1 Timothy 4:11-16
11 Prescribe and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
As we continue to search for governing principles in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we find this passage, which seems like encouragement from Paul. I see a few interesting things lying beneath the surface of Paul’s words here.
Gifting Trumps Custom
Paul talks about Timothy’s youth and how others might “look down” upon him because of it. He prescribes how Timothy can combat this, with everything he does: the way he talks, how he acts, and his treatment of others. I think of Steven Furtick, a powerful preacher who before the age of 30 has developed a huge church thriving in one of the most “overchurched” areas of the country. How often does God tell us to do something or call us to action that is contrary to this world? Look at the story of King David; according to custom he was the least likely candidate for king. But God had other plans. God calls us out of our comfort zones, out of what we know, out of man’s idea of how things should be run. I try to keep this in mind when I witness something that grinds against my own customs or beliefs. We should be wary to remember the statement made by Gamaliel, the most respected Jewish leaders and teachers, when the Sanhedrin were discussing what to do with the apostles who were performing miracles and preaching the Gospel of Christ, “38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” I love how Paul encourages Timothy to continue his public ministry, which flies in the face of custom. Elders were very highly regarded and respected (moreso than they are now). This wasn’t anything to take away from them, but I think God wanted to use Timothy’s youth to prove a point: it’s not about your age, it’s about the Spirit of God within you.
Develop Your Spiritual Gifts
I think we all need to take the first half of verse 14 to heart, “do not neglect the spiritual gift within you.” The original word used for “spiritual gift” is charisma. This is where we get the root of the charismatic church. We have too easily dismissed the definition of this, however. We immediately look to speaking in tongues and neglect what this word truly signifies. The first three definitions of the Greek inform us that it represents 1) a favour with which one receives without any merit of his own 2) the gift of divine grace 3) the gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue. After that, we find definitions that talk about miraculous powers and giftings used to reveal the power of God and to edify the church. It is easy for us to read this passage and think that Paul is referring to exhortation and teaching, which he mentioned just before verse 14. I’m not going to deny that he is, however I pose to you a deeper meaning behind Paul’s words. He is referring to developing grace, love, mercy, and all the other fruit of the Spirit in addition to the specialties given to him. We talk about spiritual gifts as they are listed throughout the bible but if we focus only on those as a list of supernatural powers, we will neglect the most important spiritual gift of all: love. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” If we neglect love, everything else is pointless.
Salvation is an Ongoing Process
If we look at the details not only in this passage but the majority of Paul’s letter, we find that Timothy’s charge is to tend after those who have come to Christ. He is helping them strengthen the church, adhere to sound doctrine, and not “fall away” from the faith. So then why is Paul talking about Timothy and those he is teaching “being saved” in the future tense? Aren’t they technically already saved? Salvation is not a one-time event; it is a cleansing process. When we “accept Christ,” we begin this process. Receiving Him as your Lord and Savior is only the beginning of a lifelong journey of becoming one with God. This constant and future salvation, which today is known as sanctification, is the process of inviting God to cleanse us of our sinful selves. It is the aligning of our hearts with His will. We cannot simply say a prayer and then continue coasting in life as if nothing has changed. That’s like buying a new house but never living in it. In developing the spiritual gift that has been given to us, we allow God to reveal to us what and who He created us to be. This is the perfection of our souls; returning to God’s original design for us. It is the discovery of our purpose on earth. It is the freedom that God has offered to us. It is the free gift that God has given us; yet we have the choice to open it and use it or throw it away.
What have you done with your gift? It has been offered to each and every one of us. Have you rejected it? Have you opened it and thrown it away? Have you embraced it, but only use it occasionally? Do you incorporate it into your daily life as if your life depends on it?