Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
(1 Timothy 4:16.)
Some people who commit crimes confess at the first contact with the police: “Sure, I have drugs on me. They’re in my back pack. Oh, the gun? That’s not mine. I’m just holding it for a friend.” (Yes, I do see these types of cases regularly.)
Other people wait until they are in court and facing a lengthy stint in prison, and then take a plea agreement. A guarantee of half the time they might get if convicted at trial can look awfully good.
And then there are people who won’t admit to anything, and they go to trial. For many, there’s a good reason not to admit wrongdoing; the evidence ends up not amounting to proof beyond a reasonable doubt and the person is acquitted. But for others, the evidence can be overwhelmingly against them; guilty verdicts almost inevitably follow.
You’d think in that last category the person would finally be ready to admit their crime. After all, under my state’s laws it might go easier on them at sentencing if they do, depending on their record and the circumstances of the present offense. But still some people maintain their complete innocence. “I didn’t hold up the liquor store. The witnesses lied! That video tape of me pointing a gun at the clerk and leaving with all the cash proves nothing.”
And then there was the man a few years ago who wanted me to ignore his crimes altogether when it came to his sentence. Instead, he passionately argued that since he was a Christian and I was too (word about the judge gets around in the jail apparently), I had no choice but to forgive him of the crime, dismiss the charges and let him go free. As interesting as his theology and his jurisprudence were, I declined.
What a lot of these men and women have in common is that they could have saved themselves. They could have saved themselves by not committing the crimes in the first place, they could have saved themselves by not hanging around people who are bad influences, they could have saved themselves by staying home at night instead of hanging out in a bar until closing time and then finding that their alcohol-induced haze is clouding their judgment.
But they didn’t, so they look to someone else to save them. They want their lawyer to work miracles, the prosecutor to be overcome with a sense of generosity, and the judge to take pity on them.
They can’t do it themselves, so they look to someone in authority to do it for them.
Which brings me to Paul and his instructions for Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16.)
Is Paul telling his young friend that he has that kind of authority, the power to save others? It depends on what he means by “save.”
You see, the book of 1 Timothy is not about how to select church elders, although that seems to be one of the main reasons it is studied in churches today.
It’s also not about women being barred from church leadership, although that also appears to be a major focus for people studying it today.
1 Timothy is about sound doctrine.
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. … The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:3-7.)
Paul soon laid out the heart of sound doctrine:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. (1 Timothy 2:5-6.)
Paul goes on to tell him the purpose for all the instructions in this letter: “true godliness.” But it’s not a godliness that we produce. It’s one we enjoy because of the work of Christ, the work Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 2 above. He then says:
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16.)
Chapter 4 speaks of how to bring God’s truth forward in the face of false teaching. Paul twice tells Timothy in this passage to concentrate on teaching these things to his congregation (vv. 6 and 11), and then closes by saying that by clinging to God’s truth Timothy will save himself and his listeners. (1 Timothy 4:16.)
So what does Paul mean by “save”? It can’t be salvation, because in that same chapter Paul once again reiterates the gospel for his young friend:
We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10.)
God is the Savior, not Timothy, not Paul. So again I ask, what could Paul mean by using the word “save” in verse 16?
That Timothy will save himself and his congregation a lot of trouble.
Here’s the lesson for us: Save yourself the trouble that comes from false teaching too. Focus on God and remember the gospel of grace and peace. Remember that Christ is our Savior and he has done everything necessary for you to spend eternity with our heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit already dwells within you, and has sealed you to God forever.
There’s sound doctrine, and don’t let anyone tell you different.