1 TIMOTHY 4
Some false teachers had moved into the area. “You must not marry”, “You must avoid certain foods” – these were some of the ascetic heresies that they tried to plant in the local church. This was the beginning of Gnosticism, which included the belief that the material world was inherently evil and to be avoided. Paul sees its origin as being from the Devil himself and warns Timothy to be on his guard: “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” (v4). We today should take to heart Paul’s words: we do not become more holy by somehow rejecting certain material things.
Do you ‘work out’? Physical training and discipline are ‘of some value’, according to Paul; they promote a disciplined mind and train the will to endure hardships, pulling the person out of their comfort zone. If you are prepared to get out of bed at 6am on a winter morning to go for a run, then you might also be prepared to do so in order to pray or study the scriptures.
But the discipline produced by physical training is of little value unless we use that discipline to train ourselves in godliness. Perhaps a good definition of discipline is: ‘Doing what you ought rather than what you want’. Prayer, a willingness to witness to the unsaved, a devotion to the scriptures, a desire to put the teachings of Jesus into practice… these are some aspects of godliness. We need to embark upon a training programme in godliness. For ourselves and for others, this godliness has a massive benefit for now and for the life to come.
“We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe”. What exactly does this verse mean? Does it teach ‘universalism’ – that everyone will eventually be saved? No, since 2 Thessalonians 1:9 tells us that some people will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. So perhaps Paul is referring to a kind of ‘potential’ salvation for everyone, which is realized only once a person believes? There is certainly a measure of truth in this. The gospel is offered to “all who will come”, to “whoever”; no-one who desires to trust in Jesus and receive salvation will ever be turned away (John 6:37,40).
But more than that, it widens the definition of ‘salvation’ to mean the grace of God and to include every way in which he protects, maintains, shows mercy, upholds, rescues and cares for… the entire human race. He is patient with sinners – not instantly destroying them but giving them opportunities to repent. He rescues people in so many temporal ways. The people of the world may call it a ‘lucky escape’, but they are unaware of the general grace of God towards all his creation. The key word “especially” means “even more so”; in other words, everyone has some degree of ‘salvation’ in this life, but only believers have that ultimate degree of salvation sufficient to extend into the life to come.
Until Paul arrives again in Ephesus, Timothy is to devote himself to publicly reading the scriptures, to preaching the gospel and to teaching the believers – this is his gift as a leader. There may have been other men and women doing other ministries, but Timothy was to specialize in his own area of gifting and also to make sure that his life lived up to those exacting standards too. No-one gives much weight to teaching that is left as purely theoretical. As we live the gospel, we will see people saved.