Training in godliness – 1 Timothy 4

Training in godliness is something we’re going to need if we’re to be effective witnesses of the good news of Jesus Christ. Why? Because we’ve seen some wonderful truths in 1 Timothy:

  • Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – us.
  • God wants everyone everywhere to be saved and to know the truth
  • We are the pillar and foundation of this truth about God and Jesus – we are to hold this truth up for all to see.

That might well seem like a pretty daunting responsibility. How can any of us feel like we’re doing ok as Christians when that’s the measure of success? And yet, for you and me, simply being here and doing this is nourishing us, enabling us, and strengthening us for the task.

Because we’re growing towards Christ in truth.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Hear the Holy Spirit’s warning (1-5)

Read 1 Timothy 4:1.

Remember that when the New Testament refers to the “last times” it’s not pointing forward to something yet to happen.

  • There was the time before the flood.
  • Then the flood to Mt Sinai, and the giving of the Old Covenant law through Moses.
  • When Christ came, he introduced the New Covenant (New Testament). 
  • The next and last thing to happen is Christ’s return.
  • The Bible splits human history into time periods (often using covenants), and we’re in the last one now. Last times.

So the Holy Spirit has a warning for you and me now, today. Read 1 Timothy 4:1-2.

The Holy Spirit is telling you that there are places – “churches” – whose teaching is sourced in demons and deceptive spirits. You might think such a place would be easy to spot! But read 1 Timothy 4:3 a.

  • These will be places where “holiness” is measured by things you do and don’t do – with man-made rules.
  • Those rules will be taught with passion and conviction, but they’ll have a demonic source, and a human voice.

They’re called “hypocrites” because they call themselves Christian but then teach a religion of works, not repentance, faith, and grace. They’re called “liars” because they don’t speak God’s truth. And “their consciences are dead” because they have made sin normal and they live every day in their own errors.

How to spot a false “church”

Who are they? How can you spot a place like that? Read 1 Timothy 4:3-5.

  • There will often be a strictness of life that the Bible doesn’t actually call for. “A proper Christian would never watch football on a Sunday, go to a pub, …”
  • Abstinence from things is often very wise! Keeping out of temptation, keeping away from things that will harm. Avoiding sprouts(!). 
  • But the false teaching takes our mind off the true essence of what it is to be a Christian: To belong to Christ.

But a heart for God will be above all else a heart of thankfulness. Give thanks for strawberries, meat, marriage, singleness, music, and everything that’s good. Give thanks for everything that is good in Creation.

They are made acceptable (lit. made holy, sanctified) by the word of God (e.g. Genesis in creation, the words of Jesus declaring all food clean), and by prayer – simple thanksgiving to God.

  • All that should naturally pour out of a heart of thankfulness to God in Christ.
  • And a knowledge of the truth as it’s actually spelled out in the Bible should keep you from these errors.

So the Holy Spirit has this stern warning. There are places that have false teaching that leads to false living (not godly living). So Paul tells Timothy how the church at Ephesus – and likewise at Bromborough – are to be different:

Train yourself to be godly (6-10)

In the rest of the chapter we see how Timothy is himself to grow as a Christian and how he is to help others grow too. And it has to start with him.

  • He is told to teach the church.
  • To do that, he’ll need to read Scripture deeply.
  • He’ll need to meditate on the words, and on Christ.
  • Timothy will need to pray, and spend time thinking about the needs of the church, and how to lead them deeper into Christ.
  • As he does that, the preacher will be nourished greatly.

Read 1 Timothy 4:6. What a blessing to everyone that is! A preacher who serves Christ Jesus, nourished by the very message he’s told to teach. No wonder he’s not to get side-tracked: Read 1 Timothy 4:7.

The preacher is to focus. To preach Christ crucified.

  • Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
  • God wants everyone everywhere to be saved.
  • We are the pillar and foundation of the truth; we must lift this truth up for all the sinners of the world to see it!
  • And we must live lives that are godly, credible witnesses to the transforming power of Christ.

The faithful preacher of Christ is to preach truth and godliness. The truth that gives godliness; the godliness that proves truth. But that’s nourishing, strengthening, and building for us all.

  • Godliness says ‘no’ to temptation, to idols, to short-term
  • It says ‘yes’ to holiness, to eternity, to bliss, to Jesus.
  • Godliness is an experience of heaven now.
  • Growth in godliness is growth in certainty in Christ, growth in confidence of the future, growth in peace and hope.

The spiritual gym

And the amazing thing is that it’s within your grasp. Read 1 Timothy 7b-8.

  • The word “train” there is where we get the word “gymnasium” or just “gym.”
  • Godliness is something you can reach out for – not something weird that happens to you.

You can go to the spiritual gym and have a workout. You know how exercise works: 

  • “Little and often” is more effective than bingeing.
  • If you stop exercise, your muscles quickly fade.
  • But godliness is an experience of heaven now.
  • Something you can have every day, every moment you turn to Jesus for help, encouragement, or simply to feel his presence with you.

So read 1 Timothy 4:8-9. Small wonder it’s a trustworthy saying. Godliness promises “benefits in this life and in the life to come.” What benefits? Meditating on Christ; being with Christ; being nourished by his presence, the bread of life.

Some people go to the gym just to look good – lose weight, get ripped, get a six-pack going. Other people go to the gym to enable them to do something else – e.g. run a race to raise money for charity.

But when it comes to a spiritual workout to grow in godliness, the goal is very simple: To be with Christ and to be like Christ. That’s your eternal destiny; growing in godliness now brings that experience of heaven forward.

That’s what Paul means next: Read 1 Timothy 4:10.

Paul, Timothy, all godly preachers, are to work hard and struggle for all to know the truth, for all to know Christ, to taste heaven. Because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. So:

Be nourished for life in Christ (11-16)

So now we see clearly the relationship between the preacher and the church as we all grow together in Christ, nourished by the Spirit and the word. Read 1 Timothy 4:11-12.

There’s an unbreakable connection between the truth of what is taught and the godliness of how people live.

  • Timothy is told to (lit.) “command and teach these things” and also to demonstrate them in his own life.
  • You might remember Ezra in the Old Testament, Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel. (Ezra 7:10) The order of words matters.

And a big part of Timothy’s teaching (and mine) is to be an example, a model for others to emulate. So these words apply to all of us. We’re all to grow in godliness. As per v12:

  • Watch “what you say”; ask about others, speak more of them than yourself
  • Watch “the way you live” because others will be watching you. Is Christ the centre of your life, or is he jostling for position among your idols (even good things: work, family)
  • Who do you really love? Just family + church, or others?
  • Watch your purity in everything – from your reputation publicly to what you choose to read and watch at home.
  • I’m to watch these things in my life, and I’m to be an example to you in your life.
  • Small wonder the devil works to discredit church leaders.

Open the Bible

So should I get us all some really good self-help books? Read 1 Timothy 4:13.

  • This is how we do it. This is how we all grow.
  • You being here is good thing – it’s part of God’s plan for you to grow in godliness and experience heaven on earth
  • “Reading the scriptures” – the closest thing to perfection in our whole time together. The only true authority we have.
  • “Encouraging” / exhorting. Leading you to respond, to act, to engage.
  • “Teaching” about God, about sin, grace, Jesus. Focussed on Christ, the representative of God to us all.

And remember, the power wasn’t in Timothy – nor is it in me. Read 1 Timothy 4:14.

  • His preaching was itself a spiritual gift. He was enabled by the Spirit of God much more than any ability he had of his own.
  • This is how God speaks to you today, here. Through his word, by his Spirit, revealing Christ to us all.
  • He is nourishing you by your being here, doing this.
  • He’s prepping you for a taste of heaven every day, encouraging you to meet him as you train in godliness every day. 
  • In his word, turning from sin, leaning on him in prayer.

We’re all disciples

Small wonder the preacher is to watch himself closely too. Read 1 Timothy 4:15-16 a. “Throw yourself in” is literally, “Be in it.” I’m not a remote lecturer – we’re all disciples of Christ together, all growing and learning. Because, in the end, the stakes are so high:

  • Read 1 Timothy 4:16 b.
  • A false teacher will lead himself and his hearers to hell.
  • Their false witness will keep others from the truth that would save them too.

But as you and I are nourished by Jesus himself in his word, we are saved and have a foretaste of heaven – the presence of Christ. And we then also have a credible witness of him as we live for him, being a pillar and foundation of truth, demonstrating his truth, his grace, his forgiveness.

So, it’s good that you’re here. This is how Jesus nourishes us and grows us in godliness.

As you face this week, one step closer to Christ in godliness, he will become more real, more precious to you. And the problems of this week aren’t lessened, but you can see them in a different light – with divine assistance and energy.

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”