Teach clear Biblical doctrine.In chapter 4, there are four references to teaching and doctrine (verses 6, 11, 13 & 16). Only the right doctrine can keep us from all kinds of false doctrines and stumbling blocks. We do not need to be familiar with counterfeit money in order to distinguish it from real money. It is the other way round: the better we know real money, the easier we will be able to recognize counterfeit money.
In general, we can say the following about the principles of understanding the Scriptures: a doctrinal question should ultimately always be in accordance with the rest of the Bible. If the interpretation of the Bible is correct, a learning system will result which is harmonious and not contradictory. The meaning of a text must not be distorted in order to bring it into agreement with a preconceived idea. Every text, even if there are sometimes unsolved problems, must firstly speak for itself.
• The doctrine should be explained before fellow Christians. Paul speaks in Galatians 3:1 of Jesus Christ being “set before their eyes.” It is about the right explanation and clarification. Discretion, time and patience are necessary for this.
• We should nourish ourselves from the doctrine, that is, not only read it, but work on it, search it, divide it correctly, receive it and digest it. Only when we ourselves are Biblically nourished, can we give others the right help.
• We must follow the Biblical doctrine ourselves, i.e., be doers of the Word. Only those who follow the right doctrine themselves, and not their own interpretation, are good signposts.
Reject unbiblical things emphatically: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
Godliness is mentioned twice in this text in contrast to fables, which Paul ironically calls “old wives’ fables.” Godliness is not in the keeping of innumerable rules or following human traditions, but in faith and practicing the Biblical doctrine concerning salvation, grace and discipleship. However much of a religious appearance unbiblical doctrines may seem to have, they are nothing other than empty words.
The text makes it clear that just as closely as we should keep to Biblical doctrine, we should distance ourselves from all unbiblical doctrine or argumentation. We should not enter into discussions but clearly reject false doctrines (cf. 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:16). Also, in the letter to the Galatians, the apostle demonstrates this radical stand, “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection [did not give in to, NIV], no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:4-5).
It is not worth getting into a discussion with those who proclaim additional doctrines besides the Lord Jesus Christ, whether this be asceticism, the keeping of the Sabbath, Jewish traditions, myths, fables, celibacy or any other rules. The only thing that will bring us further and keep us from falling is a radical rejection of such additions.
Paul calls the false doctrines old wives’ tales. One Bible commentary says of these old wives’ tales, “…A sarcastic term which frequently occurred in philosophic conflicts and conveyed the meaning of infinite gullibility. These despicable and degrading adjectives describe the myths as being neither holy nor reasonable but as foolish imaginations which are only good enough for the gossip of senile old women. There is no spiritual nourishment to be found here.”1
I was immediately reminded of the innumerable stories which were in circulation concerning the “swine flu” vaccine, for instance. It was maintained that a chip was implanted that would decimate mankind deliberately, etc. It was sad to see how, unfortunately some Christians were so gullible as to believe such weird and hysterical claims. Absurd theories, speculation and stories were brought into circulation and made people unsure.
One example of “old wives’ fables” is the following news story: “In November 2004 a decade-old grilled cheese sandwich was sold on e-Bay for $28,000, as allegedly an image of the virgin Mary was visible on the bread. A few months later in Chicago, a makeshift altar to Mary was built in an expressway underpass after it was maintained that her image had been seen on a concrete wall.”2
The combination of “old wives’ tales” and physical exercise in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, points to a trend that is prevalent today. How many articles, explanations and claims there are in our time about physical exercise. For that which only has an effect on the body in limited measure, many people invest time and even more money in programs. They devour articles and are continually trying out new things.
We should invest much more, however, in spiritual progress. Proper exercise in godliness is good for the body, but above all for the life that is to come. Physical exercise is not rejected here, but given its rightful place: it must not become a substitute religion.
Take Biblical things seriously.“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).
It is about taking Biblical truths seriously, because they are absolutely trustworthy. The first letter to Timothy speaks three times of this trustworthiness of the Word of God (1:15, 3:1 and 4:9).
We may constantly believe in the promises of God. Without the slightest doubt, we may found our lives on it and accept the Word of God as the absolute truth. The Word of God is surer than all knowledge, theories and claims of the world, whatever sphere is concerned. The Word of God surpasses our finite human understanding and opens up new horizons to us. It should be our guide, therefore, and affect our whole lives.
The truth of God is so sure and reliable that it is not only worth believing it, but also living for it, working for it, giving our whole lives for it, and employing all our strength. The original text means, “to work to the point of exhaustion.” It embraces the tiring of the spirit and the soul. The comparison with other translations makes this clear: “For this we labor and strive” (NIV); and, “With a view to this we toil and strive, [yes and] suffer reproach” (Amplified).
Paul takes the truth of the Word of God so seriously that he gave his whole life and all his energy for it, and was prepared to take every reproach and suffering upon himself.
He set his whole hope on the living God. He knew for whom he was working—not for dead material or some kind of dead idol or vague hope, but for the living, really existing and active God. This living God is the Savior of all men, especially the believer. This means that the Lord is a Savior of all men in the temporal sense, because in the present age of grace, all people are under this grace and the work of redemption of Jesus was accomplished for all men. Nobody is excluded or specially elected. God is not acting as Judge during the age of the Church, but as Savior.
Where eternity is concerned, however, God is the Savior, particularly for those who believe in Him because they have claimed salvation for themselves and have already experienced the results of their redemption: forgiveness, assurance, hope, eternal life…We could put it like this: all people are presently under the blessing of the Lord, but the believer enjoys this blessing.
Where prophecy is concerned, God is particularly the Savior of those who believe in Jesus, because (when the age of grace expires) they will be taken away from this earth before the Lord acts as Judge.
Biblical reponsibility. “These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:11-16).
In the first letter to Timothy, there are 30 rules. This means that a Christian is not lawless, even without the law. If we keep all of those things that the apostle tells us to here, we will live as true Christians, as these requirements completely cover our whole lives: being an example in our daily lives, in word, in our walk, in love (in sacrificial love for our neighbor), with the right motivation, in the Spirit (fiery enthusiasm, filled with love for the Lord), in faith (also translated as faithfulness, founded and completely oriented on, standing firmly), in chastity (purity, inward and outward), in perseverance (“until I come”). To this belong: reading, admonition and teaching, living out spiritual gifts in care of the kingdom of God, visible spiritual progress, taking care of ourselves and the doctrine, in constancy and doing all these things.
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Many a Christians has a great problem with the last sentence of this chapter, because it is wrongly interpreted.
The word “save” or “deliver” has many meanings and does not just refer to eternal life.
• Jacob prayed: “Deliver me (or save me) from the hand of my brother” in Genesis 32:11.
• “He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee” (Job 5:19).
• David prayed, “Save me from all them that persecute me” (Psalm 7:1).
• “…to be delivered from the king of Assyria” (Isaiah 20:6).
• “Beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30).
• “The Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me” (Acts 12:11).
• “Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Timothy 3:11).
• “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work…” (2 Timothy 4:18).
• “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick…” (James 5:15).
• “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:9).
The connection with chapter 4 makes it clear. In verse 16, just as in chapter 2:15 concerning women in childbirth, it is not about salvation in eternal life, but deliverance from the dangers that are mentioned in chapter 4. It is about deliverance from all the wrong, despicable things that threaten the life of a Christian; for instance, apostasy, deception through false doctrines, doctrines of demons, hypocrisy, liars and old wives’ tales.
Whoever heeds the Biblical doctrine and remains constant in this, whoever teaches it, hears it and does it will be saved from false doctrines. Here we see once again the great responsibility that is connected with the passing on of sound Biblical doctrine. Many false doctrines, errors and wrong paths within the local church, come from neglecting to pass on the good, sound doctrine of the Word of God consistently, as it is described in our text. (MR0811/478)
1 Was die Bibel lehrt, Dillenburg, pp. 107-108
2 John MacArthur, Twelve Extraordinary Women, CLV, p. 130