— The Preaching and Teaching Ministry of Kevin A. Pierpont

Be An Example To The Believers – 1 Timothy 4:7-12

How many of us have been watching the World Series this week? It boggles the mind to see what a pitcher can do with a baseball. Plus, to see what some of these athletes can do. Many of those guys are quite strong, agile and have great speed. They work out and train their bodies to perform at a very high level. I’m always amazed by some of the outfielders who will come running out of nowhere and make a diving catch; or the shortstop who can help turn a double play in a heartbeat. These athletes have conditioned themselves and have excelled in their pursuit of a World Series championship.

What we’re going to talk about today is training that is of far greater significance than that of the athlete and of far greater importance than competing for a World Series championship.

Let’s look at our text in 1 Timothy 4:7-12.

7  But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.

8  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

9  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.

10  For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

11  These things command and teach.

12  Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Paul in his advice to Timothy reminds him in verse 7 to have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes,

7, 8 “Godless myths and old wives’ tales” is literally “profane and old-womanish myths. The reference is to “tall tales” such as elderly women love to tell children. That is the way Paul describes the Jewish legends of his day in Titus 1:14.”

Titus 1:14  and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.

Ray Stedman said of this passage,

“There are a lot of distracting things you could give your attention and your mind to. Evidently this was true in the 1st century as well as ours. I do not know what it was that was particularly in Paul’s mind when he wrote to Timothy. Paul mentions earlier in the letter something about foolish myths, etc. These myths were godless only in the sense that they were common. (It is actually the word for common; it was widespread; everybody around believed this superstitious nonsense.) And these myths were silly, because the word really means, “foolish old wives’ tales” — stories that foolish women, riddled with superstition, spread around and everybody believed them. Paul tells Timothy not to give himself to these kinds of things. “

We have examples of this in our day. Have you ever heard of the Bible code? There was a book that came out a few years ago claiming there was a complex code contained in the pages of the Bible which when deciphered foretold events that actually occurred hundreds and thousands of years after given Scriptures were written. Now there are many things the Bible has predicted that have taken place. But I don’t believe that God necessarily wrote Scripture in a code to predict future events.  A Dallas Seminary professor in response to his view on whether or not the code exists replied that he didn’t believe so, after all you can find the same sort of “code” in a novel like Moby Dick, and furthermore Hebrew characters were used to reveal English words. 1 Perhaps something like the “Bible Code” is similar to what Paul was warning Timothy to avoid when he said, “have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales.” Many Christians expended a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out whether or not the Bible code was valid. But it really boils down to the fact that God has already revealed to us through His word, all that we need for “faith and practice,” hasn’t He? We don’t need to be looking for other sources of revelation, all we need is contained right here in this book, the Bible, the Word of God.

I think that the larger point here is that we need to make sure we aren’t distracted from what really matters. There are so many things competing for our attention. There is plenty of mistruth in our society that we can give our attention to and be distracted by. But just as Paul warned Timothy to stay away from these myths of his day, we need to stay away from the distractions in our own day that would keep us from the Word and from diligently studying the Bible to find what God would have us do.

Paul goes on in the end of verse 7 to encourage Timothy to train himself to be godly. Godliness is not automatic, is it? If you’ve become a child of God by receiving Christ as your Lord and Savior, you didn’t instantaneously achieve Godliness. If you want to lead a Godly life it takes discipline and diligence on your part you need to actively pursue Godliness. Verse 8 says,

8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

It is true that physical training is of some value. There is value in keeping ourselves in shape physically. Generally a person who is in good shape will have more energy and may enjoy better health than one who is not physically fit. The athletes who train to play ball may be rewarded with a trophy and even if they aren’t, they often reap the benefit of being physically fit. But all of us grow older and our bodies age. No matter how physically fit we are, we will one day face the consequences of dwelling in a temporal body.

Even athletes in the best of shape suffer from disease at times. Even those who are a picture of health and vitality can arrive at the end of their lives without a moments notice.

Jim Fixx was known for his fit lifestyle – he was a runner. He wrote The Complete Book of Running. I have the book right here. Chapter four is titled the Longevity Factor, Runnings Effect on How Long You’ll Live. He writes about how running can improve your health, even help you live longer. “On July 20, 1984, while out jogging, 52-year-old Jim Fixx collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.” 2 In spite of his attention to physical fitness, he suffered a heart attack that took his life. In spite of the health benefits of running it failed to keep him from dieing at a relatively young age.

You’ve heard of the Atkins diet. It’s named after Dr. Robert Atkins. I have one of his books here also. The diet he wrote about has been in the news for several months now. His diet books “have sold 15 million copies worldwide.”3 For years his high protein low carb diet had been dismissed as a joke, even called dangerous by some. In the past year his dieting methods have been validated by some studies but he hardly had the chance to enjoy its success. He lived a healthy lifestyle and was in great health but little did he know that on April 8, 2003 while walking to work he would slip on an icy sidewalk and suffer a severe head injury that would take his life nine days later.

Though both of these men promoted and lived healthy lifestyles, in the end it did not keep them from ultimately loosing their lives somewhat prematurely.

Paul mentions the value of physical training/physical fitness and then moves on to contrast that with the value of Godliness – spiritual fitness. Notice he says that godliness has value for all things. It holds promise in this present life and in the life to come. If we pursue godliness we will reap the benefit of that in this life.

There are those who are spending the rest of their lives in prison. Is it because they were pursuing Godliness or because they chose to live sinful lives?

There are diseases that some suffer from as a result of an immoral lifestyle. Were they pursuing Godliness or living to please self? If we strive for Godliness in our life each day, we will reap the benefit of that here and now. But we will also reap eternal benefit from pursuing Godliness.

Notice that Paul did mention that there is some value in physical fitness. There is nothing wrong with one exercising or trying to be in good physical shape. But of far greater importance and value is your spiritual fitness. You must major on being in good spiritual shape. You need to take time and make the effort to ensure that you are spiritually healthy. You need to be studying your Bible regularly. You can’t expect to grow in Godliness if you’re neglecting the Word of God. You also need to make a habit of prayer and fellowship with other believers. It takes diligence and effort on your part to be godly, just as an athlete has to be disciplined and work hard to achieve physical fitness so too must you be disciplined in your spiritual life.

Take a look at verse 9 in our text:

9  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.

Paul is in effect saying, “listen, pay attention, this is important.” Most commentators pair verse 9 with the preceding verse, others pair it with verse 10 which follows. Either way what he has just said is important and something we need to heed and what he is going to say in verse 10 is also important.

Verse 10 says,

10  For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

The NASB more accurately translates this phrase in the first part of the verse. It says labor and strive.

‘”Labor” and “strive” are both strong terms in the Greek. The first verb means “grow weary” and so in the NT “work with effort, toil.” The second was used for competing in an athletic contest. So it meant “struggle” or “strive.” Just as athletes exert what seems to be their last ounce of energy to win a race, so Paul was giving the ministry all he had.” 4

The Christian life is not easy. If we want to excel in our lives as Christians, we need to labor and strive to achieve godliness. It requires great effort on our part. Paul goes on to say that “we trust in the living God.” That makes the struggle worth it doesn’t it? Our hope is in the living God. Our struggle serves a purpose. There are those who are out there working hard for their religion, but sadly they are not serving the God of the Bible. There is no hope in that! There are those who are faithfully following the teachings of a dead leader. But as Christians we have hope and it is found in the living God. The words of a familiar hymn teach us:

“My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. ”

When your hope is in the living God, you have a reason for living and for working to obtain godliness. The closer you grow to the Lord, the more exciting you realize it is to live the Christian life. It may be hard work to live a godly life, but it is worth it and it’s worth it because our hope is in the living God.

In the last part of verse 10, we see that the living God is the Savior of all men especially of those who believe. We know from Romans 6:23

…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eternal life has been offered to all mankind through the death of Jesus on the cross. It is God’s gift to us, but it is only valid to those who receive it.

In 1830 President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon to George Wilson who had been convicted of robbing the United States Mail and sentenced to be hanged. Wilson obstinately refused to accept the pardon. The matter went to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Marshall. He noted, “A pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.”

Can you imagine not accepting a pardon and dying because of it? We all have the opportunity to receive eternal life. God has offered it to us through the death of His son, Jesus Christ. But we must accept God’s gift to us in order to receive eternal life. Jesus died for all mankind but only those who believe and receive Him as Lord and Savior receive the benefit of eternal life. He is our savior only when we choose to accept Him.

Have you accepted God’s gift? Jesus died on the cross for your sins. He took your penalty and offers eternal life to all who believe. If you haven’t accepted God’s gift then today is the day to do so, you should not wait.

In verse 11, we see that Paul tells Timothy,

11  These things command and teach.

Paul tells Timothy to use the authority given him to teach authoritatively – command and teach. John MacArthur notes,

“Paul’s command to Timothy contrasts sharply with much contemporary preaching. Preaching in our day is often intriguing, but seldom commanding; often entertaining, but seldom convicting; often popular, but seldom powerful; often interesting, but less often transforming. Paul does not ask Timothy to share or make suggestions to his congregation.”  He is to command or order as in a call to obedience by one in authority. “Everything God commanded Timothy to be he was to command others to be. The excellent minister’s preaching is to be authoritative, done in a command mode. Such preaching imitates God Himself, of whom Paul wrote in  Acts 17:30, “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent.” Jesus commanded His hearers to repent and believe, as John the Baptist had done. The Father commanded all to hear His Son and obey. Every call to believe the gospel with repentance is a command. Every call to saints to obey the Word is a command that is to come with authority. To Titus Paul wrote, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you”. Titus 2:15” 5

Similarly 1 Timothy 4:12 says,

12  Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

Here we find Paul instructing Timothy not to let others look down on him for his youthfulness. That seems rather impossible doesn’t it? How can we control what others think of us? But notice Paul goes on to say he should set an example”. In other words, Timothy was to demonstrate by his own life, spiritual maturity. The fact that Timothy was young was not nearly as important as Timothy setting a good example for the believers. His life should be a Godly example to those he was teaching.

Will Houghton was a man who lived a Godly example,

“[He was] a preacher who became the president of Moody Bible Institute during the 1940s, [who’s Godly example] played a large role in the conversion of an agnostic who was contemplating suicide. The skeptic was desperate, but he decided that if he could find a minister who lived his faith he would listen to him. So he hired a private detective to watch Houghton. When the investigator’s report came back, it revealed that this preacher’s life was above reproach; he was for real. The agnostic went to Houghton’s church, accepted Christ, and later sent his daughter to Moody Bible Institute.” 6

Paul mentions five ways in which Timothy was to set an example for others. If you are looking at the KJV or NKJV you will see six listed. The KJV mentions in spirit but the oldest, most trusted manuscripts omit this. The NASB more accurately translates this but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. So Timothy was to be an example in word, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

First of all Timothy was to set an example by the words that he spoke. The Bible has a great deal to say about our words. What we say matters. It is important that our speech is in line with the standards of the Word of God. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love.

We need to have balance in our speech. We may choose to speak the truth to someone but fail to do so in love. If we do that we fall short of what Ephesians 4:15 commands. We may be so focused on being “loving” that we fail to speak the truth in love. We need to be sure that our speech is truthful and loving. Timothy was to set an example in his speech. The reference we just mentioned is only one of several giving us instruction as to how we ought to speak as Christians. Does our speech reflect our relationship to Christ?

The next area in which Timothy was to be an example was his conduct. In other words the way he lived was to be a reflection of his relationship to Christ.

The story is told of four ministers discussing the pros and cons of various Bible translations and paraphrases. Eventually each stated which version, in his opinion, is the best. The first minister said he used the King James because the Old English style is beautiful and produces the most reverent picture of the Holy Scriptures. The second said he preferred the New American Standard Bible because he felt it comes nearer to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The third minister said his favorite was the paraphrased Living Bible because his congregation was young, and it related to them in a practical way. All three men waited while the fourth minister sat silently. Finally he said, “I guess when it comes to translations and paraphrased editions of the Bible, I like my Dad’s translation best. He put the Word of God into practice every day. It was the most convincing translation I’ve ever seen.”   7

That’s the kind of example that Timothy was to be. Living a life that demonstrated that he was faithfully putting into practice the commands of Scripture. This should be true in the lives of all believers. We should live our lives in such a way that others are convinced that the Word of God is true because they see how effective it is in our lives.

The third area in which Timothy was to be an example was in love. Note what 1 John 3:16 says,

16  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Jesus laid down His life for us. So we should be living our lives for others. Timothy was encouraged to be an example to the other believers in his love. What kind of example are we setting in this area? Do others see love demonstrated in our lives? Others will know we are Christians by the way we  love each other.

Timothy was also to be an example in faith. Listen to the words of William H. Bathurst:

O for a faith that will not shrink, ‘Tho pressed by every foe, That will not tremble on the brink Of any earthly woe!

That will not murmur nor complain Beneath the chastening rod, But, in the hour of grief or pain, Will lean upon its God;

A faith that shines more bright and clear When tempests rage without That when in danger knows no fear, In darkness feels no doubt.

That is the kind of faith that would set a powerful example wouldn’t it? A faith that is strong even in the midst of discouragement, pain or grief. Do we demonstrate to others our faith in God? Do they see our dependence on and trust in Him? Do we acknowledge our dependence on Him for our health, and our provision? Or does it appear to others that we are depending on our own efforts? Timothy was to be an example in his faith. Is your life marked by your faith in God? Or are we guilty of worrying and complaining as those who have no faith? Our lives should be marked by our faith in Christ and our faithfulness to Him.

Finally Timothy was to be an example in purity. The Greek word for purity here means “moral cleanness”. Timothy was to be an example in clean living. Warren Wiersbe said of Ephesus that it “was a center for sexual impurity, and the young man Timothy was faced with temptations.”

That doesn’t differ much from the society around us today does it? Immorality surrounds us. We must be Godly examples in the area of purity.

In the forests of northern Europe and Asia lives a little animal called the ermine, known for his snow-white fur in winter. He instinctively protects his white coat against anything that would soil it.

Fur hunters take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don’t set a snare to catch him, but instead they find his home, which is usually a cleft in a rock or a hollow in an old tree. They smear the entrance and interior with grime. Then the hunters set their dogs loose to find and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward home but doesn’t enter because of the filth. Rather than soil his white coat, he is trapped by the dogs and captured while preserving his purity. For the ermine, purity is more precious than life. 8

We would do well to take a lesson from the ermine when it comes to purity. Are we careful about our reading material, our viewing habits and the company we keep? Or are we entertained by the impurity that surrounds us? We need to be diligent in guarding our purity.

Yes, Timothy was to be an example of Godliness. Slipping up in any of these areas would have been a black mark on his ministry. With the World Series ending last night we have a powerful example before us of the benefit of physical training. But the temporal benefit of physical training pales in comparison to the eternal benefit of training for godliness. – How are we doing? Are we rigorously exercising our faith? – Are we diligently working in our lives to achieve godliness? – Are we faithfully reading and studying the Word of God and obeying it? – Are we spending time in prayer regularly? – Are we faithful in gathering with other believers for worship and to be taught the Word of God? – Do the words we say reflect Christ living in us? – How about the way we live our lives? – Does our walk demonstrate a vibrant relationship with Christ or do others view us as hypocrites? – Do we live lives marked by love? – Can others see by our actions that we truly love one another? – How about our faith? – Are we demonstrating our faith in God or do others think we place our faith in our own resources? – Are we living morally clean lives? Are we guarding our hearts against the immorality around us or do we allow ourselves to be entertained by it or to even be a participant in it?

Living the Christian life is not easy in a sinful world. But we have been instructed to train ourselves for godliness.

I pray that each one of us would be striving for godliness in our lives; that we would exercise our faith.

Are we becoming championship quality believers?

Higgins Lake Baptist Church
Kevin A. Pierpont

1 What do you think of The Bible Code? []
3 Atkins Center Closes After Founder Dies
4 The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
5 MacArthur, J. F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy (electronic ed.)
6 H.V.L Our Daily Bread, September 29
8 HGB Our Daily Bread, April 21, 1997