Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.
1 Timothy 4:15 | NIV | Other Versions | Context
Paul to Timothy is a clear teacher-student relationship, mentor-disciple; father-son. As Paul grew in stature and in spiritual maturity, we see him imparting much of his wisdom in old age and from experience to Timothy. Paul had always been an intellectual – he was a scholar, a rabbi, a Pharisee even. But with age comes a different dimension to his teaching, and in his first letter to Timothy, whom he calls his beloved son [1 Tim 1:2], we see Paul meticulously instructing Timothy on what to do as he awaits Paul’s arrival. In today’s study, we will examine this instruction of Paul’s and note how it is important that we strive to excel in the kingdom of God.
Be diligent in these matters – what are these matters? The entire chapter can be called a list of instructions from Paul to Timothy, in fact, the entire book can be called a textbook for the young pastor or church leader. But in the direct context of this verse, I will assume that ‘these matters’ as mentioned by Paul referred to the following:
- devoting to the public reading of Scripture – reading the word of God, not just privately, but publicly, so as to build others up as well.
- not neglecting one’s gift – we were not told what Timothy’s gift was, but that it merited special mention and reminder by Paul hints at it being a rare, miraculous gift. And yet, perhaps it is just a simple and straightforward one that is easily overlooked, and hence required a reminder.
In essence, ‘these matters’ probably meant Paul’s instructions, just as it meant the word of God (God’s instructions). There are many different renditions to this verse. KJV gives us meditate; ESV gives us practise; NASB gives us take pains with these things; ISV gives us think on these things. They are similar words and phrases, yet quite different action words. Let’s just assume Paul really means for Timothy to just keep himself focused with the thinking and doing of these things. But how do you be diligent in these matters? It’s an idea that was repeated several times in the immediate context of this verse – ‘devoting to’ [v13] and ‘persevere’ [v16] add on to this idea. Keep doing these things. Devotedly. Persevere. Don’t give up. Work hard at them. Show great care and work on them conscientiously.
give yourself wholly to them – having identified what these matters are, Paul doesn’t stop by asking Timothy to be diligent at them. In fact, Paul caps it off by asking him to give himself wholly to it. Completely, without fail. To willingly enter into them. To be so focused on them that there are no room for distractions. Recall in Acts, the apostles gathered together and formed a branch of deacons to take over some of their duties so that they can focus on the ministry of the word and prayer. It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables [Acts 6:2|Article].
so that everyone may see your progress – now, in here there’s a pastoral/leadership point of view to this. Let’s be careful to think of this in the right perspective so that we do not lose ourselves in show-ism and pretence. No – Paul did not mean to boast in your devotion to the ministry of teaching or preaching. However, should a leader or a pastor be a leader and a pastor without others being able to see their constant and continuous spiritual growth, then something is obviously wrong. Paul makes it clear: when you devote yourself wholly to the ministry of the word, when you spend time reading the word and teaching the word, when you spend time on spiritual matters, there will be a certain result. You will make progress. You will have spiritual growth. Hence, if others are unable to see your progress, that can only mean 2 possible things: either you’re not really devoting yourself to the word, or you’re not devoting yourself to the correct matters. That others are able to see your progress is an indication of your growth.
We may not be pastors or church leaders, but I really believe that all of us should apply Paul’s instructions too. It is utterly bewildering if you have been a Christian for decades, and to other people, you have been in the same place spiritually for the entire period of time. I think it is clear that the word of God is unlimited. Hence, no matter how much we think we know the word of God, there is always still room for us to grow spiritually. We can never know God enough. Sometimes we lapse into a state of stagnancy and comfort as we tell ourselves that we’re upright Christians already. We serve regularly and tithe always. We show up for all sermons and all events. We do the right thing most of the time. Others view us as outstanding Christians too. But is that all there is to the Christian walk of life? Do we just hit a level and call it our destination?
Our call was to lead a Christ-like life. Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did [1 John 2:6]. Can you thus claim to live in Christ? Are you truly living like Jesus did, already? Life is a neverending journey of learning, especially the Christian lifestyle. The knowledge of the world may seem vast, but it is still limited. But the knowledge that is in the Bible may seem limited, but it is unlimited. Let us never rest on our laurels. If we are good Christians, thank God, and let us strive to become even better Christians. Continue to progress and grow in our faith, and in our spiritual stature. Others will see it – not so that we can boast, but so that they may be uplifted, and glory can be lifted to the Lord – In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven [Matthew 5:16].