1 Timothy 4:7

I. THE MINISTER MUST BE ALWAYS TEACHING. "By setting forth these things to the brethren, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ." It was the duty of Timothy to counsel the brethren at Ephesus concerning the present signs of the coming apostasy, and to instruct them how they should counteract its mischiefs. It is probable that some at Ephesus had already been betrayed by ascetic seductions into an unhealthy mode of life. Timothy was to be mindful of the present truth and the present error.

II. THE MINISTER MUST BE ALWAYS LEARNING. "Nourishing thyself up in the words of the faith and of the good instruction which thou hast diligently followed."

1. There must be a continuous and permanent process of self-instruction, as the tense of the participle signifies. The minister must never cease to learn, because he has to set the truth in new lights, and to counteract error out of the large storehouse of Divine truth.

2. The minister's armory is the Word of faith and good instruction thoroughly mastered.

(1) Nothing but God's Word received by faith will enable Timothy to fight the battle of truth. He is not to overcome in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

(2) He is to adhere faithfully to the truth already attained. Progress in knowledge does not imply a constant changing of opinions.

III. THE MINISTER MUST BE ALWAYS WORKING TOWARD A PROFITABLE RESULT. "But the profane and old wives' fables avoid, and rather exercise thyself unto godliness."

1. Negatively, the minister is to avoid foolish and unprofitable studies. The apostle referred to fables familiarily known, Jewish in origin, perhaps with a mixture of Gentile theosophy, which were morally unfruitful, but practically dangerous as preparing the way for the apostasy of the future. The minister must himself stand free from all sympathy with such injurious formalism as was embodied in the rabbinical studies, as leading to the neglect of the weightier matters of the Law.

2. Positively, the minister is to exercise himself unto godliness.

(1) This implies that godliness is a pursuit that demands the strenuous application of all our energies of mind, body, and spirit.

(2) It implies that godliness must be the chief business of a minister as well as the chief aim of his life to promote it among the members of his flock.

(a) It has its inner seat in the heart.

(b) It works outward into the life.

(c) It is a progressive state.

(d) It was the one chief concern of the apostle himself. "One thing I do." - T.C.

And exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
Essex Congregational Remembrancer.

1. This duty includes a strict and impartial inquiry into our own hearts, as to what may be therein likely to prevent our advancement in godliness.

2. This duty requires an habitual attention to the duties of the closet.

3. This duty involves the exercise of much holy watchfulness and care in the ordinary pursuits of business, so that they may not be permitted to take away the heart.

4. This duty will call for occasional communion with our Christian friends.

5. This duty requires an earnest solicitude for the right improvement of our respective trials.

6. This duty demands of us a careful avoidance of such companions, conversation, and pursuits, as we have found in time past to be injurious to the advancement of personal piety.


1. We shall do well to remember that no great advancement will be made in godliness without this exercise.

2. Let us seriously consider that our progress in true godliness will make ample amends for whatever difficulties we may have to encounter in its attainment.

3. There is much reason to believe that this exercise unto godliness will never be sincerely made in vain.

4. It is of importance to consider that unless we exercise ourselves unto godliness, so far from making further advances in the Divine life, we shall go backward, not forward.

5. It is worthy of our serious regard, that so far as we feel an unwillingness to exercise ourselves unto godliness, we give affecting proof of the want of a principle of godliness in our hearts.

(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)

The man who is content to pass along with an aimless existence; or, only seeking daily supplies for daily needs, never looking hopefully into the future, and never seeking to excel; does injustice to his higher nature, and grovels on a plane but little elevated above the demands of animal existence. No aim can so call out all the powers of the human mind, and soul, as the aim after God-likeness. For what is godliness? Is it not God-likeness? a seeking to be like God? Yet the question at once arises, How can man be like God? God is infinite, man is finite. Yet with all this disparity, the Bible exhorts us to set the Lord always before us, and to grow up into His likeness. What may be termed the physical attributes of God, those which pertain to Him as Maker of all things, Ruler over suns and systems, the Upholder of the universe; these man can neither comprehend nor copy, they are beyond his reach. It is God's moral qualities that we are to copy and emulate. All of God's moral attributes are comprised in His holiness. For holiness is moral perfection. As applied to God, it means that wholeness and completeness of the Divine nature, from which nothing can be taken, to which nothing can be added. It includes, therefore, truth, love, mercy, goodness, and the like; because the absence of either would mar the wholeness and completeness of the Divine character. The presence of every virtue is needed to make complete the full circle of holiness, and they are all found in perfect fulness in God. The man, then, who sets before him. self the aim to be God-like, places above him the grandest aim that a created mind can reach after. Godliness, then, as spoken of in the text, is only another name for holiness in action, i.e., practical piety. But you may say this holiness or godliness is not attainable. It is not to the full extent of the original which you are told to copy, because there are two elements in God's holiness which can never exist in man so long as he tabernacles in the flesh — the complete absence of sin, and the presence in full perfection of every virtue. The result of this godliness will show itself in a variety of ways. It will give a man the victory over himself. The cultivation of this holiness will enable a man to overcome the world. This godliness, so grand in itself, and in its results, can be secured only by exercising ourselves to attain it. It does not come of itself, nor by retired meditation, nor by earnest prayer, nor by diligent reading of God's Word. All these things are aids and adjuncts, but none of them, nor all combined, will give us godliness. It is the result of moral principles put into active exercise; and demands the full bent, and strenuous exertion of the mind. There is much meaning in the original word which the apostle here uses, and which is translated "exercise." The literal rendering is — Be gymnasts in godliness. The idea, then, of the apostle is, that in order to attain unto godliness, we must be moral gymnasts, willing to use as severe discipline; to undergo as painful privations; to bear as torturing an exercise of flesh and blood; as the gymnast did, who trained himself to win the wreath of ivy at the Isthmian festival, or the garland of wild olives which crowned the conqueror at Olympia. And why should we not: The aims are infinitely higher, and the rewards are infinitely greater. The arena in which we are to perform this exercise is in the Church of God. Thus true religion is a very personal and practical thing. Personal; because it is thyself that is to do the exercise; it is an individual act, and no amount of exercise done by those around you in the same family, the same Church, can avail to your benefit. It is thyself that must be the moral gymnast in this spiritual conflict. And it is practical; because the things in which we are to exercise ourselves unto godliness are all around our daily life. And to this repressive work, which demands constant exercise, there is to be added an aggressive work; a watching of opportunities for good, a going out into the field of active Christian exertion. Moral powers, like the muscles of the body, are developed by exercise. The unused arm shrivels up; the unused hand loses its cunning; the unused brain loses its force. Our moral character is a thing of growth, and of slow growth; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. Character is principle put into practice and developed under trial.

(Bishop Stevens.)

Religion is not a dead, inoperative thing; but vital, active, energetic, self-diffusive. There is an exercise unto health. This is necessary for students and persons of sedentary occupations, and the neglect of it has ruined many a fine constitution. But what is the health of the body to that of the soul? What is the discipline of the muscular system to that of the moral affections? There is an exercise unto gain. This is one of man's chief pursuits; and what efforts have we all witnessed, what strenuous and unresting toil, what sleepless vigilance and incessant study, to lay up treasures here below! But what are earthly goods to heavenly? There is an exercise unto pleasure. There is an exercise unto knowledge. This is nobler, but not the noblest. Wisdom is better than knowledge, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. There is an exercise unto glory. This was the all-controlling and all-absorbing pursuit of the great military nations of antiquity, and some of them made all virtue to consist in this single aim. There is an exercise unto patriotism. This is a worthy competition, by all admired and praised. How many of you who hear me have begun this exercise? Be not ashamed of it, nor weary in well-doing. It is a holy service, and fraught with perfect freedom. How many of you have hitherto neglected this exercise? Enter upon it at once. It must be done, or all is lost.

(J. Cross, D. D.)


1. It pre-supposeth a man to be truly godly. That professor or minister that is not godly can never exercise himself to godliness. It is impossible to act without a principle of acting, and exercise doth naturally require a power of it. He can never exercise himself to running, that wants feet to run with; or to wrestling, who wants arms; nor the ungodly exercise themselves to godliness; on the contrary, "an heart they have exercised with covetous practices."

2. Making religion our business. In this the apostle gave himself a pattern to us. "Herein," says he, "do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward men." Godliness should be our great work, how to advance it in ourselves and others. Now we will make religion our business, if we take it not only by fits and starts, but make it our daily work, as men exercise themselves in their callings.

3. It imports a vigorous following of it, as wrestlers and runners ply their work vigorously. To be a little more particular, I will touch at four things.(1) We should exercise ourselves to the knowledge of these things pertaining to godliness, that we may be full of eyes, and "by reason of use, have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil."(2) We should be exercised in combating the lusts of our hearts, beginning the war against the devil at home. Like Paul, "we should keep our bodies under, and bring them into subjection; lest that by any means, when we have preached to others, we ourselves should be castaways."(3) We should be exercised to the performing of our duties, and that in a spiritual manner.(4) We should be exercised in the life of faith, without which, in vain will we attempt the other parts of the exercise of godliness.


1. It is necessary to make a man faithful in his work, and to cause him to take God for his party, with whom he hath to do.

2. It is necessary to give a man a sense of the weight of the work, and the worth of souls, without which he cannot be a good minister (2 Corinthians 5:9, 10). It is a weighty work.

3. It is very necessary to fit a man to suffer for truth.

4. It is most necessary to fit us for the performance of the several duties of our calling, whether in preaching, administering the sacraments, visiting families, or the sick.

(T. Boston, D. D.)

The apostle gives us here a short, but substantial description of the Christian life. It is an exercise, it is not a name. Again, Christianity is not an easy exercise, but such as wrestlers or runners used, exerting all their might and skill to gain the victory. The true Christian life is heart exercise to godliness. For illustrating this I shall —


1. Habitual godliness is absolutely necessary to salvation.

2. No person goes to heaven sleeping. The Christian life is an exercise.

3. They must have true courage that shall come to heaven. They have to wrestle also with the world. No man can go through it to heaven, but he will find it a place filled with snares, and that will require courage to face the difficulties in it.

4. People must either give up the name of Christians, or else abandon their old exercise to sin and ungodliness.


1. In carrying on a constant trade with heaven, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, the exercised soul is employed in exporting his weakness, poverty, and wants, and importing strength and fulness from God. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."

2. In a spiritual performance of duties.(1) In getting the soul fixed in that point, what is sin and what is duty in particular cases, before we put hand to it.(2) In doing the duty because it is the will of God, which must be not only the rule but also the reason of your duties, otherwise they are but bodily exercise.(3) In doing our duty to the glory of God.(4) In doing our duties in the strength of Christ.

(T. Boston, D. D.)

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