For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

4:1.  “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;”

By the explicit revelation of the Holy Spirit Paul knew that eventually apostasy would come, some would abandon their professed faith, and since latter as used here can apply to both a shorter and a longer time, the reference certainly includes, but isn’t limited to, the end of the age.  The departure was already beginning even while Paul wrote.  (Explicit reference to the apostasy of the Tribulation era is given in 2 Th 2:1-12).  It has to be realized that only an unbeliever can apostatize, i.e., renounce the faith he once professed, the renunciation itself proving that the original profession was false.

The cause of the apostasy is explicitly stated: the false professors will reject the teaching of Scripture, and accept the teaching of evil spirits and demons.  The reference to evil spirits and demons makes it clear that the two terms are not synonymous, some scholars believing that demons are the disembodied spirits of creatures which inhabited the preAdamic earth, hence their intense desire for embodiment, e.g., their entering into the swine after the Lord had expelled them from the two afflicted men, Mt 8:28-32.  Evil spirits, on the other hand, do not appear to indwell men, or even to desire embodiment, but rather to work, as does the Holy Spirit, by influencing their minds so as to reject truth and believe lies.

4:2.  “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;”

The word “hypocrisy” reveals that the men who will attempt to promote wrong doctrine by teaching lies, will be those professing to be believers, but who are in reality unbelievers.  Their being still amongst God’s people points up the need of care relative to the doctrine of those seeking fellowship in the local church, and the need of equal care in teaching sound doctrine, for the well taught believer is less likely to be led astray by false teaching.

The seared conscience indicates a deliberate, repeated rejection of the striving of the Holy Spirit, for it must be realized that He strives, not only with unbelievers, to lead them to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also with believers to keep them from sin.  There is nothing more dangerous for sinner or saint than to ignore His striving, for in the case of the sinner it will result in the loss of his soul, and in the case of the saint, in the ruin of his testimony, and loss of reward at the Bema.  The warning, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1, is to saint and sinner alike, though it is emphasized that the destruction of the saint relates to ruin of his testimony, and sometimes, as in the Corinthian assembly for example, to loss of his physical life, thus depriving him of opportunity to earn a greater eternal reward.  It is imperative for all of us to keep a tender conscience which will respond obediently to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Continued disobedience, even in small things, gradually hardens the conscience so that it becomes calloused or seared and incapable of response. 

Two alternative translations of this phrase “...branded with the devil’s sign” and “... as the devil’s slaves,” combine to present the truth that such men are the servants of the father of lies, Satan.

4:3.  “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of (by) them which believe and know the truth.”

Under the guise of extraordinary holiness these false teachers would make unholy the very institution which God had ordained for man’s good, He Himself, in the OT, saying relative to marriage, “It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help meet (counterpart, complement, that which makes complete) for him,” Ge 2:18; and in the NT, adding the further comment that, “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled,” Heb 13:4.  It is to be further noted that the Lord Himself endorsed marriage by gracing a wedding with His presence, and there, by His first miracle, turning water into wine, Jn 2:1-11.  The Bible, in fact, abounds with God’s endorsement of marriage, and for a very good reason: the godly wife represents the expression of the believer’s new life; and the ungodly, the expression of what the unbeliever mistakes for spiritual life: religion, morality, good deeds, etc.  God’s statement, “It is not good that the man should be alone” transcends the physical, for it is the symbolic announcement of the fact that it is not good that the man should be without what the godly wife represents, i.e., spiritual life.

It is significant that a characteristic of Roman Catholicism and most heathen religions is that their priests are forbidden to marry, an edict clearly intended to invest those same priests with an imaginary holiness, and which by its very nature impugns the sanctity of marriage and the wisdom of God.  It isn’t strange therefore that the evil system which is designed to give the impression of superior holiness on the part of its priests, is itself the fertile breeding ground of sexual perversion, which in both the Old and New Testaments is a capital offence.

Food is another area which has been made subject to the control of these same evil systems, the deluded members who obey the imposed proscriptions being declared virtuous, and all others offenders.  For men to curtail the Christian’s liberty as set forth clearly in Romans 14 relative to food, is to make themselves guilty of the sin of the Pharisees, which brought the Lord’s scathing denunciation recorded in Matthew 23.

It is to be noted incidentally that while meat usually refers simply to food, here meats appears to refer to the flesh of animals.

4:4.  “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving;”

“Creature” here refers to an “original formation: building, creation, creature, ordinance,” Strong’s Concordance, and thus includes not just the animals created for man’s use, and for his food, but also the ordinance of marriage, so that it isn’t just food that is to be received with thanksgiving, but also God’s provision to meet man’s need through marriage in which the woman meets the need of the man, and the man, the need of the woman.

The stipulation “...if it be received with thanksgiving” implies that what meets a bodily need, but which believers can’t be thankful for in the light of Scripture, is not good.  Examples of such things would be food eaten to the point of gluttony; wine consumed to the point of drunkenness; sex gratified outside of marriage.  Obviously it would be wrong to give thanks for these things.

The false teachers, by forbidding what God has appointed for man’s blessing, are thereby depriving Him of the gratitude which is His due.

4:5.  “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

While “sanctified” means to be set apart for God, the thought being emphasized here is that anything which He has provided to meet man’s need is pure, provided it is used legitimately according to His Word.

4:6.  “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister (servant) of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.”

This points up the need of our being reminded frequently of what pertains to our faith and the sound doctrine which is an inseparable part of it, and of being exhorted to follow it.

Timothy’s having attained refers to his response to the doctrine which he himself had been taught (with which he had been fed), which he had studied, followed, and taught.

4:7.  “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”

“Refuse” is variously translated as: leave them alone; reject them; shun; have nothing to do with; steer clear of, the basic thought being not to become involved in even taking notice of them or discussing them.

“Profane” is also translated as: worldly; unholy; godless silly myths; irreverent legends; impure fictions discussed by senile godless women.  In other words they were to be treated disdainfully as being unworthy even of notice.

The positive side of the command was for Timothy to continue exercising himself unto godliness, i.e., he was to continue nurturing his spiritual life by feeding on the written Word, i.e., by reading, meditation, and prayer.  The profane and silly fables appear to be related also to the activity of seducing spirits and demons mentioned in verse 1.

4:8.  “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”

Comparison of physical and spiritual exercise reveals the superiority of the latter, for while the physical yields some good to the body for a limited time, that which is spiritual yields much greater benefits, not only here on earth, but what is  more important, in eternity also.

Godliness, as noted already, is what is characteristic of God in thought, word, and deed, and is profitable physically as well as spiritually, for it preserves from those excesses which  harm the body.  The association with physical exercise is to remind us that godliness also has to be developed.  It doesn’t just happen.  It requires the discipline of reading, meditation, and prayer, and of living a Christ-like life,

“Promise” as used here is an announcement, a divine assurance of good, that assurance being that godliness will bring blessing in this life as well as eternal blessing in heaven.

4:9.  “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.”

What is said about godliness in the previous verse is what is worthy of being accepted or believed by all, just as in 1:15 where the phrase is used relative to the Lord Jesus Christ, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

4:10.  “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.”

The “therefore” refers to the promotion of godliness, a work to which Paul had dedicated his life, and for which he was willing to labor to the point of exhaustion, and suffer reproach, i.e., endure being defamed, railed at, scolded, taunted, reviled, upbraided.  His willingness to do this great work was because he trusted implicitly in the word of the living God.

Labor is also understood by some to refer to the strenuous effort of the athlete to win the prize, that prize for the believer being the reward that will be given at the Bema.

God is the Savior of all men in the sense that He preserves their lives here on earth by providing for their physical needs, a provision all are only too willing to accept.  He has in addition provided also for the salvation of all men through the death and resurrection of His Son, but that is a provision spurned by the majority of men, so that He is the Savior of the souls of only a relative few: those who believe His Word and accept His priceless gift of eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And what provision He has made for believers!  It baffles human comprehension, as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him,” 1 Co 2:9.

4:11.  “These things command and teach.”

The cultivation of godliness is not simply an option.  “Command” is literally translated as “give these orders.”  It is God’s command, and like all His commands, is to be obeyed, obedience bringing present blessing and eternal reward; disobedience bringing chastisement and eternal loss, not of salvation, but of reward at the Bema.  Disobedience on the part of the unbeliever will bring eternal torment in the lake of fire.

4:12.  “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

It has been suggested that Timothy may have been in his mid thirties, so that having apparently been saved at a young age, and having been exposed all his life to the influence of his godly grandmother and mother, see 2 Tim 1:5, and having been faithful in his study of the Scriptures, he was not a novice, so there was no valid reason for the believers to make little of him.  The impression to be gathered from both of the letters to him indicate that in his knowledge of spiritual matters he may have been considerably in advance of many of his seniors. 

The command for him to be “an example of the believers” is that he was to be an example of how believers should live, his godly life being the rebuke of those who might have been tempted to slight him because of his comparative youth.

“... in word,” has reference to his speech.  His conversation was to be such as becomes those professing to walk in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our speech is to be similar to His.  This rebukes the careless flippancy of much of our own speech.

“... in conversation,” is literally “in behavior,” reminding us that our behavior is also to be such as men might expect to see from the Lord were He living in our midst today.  It has to do with our deportment, dress, lifestyle, etc., and again in all of these things men should see what they would see were they observing the Lord Himself.

“... in charity,” is literally “in love.”  How different our conduct would be if we fulfilled this command, and acted towards others, saint and sinner alike, as we do towards those we do love!  Nor is this a command impossible to fulfill, for it is to be noted that we are not called upon to love them as we do our parents, spouses, children, etc., but to act towards them in all things as we do towards those we love.  Love for the Lord is to be reflected in thoughts, words, and deeds towards all men, similar to our thoughts, words, and deeds in relation to those we love.  This conduct, however, is not to be a hypocritical outward show expressed in kind words and deeds, while retaining unkind, unloving thoughts toward them.  It is to be sincere.  What a difference it would make in our relationships with others were our lives governed by this principle!

“... in spirit” is missing from many manuscripts, but if retained it may imply submission to the Holy Spirit’s control in every detail of our lives, that control being expressed in obedience to the written Word.  It is, however, taken by some to mean “spirited” in the sense of being enthusiastic, and it may well be that this is correct, in which case the injunction is to be enthusiastic about the things which pertain to the kingdom of God.  Enthusiasm relative to our faith is conspicuously absent from the lives of many of us.

“... in faith” may refer simply to the manifestation in his own life of the truth that he had complete faith in God no matter how much the circumstances attending his life may have seemed to indicate cause not to have that faith.  It is one thing to walk by faith when everything is going well; quite another to continue that walk when adversity comes.

It may be understood also as referring to faithfulness, dependability, or trustworthiness.

“... in purity” probably refers to purity of mind, for it is in the mind that reformation must begin, otherwise the life is simply a hypocritical charade in God’s sight, as it is written, “And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Ro 12:2, and  “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus...” Php 2:5.  An impure motive negates the value of the deed as far as reward at the Bema is concerned.

4:13.  “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”

While awaiting the arrival of Paul, Timothy was to devote himself to the reading of the Scriptures, and while the emphasis is on public reading - a very necessary activity since few in those days possessed a copy of the Scriptures - we may not exclude the need for the same devotion to private reading and study on his part.  Nor has time changed that order.  He who would instruct others in spiritual matters must first study the Scriptures thoroughly, and spend much time in meditation, thus giving the Holy Spirit opportunity to unfold the meaning; no small part of the formula for edifying ministry being also to spend adequate time in prayer.

“Exhortation” embraces the thought of imploring, entreating, comforting, encouraging to action; while doctrine is simply instruction or teaching.

The purpose of the reading, private and public, was that Timothy would be able not only to comfort the believers, but to teach them how to conduct themselves in obedience to the written Word, and to encourage them to take the necessary action to put knowledge into practice.

4:14.  “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”

“Neglect,” meaning to be careless or negligent of, reminds us that spiritual gift, like natural gift, will lie dormant and unrecognized unless developed, e.g., the great artists, sculptors, musicians, etc., would never have become what they were and are had they not spent years in intensive, often tedious work developing their God-given talent; and so is it with spiritual gift: it has to be developed and refined by constant effort involving countless hours of Bible study, meditation, prayer, and practice.  “Neglect not” is the negative side, the positive being given in 2 Tim 1:6 “Stir up the gift which is in thee....” 

It is necessary to recognize also that God doesn’t give spiritual gift in the same measure to every man.  For example, of those who have been given the gift of evangelism, few are as liberally endowed as was Billy Graham, George Whitefield, the Wesleys, and others.  But God in His wisdom gives to each man the right measure of gift for the area of service to which He  appoints him.  For example, the man who can evangelize successfully among the uneducated, would be of little use among the educated classes, and vice versa.  He who may be a very successful evangelist on a one-to-one basis, or in small groups, wouldn’t necessarily be suited to address large audiences.  And so is it with elders and teachers.  God gives the measure of gift appropriate to the man’s appointed sphere of service.

And in connection with the development of spiritual gift it is necessary to remember also that as in everything else, the old adage holds true, “practice makes perfect.”  The older evangelist, elder, teacher will almost invariably be a more skilled workman than the younger believer who hasn’t had the same time to develop and refine his gift.

“... the gift (singular)” seems to confirm what we have already discussed: Scripture does not indicate that any believer is given more than one spiritual gift, the Apostles, of course, being the unique exceptions.

“... that is in thee.”  The normal order for the Church age appears to be that each man is given his spiritual gift at the moment of his conversion; but in Timothy’s case it seems that he received his gift through the laying on of Paul’s hands, see 2 Tim 1:6 “... stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.”  And as Timothy’s gift was not to be neglected, but rather, stirred up or developed, so is every man’s gift. 

“... which was given thee by prophecy,” doesn’t mean that the gift was bestowed through the agency of a prophet, but rather that in a day when the gift of prophecy was still operative, it had been revealed to one or more prophets that Timothy had been given this gift, which according to 2 Tim 4:5, was that of evangelism.

“... and the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (elders or oversight).”  Again, this may not be construed as meaning that he received the gift by the laying on of the hands of the elders, but that they by this means signified their recognition of his being possessed of the gift, that recognition resulting from his use of it among them.  It indicated also their fellowship with him in the work to which God had called him.  (It is to be noted, incidentally, that the laying on of hands, like many other things recorded of the early apostolic age, was Jewish, and was for that early day only.  With the ending of Jewish autonomy in AD 70, what was uniquely Jewish, ceased).

This recognition of Timothy as one whom God had gifted, and called to a special work, is the scriptural pattern for the whole Church age.  The system which prevails in Christendom today of having men receive a theological education in a seminary or Bible school, as enablement to minister, lacks one word of scriptural support.  The Divine pattern is that as the man develops his God-given spiritual gift in the local assembly, it becomes apparent to his fellow believers that he has a gift and is using it, and almost invariably, as God extends his sphere of service, the elders will given him a letter of commendation testifying to their having observed the development and use of his gift, and commending him to the larger field of service to which God is calling him, and in doing so are expressing their fellowship with him in that work.

4:15.  “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.”

“Meditate” basically means “to take care of, think about,” and is translated as be diligent in; take pains with; care about; cultivate; practice; make your absorbing interest; give all your attention and energies to; make them your study. 

He who would use his gift to the full for God’s glory must give himself wholeheartedly to its cultivation and use.  It must be the passion of his life, as it is written, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” Ec 9:10.

“Profiting” means progress, improvement.  As Timothy obeyed Paul’s injunction, his spiritual development and his fitness to do the work entrusted to him, would be apparent to others, and as we too obey the command so will it be with us.  We must note also that this is to be a lifelong exercise.  There never comes a time when we can say, There can be no further development: there is nothing more to learn.  The more one studies the Word of God, the more he comes to realize that it is an unfathomable ocean, an exhaustless mine, limitless in its extent: it is like its Author, infinite.

4:16.  “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

“Take heed unto thyself” is variously translated as pay close attention to yourself; keep a critical eye on your own life and on the teaching you give, i.e., he was to be sure that the doctrine he himself taught was sound.  This is a much needed admonition, for it is very easy to fall into the trap of becoming knowledgeable in the Word, and then becoming puffed up with that knowledge.  If I fail to apply sound doctrine to my own life, anything I attempt to teach others will have a hollow ring to it. It is possible to become so involved in service that I may neglect to nurture my own spiritual life, with the result that my service will cease to be effective, and my worship become a mere empty form.

While in its general context “save” relates to what occurs at the moment of conversion, and that salvation can never be lost, it is obvious that the more direct meaning here has to do with the protection or preservation of that salvation, not in the sense which would imply possibility of loss, but rather the preservation of the believer’s testimony as an effective witness to others.  Adherence to Paul’s admonition would protect Timothy’s own testimony, as well as that of all who would also live in obedience to the words of sound doctrine. 

In view of the need to stop the attempts of evil men to introduce what was contrary to Scripture, the specific reference here is undoubtedly to saving himself and others from falling prey to the false teachers.  This does not, however, exclude an application to the salvation of sinners, for it is to be remembered that Timothy’s gift appears to have been that of evangelism. 

[1 Timothy 5]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough