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Teaching series from 1 Timothy

Being Potent Spiritual Influencers

1 Timothy 4:7-16

Teaching t14018


Brief reminder of the setting and purpose (read 3:14,15) – to explain how each of us can contribute to our church’s spiritual health.  As 3:15 says, the church is the “church of the living God.”  A healthy church is not a building that holds weekly memorial services for its dead Founder; it is a group of people who have come to know the living God by entrusting themselves to Jesus (GOSPEL), and who then give His life to one another.

We come now to another passage related to this theme – read 4:7-16.  Although there are some unique features here (Timothy’s role, youth, etc.), this passage applies in principle to all Christians.  It is God’s will for each of us to be potent spiritual influencers – people through whom the Holy Spirit can influence others (Christians and non-Christians) toward Jesus (read Heb. 10:24).  How can we become potent spiritual influencers?  Let’s begin at the end, and work backwards. 

The promise of spiritual influence

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 listening with a receptive heart or heeding (Matt. 17:5; 18:15; “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 positive spiritual influence on those who heed you.”  What is this advice?

The key: make evident spiritual progress

“Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all” (4:15).  Timothy may have felt his primary role was to see that others were making spiritual progress (and this has a place) – but Paul tells him that his primary role is that others see his spiritual progress!  A key (perhaps the primary) factor in spiritually influencing others is to keep making spiritual progress ourselves. We cannot lead others into growth unless we are growing ourselves.  If we aren’t growing in our own spiritual lives, our lives will lack the spiritual power to influence others to grow.  But if we are making progress, we will positively impact those within our spheres of influence!

Other passages teach this same truth.  Read 2 Pet. 1:3-8.  What ensures that we will be fruitful and useful in our knowledge of Christ?  That we have these qualities and that they are increasing.  Read Phil. 3:12,14-16.  What key to Paul’s potent spiritual influence does he share and recommend to the Philippians?  To keep pressing on to become more like Christ.

One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that we can always keep growing – right up to the day that we go to be with the Lord (EXAMPLE)!  And that means we can keep influencing others toward Christ right up to the day we go to be with Him (EXAMPLE)!

Conversely, the idea that we can stop growing (“level off”) but maintain spiritual health or potent spiritual influence is a lie.  There is nothing magical about being a Christian for decades; it is Christians who are growing (for decades) that have increasing health and impact.  Spiritual “levelling off” is actually spiritual decline.  Christians who stop growing become much more vulnerable to personal temptation (e.g., David with Bathsheba).  They also become spiritually stale, and their staleness negatively influences those around them. 

What evident spiritual progress looks like

What does this progress look like?  He calls it “godliness” in 4:7b,8 (re-read).  Here again we see the idea of progress (gymnazo), and Paul describes another benefit (temporal and eternal profit).  Ajith Fernando describes godliness this way: “. . . an attitude of reverence and awe in the presence of a majestic God . . . One who lives with such an attitude . . . is going to gradually become like the One he reveres.  So one is called godly because he is (increasingly) Godlike.  Others see him and say, ‘This is what God is like.’”   Paul describes what godliness looks like in more detail in 4:12-14.

4:12 refers to progress in godly character.  If you are growing in godly character, you will inspire responsive people to progress in this area (EXAMPLE)!  Notice the different aspects of godly character Paul mentions:

“Speech” – This refers not to formal teaching or public speaking, but to the way you communicate and relate to people (home group; spouse & children; work associates; neighbors).  Is your speech less characterized by cynicism, cutting remarks, self-pity, complaining, gossip, etc.?  Is it becoming more characterized by words that build up and give thanks?

“Conduct” – This refers to your overall behavior as a representative of Christ (Col. 3:17).  Does your behavior at home and at work commend the One you represent more than last year?  Or are you one kind of person at meetings, when discipling, etc. – and another kind of person at home and at work?  Which direction are you going 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 that being a giver (rather than taking) will lead to true happiness (Acts 20:35)?  Are you becoming more other-centered – and more sane and happy because of it?  Are you trusting in God’s love for you more by giving His love more to others – or are you living self-protectively?  Are you thriving more 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 characterized by affirmation of God’s goodness and power, and with praise and gratitude?  Are you more persevering through trials with a good attitude?  Have you taken more scary steps of faith and seen God come through?

“Purity” – This refers first of all to sexual purity (5:2).  Are you in hidden sexual sin (pornography; flirting; etc.)?  Are you fatalistic about sexual sin?  Are you stricter with your thought-life in this area?  Is your sex life with your spouse more satisfying?  If not, what are you doing to improve it?  To whom are you accountable to in this area?  It also refers to purity of motives.  Are you increasingly motivated in your activities to glorify God and serve others – or are you motivated mainly by selfishness (e.g., people’s approval; personal comfort; etc.)?

Would others say that you growing in godly character?  If you’re not sure, why not ask one of your Christian friends who knows you well?

4:13 refers to progress in using God’s Word.  God’s Word that has the power to effect spiritual change in people (1 Thess. 2:13).  Spirit-empowered communication of God’s Word is far more important than our personalities, intelligence, formal education, etc.  We can all make progress in this area in two ways:

We can make progress in our own intake of God’s Word (read 4:6 “nourished”).  Many of us limp from teaching to teaching, and then wonder why we lack the ability to spiritually influence others.  Do you have a life in God’s Word?  Are you reading the Word regularly?  Are you getting fresh revelation from God’s Word?  Are you reading quality Christian books?  Are you becoming a life-long learner and lover of revealed truth?

We can make progress in our communication of God’s Word (4:13 “exhortation and teaching”).  Some of us (like Timothy) have Word gifts (teaching; preaching; exhortation; counseling; etc.).  If so, are you using and improving those gifts?  If you do not have word gifts, you can still share God’s Word impactfully in a variety of contexts (e.g., home group sharing; encouragement and admonition; discipleship; parenting; witnessing; etc.).  Are you growing in your communication of God’s Word with others?

4:14 refers to progress in using your spiritual gift(s).  We don't know what Timothy’s specific gift was, but Paul is afraid that Timothy will neglect it – perhaps because of his many leadership duties.  He reminds him to stay intent on using and developing it.  Why is this important for effective spiritual influence?  Because our spiritual gifts are unique avenues for the Spirit’s influence through us to others.  And because God grants you confidence in His power as you use your spiritual gifts to serve others.

Are you asking God for better clarity on where you are gifted?  Do you seek input from your fellow-leaders and other trusted Christian friends?  Are you exercising your gifts consistently, both in your home group and beyond your home group (EXAMPLES)?

There are two ways to respond to a spiritual progress inventory like this.  One is to take it as an all-or-nothing list that you have to accomplish by your own power.  That always leads to failure and discouragement.  The other is simply ask the Holy Spirit: “What one or two things are you bringing to my attention?  What one or two steps do you want me to begin to take with You?”


Let’s sum up what we have learned through two statements that someone taught me as a young Christian . . .

“God will not make me into a potent spiritual influencer apart from my active cooperation.”  Look at the verbs Paul uses in this passage: “discipline yourself” (gymnazo); “labor (kopiao) and strive (agonizomai);” “give attention to” (prosecho); “take pains with (melatao);” “be absorbed in (“throw yourself into them”);” “pay close attention to (epecho);” “persevere in” (epimeno).  There is nothing passive here; all is conscious and intentional.  We never make progress in godliness by drifting toward it; it is always a choice – to present ourselves to God to this end day by day, situation by situation.  But if you adopt this lifestyle, God will ensure that you will make progress in godliness – and the profit and influence that will result from it!

“No other person or circumstance can prevent me from becoming a potent spiritual influencer.”  All I need to do is keep growing.  God will not prevent us – He is constantly at work to provide both motivation and power to this end (read Phil. 2:13).  Other people or even Satan cannot prevent us – God is greater than them (read 1 Jn. 4:4; Rom. 8:31).  Circumstances cannot prevent us – God promises to work through all circumstances to this end (read Rom. 8:28,29).  In fact, the only person or force in the universe that can prevent me from this is me!  Therefore, we can all make progress—and therefore we can all become potent spiritual influencers! 

What happens when a group of Christians decides to pursue this together?  Why not ask a few of your home church friends to join you in this?

NEXT WEEK: 1 Timothy 5:3-18 – “Ministry Priorities in the Local Church”