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1985 sermons as of January 20, 2022.
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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:True godliness requires training in both doctrine and life.
Text:1 Timothy 4:15,16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 84:1,2

Psalm 42:5

Hymn 82:1,2,3,4

Psalm 119:5,6

Psalm 84:6

Read:  1 Timothy 4

Text:  1 Timothy 4:15-16

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Playing professional football is a tough sport.  Aussie Rules Football, that is.  To be a professional football player involves so much more than showing up for the game and trying to kick an oblong leather ball between a two white goal posts.  Before making it as a professional, players go through years of intense training in all aspects of the game: kicking, handballing, marking, picking up the ball, bouncing, tackling, evading, and shooting for goal.  And then there is the physical training:  running, lifting weights, cross training such as swimming and boxing, learning to prevent injury and so forth.

  But bodily exercise and learning the skills of the game is just one aspect of training to play football.  Of equal importance is what the football player eats and drinks.  Playing football at the professional level is incredibly hard on the body: a player can lose 4 kilos of body weight in a game and he needs the stamina to go on until the last siren.  And so dieticians use scientific precision to ensure that the players have the right fluid intake and that they also eat the right foods, balancing carbohydrates, protein and fat.  The football player needs to be well nourished and well exercised and trained to be able to play the game.

Although there have been big advances made with respect to both nutrition and exercise, sportsmen have always focused on these things as they trained for their respective sport.  In the Greek and Roman cultures of the apostle Paul’s day, athletes would maintain a strict diet and exercise regime to be the best at their sport and to win the crown.  And the athletes were so passionate and fixed on this in those days that the apostle Paul used it as an illustration, comparing the training and exercising for physical sport and exercise with training and exercising for our life of faith and of godliness.  In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he wrote,

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; ESV.)

And with the same picture in mind the apostle Paul instructed Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, saying,

“Exercise yourself toward godliness.”

“Exercise yourself toward godliness!  Train for it!  Give it all you’ve got!  Be nourished with the words of faith and of the good doctrine (verse 6) and be godly in your life and conduct (verse 12).”

  And then in verse 15 and 16 Paul underlined the importance of what he had instructed Timothy by saying,

“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.  Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

In this way Timothy was called to practice true godliness.  I preach these things to you this morning under the following theme:

True godliness requires training in both doctrine and life.

  1. Right doctrine.
  2. Right living.

1. Right doctrine.

As you read through Paul’s first letter to Timothy you will discover that one persistent theme is that of godliness.  The word “godliness” is found just fifteen times in the New Testament but nine of those times is in this letter to Timothy.  1 Timothy 1:4 introduces this when it speaks of the need for godly edification.  Then chapter 2:2 calls us to pray for kings and those in authority

“that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

Chapter 3:16 describes “the mystery of godliness”, the gospel concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Timothy 6:3 speaks about “the doctrine which accords with godliness”, chapter 6:6 calls us to “godliness with contentment” and in 1 Timothy 6:11,

“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

And then in the chapter we have before us this morning, 1 Timothy 4, Paul instructed Timothy in verse 7 to

“exercise yourself toward godliness”

explaining in verse 8,

“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things.”

So what is godliness? 

We could say that godliness is living before God’s face.  Godliness is placing God at the centre of every activity and every endeavor: at home, at work, at play, at church and at school, as well as in what we think, what we say and what we do.  Godliness comes from a God-centred and a gospel centred life.  To be godly is, to use the words of Galatians 2:20, to be crucified with Christ so that it is not longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

This godliness is of utmost importance for every Christian.  If you are not growing in godliness, you are not growing in Christ.  And if you are not growing in Christ then you do not belong to Him.  The Heidelberg Catechism got it right when it says in Lord’s Day 24,

“It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.”

But if godliness is so important to Christians, it is of greater importance for office bearers: ministers, elders and deacons.  For office bearers do not only have to give account for themselves but also for those under their care.  Hebrews 13:17 says, concerning the elders and overseers of the church,

“for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”

The office bearers, therefore, are concerned not just for their own salvation but for the salvation of the whole church.  That is what 1 Timothy 4:16 emphasizes when Paul instructs Timothy,

“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

“Be zealous in your ministry”, Paul says, because not only does your own salvation depend on this but also the salvation of those you are ministering to.”

  You need to understand what Bible is saying here.  We know that God alone saves us, and that He saves us only through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As John Calvin wrote on this verse in his commentary,

“Our salvation is the gift of God, since it comes from Him alone and is effected only by His power, so that He alone is its author.”

But, as Calvin continued,

“This does not exclude the ministry of men, nor does it deny that that ministry may be the means of salvation, for it is on that ministry that, as Paul says elsewhere, the welfare of the Church depends (Ephesians 4:11).”

In other words, although our salvation comes to us by grace through faith in the work of Christ alone, the manner through which the Lord works faith and repentance is through the preaching of the gospel and through the ministry of the office bearers.  And how an office bearer conducts himself, therefore, is of the greatest importance not just to him but to the whole church.  If the Preacher preaches the wrong thing and the office bearers teach falsehood, what would that mean for the church that listens to them?   And that is why Paul told Timothy so urgently in 1 Timothy 4:6 to be

“a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.”

Church leaders must be trained  and continue to be trained in the right doctrine not just for their own salvation but also for the salvation of the members of the church.   Because if the preaching that you hear is not the true preaching of the gospel and does not proclaim the Word of God, then should you listen to it, this will not help you but hinder you in your search for the truth.  And that means that for me personally and for all who preach on this pulpit or have official teaching roles in the congregation, that means that we must preach that which is the right doctrine, the true Word of God.  It means that we must be careful in our exegesis, that is in interpreting and explaining the Bible text that is being preached. We may not set aside the true preaching of God’s Word and indulge ourselves in speculation or in attempts to be with the times and culturally relevant.  Rather, as the apostle Paul commanded Timothy in his second letter, in 2 Timothy 4:2,

“Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

And you as congregation, on the other hand, are to receive the word, that is, the word of truth.  It is of the greatest importance that you be convinced of the truth of the gospel and that it is the truth that is being preached.  Because if you are listening to lies, you’d better watch out!  Because lies won’t get you to heaven but they will soft talk you and flatter you into hell.

You see, that’s where false preaching and false teaching will leave you.  That’s why Paul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 to continue in the true doctrine and the right paths so that, to quote from this verse,

“you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

And Paul was not saying these things in a vacuum:  he was commanding Timothy to teach and to preach the truth knowing that there were others in Ephesus who were teaching and preaching the lie.  1 Timothy 4:1-3,

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart form the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

That is the false doctrine, the false teaching and preaching that Timothy was called to fight against.  And Timothy should not be surprised at false doctrine since, Paul pointed out, the Holy Spirit had warned that this would take place.  And the “latter times” when this would happen was now, in this whole period between the ascension of the Lord Jesus and His return.  But Timothy should be well aware where these teachings came from:  not from God but from “deceiving spirits” and “doctrines of demons”.  And those who promoted these lies had their own conscience seared with a hot iron.  That is, they had begun to believe their own lies, thinking that this was the true doctrine, this was the way to be saved, this was the way to be godly. 

  But it was not the way to be saved and it was not the way to be godly.  Nor could one be saved or grow in godliness through what verse 7 describes as “profane and old wives’ fables”, the teachings of men as though they were the teachings of God.  And with respect to the false teachings that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 4, the problem was not the abstaining from eating certain types of food or abstaining from marriage as such.  But what was wrong with these teachings was that they misrepresented the way of salvation and the way of godliness.  They taught that salvation was not to be found in Christ alone by grace alone but they taught that salvation was to be found in keeping these and other laws, that this was the way to grow close to God.  But it was not and it is not the true doctrine, the true teaching of holy Scripture.  To the contrary, Paul wrote in verse 4,

“For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.”

And so instead of teaching these things that are false and that would lead God’s people away from the truth of the gospel, Timothy was instructed to teach and to preach the truth.  Verse 6,

“If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.”

Timothy must be nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine.  He needed to make sure that he had a good diet, that he ate the right food and that he drank the right drink.  That is, that he be hungry for the truth and that he drink from the pure milk of the Word of God.  Paul said

“Timothy!  Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them.”

Timothy had to exercise himself to godliness and to do that he had to be nourished in the truth.  He had to study and practice what God’s Word says.  Timothy had to feed on the truth of the gospel for himself first before he could feed others.  If he was not nourished, he could not nourish others.  Because a preacher does not get up and simply say a few truths, give some interesting information.  No, a preacher is called to preach the gospel.  And he can not do that unless he believes it and he practices it himself.  No the preacher is not free from sin, he is not perfect, nor does he always understand all things perfectly.  I know that and I feel that and I experience that daily: how I wish that my faith was stronger, that my knowledge was deeper, that my holiness was greater.  Ministers and elders and deacons are jars of clay, weak instruments in the hands of an almighty God.  But what we are called to teach and to preach is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!  And therefore, Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:10,

“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe.”

Or, as we can put it more clearly,

“who is the Saviour of all men, that is, of those who believe.”

We labour at it, holding fast to the doctrine, to the true teaching of the gospel.  We believe it and we live it, rejecting all things that do not agree with God’s Word.  But in doing this we hold on to, we are nourished by and we confess the truth that we have a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we know that whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame but have everlasting life.  That is why right doctrine is so important: because it is the doctrine of salvation for everyone who believes.


2. Right living.

Just as a football player needs to be nourished with the right food and drink in order to play at his best, so Timothy was to be nourished with the right food and drink of God’s Word so that he could in turn instruct the brethren in these things.  He needed to be well fed with the word of God so that he could feed others.  And in this way the whole church could be nourished in the true doctrine.  But it was not just right doctrine that Timothy was to be concerned about: there was also right living.  That’s why it says in 1 Timothy 4:16,

“Take heed to yourself.”

And verse 7,

“. . . exercise yourself toward godliness.”

And then verse 12 says,

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

Timothy must exercise himself and then be an example in godly behavior.  He was to tell the truth and to tell it well.  He was not to be argumentative but his words to be spoken with grace.  Further, his conduct was to be godly at all times, wherever he was and whatever he was doing.  He was to be an example to the believers in love, showing concern for the lost, deeply desiring the salvation of all men, and giving his heart to those whom God had placed under his care.  He was to be godly in faith, believing the true gospel that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And he was to be godly in purity, in his moral conduct, being godly in what he looked at, what he thought about, what he said and what he did.  In other words Timothy was to be a bearer of the gospel not just in what he said but also in what did, yes, in what he was.  And that applies to us too.  A minister, an elder, a deacon and indeed each one of us is called to be the gospel with skin on!  In other words, when we are nourished by the gospel and when we believe the gospel, then we must not only speak the gospel but we must also live the gospel!  And to underline this important teaching Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:15,

“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them that your progress may be evident to all.”

You see, that is what the true gospel must do to us.  The gospel is in us.  The gospel changes us.  The gospel defines us!

The false teaching that was being taught in Ephesus was leading to wrong living: to lying and doing away with the God-given roles of both men and women, forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods.  This false teaching, 1 Timothy 6:4,5 says, lead to disputes and arguments over words, from which came envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions and the idea that godliness was a means of gain, a way to be rich and gain the things of this world.  But just as the false doctrine could be seen in its fruits, so can the true doctrine.  For the true gospel leads to right living and to good conduct, a life that is fitting for a servant of the Lord. 

Because that is what is required of us: that the church of God trains in godliness by taking hold of the true doctrine, the true gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ and then by living out of that gospel in all things.  And all God’s children, all Christians must live and train themselves in this way.  For that is what it means to be a Christian, a child of God.  You see, Christians don’t just believe the gospel; they are changed by the gospel.  True Christians are godly.

Both right doctrine and right living are required from our office bearers because right doctrine and right living are ultimately required from us all.  We must be instructed in the truth so that we might believe the truth and live out of the truth of God’s Word.  And then this is what a true Christian, godly in both doctrine and life, will be like:  Belgic Confession, article 29 -

 “They believe in Jesus Christ, the only Saviour, flee from sin and pursue righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works.  Although great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life.  They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in Him.”

That’s what it means to be a Christian and that it means to train yourself in both doctrine and life for godliness.  What a beautiful thing it is to have and believe the true doctrine, the true gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  What a wondrous blessing it is to live from that gospel and to live for the gospel, exercising yourself toward godliness.

Playing professional football is a tough sport and it is a tough climb to get to the top of your game.  Sadly many players will treat the game and treat winning the Grand Final as their god, as the thing to live for.  Many – but not all – top athletes are willing to sacrifice almost everything to get the prize.  Some will get it and some will not.  But for every one of them what they are chasing is a wreath that will fade and perish.  They will get old, their bodies will slow down and they will all leave the game they sacrificed so much for.  And one day every one of us – unless our Lord returns sooner – will die, and our achievements and our abilities will fade away and our bodies will turn to dust.  But for those who exercise themselves towards godliness, to those who give attention to the doctrine, who hunger for and take hold of the true gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and for those who live out of that grace in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith and in purity, there will be a wreath that will never fade or perish.  There will be the time when we will be perfect and godly in every way.  There will be the blessing of living in holiness with our Lord and Saviour forever and ever.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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