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4 Warnings against Religious Flesh and Instruction in Piety
( 1 Timothy 4 )
Having instructed us in the order of God's house and the secret of all right behaviour on the part of those who form the house, the apostle, in the remainder of the Epistle, warns us against certain fleshly activities that are destructive of right behaviour, and instructs us as to true piety that alone will guard the faithful from these different evils.
In 1 Timothy 4 the apostle warns more especially against apostasy, and religious flesh manifesting itself in the false principle of asceticism. In 1 Timothy 5 we are warned against worldly flesh, showing itself in wantonness and self-gratification. In 1 Timothy 6 we are warned against covetous flesh with its love of money.
The safeguard against these evils is found in “godliness”. The truth of godliness (or, according to the better translation, “piety”) has a very prominent place in this First Epistle to Timothy. The word is used sixteen times in the New Testament, nine of these occasions being found in this Epistle ( 1Ti_2:2 ; 1Ti_3:16 ; 1Ti_4:7 ; 1Ti_4:8 ; 1Ti_5:4 ; 1Ti_6:3 ; 1Ti_6:5 ; 1Ti_6:6 ; 1Ti_6:11 ). Piety is the confidence in the known and living God that leads the believer to walk in the holy fear of God amidst all the circumstances of life. It recognises and honours God, and is therefore the very opposite of sanctimoniousness that seeks to exalt self.
In chapter iv the apostle first warns us against the apostasy of some who turn from Christianity to a religion of the flesh (verses 1-5); then he brings before us the life of piety as that which will guard the soul from the evils of the flesh (verses 6-10); finally, the apostle gives personal exhortations to Timothy, containing instruction and guidance for all the Lord's servants (verses 11-16).
(a) Warnings against religious flesh or asceticism (verses 1-5)
The apostle has closed the previous portion of the Epistle with a beautiful unfolding of “the faith” setting forth the great truth of Christianity as the manifestation of God in Christ. Now the Spirit expressly warns that, in the latter times of the Christian profession, some will depart, or apostatise, from the faith. Later, the apostle warns us that some, by their practice, will deny the faith (v. 8); some, by covetousness, will wander from the faith ( 1Ti_6:10 ); and some, by speculation, will miss the faith ( 1Ti_6:21 ).
(Vv. 1, 2). Here he speaks of apostatising from the faith. Clearly, the apostle is not speaking of the great apostasy foretold in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which refers to the apostasy of Christendom as a whole after the rapture of the church. In this passage the apostle says “some shall apostatise”, evidently referring to the apostasy of individuals taking place in the latter days before the coming of the Lord.
While the assembly of God is still on earth, there will arise those who once made a profession of Christianity but who give up the great cardinal truths of the Christian faith concerning the Person of Christ.
(V. 3). Behind this apostasy there is the direct influence of seducing spirits leading to the doctrines of demons in contrast with the truth. The apostate is not simply one who neglects the truth, nor rejects the truth. He is one who, having made a profession of the faith, deliberately gives up the truth and takes up some other religious creed as being superior to Christianity. The demons speak lies while professing to maintain the truth. The devil we know “is a liar” ( Joh_8:44 ) and beguiled our first parents by speaking lies in hypocrisy. The fact that the truth has no power over their souls and that they give heed to doctrines of demons clearly proves that their consciences are so seared that they are no longer able to distinguish between good and evil. Apostasy, then, involves not only the giving up the truth but also the adoption of error - the doctrine of demons.
In place of the truth the apostate affects a religion of the flesh which professes to be of the very highest sanctity. They make the assumption of extraordinary purity by forbidding to marry, and great self-denial by abstinence from meats. In reality, having turned from the faith, they deny God as our Saviour and, in refusing marriage and meats, they deny God as the Creator. This means the loss of all true piety which fears God, and in result opens the door to licence and wantonness. These seducing spirits, pandering to the pride of the flesh, hold out before men the promise of the greatest sanctity in order to lead them into the deepest corruption.
(V. 4). True piety avails itself of every mercy which God places within our reach. The mercies of marriage and meats, which are rejected by those who depart from the faith, are to be received with thankfulness by those who believe and know the truth.
(V. 5). The world and its ways are not sanctioned by the word of God for the believer; but these natural mercies, which are available for all the world, are set apart for our comfort while passing through the world. Nevertheless, their use is guarded for the believer by the word of God and prayer. The word of God regulates their use, and by prayer the believer takes them up in dependence upon God.
(b) Piety or trust in the living God (verses 6-10)
(V. 6). The apostle has set before us certain dangers against which the Spirit expressly warns us. Timothy was to put the brethren in remembrance of these things, and so doing would prove himself to be a good servant of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine with which he was fully acquainted. The seducing spirits, of which the Holy Spirit speaks, sought to exalt man with a sense of religious importance and sanctity. The true servant seeks to exalt Christ by ministering the truth.
To be a good servant of Jesus Christ it is not enough to know the truth, and hold the truth; we need to be nourished by the truth, and, in practice, to follow up fully the truth. Our own souls must be fed if we are to feed others. We must be nourished, not simply in the words of teachers, however true, but “with the words of the faith” which convey to us “the good teaching” of Christianity and, if followed up, will produce a practical effect in our lives, preserving us from the evils of the latter times.
(V. 7). Having exhorted us to follow the truth, the apostle warns us to refuse all that which is outside “the words of the faith”. The imaginations of men will always tend to profanity and foolishness, which the apostle characterises with contempt as “old wives' fables”. Our great “exercise” should be to be found walking in piety. We may put service first; but there is ever the grave danger of being active in service while neglecting personal piety. The good servant will exercise himself unto piety that he may be “meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work.” We may, at times, like the Corinthian saints, be very active in service and boast in our gifts, and like them be very unspiritual through not exercising ourselves unto piety.
(V. 8). To emphasise the importance of spiritual exercise as to piety, the apostle contrasts it with “bodily exercise”. The allusion is probably to the public games, as in 1Co_9:24 ; 1Co_9:25 , where, in speaking of the public races, he says, “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things”. He continues to warn us in that passage that such exercise in temperance has only a passing advantage; at best it obtains only “a corruptible crown”, in contrast with the “incorruptible” which the Christian has in view. So here, he says, that this bodily exercise is only profitable in some small things; but the spiritual exercise of piety is profitable unto all things, being rich with blessing in this life as well as in that which is to come.
(Vv. 9, 10). The apostle presses the importance of this exercise as to piety by stating, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.” It was because of his piety that the apostle can say, “For this we labour and suffer reproach.” We may be prepared to labour and be prominent before men, and thus labour and gain applause, or labour to exalt self. But if piety is behind our labour, it will inevitably mean labour and reproach.
The apostle proceeds to show that the spring of piety is confidence in God. We trust in the living God who is the preserver of all men, specially of those that believe. Piety is that individual confidence in God that takes up every circumstance of life in relation to God. The unregenerate man leaves God out of his life; the believer recognises Him in all the details of life and thankfully receives and uses every mercy that He places within his reach without abusing the mercies. Thus, piety is the antidote to all the evil influences of the latter days, whether the evil takes the form of asceticism, celibacy, abstinence from meats ( 1Ti_4:3 ), neglecting one's own house and living in habits of self-indulgence ( 1Ti_5:4-6 ), or attaching importance to worldly advantage and money ( 1Ti_6:3-10 ).
(c) Personal precepts for the servant of the Lord (verses 11-16)
(Vv. 11, 12). These things Timothy was to enjoin and teach. Being a young man he was to be specially on his guard against any assumption or youthful pride which would mar his testimony by leading him to be despised because of his youth. If his exhortations and instructions to others were to be effectual, he would have, in his life, to “be a model of the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Alas! how often we mar our testimony through failing to exhibit these beautiful qualities of Christ. If the truths we teach do not affect our own lives, can we expect our teaching to affect others?
(V. 13). His own life being pure, the servant would be free in seeking to help others by reading, exhortation and teaching. The connection of reading with exhortation would seem to show that the “reading” has no reference to his personal study, but rather to the public reading of the Scriptures, which in those days had a place of special importance.
(V. 14). Moreover, in the case of Timothy, a gift for ministry had been imparted to him, and for which he had been specially marked out by a prophetic word from God, and with which the elderhood had expressed their fellowship by the laying on of hands. Such prophecy and laying on of hands had been fully set forth in the case of Barnabas and Saul ( Act_13:2 ; Act_13:3 ). However right and beautiful the Christian life, it would not enable the servant to take the definite place of a teacher. For this a gift from the Lord was necessary. In Timothy's case he could go forward in the confidence that this gift had been imparted by a direct word from God, and could be exercised in the consciousness that he had the full fellowship of the elders of the Lord's people. The gift had been given by prophecy, and by the laying on of Paul's hands ( 2Ti_1:6 ). It had not been given by the laying on of the elders' hands: they laid their hands on Timothy as expressing their fellowship with him. Thus encouraged, he was to beware of neglecting the gift through any natural timidity.
(V. 15). Thus strengthened and encouraged, Timothy was to devote himself to the Lord's things, as the apostle says, “Occupy thyself with these things” (N.T.). Too often we allow ourselves to be distracted by other objects than the Lord and His interests. Good for us to embrace heartily Christianity and make the things of the Lord our interest - to “be wholly in them” (N.T.). Then, indeed, our spiritual progress would be manifest to all.
(V. 16). The apostle sums up his exhortation to Timothy by saying, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine”. To press the doctrine while careless of our own walk, or to make much of personal piety while asserting that it is of small matter what we hold, are two snares into which many have fallen. Both alike are fatal to all true testimony. It is only as we take heed to ourselves and to the doctrine that we shall both save ourselves and those that hear us from the evils of the latter times.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent