to respond in a
Christian way to him, but it’s easier
because she has been disciplining herself for the purpose of godliness.

That man
who’s been wrestling against lust, against fornication, who’s been trying to
carefully guard what he looks at and what he reads, and what company he’s in,
and where he is, and how he is or is not alone when he’s away from home–when
he’s in that airport, when he’s in that hotel and the temptation comes, and a
woman makes an advance and he walks away–it’s not that it’s easy for him to do
that, but it was easier
because he had been praying. He had been accountable. He had been under the
means of grace. He’d been attending the worship of the living God, he’d been
reading his Bible, he’d been praying for God to give him strength. He had been
disciplining himself so that he could be godly when the challenge came.

And that’s
how it is. Prayer, meditation, attendance upon the means of grace: these things
prepare us for the living of the Christian life. Just as a squadron briefing to
a wing of fighter pilots is vital to their success in the service that they will
perform for their country; just as the football practice and pre-game briefing
prepare the players for their responsibility; just as the hours and hours of
agonizing and lonely gymnastic training prepare those Olympians to do the
amazing things that they do on parallel bars, so also are we to discipline
ourselves for the living of the Christian life.

We’re to
actively pursue and cultivate godliness, and it doesn’t come easily. There’s
nothing easy about the Christian life. You are invited into the Christian life
into a fight! Preparing for that is not going to be easy. The fight’s not going
to be easy. But the fight will be easier
if you have disciplined yourself for the purpose of godliness.

V. The good servant of Jesus Christ
realizes the value of becoming more like Christ.

Finally,
notice in verse eight that Paul tells us that we are to prize godliness. We are
to esteem, to value, to hold dearly, to think highly of and much of, and to
treasure godliness. He says, “…for bodily discipline is only little profit,
but godliness is profitable for all things., since it holds promise for the
present life and also for the life to come.” Paul is saying to you, you ought
to want godliness more than perfect health. You ought to want godliness more
than a perfect body. You ought to want godliness more than six-pack abs!

You know,
those of you who are out there in the weight room or at the Health-Plex at
four-thirty in the morning, doing your laps, or at five, doing your
treadmill–that’s an encouragement to the rest of us. All of us ought to be
taking care of our bodies. I’ll think about you and lift up a prayer for you!
Maybe one day I’ll see you out there myself, who knows. That’s good, that’s an
encouragement to us. We ought to want to take care of our bodies. It’s the
Lord’s creation, and we’re to take care of it. It’s the only one we’ll ever
have.

But Paul is
saying as important as it is to do that, remember that your spiritual
discipline, your spiritual exercise, your spiritual workout makes a difference
in this life and the life to come.


Now, my friends, we can only be godly by
grace. It takes the work of God’s Holy Spirit in us to grow in grace.

But Paul makes it clear that
growing in the Christian life is something that is both passive and active
.
It is something that is both dependent upon God, and it is also something to
which we must consecrate ourselves. What does he say to the Philippians? “Work
out your sanctification with fear and trembling, for it is God at work in you.”
You see both sides of it:
God’s at work in us to grow us in grace
,
but
we must work out that
sanctification in fear and trembling.

God wants us to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. May God
grant by His grace that we would commit ourselves to this.

Let’s pray.


Lord God, by Your grace make us to be
soldiers of the cross. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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