1 Timothy 4:16

‘Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching.’
(1 Timothy 4:16)

With many things in the Christian life there’s a healthy balance to be found. It’s easy to emphasise one aspect of our faith to the neglect of another, resulting in lop-sidedness. It’s easy to stumble and fall from such unbalanced positions. Having both sides of the scales full often achieves the most stability, and here we have a good example of that: ‘Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching’. The apostle Paul was writing to his younger assistant Timothy, but this has relevance to us all, and not just leaders.

First we must pay attention to our teaching, or ‘doctrine’ as some translations have it – i.e. what we believe and hopefully therefore say. Paul had already summarised the heart of Christian belief earlier in this letter: ‘there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all’(1 Timothy 2:5-6). There’s much we could say about that profound and important statement, and we’d do well to study and reflect on the details. Paul would want us to become deeply acquainted with every aspect of it. However, it’s interesting that the word he uses for ‘teaching’ here hints at applied teaching, which he makes clear anyway, by mentioning ‘yourself’ before ‘your teaching’.

As much as watching our doctrine we’re to watch ourselves, i.e. our lives / lifestyles etc. Paul’s letters often flow from teaching to life application. That’s natural, since true knowledge of Christ instils Christ-likeness within us, through the work of the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote later to Timothy, ‘Hold the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me [teaching], in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus [applied]. That good thing which was committed to you, guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us’(2 Timothy 1:13-14). Paul certainly modelled this too, such that he could remind Timothy ‘you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness’(2 Timothy 3:10). Paul even sent Timothy to Corinth to remind them of his ‘ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere’(1 Corinthians 4:17).

So we’re to combine sound doctrine with godly living, in both respects becoming full, so balanced and stable. However, obviously we don’t start full, and likely never will be, in this life. So Paul adds ‘Continue in these things’(1 Timothy 4:16), no doubt expecting healthy development, just like with physical training. Only a few lines earlier he’d encouraged Timothy to ‘Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things’(1 Timothy 4:7-8). In fact godliness is about this same balance, first knowing then expressing God. If a trusted assistant of the apostle Paul, like Timothy, still needed to pay attention to growth and training in these things, then certainly that will be the case for us!

The two obvious dangers that we face from unbalanced development in these areas are lifestyle without truth, or truth without life, and their distorting, stunting, even mortal consequences.

First lifestyle without truth, essentially the danger of ‘churchianity’, in its dead or less mortal forms. Perhaps some aspect of Christian sub-culture becomes the main attraction (e.g. family, music, the coffee!). Even apparent converts spring ‘“up”’(Mark 4:5), only to wither away later, choked by ‘“the cares of this age… the deceitfulness of riches… the lusts of other things entering in”’(Mark 4:19) or ‘“persecution”’(Mark 4:17), at least perceived. We all must take care not to lean in this direction though, neglecting the truth. Whole churches can be toppled by it, spiritually, first neglecting then bending Christian truth, with foundational doctrine then inevitably even its life application degenerating.

However, there’s also the opposite danger of truth without life (spiritually), perhaps accompanied by Sunday morning intellection stimulation, and coffee! This can tend towards ‘arguments, disputes, and word battles, from which come… strife… friction’(1 Timothy 6:4-5) etc., as Paul warned against later in this letter. The context of that involved actual false teaching, but such behaviour is surely a sign of falsely applied teaching at least anyway. Warning about similar distractions at the start of this letter Paul helpfully adds, ‘the goal of this command is love, out of a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith… some, having missed the mark, have turned away to vain talking’(1 Timothy 1:5-6). The danger is that we begin to sound like ‘a clanging cymbal… but don’t have love’(1 Corinthians 13:1-2), however sound we might be doctrinally.

So, in harmonious balance, let’s rather ‘speaking truth in love… grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ’(Ephesians 4:15).

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