The funeral of Charles Hodge was a momentous occasion. The professor of systematic theology at Princeton Seminary was not only a learned scholar and a champion of the Gospel, but he was also a beloved teacher and friend. On the day of his funeral, all the shops in Princeton closed. After the worship service ended at the church, a great procession formed at the seminary and moved slowly to the cemetery. Of all the tributes given to Hodge that day, perhaps the most fitting was given by Professor William Paxton: “When due allowance is made for his intellect and his learning, after all his chief power was in his goodness. Christ enshrined in his heart was the centre of his theology and his life. The world will write upon his monument GREAT; but we, his students, will write upon it GOOD.”
Not everyone who is great is good! Or let me say it another way, not everyone who is great is godly! Hitler stands as one of the great figures of history but he was far from good. Many people aspire to greatness in many different ways for many different reasons, but not so many aspire to goodness or godliness. However goodness and godliness are exactly what Paul calls Timothy (and us) to aspire to in these verses. In fact it is these things that lead to true and lasting greatness.
Paul writes to Timothy; “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” These words are written directly to Timothy & therefore are especially relevant to pastors, but since Paul uses the words “good servant” it also implies their general relevance to everyone who sees them self as a servant of Christ. If you desire to be a good servant of Jesus then these words are very relevant to you today! Paul’s greatest desire for young Pastor Timothy was that he would be a good servant of Jesus. And he teaches him that the way to be a good servant; is to pass on to others what has been given him; and to keep nourishing himself on the words of the faith and on the good doctrine of the gospel that produces godliness!
So here we find again this clear connection between good teaching & godly living, between good doctrine & being a good servant of Christ. Paul has just noted in the previous verses that the way to become a false teacher is to basically devote oneself to bad teaching (which is in fact demonic). Now he is pointing out that the way to be a good servant is to nourish oneself on the good teaching which produces godliness. The NASB says a good servant is “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine...” This helps bring out the Greek tense emphasising it is to be an on-going practice in our lives... In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said; “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This emphatically underlines how essential the Word of God is to our daily lives, more essential than most people realise—our lives depend upon it! The ‘words of the faith’ mean the Scriptures, and ‘the sound doctrine’ talks of the teaching which comes from, is based on and aligns completely with Scripture!
There is no substitute for the nourishment that comes from God’s Word! Christian books, blogs, CDs, podcasts, TV & sermons etc may be a great help but they are a poor substitute for the pure Word of God. In fact it is nourishing ourselves on God’s Word that helps us discern & get the most out of these other things. Just as our bodies are nourished by food everyday so do our souls need nourished on the pure Word of God. 1 Peter 2:2-3 NASB says; “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” This is not a verse for new Christians but all Christians. The analogy is: Like a newborn baby longs for milk so should we long for the pure Word of God. It’s the basic longing of a true Christian.
Paul uses another baby analogy to make a different point in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.” Here Paul uses a baby analogy in a different way: Just as a baby matures from milk to solid food so should a Christian desire more substantial teaching as they mature in the faith! Increasing desire for the Word of God and good teaching is one of the surest signs of true spiritual appetite. It reveals the extent to which we really want to know and live for God...
Of course this is very important for all of us to understand, but it is of vital importance for ministers. Pastors need to be constantly nourished on the Word of God and by good doctrine if they are to stay strong and grow in godliness. How can they continually feed others if they do not continually nourish themselves? They need to not only read, study, listen and pray so they might have something to teach others. They need to read, study, listen and pray for the nourishment of their own souls! This is the only way to stay alive and fresh in faith and in ministry!
Not only does a good servant teach good doctrine and nourish himself on Scripture, he also needs to be a loving teacher. The word “brothers” is a reminder that the church is God’s family--“the household of God.” By using this term Paul places the emphases on loving relationship. A minister is to teach the church as he would teach his family, from a place of relationship, commitment and love. This is something Paul will expand on a bit in chapter 5:1-2. It’s not just what a minister teaches that is important it’s also how he teaches it. In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 in the middle of a very similar passage to the one we’re looking at today Paul says; “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness...” The character & tone with which we teach others is very important. We need to present the gospel of grace with the tone of love...
Paul continues: V7; “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness.” There are many things we could potentially waste our time speculating on but Paul commands the servant of Christ to focus on the things that actually produce godliness in our lives. In chapter one Paul told Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Paul also warns the Colossians in 2:18; “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going into details about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body is nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
Scripture tells us to train ourselves for godliness, and discussions based on mere speculation, genealogies, irreverent silly myths, visions people claim to have saw etc can distract us and potentially even disqualify us from growing in godliness. This is what the verses I just read teach us. Therefore a good question to hold over every discussion we engage in is this: Will this conversation help produce godliness in my life and in the life of others?
One of the reasons people fall into false teaching is because they want to believe they have access to some superior wisdom, some extra Biblical revelation others don’t know about, & this deceives them into believing they are more enlightened than others. And they end up devoting themselves to silly myths. Listen, the evidence we are growing in maturity is not in attaining some extra Biblical superior wisdom. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 4:6; “I have applied all these things to myself & Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favour of one against another.”
The greatest evidence of maturity in the Christian life is an understanding that everything we need to become godly, that is to excel in godly living, we already have! In the words of 2 Peter 1:3-4; “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire...”
The only way to true godliness is found in realising we already have all we need in Christ & in refusing to ever move beyond what has been revealed in Scripture about him! There is great protection & gain in holding fast to Christ alone! Remember First Timothy 3:16 taught us he is “the mystery from which true godliness springs.” All the nourishment we need, it’s all found in Jesus! Why would we allow ourselves to get sidetracked by anything else? This is how we train ourselves for godliness. This is how we train ourselves to become all God wants us to be, by nourishing ourselves on the words of Christ-centred faith which produce Christ-like character in our hearts and lives. Paul continues: V8-9 “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the live to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.”
Paul moves from the analogy of nourishment to athletics between verses 6-8. I believe he wants to make a powerful contrast between the view of life culture holds and the view of life a Christian should hold. But before he makes this contrast he is careful to make sure he is not misunderstood. It seems obvious from Paul’s use of analogy in the NT that he was a sports fan. His letters contain analogies of boxing, wrestling and various forms of athletics. He obviously seen sport as good & something to be enjoyed. But he also saw something else in the sports world of his day that was not so good, he saw a desire for glory and fame that led to self-worship...
From a young age boys would train and discipline their bodies for the purpose of achieving greatness. Greek and Roman culture was full of self worship. They spent much time & money training young athletes to achieve destiny and greatness for oneself. So while Paul teaches that we can learn much from the effort & discipline of such athletes, he makes it equally clear that our focus & reasons differ greatly from the world. He is saying that with the same effort the world aspires to greatness, you aspire to godliness! He is saying that while others are aspiring to personal greatness, you are to aspire to godliness. He is saying that as the world lives for self glory we are to live for the glory of God alone! This is how we train our self for godliness and become a good servant of Christ Jesus.
The world teaches us to evaluate people on the basis of the wrong criteria. Success in this world is gauged by fame, talent, popularity, wealth etc... It’s not wrong of course to have any of these things, but when they become our life goal or sole gauge of success then they become wrong. It’s when they become idols that we worship or pursuits for self-glory. The fact is fame and fortune can destroy people’s lives, and take them to hell, as much as anything else. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have asked that famous question (Mark 8:36 NKJV); “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Jesus also turned the worldly idea of greatness on its head when he said to his disciples; “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be the first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:26-28 NKJV)
The way of the world is to use others as stepping stones to self-success, to use others as our servants to achieve personal greatness. The way of the world is that people use other people to serve their ego, agenda or desire for power, fame or fortune. Often the biggest idol in the human heart is Self... The way of the world would even cause us to try and use God and ministry for such self-centred pursuits. However the way of godliness is not to use God or others to serve our egos or personal ambitions, but that we become a good servant of Christ & others to the point we are willing to sacrifice our personal agenda & ambitions, and even our very lives if that’s what it takes, to serve, bless & reach others. Our focus and reason for life is radically transformed by the gospel! Good teaching calls us to dethrone self and enthrone Christ as King of our hearts and lives!
Sometimes the reason people get discouraged in life, and even ministry, is because they set their hope in the wrong place—fame, position, control, power. However godliness doesn’t need these things because godliness doesn’t need, or even want, centre stage. Godliness fights to keep Christ centre stage! Godliness is God-centeredness. Godliness is devotion to God’s glory... Godliness puts God at the centre of everything. Godliness calls us to live for something more, something infinitely greater than ourselves... W. P. Nicholson one said; “The world has yet to see what God can do for, and with, a man providing he won’t touch the glory.” Paul teaches us “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” So godliness benefits us in this life but it also stamps eternity across our eyeballs so we live for something greater. Many of the things people live for expire with this life, but what we are called to live for never expires!
Paul says; “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.” Christ is the potential Saviour of all people, but is the actual Saviour of those who put their trust in him. When we truly set our hope on him as the living God and Saviour of all he is exalted in our lives! God-centred hoping produces God-centred living! In this way our lives hold him up for others to see! Remember that is the very mission of the church—to hold up Christ as the Saviour of all people... We don’t toil and strive for the same things as the world—fame, fortune, power, greatness—nor do we believe a gospel that encourages us to strive for these things. We believe a gospel that empowers us to toil and strive for godliness; because our hope is set fully on Christ! And our hope will not, and cannot, disappoint us. In the context of reaching people for Jesus Paul writes in 1 Cor. 9:24-25; “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it, Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
There is effort in the Christian life, there is striving and struggling, but this is all done in the context of the great & certain hope of the gospel! And as Paul puts it in Colossians 1:29; “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me.” The gospel of grace is opposed to earning salvation, but clearly it is not opposed to effort, toil and discipline. In fact it empowers and enables us to run like we have never run before. Paul said in Philippians 3:13-14; “Brothers. I do not consider to have made it on by own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press one towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”