Teaching By Example

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1 Timothy 4:11-16

INTRODUCTION: Please take your Bibles and turn with me to 1 Timothy 4:11-16. We are continuing our series on “Doing Church Together” from the book of 1 Timothy. So what should we be doing as a church together? What are some of the instructions for church we should be doing? So far we have looked at such topics as: doing God’s work by faith, praising God for his grace, going to God through Jesus, respecting God’s order in gender, choosing qualified elders and deacons, and practicing godliness. Today’s passage gives us yet another instruction. We should be teaching by example.

1 Timothy 4:11-16 11 Command and teach these things. 12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV)

How many times have you heard these words before? “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think we have all heard them at one time or another, if not the actual words, then at least the attitude behind them.

Anytime someone adopts this attitude, “Do as I say and not as I do,” we find it hard to respect that person, because it is hypocritical to say one thing and do another. When a person’s actions do not match his words, that person lacks integrity. And when a person lacks integrity, he loses credibility. We do not trust or respect the person who says, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

So how does this apply to the church? There is no teaching that is more important than the teaching of God’s word in the church. And that is why it is essential that those who teach about God never take this attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Even though God’s word is true, if those who teach God’s word lack integrity, they too will lose credibility, and people will not take God’s word seriously.

I. Set an example for others (verses 11-12)

How do you teach God’s word effectively? First of all, you must set an example for others. That’s what Paul tells Timothy in verses 11-12. Look at verse 11 where Paul writes, “Command and teach these things.” Throughout this book Paul frequently uses the phrase “these things” to refer back to what he has just said. Here he has just been talking about practicing godliness. So Paul is telling Timothy to command and teach “these things about godliness” to the people at Ephesus.

Notice that in teaching, Timothy is doing more than just imparting information. Paul does not just want Timothy to pass along knowledge about godliness. Timothy is to command and teach these things. This is authoritative teaching. And authoritative teaching requires a credible teacher: a teacher with integrity; a teacher who backs up his words with his life; a teacher who sets an example.

This was especially important for Timothy because Timothy was younger than a lot of the people in the church at Ephesus. Timothy was probably in his thirties by this time, but he lived in a culture that placed a huge value on maturity and life experience. Remember, church leaders were called elders. Why? Because it was assumed that older men with greater experience would lead and guide the church. We even have one ancient rabbi on record as saying that a person at 30 was fit for authority and at 40 he was fit for discernment.

So Timothy in his mid-thirties was considered young to be a leader. Not too young, but on the youngish side. So what is Paul’s instruction to Timothy in this situation? Look at verse 12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” The word translated “look down on” means “to disdain or think little of; to underrate.” Paul knew that it was possible that some people in the church might not take Timothy seriously because of his age. And so it was even more important for Timothy to set an example for the others to follow.

Let me just add a word about this to our young people here today. Although this verse was originally written to Timothy, this is God’s word to you as well. You may be young, but you can still set an example. Don’t let anyone look down on your youth, but resolve to set an example for the believers in our church, too.

Paul tells us that we should “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Speech could mean preaching or teaching here. The Bible says that those who teach should be very careful about what they say. James 3:1-2: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”

So it could refer to teaching, but it is more likely a general word that refers to all speech, which would of course include preaching and teaching. The Bible has a lot to say about the words that we use, and we should all set an example for others with our speech. Psalm 34:12-13 says, “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” In Psalm 141:3 the Psalmist prays, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.”

You should also set an example with your life. The word means your manner of life, your behavior. One of the best ways to teach others the truth about God is to live it out in your own life. Today is Father’s Day, and when I think of all that I learned from my own father, I don’t remember specific words exactly, but I mostly remember the example that he set for me. People learn from what we do as much as they do from what we say. And when our lives do not back up our words, they often reject what we say. You have probably heard the saying before: “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear what you are saying.” We must set an example in speech and in life.

And then Paul says “in love, in faith and in purity.” Love is essential to true ministry. Ministry without love is not ministry at all. Faith is essential to doing God’s work. That was the first instruction in this whole letter to Timothy, doing God’s work by faith. Purity is essential if we are going to teach God’s word to others. We are God’s ambassadors. That means we represent God to others when we teach them God’s word. God is holy. And if we do not set an example in purity, who will believe our message? These are three character qualities that are essential if we are to be credible teachers about God. We must set an example for others.

II. Do not neglect your gifts (verses 13-14)

Secondly, you should not neglect your gifts. We find this in verses 13-14. Look at verse 13 with me: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” Timothy had been given gifts for leadership in the church. And so Paul tells him to devote himself to these things. The word means to give your full attention to something, to devote both thought and effort.

Notice that the word of God is central to the ministry of the church. Timothy’s three main responsibilities as a leader of the church were the reading, preaching and teaching of Scripture. The public reading of Scripture was an important part of Jewish worship in the synagogues. It is an important part of our worship today. In some ways it was even more important in Paul’s day when there was less literacy and less access to the Scriptures among the people. Today, at least in the United States, the Scriptures are plentiful, and anyone can read them for themselves. But for many people in Paul’s day, the public reading of Scripture was the only time they had access to the Scriptures.

After the Scriptures are read comes preaching. The word preaching refers to exhortation, admonition and encouragement from the Scriptures. In preaching, the words of Scripture are explained and then applied for the people. We find this pattern in the Old Testament. “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” (Nehemiah 8:8) We find this same pattern of reading followed by preaching in the New Testament in Acts 13:15: “After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.’” And we find this same pattern also in the early church. We read in Justin Martyr, a 2nd century writer in the early church: “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president (i.e. the leader, the one who presides) verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.” (1 Apology 67; 2nd century)

Paul says, “Devote yourself to reading Scripture, preaching, and teaching.” The word teaching here is not the verb “teaching,” but the noun. It refers to “doctrine or that which is taught.” The church leader must devote himself to studying the Scriptures, putting it into practice in his own life, and then sharing it with others. That’s part of what it means to teach by example. We find these three elements of study, observance and teaching in the description of Ezra the priest in the Old Testament: “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10) Study, observance and teaching others – all three are implied when Paul says to devote yourself to teaching or doctrine.

He then goes on to say in verse 14: “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” Once again, Timothy had been given gifts for leadership in the church. Timothy’s gift was confirmed by a prophetic message and affirmed by the body of elders through the laying on of hands.

The laying on of hands was used in commissioning someone for service. We find a similar scene of prophecy, the laying on of hands, and commissioning for service in Acts 13:2-3: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” By laying their hands on Timothy, the elders were identifying with Timothy and affirming his gifts of leadership in the body of Christ. Today we would call this an ordination service, and we still practice the laying on of hands when a man is ordained or set apart as an elder in the church.

Now you may not be ordained, you may never have had prophecies made about you, but I can tell you this. If you are a Christian, then God has given you gifts for service. All Christians have been given spiritual gifts, and there is a great variety of spiritual gifts. Romans 12:6-8 says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

Whatever you gift or gifts may be, you must be careful not to neglect your gift. The word translated “neglect” in verse 1 Timothy 4:14 means “to be careless or unconcerned,” basically not to care about your gift. Why might someone neglect their gift? Perhaps due to laziness or selfishness, falling away from the Lord, or just getting distracted.

There might be any number of reasons why we neglect our gifts. But Paul’s point is this. You have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit to serve the body of Christ. When you use your gifts for God’s glory, you are teaching by example. When you do not, your life betrays your words. If you want to minister effectively, set an example for others and do not neglect your gifts.

III. Make visible progress and persevere (verses 15-16)

And then finally, Paul says you should make visible progress and persevere. Look at verse 15: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Be diligent. This word means “to care about something so that you put it into practice.” It is the opposite of the word “neglect” in verse 14 which meant not to care about something. Paul says, “Care about these things.” What things? Setting an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity. Caring about the gifts that God has given you to serve others.

Care about these things and give yourself wholly to them. The word here literally means to immerse yourself in them. You cannot set an example of Christian living half-heartedly. You must give yourself wholly to these matters so that everyone can see your progress. Are you making progress in your Christian life? As you examine your life as a Christian, are you standing still, going backward or moving forward?

Paul says not only should you be making progress in your Christian life, but you should be making visible progress, progress that is evident to all. By the way, that “all” means everyone. Both believers and unbelievers should be able to see your progress in the faith. You are not really setting an example unless other people can see your progress.

And then not only should you be making visible progress as a Christian, you should persevere in your faith. Perseverance is part of setting a good example. If you quit halfway, that’s not much of an example. That’s why Paul goes on to say in verse 16: “ Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Notice two things you should watch closely. Your life and your doctrine. Once again, your life should match the teaching of God’s word. Watch your doctrine closely to make sure that your beliefs line up with God’s word. Then watch your life closely to make sure that your life lines up with your beliefs.

The Christian life takes effort and discipline. God knows that it is going to be hard at times, and so he tells you to persevere. “Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” As you persevere in Christian life and doctrine, you will not only be working out your own salvation, but you will be contributing to the salvation of others, as they see your example, and are likewise encouraged to follow Christ.

CONCLUSION: As we close today I want you to think about one or two people who have influenced you for Christ. Do you remember the specific words they spoke to you? Or do you mostly remember a person? Their example? Their deeds? That’s what Paul is talking about. Yes, we teach by words. But we also teach by example. Now go and be an example for others.

© Ray Fowler

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