14 Jan 2020
A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 4:11-5:2. e) Timothy must mind his consistency.
*Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them* (16a). Thus Timothy is to keep a close eye on two things equally. First, his *life*, literally ‘himself’, his character and his conduct. Secondly, he is to watch his *doctrine*, his teaching of other people. He is to be neither so engrossed in teaching others that he neglects himself, nor so concerned with the culture of his own soul that he neglects his ministry to others. Instead, he is to be consistent, applying himself with equal attention and perseverance to himself and to others. As Paul had said to the Ephesian elders: ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock…’ (Acts 20:28) Then there will be no dichotomy between his public and private life, or between his preaching and his practice. Instead, he will manifest that most necessary of all leadership qualities, personal authenticity.
Of the two possible inconsistencies mentioned above, the more common is surely the first. It is fatally easy to become so busy in the Lord’s work that we leave no time for the Lord himself, to be so concerned with the welfare of others that we fail to keep a watchful eye on ourselves. It is only by careful discipline that Christian leaders achieve a balance, determined not to neglect either duty for the other.
*If you do* persevere in these duties, Paul concludes, *you will save both yourself and your hearers* (16b). At first sight this sentence contains two shocking statements, namely that Timothy could save himself, and that he could save his hearers as well. First, how could Timothy save himself? Is not self-salvation an impossibility? Did not Paul repeatedly insist that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone? Has he suddenly gone berserk and contradicted himself? Has he forgotten his own assertions about ‘God our Saviour’ (1:1; 2:3) and about Jesus Christ coming into the world ‘to save sinners’ (1:15)? No. of course not. Salvation always and everywhere originates not in us but only in the grace and mercy of God. Nevertheless, the reality of our salvation has to be demonstrated in good works of love. It is in this sense that Paul tells us to ‘continue to work out’ our salvation ‘with fear and trembling’ (Phil.2:12). Only those who persevere to the end will be saved (E.g. Mk.13:13; 1 Cor.15:2; Col.1:22-23). Perseverance is not the meritorious cause, but rather the ultimate evidence of our salvation (Heb.3:14).
Secondly, how could Timothy save his hearers? Surely only God could save them through Christ? Yes, but the New Testament not infrequently attributes salvation to evangelists, since it is through the gospel they preach that God saves believers. So the ascended Christ could tell Paul that he was sending him to the Gentiles ‘to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God’ (Acts.26:18). Similarly, he became ‘all things to all men’, in order that by all possible means he ‘might save some’ (1 Cor.9:22; cf. Rom.11:14). Of course Paul could not and did not save anybody. Nor could Timothy. But this is dramatic language which ascribes to evangelists direct the salvation which God himself effects indirectly through the gospel which they proclaim.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:11-5:2). f). Timothy must adjust his relationships.
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.