A Good Servant of Christ | 1 Timothy 4:6-16

Today we are in 1st Timothy chapter 4. If you’ve been with us, you know that Paul is giving Timothy instructions on how God’s church should function. That’s what this letter is all about. As a reminder yet again, Paul gives the reason he wrote this letter in chapter 3, verses 14 and 15: I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. That’s why he wrote this. 

And today we come to chapter 4, verses 6-16, where we see what a pastor should look like. The responsibilities of pastors and elders. Again, in the New Testament, pastor and elder is used interchangeably, and Paul is specifically addressing Timothy as a pastor. I’m going to ask Kelly Jackson to come and read for us. Kelly is a deacon here at Lamar, he’s actually our deacon chair. And he also has been serving with student ministry for many years. 1st Timothy 4:6-16. If you’re able, please join us in standing as we read Gods’ Word: 

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. 10 For to this end we toil and strive,  because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 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.

This is the Word of the Living God, amen? You may be seated. You may have noticed how times Paul tells Timothy something to the effect of, “Take these things seriously, for your own sake and the sake of others around you.” Focus on these things, for your sake and the sake of others. Verse 6- put “these things before the brothers.” Verse 9- “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” Verse 10- “To this end we toil and strive.” Verse 11- “Command and teach these things.” Verse 13- “devote yourself.” Verse 15: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them.” Then verse 16- “Persist in this.”

In other words, our faith in Christ—the truth of the church, which is the pillar and buttress of the truth– this is not a trivial, light thing. This is important! And while this is Paul writing to Timothy about his role as a pastor, I think every word of it is applicable to us. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a good servant of Christ. Those are the words he uses in verse 6. We must take seriously our callings as servants of Christ. So, what does that look like? Especially for pastors and elders, but for all of us. What does that look like? We have seven pursuits of a good servant of Christ Jesus. 

  1. Train in God’s Word (6).

That’s how he first describes a good servant of Christ in verse 6: “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. To be clear, this isn’t just “trained” past tense. That word “trained” is a present participle, for you English people. In other words, this is an ongoing thing. Being “trained in the words of the faith”, which is the gospel itself, the heart of our faith. Then “the good doctrine that you have followed.” That’s basically everything we know to be true from God’s Word. 

Listen, if you want to be a good servant of Christ, then you need the constant spiritual nourishment that only comes by dwelling on God’s Word. What possible defense do we have against the billion things in the world that can distract us from serving Christ? We are trained, and constantly being trained, in God’s Word. 

Timothy had been trained by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. We see that in 2nd Timothy chapter 1. It started somewhere, and then it kept growing. He was trained under Paul, as an apprentice. We see that in Acts chapter 16. And that wasn’t just about being a minister of the gospel, or an elder in Ephesus. All that training is the same training we all need as followers of Christ. We need to be engulfed by and grounded in God’s Word. And let me say it again: that never stops. 

Some of you know Ted and Lorena Keck, who were members here for a few years before they moved with family a few months ago. They are both in their 80’s, Ted served as a pastor for nearly six decades. I remember in my office, one of the things he told me often was, “You never stop learning as a child of God.” This nourishment that comes by dwelling on the great truths of our faith: it never stops nourishing! It will never stop making us more and more healthy. The 2nd pursuit of a good servant of Christ: 

2. Focus on Godliness (7-8).

Verse 7: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather, train yourself for godliness.” Irreverent, silly myths. For Timothy in particular, in the church at Ephesus, these myths may have been fables about particular Jews in the Old Testament. They could’ve also been pagan myths about gods and goddesses. The general principle, though, is that we’re not to become distracted by speculative things not found in Scripture. And I would apply this even a little more broadly. 

For God’s church, God’s people, we do not become distracted from our primary focus of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of my favorite pastors, in a training for fellow pastors, said this: “Good ministers refuse to become distracted by the trivial ideas of the day. They do not allow controversies in politics, sports, education or even religion to distract them from solid biblical truth.”  And I would add, solid biblical truth that has universal application throughout all time and history! In other words, we come here to hear from God, who is not bound by time! Yes, we apply God’s truth to our day and our culture—but we do not let our time-bound perspectives hijack the worship of timeless God! 

Did you know that the heart of Godliness, the heart of following after Jesus, has never changed. In more 2000 years, what it means to follow after Christ has not changed. Godliness is not dependent upon the whims of the day. “You know, every generation, godliness looks a bit different. What it means to follow and obey Jesus, it looks a bit different. No, it doesn’t! Sure, every generation may have unique struggles and unique temptations. But the heart of our faith, and what it means to obey Christ, never changes. 

That’s why training ourselves for godliness is so important. Did you know godliness is one of the only things we will take with us when we pass on? Think about that. That’s why Paul says in verse 8, “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.” Being a good servant of Christ does not mean knowing everything about everything. I’ll be the first one to tell you I don’t know a whole lot outside of Scriptural truth. I don’t have a lot of general knowledge. But I do know what it means to follow Christ, and I hope I’m always going to grow in my knowledge and application of following after Christ. That’s what matters. And especially for pastors and elders, let me just say: Godliness is greater than giftings. Always and forever. 

3. Set your Hope on the Living God (9-10). 

Verses 9-10: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Why do we desire to serve Christ? Why do we desire to be a good servant of Christ? 

Because this living God is the one who has saved us, yes? This is actually one of the few times we see God being called “Savior.” Usually that title is reserved for Christ, and yet here we see it used for God, meaning the Father. Why? Well, because Christ is God, yes. But also because God is the One who provided our salvation through Christ our Savior. Yes? 

This is our hope. And to be clear, when we see “hope” used in the New Testament, this is not like we use “hope” in our day. This isn’t “hope” as in we’re crossing our fingers and saying, “Maybe! We sure hope so.” No, hope in the New Testament means assurance. Our assurance is rooted in the Living God. Not in anything else! Our desire to be good servants of Christ is planted deep within the reality that God is our Savior. And there is no other Savior! 

I’ve had some fun conversations with the staff here about me having a “go-bag.” It’s just a small bag with some supplies if we ever had to up and get out of the metroplex. I’m not like a doomsday prepper. If I was, I wouldn’t tell you. Because they say you’re supposed to keep all your supplies and preparations a secret. So, I’m not, I just have one bag with a few things. Like if there was an economic collapse or an EMP went off that destroyed all electronics. If you watch the news, or pay attention to certain social media influencers, you might get a little worried. Right now, there’s a lot going on in the world. My phone did not work Thursday morning, because of the cell phone outage that occurred across the country. That may have been some sort of cyber-attack. I don’t know. 

Here’s what I do know: our hope, our assurance in this life and in the next, is not in any sort of preparations we can make for impending doom, whatever it may be. Our hope, our assurance is in the living God. And that Living God not only gives common grace to all human beings, but infinitely more so has given grace to those of who have believed upon Christ. That’s what the end of verse 10 means. He is the “Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Set your hope and assurance on the Living God, not on anything else. The 4th pursuit of a good servant of Christ. 

4. Set an example (11-12). 

Verses 11 and 12: “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.” I love how Paul puts these two instructions together. You see the authority of a pastor in that word, “command.” That goes beyond just teaching. There’s a sense of authority there. But then he says, set the believers an example. In other words, you can’t have one without the other. Doctrine and behavior go hand in hand, especially for a pastor or elder. 

Now, this verse is often used to rebuke those who look down on young people. And I think that’s a valid reality. We should not look down on people just because they are young. But Paul is not using this to rebuke those who may look upon Timothy for being young. This is an instruction to Timothy. He’s telling Timothy to pursue maturity! To be an example! To take his faith seriously. To pursue Godliness wholeheartedly. 

Don’t act like young people in the world. Act like a young believer in Christ. Set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Those are pretty all-encompassing, but a few of those do seem to be particular issues among young people. Purity, especially among young people, is difficult and uncommon. Godly Speech, perhaps, is particularly uncommon among young people. So, a good servant of Christ sets an example for other believers, no matter their age. The 5th pursuit: 

5. Devote yourself to Teaching God’s Word (13). 

We saw earlier in verse 6 that we’re to train in God’s Word. Well now we see the external part of that. Verse 13: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Exhortation is another word for encouragement. Now, again, this was for Timothy, especially. As a pastor, one of his primary responsibilities was to teach God’s Word. And the public reading of God’s Word was especially crucial because most people at this time did not have access to the Scriptures. They didn’t have personal access. And so, obviously, reading God’s Word out loud was a major part of the life of the church. That was how they would know what was in God’s Word. 

But certainly, this is applicable for all of us as well, not just pastors and teachers. In our church and in our families, the public reading of Scripture might be the most important thing we can do together. Or at least, it’s certainly one of the most important things we can do together. And not only reading it together, but specifically encouraging one another with it. You know something far more valuable than any advice or words of wisdom that I may have to give you? God’s Words of wisdom and advice. Yes? That’s true for all of us. Being a good servant of Christ means we’re encouraging one another with God’s Word. Pursuit #6:

6. Use your gifts (14). 

Verse 14: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” So apparently at some point there was an ordination of sorts for Timothy. These elders recognized and affirmed Timothy’s calling and giftings for the role of pastor. This prophetic message mentioned here was already brought up back in chapter 1, verse 18. There was some sort of prophetic indication that Timothy was called to be one of the pastors of the church at Ephesus. And then the elders confirmed that calling by laying their hands on Timothy and praying for him. 

So, the main encouragement here from Paul is not to neglect that gifting. Presumably, it was the gift of teaching. And this exhortation goes for all of us. If our goal is to be good servants of Christ, then we need to use our giftings, whatever they may be, for the good of God’s people. And I would argue that the traditional lists of spiritual gifts we use are very helpful, but they’re not necessarily exhaustive. Every one of us has something to offer God’s church. The question is: what is it, and are we using that gift for the good of God’s people? We’ll talk about that much more in the future as we come to passages that focus on spiritual gifts. For now, let’s move on to pursuit #7: 

7. Keep a close watch on yourself (15-16). 

Verses 15-16: “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.” Over and over, we’ve heard Paul insist that Timothy keep persisting. Pursue these things, everything I’ve written for the order of the church, and for the character and Godliness of believers. Pursue these things, and especially watch yourself in regard to these things. 

This is important for all of us, but it is especially important for anyone in leadership roles in God’s church. Can I tell you the most important thing I can possibly do as a pastor? What should be the most important priority for me? Making sure that my walk with Christ is healthy and thriving. That’s the most important thing. The truth of it is that I cannot, in the long run, serve God’s church adequately and faithfully if there is something off in my walk with Christ. 

And yet how easy it is, as leaders of any kind in the church—pastor, elder, deacon, teacher, even student and kids’ ministry volunteers—how easy it is put the spiritual health of others above our own spiritual health. And we can do that while justifying it. Because it seems like we’re putting others first. Here’s the truth of it: when we do that, we’re actually putting others before Christ. There is nothing more important than your own walk with Christ. Because from a place of spiritual health and maturity and stability—and only from that place can we serve God’s church meaningful and sustainably. 

That’s why I love that he says, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” Even as a parent or grandparent, did you know the most important thing you can possibly do for the faith of your children and grandchildren is keep a close watch on yourself. Your pursuit of Godliness, your pursuit of Christ—knowing Him, loving Him, obeying Him—nothing else in the world will impact those around you like walking with Christ yourself. 

Notice all the way back from verse 6, our ultimate goal here is to be good servants of Christ Jesus. Not to be good servants of people. Now that’s part of it, no doubt. But serving Christ, loving Christ, obeying Christ—it is only from that posture and that position that we can even begin to serve others meaningfully and sustainably. We wonder why so many Christian leaders experience moral failure. No matter the specific circumstances, at some point every one of those Christian leaders who fall valued something more than their personal walk with Christ. We must not find ourselves in that place. We must keep a close watch on ourselves. 


Of all the passions we can have in this life, there is no greater passion possible than that of serving Christ. And notice, that doesn’t mean that the greatest thing we can do is accomplish something that is great on a measurable scale. The number of people we impact. The size of our influence. That’s not it. God does not ask us to aspire to greatness. He asks us to be “good servants of Christ Jesus.” That is where our diligence must focus in. That is what our hearts must strive for. 

In light of everything God has done for us in Christ. In light of his great mercy shown to us, we serve him with everything we are. If I were to sum up in my own words, Paul’s exhortation to Timothy and to all believers like us, it’d be this: don’t waste your life on lesser pursuits. There is no greater purpose for which to live than for the glory of God. And that’s not just some abstract notion. How can we live for God’s glory? What does that mean? It means we put God at the very center of our lives. At the center of everything we do, every endeavor we pursue. Kent Hughes put it like this: “God is in the sleeping and the waking, the eating and the drinking, the coming and the going. The godly person walks with God at home, at work, at church, at school, and at play. Godliness includes godly thoughts, godly speech, and godly behavior. It is the attitude toward life that David expressed when he said, ‘I have set the Lord always before me’ (Ps. 16:8). Godliness comes from a God-centered life.” 

Are you taking this seriously? Are you pursuing being a good servant of Christ? Because God made us to live our lives with one all-encompassing passion. And while it might look a bit different in every generation and in every culture: the heart of it looks the exact same. We were made to glorify God. Why? Because He is the Living God, our Savior. To use Paul’s language: Pursue that. Persist in that. Toil and strive for that. Teach that. Devote yourself to that. Immerse yourself in that. Resolve yourself to not waste your life on lesser pursuits.