Set an Example in Ministry

from the 1 & 2 Timothy reading plan

1 Timothy 4:1-16, Proverbs 3:1-8, Jeremiah 1:4-9

BY Sharon Hodde Miller

1 Timothy 4 is one of those chapters that, if you read through it too quickly, you might miss the minor plot twist tucked into its verses.

In this chapter, Paul continues his counsel to Timothy by warning against false teaching, and exhorting him to preserve the integrity of his ministry. In doing so, Paul prepares Timothy for the reality that some “will depart from the faith,” having been taken in by “the teachings of demons” (1Timothy 4:1), and deceived by the “hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (v.2). It’s serious language! Which immediately leads us to wonder what sort of false teachers was Paul referring to in this chapter. Power-hungry preachers? Money-swindling hucksters? Immoral Christians who excused their sin under the banner of cheap grace? 

As it turns out, none of the above. In this chapter, Paul is not warning against ethical corruption or sexual lawlessness, but quite the opposite. In verse 3 we discover he is warning against asceticism, an extreme form of self-denial that forbids certain foods and sex. 

Historians have all sorts of guesses about where this false teaching originated. It might have been an extreme overreaction to their previously pagan lifestyles, or it might have been an early form of gnosticism, a common philosophy that elevated the spiritual over the material. The truth is, we cannot know for sure, but Paul makes it clear that this false teaching has infiltrated the church and distorted their theology.  

What makes this form of false teaching so surprising, is that it is rather different from the other forms of false teaching Paul has warned about elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul rebukes the Christians’ rampant debauchery, and in Galatians he confronts Peter’s religious duplicity, which means “false teaching” and “hypocrisy” can take many, many forms. It can look like sexual immorality or the abuse of power, or it can look like the religious piety of these extreme ascetics, which is why he urges Timothy to be discerning.

We face the same varied forms of false teaching today, and so Paul’s advice to Timothy remains as relevant as ever. Rather than get bogged down in the controversies or “silly myths” of our day, and rather than give all our time and energy to reacting to the latest hot button issue, our task as faithful Christians is a rather simple one: “train yourself in godliness” (v.7). Be a good example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (v.12). And “persevere in these things” (v.16). 

That is not to say we should be silent in the face of false teaching—Paul himself was not—but it means our primary work of resistance is modest, and often hidden. In a loud world of competing opinions and warring convictions, this quiet, humble work might seem pointless and ineffective, but in reality, it will save our witness.  

Post Comments (48)

48 thoughts on "Set an Example in Ministry"

  1. Kaitlyn Dean says:


  2. Stormi Messmer says:


  3. dabria mong says:

    o Lord can you please help me love how you love and help me spread the love like you did. thank you my Father. please give me wisdom to understand you and your word better. in Jesus name Amen.

  4. Hayley S says:

    It struck me that Paul mentions that Timothy should remember the gift that was spoken over him through prophecy and laying on of hands and the Lord reminds Jeremiah that he was consecrated even before he was born and He would give him the words to speak. A great reminder that speaking words of life to one another is so powerful and empowering! Sometimes we just need a reminder of who we are in Christ and the plans he has for us.

  5. Kelli Carlson says:

    I love the contrast that Paul gives, that false teaching can be on both extremes. It’s hard to feel like there are so many rules but this is a reminder that God gave us many things to enjoy!

  6. Sandi Stanley says:

    Specific prayers going up for the needs of all that I read. So grateful to be included in this group of Jesus loving women, who have such encouraging and loving hearts.

  7. Deirdre Twyman says:

    Lots of opinions and loud voices. Competing to be heard! Lord, help me not join in with more noise. I pray that I quietly follow you and stay steady in my faith. Amen

  8. Kristie Paradis says:

    Pam, prayers sent up!! My father passed away at the age of 42, when I was 15. The anniversary comes every year on June 12. It will be 29 years this year, and some days are still so hard! What gets me through those days, are knowing how wonderful and amazing that first hug with my daddy will be in Heaven!! I can picture it even now…us running towards each other and finally getting the hug I have been missing! It gives me peace know how joyous it is going to be in that moment!

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