SETTING: Timothy is in a tough situation. The Ephesian church is wracked with false teaching and division (even into the eldership). Timothy is younger than most people in this church (a big disadvantage in a society that valued age). He is not a charismatic leader—but rather tends toward timidity. Yet Paul has charged him to rectify this situation so that the church prospers. Can you relate to this?
In this letter, Paul gives Timothy all kinds of advice on how to be a transformational leader in Ephesus. But in 1 Tim. 4:6-16, he gives the key—let’s read it. What an amazing promise in 4:16b! If Timothy follows Paul’s advice in this passage, he will ensure salvation both for himself and for those who hear him. What does this mean?
“Salvation” cannot refer to justification or glorification, because Timothy is already justified and guaranteed to be glorified. More likely, it refers to sanctification or spiritual growth (like 1 Pet. 2:2). Also, “hear” must refer to more than just physically listening to what Timothy says; “hear” carries with it the idea of taking in with a receptive heart or heeding (“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”).
So Paul is saying: “If you follow my advice, you will ensure both your own spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of those who heed you.” In other words, if you follow my advice in this passage, you will be a transformational leader. His advice has three major components.
We must make spiritual progress that is evident to the people we are leading.
“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (4:7). “Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching” (4:16). “. . . so that your progress may be evident to all” (4:15). Timothy may have felt his primary role was to see that his followers were making spiritual progress—but Paul tells him that his primary role is that the people see his spiritual progress!
The primary factor in effecting spiritual progress in others is to make spiritual progress ourselves. “The disciple is not better than his teacher”—we cannot lead others into growth unless we are growing ourselves. Water can rise no higher than its own level. We can lift people no higher than we are ourselves. If we aren’t growing in our own spiritual lives, our ministry will lack the spiritual power to influence others to grow.
Are you growing in your own personal relationship with God—or are you stagnant? If I asked you: “What has God been showing you personally lately?” would you be able to answer with fresh insight, encouragement, conviction, etc.—or would you have to go back to months or years ago? If you asked those who know me best in my home group: “How have you seen Gary grow spiritually this past year?” would they be able to answer? Ask the Spirit to arrest your attention on one or two things . . .
Our spiritual progress must be evident in three specific areas.
We don’t have to be perfect—but we do have to be making progress. And Paul tells Timothy that our spiritual progress must be evident in three key areas . . .
Re-read 4:12. The challenge here is to "show yourself an example to those who believe" in your character. Are you cooperating with the Holy Spirit's transformation of your character so that others want to emulate you because you're becoming more like Christ? (See 2 Pet. 1:8 for the same point.) Over the past year, would the Christians who know you best say you are progressing in:
“Speech” – This probably refers not to your teaching (see 4:15), but to the way you communicate and relate to people (home group; spouse & children; work associates; neighbors). Is Eph. 4:29 something you aspire to and have made progress in? Are you losing the cynicism, jabs, self-pity, gossip, etc.? Are you gaining in the ability to spiritually edify and give grace to those who hear?
“Conduct” – This probably refers to your overall behavior as a representative of Christ (Col. 3:17-4:1). Does your behavior at home and at work commend the One you represent? Or are you one kind of person at meetings, when discipling, etc.—and another kind of person at home and at work? What is the trajectory in this area? Are you becoming more respectful and hard-working at work? Are you more engaged and engaging with your spouse and children?
“Love” – Are you more convinced of Acts 20:35? Are you becoming more other-centered—and more sane and happy because of it? Do you thrive off of giving yourself away to others for Christ—or is this a burdensome drudgery that you resent?
“Faith” – Are you more focused on God’s promises than a year ago? Is your prayer life more laced with affirmation of God’s goodness and power, and with praise and gratitude? Have you improved in persevering through trials with a good attitude? Have you taken more scary steps of faith and seen God come through?
“Purity” – This refers to sexual purity (6:2). Are you in hidden sexual sin (pornography; flirting; etc.)? Are you fatalistic about sexual sin? Are you strict with your thought-life in this area? Is your sex life with your spouse satisfying? If not, what are you doing to improve it? Who are you accountable to in this area? WE HAVE HAD SEVERAL HOME GROUP LEADERS TAKEN OUT IN THIS AREA THIS PAST YEAR! IF THIS IS WHERE YOU ARE, PLEASE BRING IT OUT IN THE LIGHT & PRESENT YOURSELF FOR RESTORATION—FOR YOUR SAKE & FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST’S WITNESS.
Which of these is the Spirit arresting your attention on? Consider asking fellow-workers who know you well for feedback on this.
Re-read 4:13. The challenge here is to "give attention to the reading, to exhortation and teaching" from scripture. Transformational leadership is Word-centered because it is the living and active Word of God that changes lives! The language and context suggest (and other passages confirm) that Paul is emphasizing both continued feeding from scripture (4:6) and continued improvement in using scripture to help others. Over the past year, would those who know you best say you have become more of a man or woman of the Word?
Can you relate to Ps. 19:7-11 more this year than you could last year? Has it restored your soul? Rejoiced your heart? Enlightened your eyes? Is it desirable and sweet—something you look forward more to "eating?" How have you been warned, rewarded?
Courses and teachings aside, are you into the Word on your own more this year than last? Is your Bible more marked up with insights? How many quality Christian books have you read this past year? How many spontaneous Bible studies and discussions have you gotten into?
Are you more confident in sharing/discussing/opening the Word with others than you were last year? Has your help of others in this way increased over the past year?
THIS IS A MAJOR WEAKNESS—AND AN AMAZING IRONY (EXPLAIN)! WE HAVE TO TURN THIS AROUND IN OUR HOME GROUPS—& THIS MEANS WE HAVE TO TURN IT AROUND IN OUR OWN LIVES. And in our discipleship, this needs to become central. In a few minutes, a couple of home group leaders will share more about making progress in this area.
Re-read 4:14. The challenge here is to "not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you . . ." We don't know what this specific gift was, but Paul is afraid that Timothy will neglect it because of his many leadership duties. He reminds him to stay intent on using and developing it.
Why is this important for transformational leadership? Because our spiritual gifts are unique avenues for the Spirit’s influence through us to others. And because God also grants you confidence in his power as you use your spiritual gifts to serve others—and this confidence helps you play your leadership role more effectively.
Home group leadership requires serving in many different ways. Affirm Xenos’ emphasis on being “fundamentally sound” workers over excessive interest in ministry specialization. But, having said this, we need to remember this important point. Both we and our home groups will flourish more if we do this and encourage one another to do it.
Are you more able to articulate where you are gifted more than you were last year? Do you discuss this periodically among yourselves? If you know where you are gifted, are you more focused and proficient in this area than you were this time last year?
Spiritual progress requires intense and sustained effort.
Only God can make us into transformational leaders—but he will not do this without real, sustained effort on our parts. Look at the verbs Paul uses: “discipline yourself” (gymnazo); “labor (kophino) and strive (agonizomai);” “take pains with;” “be absorbed in;” “pay close attention to;” “persevere in.”
DO YOU HAVE LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY ABOUT MAKING SPIRITUAL PROGRESS WITHIN YOUR LEADERSHIP TEAM?
LIKE WORKING OUT PHYSICALLY, IT EASIER TO DO THIS WITH OTHERS WHENEVER POSSIBLE RATHER THAN BY YOURSELF: PRAYING, READING THE WORD, ETC.