The word for the day is “yourself.” It is easy to give other people advice. But it is harder to follow our own counsel. Today in our reading of 1 Timothy 4:9-15, the apostle urges the young Bishop Timothy, “These things command and teach” (OSB 4:11). Yet if we read closely, we find a secondary theme to Paul’s words. Timothy must practice what he preaches. Today we learn the importance of paying attention to our own spiritual growth and life before, during, and after we try to guide others in their faith and life.
The Context of Paul’s Advice to Timothy
Our reading begins, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance” (OSB vs. 9). However, we are not told what that “nugget of truth” is. To find out, we must go back to the preceding verse, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (OSB 1 Timothy 4:8).
If we keep this thought in mind, we can understand the next statement of our reading. Otherwise it is difficult to comprehend. The Orthodox Study Bible translates, “to this end” I labor and suffer reproach.” We might read, “In view of this…” the hope of the promise of life mentioned in vs 8. That is to say, for the promise of life in the present and future, we labor and suffer shame. Moreover, we endure hardship and suffering because we believe in the Living God who is the Savior…
The topic of this reading then is “godliness.” This theme is clear when Paul says, “Reject old wives’ tales,” and “exercise yourself toward godliness” (OSB vs. 7). The term comes from the idea of good homage (of God). It refers to devotion, piety, and reverence.
Timothy’s Spiritual Growth is Paul’s Main Concern
This respect of God is expressed not merely in belief but in the practice of belief. What kind of practice? We find that Paul advises that Timothy devote himself to reading, exhortation [preaching] and doctrine (vs. 13). And he urges him not to forget the gift of the Holy Spirit given to him for ministry by the “laying on of hands,” that is, ordination.
Paul concludes his advice by urging the young bishop to meditate on the things he has counselled (vs. 15). He tells his understudy that he should devote all of himself to them “that your progress be evident to all” (vs. 15). In summary, Timothy is to “command and teach,” (vs. 11) but his ministry of the Word must be founded on His own practice of the Word, his own discipline in the things of the Spirit.
Paul summarizes his concern for Timothy and the main point of our reading in the verse that follows today’s passage. He states, “Take heed to yourself and to doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this, you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (OSB 1 Timothy 4:16). Preaching and teaching is powerful if it is based on one’s own experience of grace, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the struggle against temptation, and obedience of the Lord. But it is also reliable, for it comes from the inspiration of the Lord and not human imagination.