1 Timothy 4:1-16

The “speaking” of the spirit may be understood to refer to the expressions believers with the prophetic gift made when God’s spirit operated upon them. According to the expressly spirit-revealed message, “in later times” some would desert the “faith, taking heed to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” “Later times” denote future times, with the length of the period separating the then-present time from the culminating future time not being specified. During the foretold time to come, professed believers would abandon or revolt against the solidly based faith in Christ and begin to pay attention to false and destructive teaching. “Deceitful spirits” would be messages purported to be from a spiritual source but which, though false, would be deceptively plausible or alluring. Instead of being healthful or sound, these teachings would be destructive. They would be “teachings of demons.” Originating from the powers of darkness, these teachings would be morally defiling and ruinous. (4:1)

The corrupting and destructive teaching would be conveyed through the “hypocrisy of speakers of lies.” Teachers of falsehood would appear as innocent and as promoting an elevated life, but their words would be harmful and corrupting. Being themselves defiled, they could not convey anything other than lies. Their hypocrisy included their falsely representing themselves and their teaching as good, whereas the very opposite was the case. They had an impure conscience, one that had become insensitive as if it had been seared with a branding iron. (4:2)

With a desensitized conscience, the teachers of error would not believe that others could be motivated aright by a pure conscience and through the operation of God’s spirit. In their own internally impure state, they would seek to impose rules and regulations on others. They would forbid marriage and the eating of certain foods. (4:2, 3)

Teachers of falsehood did not recognize that God had created these foods to be partaken of with thanksgiving by those who have faith and know the “truth.” In the case of believers, their faith in God and Christ is evident from conduct that is consistent with faith. Their knowing the truth about God and Christ would include their knowing what they approve. As persons who have faith and know the truth, believers are prompted to thank God for their sustenance. (4:3)

Thanksgiving is fitting, “because every creation of God [is] good, and nothing is to be rejected [when] received with thanksgiving.” The Genesis account (1:4-31) indicates that God acknowledged his creative works as good. Therefore, humans should not regard as bad what God considers as good. Everything that he has declared to be good is acceptable when partaken of with thanksgiving. (4:4)

God’s word, or the revealed expression of his provision for human sustenance, sanctifies food, setting it apart as acceptable. Additionally, prayer functions as part of the sanctification process. Through prayer, believers acknowledge the food as a gift from God, treating it as something set apart by him for their use. They are appreciative, not eating as do unreasoning animals that are incapable of acknowledging God as the generous provider of everything. (4:5)

By calling to the attention of the “brothers” or fellow believers in Ephesus the things Paul had mentioned, Timothy would be a “good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by words of faith and the good teaching” that he had followed. “Words of faith” would be the words contained in the then-existing “holy writings” and the message about Christ. These words promoted and strengthened faith or trust in God and his Son, providing essential nourishment for Timothy’s spiritual life. The good teaching he had followed would have included what he had learned from his godly mother and grandmother, from the community of believers where he grew up, and from Paul. (Compare Acts 16:1, 2; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:10; 14, 15.) This teaching, to which Timothy had faithfully adhered, also served as spiritual nourishment. Having been nourished on wholesome spiritual food (and not the unhealthful teachings of the promoters of error), he was properly equipped for service in Christ’s cause. (4:6)

As a good servant of Christ Jesus, Timothy was to avoid profane myths and the kind of myths that old women who are lacking in sound judgment are prone to relate. Timothy would have known the type of myths, legends, or speculative accounts Paul had in mind, but we today do not. At any rate, these myths would have been destructive or seriously distracting elements in relation to faith in God and Christ. They would have been completely valueless for providing fellow believers with sound teaching or for Timothy’s progress as a devoted servant of Christ. Besides urging Timothy to shun worthless myths, Paul admonished him to train (gymnázo) himself in godliness. (4:7)

In the literal sense, the Greek term gymnázo refers to performing gymnastic exercises or athletic training in the nude. Such training required great physical effort and discipline. Accordingly, for Timothy to continue training himself in godliness, or for a life that honored God and Christ, would have required personal exertion and self-discipline. (4:7)

Timothy’s strenuous exertion would be worth the effort, “for bodily training is useful for a little, but godliness is useful for all things, holding promise for the life now and the one to come.” The exertion and discipline associated with bodily training can contribute to physical well-being, but any derived benefits are limited to the present life. The benefits from a life of godliness and the efforts associated with it are far greater. Faithful adherence to the example and teaching of God’s Son gives one a clean conscience and promotes inner joy, well-being, and contentment. The present life comes to be the best possible, for the godly person has the assurance of God’s loving care and strengthening aid regardless of the circumstances. Even now the godly person is in possession of the eternal life or the real life distinguished by an enduring relationship with the Son of God and his Father. The life to come is the one to be enjoyed in the sinless state, which is accompanied by all the privileges and blessings that will be granted to God’s beloved children. (4:8)

The “word” about the excelling value of godliness is trustworthy or dependable and deserves to be accepted fully. (4:9) On account of the superior benefits resulting from godliness, Paul (using the first person plural either as an editorial “we” or as a reference to himself and his fellow workers) added, “for this we are laboring and struggling, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers [persons having faith].” In living a life that reflected favorably on God and Christ and discharging his commission as an apostle, Paul worked hard and struggled, often doing so in the face of troubles, obstacles, and hardships. (4:10; see the Notes section.)

He was able to exert himself vigorously even in unfavorable situations because he trusted the living God and knew that his hope rested on a solid foundation. Whereas the lifeless deities that were revered in the Greco-Roman world could do nothing for their worshipers, Paul knew that the hope that rested on the living God was certain of fulfillment. The hope involved the enjoyment of the fullness of salvation or deliverance, being completely liberated from the sinful state and coming to enjoy the inheritance God has in store for his approved children. (4:10)

Salvation or deliverance is a certainty, for God is the Savior of “all men” or all humans. His arrangement for freeing humans from sin and condemnation and coming to be his reconciled children through his Son is available to everyone. The reality of his being the Savior of all is evident in the lives of those who put faith in his Son. God is especially their Savior, for they have accepted the arrangement that is available to all humans. (4:10)

Paul wanted Timothy to make the directives he had given him the basis for imparting commands and teaching to the community of believers in Ephesus. (4:11) To avoid having anyone look down on him because of his youth, Timothy would have needed to conduct himself in an exemplary manner, giving no one occasion for legitimate faultfinding and attributing flaws to his being an immature young man. Therefore, Paul admonished him to be an example to believers “in word” or speech; “in conduct,” or in the way he carried out his responsibilities; “in love,” demonstrating active concern and care for others and putting their interests ahead of his own; “in faith” (not just in expressing his belief but by acting in harmony with it), and “in chastity,” maintaining moral purity or cleanness in all respects. (4:12; see the Notes section.)

Until he would be joining him, Paul desired that Timothy devote himself to reading, to giving admonition, comfort, or encouragement, and to teaching. For the most part, believers benefited from the holy writings and the letters sent to the congregation by hearing them read. This made it especially important for Timothy to be accurate in his reading and conveying the correct meaning through proper emphasis and pausing. Applying himself to admonition would have included providing an exposition based on what he would have read. The exposition would have served to encourage, to comfort, or to exhort the hearers. When teaching, Timothy would have endeavored to make proper application of the holy writings and to aid the listeners to understand what they heard. (4:13)

It appears that at the time of his being designated as Paul’s traveling companion, Timothy received a “gift.” This graciously bestowed divine gift made it possible for him to discharge his future responsibilities. One aspect of this gift could have been the ability to discern true teaching from false. Timothy’s really knowing the truth about God and Christ would have made it possible for him to protect fellow believers from error and harmful influences. (4:14)

Paul urged Timothy not to neglect the gift, which would require that he use it for the benefit of the community of believers. This gift had been given to him “through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the presbyterate” or the body of elders. Certain prophetic words must have been spoken at the time the body of elders laid their hands on Timothy. Likely the prophecy indicated the divine purpose for him and how he would serve. Through the laying on of the elders’ hands, Timothy was appointed or designated for special service. (4:14)

The things on which Paul wanted Timothy to meditate or to reflect would have been the responsibilities associated with his appointment and his personal conduct. The elliptical words (“in these [matters] be”) may serve to reemphasize that Timothy be fully taken up by what his service in Christ’s cause involved. These things should have been his whole life, or the object of his undivided attention. (4:15)

Fully devoted to carrying out his sacred trust, Timothy would have continued to make progress in his walk of faith and in caring well for his responsibilities as a servant to fellow believers. “All,” or every observer, should then have been able to recognize that he was making advancement in all aspects of his life. (4:15; see the Notes section.)

Paul exhorted Timothy to give heed to himself, or the way he conducted himself, and his teaching. This meant that he had to make sure that his conduct harmonized with his teaching. Moreover, what he taught needed to be solidly based on the truth about God and his Son. Sound teaching should have served to strengthen the faith of fellow believers and to help them grow as spiritual persons, progressively coming to be more like Jesus Christ. (4:16)

The admonition “stay in them” may relate to maintaining exemplary conduct and imparting sound teaching. By faithfully carrying out the service that had been entrusted to him, he would save himself and those who listened to him. When diligently cooperating with the guidance of God’s spirit in living an exemplary life and in conveying God’s word or message when teaching, Timothy would be “saving” himself. This is because he would be keeping himself free from attitudes, words, and deeds that would merit divine disapproval. Similarly, those who listened to him, responding to the sound teaching, would be strengthened in their faith and their determination to follow the leading of God’s spirit in all their conduct. They would avoid pursuing a course that would meet with divine disapproval. Instead, they would save themselves by living their lives as persons whom God, through his Son, had saved or delivered from sin and condemnation. (4:16)


In verse 10, manuscripts read either agonizómetha (struggling) or oneidizómetha (are reproached).

After agápe (love), in 4:12, numerous manuscripts add, “in spirit.”

In verse 15, numerous manuscripts read “in all,” meaning that Timothy should be making progress “in all things.” The oldest extant manuscripts, however, do not include “in,” and thus represent the progress as being seen by “all” or everyone.