A Good Servant of Christ Jesus (Personal)
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A Good Servant of Christ Jesus (Personal)

From Series: The Pastor's Study, Volume 8

1 Timothy 4:6-10  (ID: 3231)

Ministers of Jesus Christ have a high calling which encompasses their personal lives as well as their public ministry. In this message, Alistair Begg reminds pastors of important points from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Before gospel ministers can remind others of the truths of the faith, those same truths must first nourish their own souls. Then, actively putting these truths into practice, they are to train themselves in godliness as they labor with God’s help to proclaim the good news of salvation.


Sermon Transcript:

Isaiah says,

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
 Has it not been told you from the beginning?
 Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
 and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”[1]

Gracious God, Eternal Father, there is no one to whom we can compare you. You are “immortal, invisible”; you are the only wise God.[2] And as we gather this afternoon, at the outset of our time together, we want to tell you how grateful we are to you for your amazing kindness to us in so many different ways—just in the very gift of life itself, and of our ability to reason, to think, to sing, to enjoy the line of a melody, to be enriched by the friendship of another, to be thankful for those whom you’ve entrusted to our care, and for so many more temporal mercies, we give you our praise.

But we thank you most of all for all that you are to us in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. And we thank you for the wonder of what it means that you have adopted us into your family, that you have given to us Jesus as our elder brother, that you have united us to him for all of eternity, and in him with one another, so that the joy that we have in expressing the wonder of your love to us in Jesus is genuine joy; it’s not simply the familiarity of the melody but the reality, as we ponder what it means that you sent the Lord Jesus Christ, that he came willingly, that “he who was rich beyond all splendor, for our sakes became poor.”[3]

And we bless you for the fact that when we gather in this way, we gather by the Holy Spirit, in his risen presence—that we actually look to him to lead our praise, we look to him to teach us the Bible. And so, as we anticipate the events of the balance of the afternoon and into the evening, we humbly and expectantly pray that you will send the Holy Spirit to us in increased measure in order that our appetite may be stirred, that our understanding of the Bible may be increased, but mainly and mostly, in order that we might have a direct encounter with you, the living God, by the Holy Spirit through your Word, in such a way that that which we know we need, and the things of which we are unaware, may be more than met by the riches of your grace.

So bless those whom we’ve left behind, circumstances that press in upon us even now—concerns for loved ones, the cares of our fellowships, and so on. And grant that we might have that lovely experience of our minds being kept in perfect peace because they’re stayed on you[4] and because we are learning to trust in you. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

I invite you to turn with me to 1 Timothy and to chapter 4. First Timothy chapter 4. And you can follow as I read. First Timothy 4:1:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything [God created] is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

“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. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 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 life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because [we’ve set our hope] on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Amen.

It was good to sing like that, wasn’t it? But it’s a dangerous thing to do when you have to speak. It’s one of the great benefits of coming together as a company like this, is to be able to be singing in this way.

Well, I have the privilege and the responsibility of going first. I was thinking it’s a bit like when at the end of a football game, a soccer game, it comes down to a tie, and there have to be penalties, and somebody has to go first. And I always feel for that fellow, and then I feel such a sense of joy if he manages to score. Well, I don’t know about that, but here I am, and I have to go first.

What I would like to do—I might as well tell you what I hope to do both in this first and then in the final session in Wednesday—is to consider verses 6 through to verse 16, and to think about it in terms of what it means to be a “good servant” or a good minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have gathered under the overall banner of reminding one another of these things, even as Paul does Timothy, so that we in turn might be reminded. And I think it’s important to say—and I think I probably say it every single year—that my responsibility, ours together, is not so much to inform you of things that you do not know as it is to turn to the Scriptures in such a way that we might remind ourselves of things that we must never forget.

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to a series of novels—novels about ancient Rome—written by the author Robert Harris. I’ve found them to be very, very instructive and full of illustrative material. I’ve enjoyed them, and am enjoying them, immensely. The central character, the voice of the books that I read, is a slave by the name of Tiro. And at one point in book 3, he is granted his freedom. And when he inquires as to the reason that he has been granted freedom, he’s told that he has been appreciated for three things: one, for his great loyalty; two, for his exemplary service; and three, for the soundness of his character. And these characteristics, along with others, are to be part and parcel of the life of Timothy and of all the Timothys that follow in his line.

Rather than trying to crash our way through the entire paragraph or two, I want us to take it in two parts. First of all, from verse 6 to verse 10, thinking primarily about the personal life of the good minister of Jesus. It’s somewhat arbitrary. It helped me; it may not help you. But anyway, you know, where he says there, “Train yourself,” in verse 7. And then in verses 11 to 16, on Wednesday, all being well, to think more in terms of the public life of the good servant, or good minister, of Jesus. For example, there in verse 12, he wants to make sure that he is a good example to the folks.

Dangers of This Passage

Now, in coming to this, I think it’s also helpful to say something about my approach, in the thought that it may be helpful to all of us—not because this is the right approach, but just because we know that when we come, for example, to a task like this, to say we’re going to deal with verse 6–16, there are a number of challenges that are represented in that. And I felt that there were three dangers in particular that I needed to be alerted to.

One was failing to say anything helpful about the context. Failing to say something about the context. In other words, as it were, just simply isolating these particular verses from the totality of Paul’s instruction, and particularly in this letter itself. And so, going back and reading it and rereading it again, when you turn to the beginning of the letter, you realize that Paul is immediately concerned that Timothy would be dealing with those who were tempted to be drawn away by the false teachers. And he says, “I want you to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, not to get involved in myths and endless genealogies, which just produce speculation,”[5] and so on. So that is his opening gambit to Timothy: “This is a responsibility that you have there in Ephesus, and I want you to make sure that you’re taking care of it.”

By the time we get to chapter 4—and we’ve read it all—and the opening five verses, I don’t know whether things have progressed or whether we’re dealing with something entirely different, but you will see there that in this context, the concern that Paul has in relationship to these things is, if you like, a more grave concern. Here he’s referring to those “deceitful spirits,” and to the “teachings of demons,” and to “the insincerity of liars” and those “whose consciences are seared.” So this is no marginal issue; this is a significant concern. And I don’t know, because I haven’t thought it through, but I wonder if there isn’t a progression, in that people who, if you like, represented in chapter 1, are tempted to deviate from the gospel, caught up by all kinds of strange ideas and notions—speculative and mythological things—such individuals, once they are led astray, if they’re not careful, then they become immediately susceptible to the deceitful, to the deceiving, and ultimately to the demonic, which actually opposes all that God has provided for the good of his own. And that is exactly what is happening here, as we see.

So that was my first concern. I don’t want to get tied up in the context, but I do need to make sure that I say something of it. The second concern I had was that I’d spend too much time saying something about it. And you may say to me, “Well, you’ve already violated that, as of now,” but no, no, I could go on much further than that. It wouldn’t be helpful, but I could. And one of the ways in which we could do that is to get ourself tied up in knots over the two words—one word, really, in Greek—“these things.” “These things.” “If you put these things before the brothers…”

Now, let’s be honest: it’s really possible for some of us to wax eloquent on “these things” and begin an entire series on something that we are pretty well clueless about. This phrase comes eight times in the course of this letter, and each time it comes we have to say, “What are ‘these things’ to which he refers?” Do the “these things” here in verse 6 refer to the two previous verses, so as to provide correction for the deviation represented in the first three verses? Do they refer to the previous five verses? Do they refer to all the previous verses and all the verses that are gonna come afterwards? Are the “these things” of verse 6 the same as the “these things” of verse 11 and the same things as the “these things” of verse 15? Well, I’ve proved my point, haven’t I? That’s the warning: that you spend a long time fiddling around with that. And at the end of the day, what can you say? That in a sense, the “these things” of Paul are all of Paul’s things, and then specifically, they relate to that which is in the immediate context.

So, danger one: failing to say something about the context. Danger two: getting tied up in saying far too much, and most of it being unhelpful. Danger number three that I noted was the danger that is represented in the second half of verse 10, which reads of God: he “is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” All right? Now, when you study this passage, you know that you’re going to have to deal with this. So you can either push it off to the end in the hope that you’ll never finish your talk or may actually be taken home to glory before the next Sunday comes around, or you can just man up and do something with it. Because what it actually takes us to in its puzzle is back again into chapter 2, where Paul has said to Timothy that this God and Savior—1 Timothy 2:4—“desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And now, here in verse 10, he is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

Now, I’m not going to tackle this now; I want you to know that both Dr. Mohler and Dr. Ferguson will be handling these questions later on in the day. And that was not a joke! Because it just sounds puzzling, doesn’t it? It is puzzling. It’s supposed to be puzzling. It sounds as if Paul is saying that in some vague, general sense, God saves everybody, but there is some special sense in which he saves believers. But it can’t possibly mean that, because God only saves those who believe.

So what do you do? Let me tell you what to do: quote Calvin and quote John Murray. Here we go. Calvin: “The apostle’s meaning here is simply that no nation of the earth and no rank of society is excluded from salvation, since God wills to offer the gospel to all without exception.”[6] John Murray: “We have found [in Scripture] that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree.” And then he says, “This is indeed mysterious.” Thank you. I can go with that. “And why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will.”[7]

It’s the personal nourishment that sustains the public ministry.

So those are the dangers that I identified and have now set to one side. We get to the heart of the matter: What’s involved in being a good minister of Jesus Christ? I presume that you would like to be a good minister of Jesus Christ—not an average one, not a rotten one, but a good one. A good servant, a good minister. I would like to be one. And so I’m keen to find out what Paul says is involved.

Setting the Table

Here’s what he says. First of all, a good minister or servant of Christ Jesus is actually putting these things before the brethren. He is setting, if you like, the table for them in relationship to these truths which Paul is outlining. In the Authorized Version, it reads: he is putting the brethren “in remembrance.” In other words, he is pointing out the danger, and he’s laying before the people what is true, so that they may be able to identify what is false and they may do so by having such an awareness of what is true. I believe that the five-pound note in Britain is no longer currency, and so I’m gonna have a hard time when I go home if I have any more of these notes left. It will be a hard job to use it. And the way that we’ll be able to determine what is real and what is not real is by an understanding of what is true. And it’s interesting and important, I think, to recognize that Paul encourages Timothy in this way not to take on, as it were, the false teachers, not to enter into a ministry of denunciation or of condemnation, but rather to make sure that those who are under his care will be learning from him as he learns from Paul.

Now, the first five verses are not ours to tackle. But having said that, we can’t deal with verse 6 without saying something of the first five verses. It’s surely of interest, I hope—and of importance—to note that the attack which comes from the Evil One himself is essentially an attack on the doctrine of creation. That’s what’s happening here. It is a wrong perspective, if you like—a distorted perspective—in two particular areas: in the area of marriage and in the area of food. Marriage and food. The goodness of God in creation was actually being denied, and the people were being tempted to listen to these persuasive lies, and so they needed to be reminded of what was actually true.

Now, I wonder, am I on track when I say: Isn’t it interesting that two thousand years on, the doctrine of creation is constantly under attack, undermined—people being deceived and confused and tempted to divert from course? “And so, Timothy, you need to be absolutely clear on this,” he says. “You need to be clear about what it means that everything that God has created is good, but the good world that God created is a fallen world as a result of sin, and therefore, Timothy, as a minister of the gospel,” and you, as a minister of the gospel, we’re gonna have to be clear about what we’re dealing with in terms of all of the pristine wonder of the created world of God and then the world as we know it today, spoiled by sin.

There are obvious contemporary expressions of these distorted views of creation, and not least of all in the realm of marriage. It’s not the same issue as addressed here, but it is here. And as I sat thinking about it, I said, “I wonder whether we have legitimacy in talking about this in terms of the homosexual question.” And I think we must. Marriage dismantled by deceitful lies. So I went to see if I was wrong, if anybody else thought the same thing. I was delighted to discover that John Stott twenty-one years ago wrote this paragraph:

A flagrant current misuse of the creation argument is the claim that the practices of heterosexual and homosexual people are equally good because equally created. … But no, what God created was ‘male and female’, with heterosexual marriage as the intended [outcome].[8]

Isn’t it interesting to see the degree to which, you know, vegetarianism and veganism and dietary issues have actually become religious things, become a credo, become a way of identifying oneself. We’re a long way from Ephesus, but we’re not so far away from the need to be the kind of servants who are prepared to “put these things before the brothers.” Notice, “before the brothers”—in order to help one another out.

Nourished by the Word

Secondly, the good minister is the one, Paul says, who is “being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine” that he’s been following. The word here is a word that simply means “nourished by.” So the servant of God is being nourished by the truth of God, and his ability to convey these truths is on account of the fact that he’s being trained by the same truths that he conveys. Somebody said to me just yesterday, “I made a discovery in my life quite a long time ago that I was going to have to listen to my own sermons, and therefore, it would be my own sermons that would have the greatest impact on my life.” It’s a staggering thing and an immense privilege, isn’t it, that we prepare the meal for the people of God, but the preparation—the preparation of heart and mind—is first of all for ourselves to eat? That we daren’t pass on to others that which we would not eat and benefit from ourselves. No, the good servant is nourished by these things.

In other words, it takes me, takes you, into the private life of the pastor. It takes us into the digestion process of the Word of God. It takes us into the place where actually nobody really sees what’s going on. Nobody knows how long you sat there staring at the wall. Nobody knows how long it took you to write the first sentence, and how after you wrote the first sentence, you tore it up and threw it away seven or eight times, and eventually walked round the building twice, and then came back and sat down again and said, “O Lord, teach me, teach me! Nourish my old, stony soul, so that I then in turn may be a nourishment to others.”

You see, it’s the personal nourishment that sustains the public ministry. The training to which he’s referring is quite obviously not the training of the classroom. That is not to say we do not benefit from that; of course we do. But it is, I think, the training of the closet. The good servant of Christ Jesus is being trained in the words of the faith, the truths of the gospel, the things that they have been communicated to us, and the doctrine of creation, and the doctrine of God, and the nature of humanity, and what it means that God has provided in Christ the only Savior. And it’s a training and a nourishing that never ends. It never ends. When you have your breakfast in the morning, but you’re not regarding that as your breakfast for the rest of your life. You shouldn’t, I hope; not unless you’re planning on dying just before lunchtime. No, the nourishment goes on. And hopefully that which we are enjoying is increasingly precious to us.

Now, the NIV translates this—and I think I quite like it—“brought up in the truths of the faith.”[9] Being “brought up in the truths of the faith.” It’s the Authorized Version that actually gives us “nourished up.” “Nourished up” in the truths of the faith. “Timothy, I want you to be a good servant of Jesus Christ. Make sure that you’re being nourished up.” Of course, Timothy had the wonderful benefit of his grandmother and of his mother—that before ever he understood the nature of what it meant to be in Christ, he had enjoyed those benefits, and some of us have too. I imagine that Timothy would have been very happy to join in with us in the singing of the hymn that begins,

When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,

and particularly the stanza which reads,

Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those comforts flowed.[10]

So that Timothy was the beneficiary of that which was given to him as a result of the tutelage he enjoyed, and then under the particular tutelage of the apostle Paul himself.

But with all of that by way of benefit, Timothy is to see to it that he is being spiritually nourished by being a lifelong student of the things of the faith. A lifelong student. Some of us had teachers who had apparently finished studying a long time ago, and had finished their first set of notes a long time ago, and the people who’d been prior students in the class were able to tell us, “Oh, old Joe, you know, he hasn’t changed those notes in fifteen years. They’re all falling apart. And we’re falling apart listening to the poor soul.” I hope none of you are planning to move on because you have a cluster of five years of sermons which you’re now going to foist on some unsuspecting congregation somewhere else. They weren’t that good the first time; why would they be any better when you repeated them? Let’s allow Spurgeon to speak: “Keep your old sermons, to weep over them.” Even when we go back to them and dismantle them and with God’s help reconstruct them, it is that we might be nourished by them. Nourished by them!

I think it’s a false dichotomy, the idea that there’s nothing devotional about our preparatory study of the Word.

And he says, “And while you’re eating this, make sure you’re not eating that,” verse 7. “Don’t get caught up with the junk food. Nothing to do with irreverent silly myths. I’ve already,” he says, “I told you about that as I began the letter, and I’m speaking very personally to you. This stuff,” he says—which the ESV translates, “irreverent.” I think the King James has, is “profane.” Profane. Both profane and pathetic. And when one is tempted to go chasing after that, then we’ll find that filling up on junk food diminishes your appetite for that which is good food.

Perhaps we just pause and say, it says something to us about the time that is available to us in reading and the books that we read. And tempted as we may be to delve into the latest fascinating feature which is coming through, many times we will be better served just to read the book review and leave it alone, and make sure that we’re not caught up with the junk food.

Now, the people then ask older pastors like me—young guys do—“Well, how do you do this nourishing? How do you do the nourishing? You’re supposed to be nourished up. How do you get nourished up?” It’s usually quite an invasive question. Makes you feel uncomfortable, as if somehow or another they were in your bedroom to see if you’re actually reading your Bible or not. Sort of an invasion of your space. But that’s okay; you become used to it. But usually somebody says, you know, “Tell me about your devotional life. I don’t want to hear about your preparatory work. I don’t want to hear about your preparing for your studies.” Okay. I can do that.

But what I think underlies that is not so much a mistaken notion as an idea that I think we need to push back on just a little. Because I’m brought up on… I’m the “quiet time” boy. You know, I was brought up on the quiet time. Michael Bond, the bishop, wrote the little hymn, little thing,

Before you start the day,
Take time alone to pray,
And rest upon God’s Word
To show the way.
So, start the day with him,
And walk the way with him.

That’s my life. That’s my background. That’s my pattern. Right?

So this morning I read Isaiah 6 and I read Hebrews 13. And so, do you want to know how nourished I was by that? I don’t really know. Because I was so focused on studying verses 11–16 for Wednesday that I couldn’t hardly get it finished fast enough to get to here. All right? No point in pretending to the Lord—or to you, for that matter, right? Okay? It was nourishing. I reminded myself of the wonder of Isaiah 6; I pondered what it meant for a prophet of God to describe himself as “a man of unclean lips,”[11] and then I said, “Well, I think I understand that.” I reminded myself of the importance of sexual purity at the beginning of chapter 13, and living with my wife and expressing gratitude to God for his gift to me of her over forty-two years. I did all of that, but I must tell you, I was still trying to get to 11–16. And actually, I think I got more out of my study in 11–16 than I got out of my devotional bit in the early part of the day.

I say all of that to say this: actually, I think it’s a false dichotomy—the idea that there’s nothing devotional about our study of the Word. Actually, what I think Paul is saying to Timothy here is, “If you’re gonna teach this Bible, you better get nourished up by it. So therefore, the way you come to it is on your knees. The way you come to it is with an expectation that you’re not simply going to be discovering things that you can just pass from your head to other people’s heads, but rather that your heart, your life, your soul, your entire being, is being enriched by this experience.” So that whether it is in the devotional dimension or in the preparation for the instructional dimension, there we have it.

And then I had this thought: Is it fair to say—I’m not asking, “Is it politically correct to say”; I don’t think it is—but is it fair to say that a number of chefs give the appearance of having eaten a fair amount of what they have prepared for others? Fair? They just seem to have been dipping in on the way. When you see them, they’re always wiping their hands. Why is that? ’Cause they’ve had their fingers in their mouths! They’ve been eating the stuff! I like to know they’re eating it. Don’t eat it all; I need some of it! But eat it as you go.

It’s a very biblical picture. Isaiah 55: “Hearken diligently unto me, and”—it’s King James—“and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”[12] A fat soul. The trouble with many of us is we’ve got a fat head and a wee soul. We need to reverse that. We need help, don’t we?

Training in Godliness

A good minister, setting it before the people. A good minister, being nourished by it himself. Thirdly—it’s a good point of transition, incidentally, to move from diet to exercise—“Train yourself.” “Train yourself.” “Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit.”[13] Train yourself in godliness. In godliness.

Calvin referred to godliness as the beginning and the middle and the end of the Christian life.[14] M’Cheyne said that his people’s greatest need was his own personal holiness.[15] We fall foul of the notion that the great concern is for giftedness rather than for godliness. And throughout the Pastorals, Paul mentions this again and again. He is not simply providing imperatives to Timothy or to Titus, but he’s grounding them in the wonder of the grace of God. And classically, Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”—there’s that little thing again—“training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for [the] blessed hope” and the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus. But it is the grace of God which saves us, and it is the grace of God which trains us.

Some years ago now, those of you who were present may recall that John Shearer, another worthy Scot, gave a wonderful talk from 1 Timothy 6, in particular verse 11: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness,” and so on, and “fight the good fight of … faith.” And I think, if I remember correctly, his three points were “flee” and “follow” and “fight.” In other words, he issued what Paul is issuing here to Timothy, and that is, if you like, a call to spiritual athleticism. To spiritual athleticism. “Train yourself. You have a responsibility in this,” he says, “for godliness. Don’t always be looking here, there, and everywhere. Take yourself in hand.”

There’s nothing passive about this, incidentally, is there? No. In fact, it’s all very active, all the way through to the end. Paul is happy to make frequent reference to athleticism, whether wrestling or running or whatever it might be. When I was a teenager, I learned these verses, verses 7 and 8, in J. B. Phillips’s paraphrase. You say, “Well, if you learned them you should know them off by heart.” Well, I can try: “Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit.” For bodily exercise is useful, or “has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this … life and for the life to come.”[16]

Bodily exercise has a certain value. We recognize that. There’s a piece in the Times today, in Great Britain, about inexpensive gymnasiums that are popping up all over the place, and the numbers have increased exponentially. It’s a somewhat cynical piece, because the man says that we are now the fourth fattest group in the entire European continent, and if things keep going the way they are, we will be nudging into pole position very shortly. And he says, “You know, there are seven times more gyms, and everybody is seven times fatter.” He says, “Well, how do you make sense of this?” Well, it’s because you have a card that says, “I’m a member of a gym.” You know, that doesn’t do anything for you at all. I remember when I was twelve, I got my first tracksuit. It was royal blue. It was an Adidas tracksuit. I thought it was fantastic. I put it on, and I immediately expected that I could run like the wind. I suddenly realized the tracksuit does nothing for you at all. It might make you look good for a wee while. No, here he’s giving as a very clear word of instruction.

Now, is this the faithful saying? Is this the faithful saying to which he goes on to refer: “the saying is trustworthy and deserv[es] … full acceptance”? Is that the bodily training: godliness, the promise for the future, and so on? I don’t know. Donald Guthrie, who taught me New Testament, says it’s verse 10. Why would I ever disagree with him? I like the idea of it being verses 7 and 8. And actually, the way Phillips paraphrases 9, then, ties it in that way, because what he does is, he says, “You know, it has promise both for this life and for the life to come.” And then he says, “There is no doubt about it, and Christians should remember it.”[17] In other words, running 9 right on the heels of 7 and 8. It doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s all faithful.

Toiling and Striving

And finally, number four, the good minister works hard, with his focus on salvation. Actually, this passage is an “LDS” passage: life, doctrine, and salvation. Life. Watch your life, watch your doctrine, and let’s think about salvation. And that’s exactly where he goes here in verse 10. Now, we’ve alluded to it, and we just come back to it. (Incidentally, if you manage to do something like that when you’re preaching, you take the pressure off yourself at the end. You can just say, “Well, I mentioned this at the beginning.” Most of the people will have forgotten that what you said at the beginning wasn’t really that helpful, but that’s okay.)

“To this end we toil and strive.” “We toil and strive.” Do we? Do we? Does your wife think you’ve been toiling and striving? Your congregation aware that you toil and strive, given that much of this takes place in secret? The way they’ll be able to tell is when you get up on your feet. They’ll be able to tell—our congregations can tell—whether we ourselves are being nourished by that which we offer to them as food to eat. They can’t see in my bedroom, but it’s very vulnerable standing up here, isn’t it? There’s no place to hide. No, the good servant of the Lord Jesus is toiling and striving, striving and toiling with the enabling grace of God. We understand that, but nevertheless, that is something that we’re to do.

The good minister is to be hard at work that he might pass all the way through to the finish line and that others, by grace, might join him there.

In the Second World War there were all kinds of songs that were sung in Great Britain. I know because they were still singing them by the time I was born. People like Vera Lynn and funny little Scottish guys. And they would be singing songs like, “Keep right on to the end of the road, keep right on to the end,”[18] you know. It’s an important word, isn’t it? I found it very, very hard to study these verses without having a particular face in view throughout the last week or ten days—just another sorry picture of someone whom I admired greatly who somehow or another has not managed to keep right on to the end. The warnings of Hebrews are vital warnings: “See to it that you do not have a sinful and an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”[19] “Make sure that we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but those who continue and are saved.”[20]

And what I took from this was simply that the good servant of the Lord Jesus works hardest at the ministry he’s been given. And he does so because he’s set his hope on the living God, the God who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He’s the Savior of all who believe.

Actually, I wonder whether Paul expresses it in this way particularly with these false teachers in mind. The false teachers always have a way of saying, “You know, we are the only ones, and this is the only correct way to understand this, and this is it.” And Paul is expressing, if you like, the universal appeal of the gospel.

Well, let me finish in this way. Samuel Rutherford is a favorite for many of us. He served in the Scottish Church for a while; he served on the Solway Firth in a little place called Anwoth. A friend of his was another Church of Scotland minister called Cousins; he had a wife called [Anne]. [Anne] took Rutherford’s diaries and writings and wrote a really, really long hymn that I don’t think ever has been sung in its entirety—it was really a very long poem. But it is a hymn that found its way into the book with the beginning line “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks,” and so on. It’s quite a sentimental song. And she picks up on this in terms of Rutherford’s own ministry.

And I end in this way, with just the thought in mind of all of this pointing us in the direction of seeing men and women coming to understand the gospel and believe the gospel and be saved by the gospel. And this is the line that she wrote. She wrote, “O Anwoth,” which is the town, “on the Solway,” which is the river,

To me thou still art dear.
E’en from the edge of heaven,
I shed for thee a tear.
And if one soul from Anwoth
Meets me at God’s right hand,
Then my heaven will be two heavens,
In Immanuel’s land.[21]

The good minister is to be hard at work that he might pass all the way through to the finish line and that others, by grace, might join him there. “If you put these things before the brethren, then you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.”


[1] Isaiah 40:21–22 (ESV).

[2] Walter C. Smith, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” (1867).

[3] Frank Houghton, “Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor” (1934). Lyrics lightly altered.

[4] See Isaiah 26:3.

[5] 1 Timothy 1:3–4 (paraphrased).

[6] John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. T. A. Smail, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 208–9.

[7] Arthur W. Kuschke Jr., John Murray, and Ned B. Stonehouse, The Free Offer of the Gospel, report submitted to the 15th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1948, https://opc.org/GA/free_offer.html.

[8] John R. W. Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus: Guard the Truth, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 114.

[9] 1 Timothy 4:6 (NIV 1984).

[10] Joseph Addison, “When All Thy Mercies, O My God” (1712).

[11] Isaiah 6:5 (ESV).

[12] Isaiah 55:2 (KJV).

[13] 1 Timothy 4:7 (Phillips).

[14] Calvin, Second Epistle, 244. Paraphrased.

[15] Robert Murray McCheyne, The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, vol. 2, Sermons (New York, 1847), 68.

[16] 1 Timothy 4:7–8 (Phillips).

[17] 1 Timothy 4:9 (paraphrased from Phillips).

[18] Sir Harry Lauder, “Keep Right On to the End of the Road.”

[19] Hebrews 3:12 (paraphrased).

[20] Hebrews 10:39 (paraphrased).

[21] Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.