Analysis of 1 Timothy 4, 9-15

23 January 2023

Today’s epistle reading comes from Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy and contains advice from the apostle to Timothy, his disciple and collaborator, whom he left as bishop of the Church of Ephesus.

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.

This text describes the features of a responsible leader of the Church, which make him a model and example for the faithful. Paul catches Timothy’s attention with the phrase he uses at the beginning of the unit and which he often employs in his pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy; Titus) when he wants to emphasize something or quote a tradition of the Church: ‘The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance’. Immediately thereafter he refers to his labors and his hope in God the Savior, clearly implying that the same things should characterize the recipient of the letter. It’s worth noting that God is called ‘the Savior of all people’, just as, at another point in the same epistle Paul refers to God our Savior, ‘who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (2, 4).

In the continuation of the reading, Paul sets out the features of a leader which make him a model for Christians.

  1. Timothy was young in terms of age, which Saint Paul says is no impediment, provided Timothy has the characteristics which his mentor then enumerates. The first of these is constant teaching. A Church leader has not only administrative duties, but is primarily a teacher and, so long as he executes his task properly, no-one should denigrate him because of his age.
  2. The apostle asks particularly that Timothy should set an example in his speech which should not be superficial and without serious content, but should be inspired by holy Scripture.
  3. Discourse can’t be effective unless it’s accompanied by proper ‘behavior’, which often speaks louder than words, especially when it’s accompanied by love.
  4. For a leader, and, indeed, for any Christian, love isn’t an emotional platitude but an action of life which extends even as far as self-sacrifice, because ‘the good shepherd lays down his life for his flock’, as Christ himself says, in the Gospel according to Saint John, where he presents himself as the ‘good shepherd’ (John 10, 11).
  5. The ‘spiritual life’ is a life inspired by the Holy Spirit and bears the fruits of the Spirit, which Paul enumerates in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, meekness and restraint (Gal. 5, 22).
  6. Faith isn’t merely the theoretical acceptance of certain Christian principles but is rather complete trust in God, without reservation.
  7. Purity in the way of life, in intentions and in conduct.
  8. Reading Scripture. Saint John Chrysostom says: ‘A sure way of avoiding sin is to read the Scriptures, while ignorance of Scripture leads to the edge of a very deep pit. The latter is what engendered heresies and brought in a decadent life-style, turning everything upside down’.
  9. Timothy mustn’t neglect the gift granted to him on ordination by the elders of the Church.

If he observes all the above, everyone will see Timothy’s progress.

Being a leader in Church is a difficult and responsible task, and it’s also important for Christians to have an inspiring model in the person of their leader.