Everyone wants to hear the words “Well done my good and faithful servant”. No one looks forward to a day when someone will say to him or to her “You have done your job poorly and you are an irresponsible servant. Depart from me for I do not know you.” Deep down inside, every one of us has a deep desire to serve well. We want to excel at things. We want to be successful. We want to be good at something. We want to be good servants.
We want to be good spouses, good parents, good employees, good family members, good students, good friends, good Christians, good human beings, etc., etc. We want to be good. But the problem is that we also want to be bad. It’s hard to admit, but the reality is that every one of us possesses competing desires deep down inside. We want to be good and we also want to be bad.
Take for instance my desire to be physically healthier. I want to be a little bit slimmer. I want to live longer. I want to be a little more toned and in shape. I want to wrestle with my kids without feeling dead afterwards. I want to exercise more and I want to eat healthier food. I look forward to the day when my desire to be physically healthier is achieved. You could say that I hope in a promise of a future healthier me and that hope motivates me to do the hard things now.
But there’s a problem. There’s always a problem because I am not in Heaven yet. The problem is that while I want to be good at becoming physically healthier, I also want to be bad. I like to veg out on my couch too much. I like to eat way too much pizza on my couch and exercising is painful and time consuming. So no matter how bad I want to be good, I still want to be bad.
Paul knows this struggle all to well. He explicitly describes the same struggle in his own life in Romans 7 and there’s a hint of it in almost everything he writes to the churches. He knows that personal holiness, just like physical health, is hard to pursue. So he often gives instructions to believers on how to pursue spiritual health or spiritual holiness.
In our passage today Paul uses the imagery of physical training to help us understand how to become more godly.
1 Timothy 4:6 – 10 says: 6 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. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourselves for godliness; 8 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. 9 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.
In verse 6 Paul says that 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. When I first read this passage I began to think about how much I value godliness. How much do you value godliness? If godliness is valuable in every way in this present life as well as in the life to come, then how does the activity of my life communicate that I actually do value godliness? Just like physical health, I can talk about how much I value it but words are meaningless if they aren’t backed up by actions. Actions speak louder than words. You could say that the activity of a person’s life proves where their hope is founded.
A good servant, according to Scripture, possesses a hope that is founded on the work of Jesus at the cross, the victory of the empty tomb, the power of the indwelling Spirit and the promise of Heaven. You could simplify what I just said by saying that a good servant possesses a hope that is rooted in the gospel. And then you could follow that up by saying that you will know if someone’s hope is rooted in the gospel if their actions match their words.
The book of James seems to underscore this truth too as James (the brother of Jesus) basically says, “Go ahead and talk about your faith all you want. I’ll show you my faith by the way that I live through my actions.” (Js. 1:14–26) The book of James basically describes a life of healthy spiritual holiness where you can witness or observe the faith-filled actions of true believers. And Paul’s words here to Timothy and the church at Ephesus appear to fit neatly into the same category when he says “you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.”
That must have been refreshing for Timothy and the church to hear. “You will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.” My ears perk up a little bit when I hear those words because I want to be a good servant. But what does Paul mean when he says this? How will Timothy know if his faith is active? How will the Ephesian believers know if they are good servants? Look at the text again with me and lets see what Paul says about being a good servant.
#1: A Good Servant Serves Up A Good Plate Of Spiritual Food… (6)
Paul says, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.” My question is what does Paul mean when he says “put these things before the brothers”? What are “these things” that he refers to? I think the most explicit answer to this question is what Paul has just said in previous verses. We are to make one another aware of both the false teachings of false teachers and we are to guard and protect and display the true gospel. This is what Joe Nelson preached last week.
The image that I get when I think of this principle is the image of a waiter in a restaurant. Oftentimes I’ll review the menu and then ask the waiter or waitress what is good on the menu. A good waiter or a good servant will steer me clear of bad menu options while steering me towards good menu options. The call on a minister’s life (as well as every Christian) is to be a good servant of Christ Jesus who serves up a warning of bad doctrine as well as teaching good doctrine. This leads me to the next point…
#2: A Good Servant Is Trained To Practice What He Preaches… (6)
Paul says, “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.” How do you know if a person has been trained to practice what he or she preaches? Well practically speaking we will know this through careful examination and observation. We should examine and observe each other’s lives carefully to see if we practice what we preach.
It would be really concerning to ask a waiter for his recommendation on what to steer clear of and what to consume from a menu if you observed that same waiter consuming what they warned you against or refusing to consume what they recommended you eat. I would be hard pressed to call that servant a good servant because his preaching wasn’t backed up by his practice. This is why Paul says that a good servant is “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” A good servant is trained to practice what he preaches.
#3: A Good Servant Doesn’t Eat Junk And Exercises Regularly… (7)
Paul says it this way when he says that a good servant will “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather (you will) train yourselves for godliness.” Diet is worthless without exercise and exercise is worthless without diet. If your diet is out of control then all the exercise in the world won’t help you much. Visa versa you can diet all day long but if you don’t get the proper exercise (while you may appear to be in shape on the outside because you are thin) your unseen parts like your heart, your lungs and your other vital organs will be unhealthy.
It’s the same with the spiritual life of every believer. I am only a good servant (a healthy follower) of Jesus Christ to the extent that I don’t pig out on spiritual junk food and that I exercise my faith regularly. Practically this simply means that I stay away from junk food teaching and I spend time in the gym of spiritual disciplines.
Nothing can replace the regular study verse by verse through God’s Word, extended times in prayer, silence, solitude and community. And while it can be fun to study certain hot topics in God’s Word and get an immediate sense of gratification, nothing can replace the regular reading or feeding on the Word of God and then putting God’s Word into practice through confession of sin and obedience to God’s instructions. A good servant doesn’t eat junk and they exercise regularly. Which leads us into the next principle…
#4: A Good Servant Values, Trusts and Accepts The Gospel… (8 – 9)
Paul says, “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.” We value what we trust and accept. If I don’t trust something or accept something then I do not value it. The things that I don’t trust or accept do not find a place of prominent priority in my life.
For example, I don’t fully trust or fully accept that broccoli holds the promise of a healthier diet for me. Even though many people much smarter than me have concluded that broccoli in fact does promise to make me healthier, I still don’t fully trust or accept that information. Therefore you don’t find broccoli in my refrigerator very often if at all. I don’t value what I don’t trust or accept.
This is why so many proclaiming Christians today don’t exhibit spiritual health in the form of the fruit of the Spirit. We struggle to value what we do not trust or accept. When the waiter (the Spirit of God) stands at the edge of our table (our hearts) every day and serves up a nice helping of spiritual warnings and spiritual instructions we struggle to fully trust and fully accept the plate of spiritual food that is being offered to us.
Why does this happen? Why do we reject the training we need? Why do we struggle to feed ourselves on the Word of God? Why do we trade gospel community for an evening on the couch feeding on junk food on our TV’s or tablets or video games? Why do we consistently run our lives into the ground rather than spending some time in silence and solitude? Why do we make a phone call or hide in our activity rather than step into the hard work of communing with God through prayer?
I think part of the answer is that spiritual disciplines are actually really hard work and they are a sacrifice. We have to give up something to engage in them. But the other answer from our text (in the negative) is that we don’t value what we do not trust or accept. We do not trust or accept something that we do not believe to be true. In short, we do not believe that the promise of the gospel is good both now and forever.
We might believe that the promise of the gospel was good for getting us into Heaven. But we struggle to believe that the promise of the gospel is good for everyday life. We think that the promise of the gospel was a good appetizer. But we forget or we reject that the promise of the gospel is the main course. The gospel is the main course for training in godliness and training in godliness is hard work. Which leads me to the final point.
#5: A Good Servant Works Hard To Grow In Godliness… (10)
Paul says, “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.” The reason that we work hard to feed ourselves spiritually healthy food and to exercise ourselves in spiritual disciplines is because we trust and therefore hope in the living God. We don’t work hard to earn something we can’t earn. We work hard to grow in and to walk in something that we already are. In Christ we are already godly. His work at the cross and his victory at the empty tomb makes us into spiritual giants therefore we are enabled to work hard at growing in godliness.
We often want to see the negative things about ourselves and then try to motivate ourselves by that negative picture. We see ourselves through the lenses of our failures rather than through the lenses of Christ’s completed work at the cross and the empty tomb. I’m not going to grow in godliness by focusing on my shortcomings. I’m not going to get physically fit by looking at my unhealthy appearance in the mirror. I will become more physically fit by focusing on a future picture of a healthier me.
Likewise, I’m not going to do the hard work of growing in godliness by focusing on all of my shortcomings. I’m going to do the hard work of growing in godliness by focusing on Christ’s perfection. When I see how perfect Jesus is and how willing he was to give his life for me, I am enabled to grow into the running shoes that he has placed on my feet. This is what it means to have my hope set on the living God. When my hope is set on the living God, I am set free to work hard to grow in holiness.
A good servant serves up a good plate of spiritual food. A good servant is trained to practice what he preaches. A good servant doesn’t eat junk and exercises regularly. A good servant values trusts and accepts the gospel. A good servant works hard to grow in godliness.
In summary: a good servant possesses a hope that is rooted in the gospel. And you will know if someone’s hope is rooted in the gospel if their actions match their words. And the only way our actions will match our words is by rooting our hearts in the power of the cross and the empty tomb.