Author: Ron Graham

Study of First Timothy

Excellence in Ministry
—1Timothy 4:12

Verse by verse study of Paul's first letter to Timothy. In this lesson we begin to examine chapter 4 verse 12, looking at the principles Timothy was to follow in his ministry.

1Timothy 4:12

1 Excellence In youth

Timothy is to stop older people despising his youth, not by challenging those older folk, or walking roughshod over their sensibilities, but by his moderate, mature, and considerate conduct which they can respect and support.

"In speech, conduct, love, faith and purity" (1Timothy 4:12) Timothy is to set such an excellent example that nobody could reasonably hold his youth against him.

2 Excellence In speech

Paul tells the whole church at Ephesus, where Timothy is, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). The speech of the Christian minister should be a fine example of this.

Paul condemned speaking in tongues when it failed to edify, and he urged, "Seek to abound for the edification of the church". Paul had already observed, "There are perhaps many kinds of voices in the world, and none is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks shall be a barbarian to me" (1Corinthians 13:9-17).

Ministers should be careful about speaking young people's lingo rather than the generic language spoken in the church. Youngspeak has its place, but it should not be used in circumstances where it becomes isolating, for that is next to divisive. It is good to employ speech that makes a certain group of people feel welcome and accepted. It is not good, however, to go so far in embracing one group, that you estrange another.

3 Excellence In conduct

Whilst it is important that a person's words and manner of speech are exemplary, a person is also judged by his actions and conduct. You will recall that Paul's purpose in writing to Timothy, was to instruct him how to conduct himself in the church (1Timothy 3:15). The letter is peppered with wise counsel about all sorts of things relating to Timothy’s own conduct.

Just to give one example, Paul tells Timothy to treat the young women as though they were his own sisters, because that will avoid any hint of impurity that might reflect badly on his ministry (1Timothy 5:2). By one simple rule (consider every girl your sister and treat her accordingly), Timothy will ensure that his conduct with regard to young women in the church is beyond reproach. [This does not mean that Timothy is prohibited from romance or commanded to be celibate, for having rebuked those who forbid to marry Paul could hardly forbid it to Timothy.]

4 Excellence In love

Following Paul's instructions, Timothy will be doing a lot of rebuking and hard preaching. He therefore needs to show love whereby the necessary criticisms he makes will be understood, respected, and received. He is not just to feel love, he is to show it by "example". The Greek word for example here (1Timothy 4:12) is tupos meaning type, stamp, pattern. Timothy is to typify love. His conduct is to bear the stamp of love. He is to be a pattern or figure of love that others can copy.

Some of the most beautiful patterns on fabrics or wallpapers are also quite rigid when you look at them closely. In each element there is precision of detail and adherence to rules. However when you view the over-all effect of this tightness, you are struck by how elegant and free the work is. The pattern of the Christian ministry and the Christian's conduct is like that. It is lovely but not undisciplined. The result of Christian love is freedom, but the elements of Christian love are the commandments of God.

5 Excellence In faith

One of the amusing things about the gospel is the question of which is foremost love or faith? Paul, like Jesus, placed love as the greater of the greats (Matthew 22:34-40 1Corinthians 13:13). Protestant tradition seems to make faith the foremost thing. Of course, whichever is the greatest, it does not stand alone. Thus Timothy is to show love, but he cannot do that without "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).

Faith, in this context, means faithfulness. Timothy had to show obedience to the faith. He had to show himself loyal and trustworthy as a man of God. He had to be a strong believer showing it by what he did. As James put it when speaking of Abraham, "Faith was working with his works and by the works faith was completed" (James 2:22).

6 Excellence In purity

Paul probably expects purity in all aspects of Timothy's ministry —purity in doctrine, leadership, relationships and general behaviour, all of which he covers in his letter.

"Pure" is more than "clean". Purity is the total absence of any foreign element. Pure water, for example, consists of nothing but molecules combining two atoms of hydrogen with one of oxygen. If a glass of water includes any other element, or even any other combination of the two elements, it is not pure.

To understand the concept of purity, we only have to think about the forgiveness of our sins. When God cleanses us from sin, how much sin is removed? Is it 99 percent? What a peculiar verse it would be that said, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from 99% of sin". Or what if that verse were preceded by the statement, "God is 99% light and in him there is only 1% darkness" (1John 1:5-7)? You can see that with God purity is purity, and nothing less will do.

So if Timothy's doctrine were mostly accurate, his ministry and leadership fairly good, his life reasonably righteous, his relationships almost beyond reproach, would that be good enough? No, purity is the benchmark. "The wisdom from above is first pure..." (James 3:17). Timothy was to live and work by that wisdom, setting an example of purity that others could imitate.

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