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

From Series: Basics 2017

1 Timothy 4:11-16  (ID: 3232)

Since the early church, pastors—especially young pastors—face many challenges. In this message, Alistair Begg explores Paul’s instruction to Timothy on the “standing orders” that are to direct the life and work of a gospel minister. In growing as an example of godliness, it is important to pay close attention to one’s speech, conduct, and the actual work being done in reading, preaching, and teaching the Scriptures. Patient, consistent practice of these things, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, will result in progress that’s attributed to the power and glory of God.


Sermon Transcript:

First Timothy 4:11. I almost scared myself there. I looked down at 6:11; I said, “That’s not what I was on about, that’s…” You can tell I’m really on things this morning, can’t you? Yeah. I need my wife.

“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 [the] 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.”

Calvin routinely prayed before he opened the Scriptures and then at the end, and I have what I believe is the prayer that he routinely used. I’d like to invite you to bow with me as I read Calvin’s prayer for us as we come to the Word:

We call upon you, our good God and Father, beseeching you, since all the fullness of wisdom and light is found in you, in your mercy to enlighten us by the Holy Spirit in the true understanding of the Word. Teach us by your Word to place our trust in you and to serve and honor you as we ought, so that we may glorify your holy name in all our living and edify our neighbors by our good example. May we render to you, O God, the love and obedience which children owe to their parents, since it has pleased you graciously to receive us in Christ as your children. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, if someone had asked Timothy if he could summarize Paul’s exhortation to him in this particular chapter, chapter 4, I don’t think there’s much doubt but that he would have used the opening part, the first sentence as we have it in English, of verse 16—namely, “Paul has been encouraging me to keep a close watch on myself and on my teaching.” Or as J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “Keep a critical eye both upon your own life and on the teaching you give.” Or as many of us grew up learning it in our youth in the Authorized Version, which I don’t have here, or in the NIV, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

So in a sense we have come almost full cycle from where we began. This—again—this paragraph is another “LDS” paragraph: he’s tackling the issue of his life and his doctrine, and all with a view to salvation. And what he’s done is he has given to Timothy what is a vital reminder, not only for Timothy but for all the Timothys that follow behind him.

It’s important, I think, and helpful for us to acknowledge the fact that while this is a personal letter—it is directed to Timothy—but it was not a letter that would have been exclusive to him, in the sense that it would have been read publicly, so that the congregation would have been aware of, and purposefully so, of the exhortations and encouragements that the apostle had given to his young lieutenant. And in that, of course, there is a great challenge. It would be one thing for Timothy to take this letter, written directly to him, take it away into his bedroom, as it were, and read it all by himself. The challenges would be real, but for him to sit there, perhaps, as someone read the letter in his hearing and in the hearing of the congregation would have a salutatory effect, in the sense that it would make the congregation aware of the challenges that Timothy was facing and also of the responsibilities entrusted to him. And not least of all, they might have sat up in their seats when they came to verse 11: “And Timothy, command and teach these things.” “Command and teach these things.”

Here we are at “these things” again. Eight times it comes in the letter. What are “these things”? Well, they are “the sound words of [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” It is “the teaching that accords with godliness,”[1] as we’ve seen. If you like, we could think of it—since we have at least one military man with us, as we know—we might think of it in terms of standing orders: “You have a responsibility to convey these standing orders.” Now, the standing orders are used in medicine; they’re used in politics and parliament in Britain, I know; but they’re also military in their emphasis. So a standing order is a military order demanding that it be retained irrespective of changing conditions. So here he says to Timothy, “This is what you’re going to have to convey. The situation may be different for you, the context may change, but you are going to have to do this.”

Now, when you think about how he began his letter in chapter 1, he had urged him, in light of the fact that certain persons were going to teach different doctrine—they were going to “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies”[2] and so on—and what he’s saying to Timothy is, “Timothy, you’re gonna have to be prepared to say to folks, ‘You must not believe this. You must not believe this.’ You’re gonna have to be prepared to say, ‘This is false teaching, and if you’re gonna come up with this stuff, there is no way that you’re gonna teach a home Bible study group here in Ephesus.’”

“Why not? Who do you think you are, Timothy?”

“I’m the servant of God; I’m entrusted with the standing orders of God, which rules out falsity and demands that I encourage you to lay hold of these great and precious promises.”

Now, there’s an amazing sort of juxtaposition between verse 11 and verse 12, isn’t there? “Command and teach these things,” and then immediately, “Let no one despise … your youth.” So it’s a tall order for a young man—especially when, in his congregation, as in our congregations, there will always be those who are older than us, perhaps more experienced than us, and so on. And yet the responsibility that is entrusted to the pastor and the teacher is to do just this.

I can remember being young. I can remember the start of it all. I can remember when I was sent on my early visits to the hospital by Derek Prime back in the autumn of 1975. And as I was reflecting on this—“Let no one despise your youth”—I recalled a particular incident where I was dispatched to visit a lady, the wife of a doctor, who had just had a baby, and then she had subsequently had gallbladder surgery—her gallbladder removed—and I was supposed to go along. So I went along. And I went into the big ward—there were beds on either side—and when I got to the bed, she was asleep. So I didn’t really know what to do. So I just perched on the bed. I didn’t sit on it entirely, but I rested on it. And as I was sitting there, she woke up, and with a start, she saw me. And she said, “Who are you?” And I said, “I’m the assistant to the pastor at Charlotte Chapel.” She said, “Really? They’re sending boys?” My first funeral, which I conducted wearing a clerical collar as by the directive of my boss, I almost destroyed the funeral; where there should have been tears, there was significant laughter. People said, “Is this a joke? Is this a Halloween party? What is this?”

In fact, the elders were concerned about my youthfulness when they offered me the opportunity to become the assistant. The report that came from the elders’ meeting after I’d gone there went something along these lines: “The elders had a long discussion about your visit to us last weekend, and we concluded that on account of your youth, that you would not be much help to Mr. Prime, and that because of your youth, you would gravitate only to the youth and therefore would not be able to serve the congregation.” I’m reading the letter. Then it said, “However…” So I’m saying to myself, “So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance!” “However, Mr. Prime said that with guidance on his part and a good attitude on your part, that this could be a happy and successful relationship.” And so, on the strength of his willingness to take the risk and on the basis of my willingness to love him, serve him, never second-guess him, never, ever speak wrongly about him in front of any member of the congregation, God in his providence, to this very moment, has marked my life by the influence of that man. And many of you could stand and testify to the same.

You see, the difficulty with the youth is… well, there are many, aren’t there? One is that the young person thinks that they will be able by one gigantic step to reach the place where older men have arrived as a result of many, many, many steps. And so the temptation for a Timothy is to—aware of his sense of youthfulness, of natural inadequacy, of “look at what everybody else knows”—the temptation is then to sort of become a kind of bossy little character, or to assume a false authoritarian perspective, or perhaps to shout or do something, or even to begin to use terminology in the pulpit that we have never earned the right to employ.

This young man is not here, therefore, and I’m not going to tell you his name, but I remember, not long after he was part of our internship program or whatever it was, I noticed that he began to use one of my words that I use with the congregation. I heard him saying in the course of sentences, “Beloved.” Well, that was very nice. But they hadn’t become his beloved. He just heard me saying that, and he thought, “That’s a nice thing to say.” And it is a nice thing to say. But you know whether you’re beloved or not, and your congregation know whether they’re loved or not. And the use of the language without the reality of the relationship just comes across as insincere.

Timothy’s Character

So, what is he to do? What is the answer? How do you handle this? “Let no one despise your youth.” “Don’t let people look down on you,” he says. Well, how will we handle this? “Well, see that they look up to you, because you’re an example to them.” And then he gives to us these areas that are, if you like, a kind of exposition of training yourself for godliness in the earlier paragraph. Five areas, if you like. I’m not going to belabor them; I will say more about three than I will about all five. But essentially, this is his outworking of “train yourself for godliness.”[3] “I want you to make sure that you are clear on this, Timothy: Don’t let the people look down on you. Make sure they look up to you. The way they will look up to you is if you set them an example in these areas.”

Number one, speech. Speech. Words. It’s all been about words: the Word of God, the way that God uses our words in the proclamation of his Word—the great mystery of it all. And right at the very outset, speech: that it would be true, kind, purposefully helpful.

Words are our tools. That’s why it’s important to read widely. That’s why it’s important to have a decent vocabulary. Because we need words. We don’t just need words-words; we need the best words. We need the right words at the right time. And we know from school—and some of us were talking about it just before; we were reminiscing about some of our schoolteachers and how we used to say in the playground, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” But we know that’s not true; we’ve long recovered from any stick or stone that reached us at any point on the perimeter of our person. But I was telling them I had a teacher who told me one day in front of the class that I had a turnip for a head. And then he had me stand up in front of the class, and he said, “Begg, tell the class what you have for a head.” And so I had to say, “Well, I have a turnip for a head.” I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that, because of the way emails circulate and so on, and I would hate to have to live it down all over again at this late stage in my life.

With our tongues, as James has said, we have the capacity to enrich and explain and impart that which is strengthening and encouraging, but conversely, our tongues are also, he says, the tongue itself is like “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” He says we’re able to bless God, and we’re able to curse others. He says, “[Brethren], these things ought not to be.”[4] Don’t you find it so challenging that in the area of what might arguably be said to be our greatest gifting, we are confronted hourly by the great potential for failure?

The Father’s desire and the Spirit’s work is that those who love Jesus would be conformed to the image of Jesus.

I was driving my grandchildren to school this morning, and I realized there was a lady driving in front of me with her flashers on. Everything was flashing. Why it was flashing, I don’t know. And the more it flashed, the more frustrated I became. And I just stopped myself from launching into, you know, a verbal dissertation concerning the nature of her driving. Why did I stop myself, when it was so attractive to me? Well, ’cause I knew I’d have to give this talk, and then I’d feel bad! But also because I remembered another occasion, when it was my children and not my grandchildren, when I was in the exact same position, when I was a youth. And I was in the same thing, and I was saying, “Oh, come on, drive the car, get in your own lane, what kind of deal is this, what… come on!” and stuff like that. And when I’d finished, there was silence. And then a little voice from the back seat said, “And that’s another kind word from your pastor.”

Do you know the old poem?

 If all that we say
 In a single day,
With never a word left out,
 Were printed each night,
 In plain black and white,
It would make strange reading, no doubt.

 And then just suppose
 Ere our eyes should close
That we must read the whole record through;
 And wouldn’t we sigh,
 Wouldn’t we try
A great deal less talking to do?

 And I more than half think
 That many a kink
Would be smoother in life’s tangled thread
 If half what I say
 In a single day
Were to be left forever unsaid.[5]

Speech not only in the public arena. Speech in the privacy of our cars. Under-the-breath speech. Speech with our wives. Speech, an example.

Then, in conduct. (You can tell that I have to move more quickly.) In conduct or behavior. Now, the false teachers were clearly concerned about conduct and behavior. That’s why they had all these regulations that had to do with their diet, and particularly concerning the negation of marriage. So Paul is not suggesting to Timothy here that he kind of adopts that kind of external approach, but rather that, as a result of the Spirit of God at work within his heart, that he would then have his behavior increasingly like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father’s desire and the Spirit’s work is that those who love Jesus would be conformed to the image of Jesus. As a boy in Scotland, we used to sing a song; it went, I think, “Earthly pleasures vainly call me; I would be like Jesus.” We used to affirm this, although we didn’t know what we were saying. “Nothing worldly shall enthrall me; I would be like Jesus.” And then,

Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.[6]

I would like to be like Jesus. The problem is, I am so unlike Jesus.

“Command and teach these things. Don’t get up on your high horse, Timothy. Have them look up to you, and to look up to you because they hear your words and they are able to observe your behavior.” Love, affection, commitment. I think of all the things that were said yesterday in the nondidactic, monologual presentation. The thing that Sinclair said yesterday in answer to one question, when he said, “Our wives, every day, at least six days a week, prepare the meals. Whether they are excited about it or not excited about it, they do it.” And with that ringing in my mind when I went home last night, pretty late on, and Sue, who was pretty tired—we’ve got three of our grandchildren staying with us, and my daughter, at the moment; she was pretty tired—she said, “Can I get you anything?” And I said, “Yes, I’d like two boiled eggs and a slice of toast.” And because she loves me, she did it. She did it with a nice attitude. But she wasn’t going, “Oh, two nice eggs and a slice of toast! Here we go, here we go! Just for you my darling, whoa-ho!” No! No. But she did it, ’cause she loves me, right? And she expressed her love to me in that language.

I’ve told my congregation here, “You will know I’ve quit loving you when you come to the table and there is nothing that I give you that is worth eating, that I have not done what you’ve asked me to do—what you have set me apart to do.” So that the language that has been primarily given to me is a language that is formed in secret, that demands often isolation, in order that when we come to the table on the Lord’s Day that we express our love in that way. And our faith too—our progress in the faith, our faithfulness, and so on. We could turn it into an entire series; we daren’t.

“Set the believers an example”: speech, conduct, love, faith, purity. I just ride on the back of our exhortation from the earlier session. He comes back to purity again in 5:2, you will notice: “[Treat the] older women as mothers, [the] younger women as sisters, in all purity.” And down in 22: “Keep yourself pure.”

How many false and failing ministers have misused secluded pastoral situations to embark on sexual adventures, to the shipwreck of their ministries and to the shame of biblical Christianity? Sadly, many. And what is the antidote? Well, the Bible. The work of the Holy Spirit. The clarity of the book of Proverbs: “Delight yourself in the wife of your youth. May her breasts satisfy you always.”[7] That’s pretty categorical. I don’t want to be… And I won’t be. I nearly went two more sentences; I’ll leave it alone.

Let me simply quote Charles Bridges to you, because this is wonderful, from the nineteenth century. This is something that we need to capture in the twenty-first century, and that is the way to use language to say something that needs to be said that is understandable but is not graphic. All right? ’Cause we all wince under that, don’t we, when we receive it? And I just actually caught myself there. This is Charles Bridges. Here you go: “Tender, well-regulated, domestic affection is the best defence against the vagrant desires of unlawful passion.”[8] “Tender, well-regulated, domestic affection.” I don’t want to be funny on it, but when you go home—you’ve been away for a few days—you tell your wife that you have been looking forward to some “tender, well-regulated, domestic affection.” And the anticipation of it was part of the means of grace that enabled you, when confronted by that attraction and the danger of that preoccupation, from actually becoming another one of the statistics in the sad story of pastoral, ministerial declension in this realm. “Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.”[9]

Timothy’s Work

So, having reminded him of character, he then comes to this matter of his work. And he says, “Until I come, while you’re in the position you’re in, it’s important, Timothy, that you do this: that you devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

Now, when we come to this, we come to what really lies at the very heart of the convictions that gave rise all these years ago to our Basics Conference. Something as straightforward as this could have been the sort of undergirding verse, although it wasn’t. But it’s interesting to me how, without particular design on our part by saying to Al Mohler or to Sinclair, “This is what we want you to do,” it could all have been brought underneath this particular expression here: “I want you to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” “The public reading of Scripture.” That was—where were we? We were in Nehemiah 8. Is that where we started, I think, with Al? When I heard him do that, I said, “Oh, this is terrific. That’s going to help. Because it will reinforce.”

And what Paul is asking Timothy to do here is, essentially, to continue the pattern which was the pattern of the synagogue. You remember, for example, when in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus is invited to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And he reads from it, and then he sits down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue are fastened on him, waiting to hear what he’s going to say when he moves from the public reading to the exhortation and the teaching which comes from it.[10] And you can find that this pattern—the reading of the Law and the Prophets and then the apostolic writings—is in the New Testament. You’ll find it, for example, in 1 Thessalonians 5, Colossians chapter 4.[11] And Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, in the middle of the second century, identifies the fact that this was happening. He said,

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together [in] one place, and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader [is] finished, the president speaks, instructing and exhorting the people.[12]

So, what place do we give to the public reading of Scripture? A question as to whether it is read, and then if it is read, how it is read. Actually, I’ve only read here just a few verses in your hearing, and I made one mistake. It annoys me greatly when I make a mistake in the public reading of Scripture. Apparently, it doesn’t annoy many of my colleagues so much, ’cause they do it with routine ability and create every so often the notion in the mind of the reader that tense or gender is a kind of arbitrary thing, when in actual fact it isn’t. I say I’m annoyed at myself; therefore, you can understand why I would be concerned for others.

Do you practice the reading of the Bible? I find that the move that I’ve made now, after twenty-five or twenty-eight years, from the NIV to the ESV has been the one thing that has made it more and more difficult for me just to publicly read the Bible, ’cause so much of it is in my head. First there’s the King James, then is the NIV, and only laterally is this—and I find myself reading ahead and not actually reading the text. I don’t want to belabor it, but again, come back to Derek Prime: he never missed a beat in reading the Scriptures. Christopher Ash, who was with us a couple of years ago, in that very excellent use of English, he read “slowly and clearly”—slowed it down, so that we would understand how important it is.

Now, not simply the public reading, but also, then, the exhortation, so that the Scripture that is read is to be preached. Sinclair again has helped us with this. [Murray Capill] on one occasion wrote as follows:

[In preaching,] the primary aim is not to achieve increased biblical understanding along with a few practical ideas for applying it to life. Rather, the [supreme] aim is that [after] the … text is proclaimed, [we] will encounter God himself in a life-[engaging] way,[13]

that the Word will make a difference, that the Word will produce change.

It’s no surprise, then, that those who have been most useful and are most useful in this have been equally convinced of the power and authority of Scripture. I have a friend here at Parkside who gives me old books, and one of the little books that he gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago was a book—it’s not often seen—by Horatius Bonar, and it’s called God’s Way of Peace. It’s “A Book for the Anxious,” he says. And at one point in the book he says this: “The Bible is a living book, not a dead one; a divine one, not a human one; a perfect one, not an imperfect one. Search it, study it, dig into it.”[14] Then in a little footnote he quotes Luther, who writes:

We must make a great difference between God’s word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound which flieth into the air and soon vanisheth; but the word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, it is greater than death and hell, for it is the power of God, and remaineth everlastingly. Therefore we ought diligently to learn God’s word, and we must know certainly and believe that God himself speaketh with us.[15]

And I think that has come across throughout this entire conference as a word to each of us. The privilege of exhortation combines with the responsibility of teaching: read it, and exhort or preach, and teach.

Before you say to people that ‘Christ will come and live in you by the Holy Spirit,’ we have to tell them that ‘Christ came and died for you.’

You have the distinction between preaching and teaching in the Acts of the Apostles. At least in a couple of places, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas taught and preached the Word of the Lord.[16] So there is a distinction between the two things, the twofold approach that is the responsibility that falls to us, that fell to Timothy. In teaching, we are seeking to give people an understanding of God’s truth. As we teach the Bible, we’re asking God to enable us to give them the first principles, if you like, of the doctrine itself. In our preaching, we are then making an appeal to people’s wills as well as to their emotions, urging them to respond to the Word that they have now understood through our teaching. But it is irresponsible for us to call upon our listeners to act without having first provided a proper understanding for them for the basis of the very action to which we call them.

If it was a different context in another time, we could do a side consideration here on what this means in terms of evangelistic preaching. And I recall, somewhere in the last three days, somebody reminding me of someone who had gone to church, listening to a previous speaker here from our conference in years gone by—also from Scotland, as it turns out—a wonderful, wonderful expositor of Scripture, and with a passion to see people come to know Christ. And someone had gone to church, and they said, “Well, he was a very nice man, and it was a good sermon, but he didn’t do the gospel. He didn’t do the gospel.” And what they meant by that was that he didn’t have that little PS at the end, where you can be languishing in 2 Kings, you know, trying to work your way through, and then all of a sudden, at the end you say, “And by the way, there’s some of you here that don’t know the benefits of the gospel, and there’s others of you who don’t realize the dangers in neglecting the gospel, so let me urge you to get that sorted out.” The person’s sitting there going, “What are you talking about? First of all, we didn’t understand 2 Kings, and now we don’t understand this.” Because we can exhort people to receive the gospel, warn them about rejecting the gospel, and never actually tell them the gospel! So before you say to people that “Christ will come and live in you by the Holy Spirit,” we have to tell them that “Christ came and died for you,” in the historical context and so on. Some of us are better at the exhorting, some of us are better at the teaching, but together we can make progress.

But let us say this as we move on: the primacy of preaching and of Bible teaching is actually to be the defining mark of the gathering of God’s people. That was again Al, wasn’t it? Deuteronomy 4: “Assemble the people before me to hear my words.”[17] Why are you coming here? We are coming here together to hear God’s words. Therefore, if we are here to hear God’s words and we’re entrusted with the responsibility, then let’s make sure that we are absolutely devoted to the public reading, to the exhortation, and to the teaching of the Bible, so that the Word of God may become the driving force that shapes the life of our congregations.

Timothy is then encouraged once again by being reminded of the fact that he has a gift that has been given him that was accompanied by a prophecy that had been made when the council of elders laid their hands on him. Now, we don’t have the details of this; we might think of it in realistic terms as a kind of ordination: that he had been called, that he was equipped, and that he was set apart to this task.

Now, remember that this is being read publicly. So the congregation understands a number of things. Number one, Timothy was not a volunteer; he was a conscript. He was not sitting around during the week trying to think up things to say, but he was a servant of the Word of God. The equipment that he had received had been given to him by the Holy Spirit for the express purpose not of drawing attention to himself but of edifying the saints, so that they in turn may be enabled to do the works of ministry.[18] He was not operating on the basis of natural talent; he was God’s man in God’s place enabled by God’s power in order to serve God’s people. And since the sovereignty of God’s purposes and his provision had been granted to him in such manner, it was Timothy’s responsibility, then, to make sure that he did not neglect the gift that he had been given. That he didn’t neglect it.

I don’t really know American sports; I love all sport. So I can’t use illustrations from there, even after all this time. But I could give you illustrations of people in the football world—somebody like Ferenc Puskás from Hungary, who was a little portly, but he never neglected his gift and was phenomenally successful. I could tell you of George Best, the best soccer player that I ever saw in person, who died as a young man, not because he was immensely talented but because he simply neglected the gift that he’d been given. That’s why when Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, you remember, he says to him, “Kindle this gift that you received at the laying on of their hands.[19] Make sure that you make progress in these things. Don’t simply drift along with the tide, Timothy. Don’t just go with the flow. Set your sails with this destination in view. Don’t shipwreck like some that I’ve had to mention to you back in chapter 1.[20] Fan this into a flame. Don’t neglect the gift you have.” It’s a very straightforward word, isn’t it?

Your mind is to be immersed in these gospel truths, just in the way that the body is immersed in the air that it breathes.

How would we neglect it? Well, I guess by indolence. Perhaps by saying to ourselves, “This gift doesn’t seem to be as good as someone else’s gift.” There’s all kinds of ways. But God has made you as you. He’s the one that gave you your DNA. He’s the one who has providentially ordered your steps and brought you to where you are. I was smiling to myself as Sinclair said, you know, “You could find yourself in difficulty as you go away from here. You might think of Parkside, and we might want to come to Parkside…” Works the other way too! I drive out here through Amish country, I see these tiny little places that can hold about 110 people, and I’m saying to myself, “Now, that’s the kind of place I’m lookin’ for!” And I don’t want to say it in front of my congregation, because they may send me there. But it’s not our context that’s the issue. No. Don’t neglect the gift.

Well, our time is gone. I just leave you with the imperatives. They’re there; you can do the homework on your own. “What do you want me to do?” Timothy might have said. Well, “practice these things.” “Practice these things.” Put them into practice so that they become second nature to you. “Immerse yourself in them.” Your mind is to be immersed in these gospel truths, just in the way that the body is immersed in the air that it breathes. And why? Well, “so that all may see your progress.” It’s a challenge, but it’s also terrific. “So that all may see your progress.” It doesn’t say, “So that all may see your perfection.” No, perfection is the Lord Jesus. Our progress is towards the Lord Jesus.

You remember in Philippians, where Paul is writing so amazingly—perhaps he’s dictating it—and he goes on this amazing burst of things: “I used to be this and I used to be that, but I’ve counted it all for loss,” and “that I might be found in him, that I might know him and the power of his resurrection, that I might share his sufferings, that I may become like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”[21]

Now, I imagine that if his secretary is there, as he pauses at the end of that sentence, the secretary says to him, “This is good stuff, Paul”—I mean, this is under the direction of the Holy Spirit, you understand—but, “This is good stuff, Paul. But you might want to just… you know, you might just want to add another kind of sentence.”

“Well, what do you think?”

“Well, how about something like, ‘Not that I have already obtained [all] this or am already perfect…’ I think that would be a big encouragement to the people.”

He said, “That’s a terrific idea. Let’s put that in. ‘Not that I have obtained [all] this or am already perfect but I press on to make it my own, because [Jesus Christ] … made me his own.’”[22]

I am not the finished article—neither as husband, father, grandfather, pastor, friend, whatever it is. I am flawed. You are flawed. But our congregations hopefully can see a wee bit of progress.

I don’t want to use myself as an illustration, but I’m the only illustration that I have. I said something in one of the sermons last week—or the week before, I don’t know what it was—but I said, “If somebody says this to you, just say to them, ‘Sit down and shut up!’” Now, when I was thirty-five, I wouldn’t have thought a moment about it. But as I stood back in the closing song, the Holy Spirit in my mind says, “Hey, Al, you don’t want to be telling your congregation to say stuff like that.” I replied, “Hey, wait a minute. I said it.” He replied, “I told you what I told you.” I replied, “Well, what do you want me to do? Just go up and apologize for it?” “That’s exactly what I want you to do.” Then I did. And I think at least one elderly lady must’ve nudged her friend and said, “A wee bit of progress out of that!”

Any progress that the Ephesian congregation saw in Timothy, they would have ascribed to the grace of God. And any ability that he made to struggle through to victory, they would have ascribed to the grace of God.

And so together they receive the Word of God—they as the congregation who love their pastor and want him to become all that God intends for him to be, and he himself: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Don’t get into the trap of parading any apparent successes, because pride always comes before a fall,[23] nor fall into that strange notion of sort of seeking to impress people on account of our failures. No, watch your life, watch your doctrine.

“Persist.” Just keep going. “For by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” How does that work? Well, the only way we’re saved is through the gospel.

Salvation Army girl is on the train in London years ago, and she gets into the compartment, and into the compartment comes an Anglican bishop. And he has a miter, and he has one of the special hats, and he’s all clobbered up and ready for business. Salvation Army girl makes a deduction on the strength of this and sees it as an evangelistic opportunity. And she says, “’Scuse me, bishop, is you saved?” And apparently, this was Bishop Lightfoot, the Greek scholar. He said to her, “Young lady, do you mean have I been saved, am I being saved, or will I be saved?” Now, we don’t have the record of her response, understandably, but the three tenses of salvation are all there, aren’t they? They taught me at Sunday school: I have been saved from sin’s penalty, one day I will be saved from sin’s presence, but as of now I am being saved from sin’s power. And what are the means that he’s using? His Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to do what he calls us to do.

Well, let me pause and use Calvin’s prayer after he has preached, if I can find it here in my book. We bow in prayer, then we’ll stand and sing a song, and then the benediction:

Now, let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God, asking him to forgive our sins, and renew us in the image of Christ, and fulfill all his purposes in us and through us. In the name of Christ alone. Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 6:3 (ESV).

[2] 1 Timothy 1:4 (ESV).

[3] 1 Timothy 4:7 (ESV).

[4] James 3:8, 10 (ESV).

[5] Grace W. Castle, “Suppose,” Christian Century 29, no. 3 (January 18, 1912): 16. Paraphrased.

[6] James Rowe, “I Would Be Like Jesus” (1911).

[7] Proverbs 5:18–19 (paraphrased).

[8] C. Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs, 3rd ed. (London: Seeleys, 1850), 1:83.

[9] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).

[10] See Luke 4:16–21.

[11] See 1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16.

[12] Justin Martyr, First Apology, trans. A. W. F. Blunt, Cambridge Patristic Texts (Cambridge University Press, 1911), 1.67, quoted in John R. W. Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus: Guard the Truth, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 121.

[13] Murray Capill, The Heart Is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2014), 17.

[14] Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, [1861?]), 95.

[15] Martin Luther, quoted in Bonar, God’s Way of Peace, 95–96n.

[16] See Acts 15:35.

[17] Deuteronomy 4:10 (NIV).

[18] See Ephesians 4:12.

[19] 2 Timothy 1:6 (paraphrased).

[20] See 1 Timothy 1:19.

[21] Philippians 3:4–11 (paraphrased).

[22] Philippians 3:12 (ESV).

[23] See Proverbs 16:18.

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.