Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;IV.
(1) Now the Spirit speaketh expressly.—Rather, But the Spirit. But (de) in very strong contrast to the sublime mystery of Redemption St. Paul has been speaking of as the glorious treasure contained in the Church of which Timothy and his colleagues were ministers: but in spite of that sublime truth which should occupy the thoughts and fill the hearts of Christians, men will busy themselves with other and very different things; with a spurious mock devotion, dreaming that God’s mercy and love were to be purchased by mere abstinence from certain meats, or by an unnatural renunciation of the home and family life. The “words of the Spirit” here allude to a mysterious power, to a divine gift, traces of which occur again and again in the New Testament pages. Among the supernatural signs which were vouchsafed to the first generation of believers, and with very rare exceptions only to the first generation—to men and women, many, if not most, of whom had seen Jesus, and had had personal contact with Him—must be reckoned those mysterious intimations of the will of the Holy Spirit which guided and encouraged the Church of the first days. That intimation came in varied forms: to the Twelve in the form of fiery tongues (Acts 2:1-12); to a more numerous company (Acts 4:31); to Peter on the occasion of the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10:10-16; Acts 10:19-20); to St. Paul on three occasions in the course of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-7; Acts 16:9-10); through the medium of the prophet Agabus (Acts 21:11). St. Paul alludes to many such voices of the Spirit, and heavenly intimations, when speaking to the elders of Miletus (Acts 20:23). One of these special revelations, made to himself, he here quotes.
In the latter times.—All those ages are here referred to which succeed the coming of the Lord. In these Paul lived, and we are still watching the slow and solemn march past of these latter ages. The errors foreseen then, have more or less affected the internal government of the Church during the eighteen hundred years which have passed since St. Paul’s words were written. In no age, perhaps, have they been more ostentatiously thrust forward than in our own.
Some shall depart from the faith.—“By denying what is true, by adding what is false,” says Bengel.
Giving heed to seducing spirits.—This expression must not be watered down by explanations which understand this expression as referring to false teachers. The “seducing spirits” are none other than created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (4) For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be evil powers and spirits subject to Satan, and which are permitted to influence and to work in human hearts. (See Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12—passages in which these spiritual communities of wickedness and their powers over men are again alluded to by St. Paul.)
Doctrines of devils.—Doctrines and thoughts taught by, suggested by, evil spirits. The personality of these unhappy beings is clearly taught by St. Paul. Of their influence in the heathen world and their antagonism to Christ and His followers, see 1Corinthians 10:20-21.
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;(2) Speaking lies in hypocrisy.—The Greek words here should be translated, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies. The lies that these men utter, refer to their teaching that it was pleasing to the eye of the All-seeing Creator for men and women to avoid certain meats, and to abstain from marriage. Their hypocrisy consisted in their assumption of a mask of holiness, which holiness they considered was derived from their false asceticism and their abstinence from things which the Apostle proceeded to show were lawful.
Having their conscience seared with a hot iron.—Better rendered, Branded in their own con-science as with a hot iron. The image is drawn from the practice of branding slaves and certain criminals on their forehead with a mark. “Qua nota turpitudinis non inusta tua vita est?” (Cic. Cat. i. 6.) These men tried to teach the efficacy of a substitution of certain counsels of perfection in place of a faithful loving life. They based their teaching on wild Oriental speculations about the evil nature of all matter. They were often themselves evil-livers, who, conscious of their own stained, scarred lives, strove with a show of outward sanctity and hypocritical self-denial to beguile and to lead astray others, and in the end to make them as vile as themselves.
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.(3) Forbidding to marry.—This strange and unnatural “counsel of perfection,” St. Paul, thinking and writing in the Spirit, looked forward to as a perilous delusion which would, as time went on, grow into the impious dogma of certain of the great Gnostic schools. This teaching was probably, even in those early days, creeping into the churches. The Jewish sects of Essenes and Therapeutæ had already taught that “abstinence from marriage” was meritorious. Men belonging to these sects doubtless were to be found in every populous centre where Jews congregated, and it was always in these centres of Judaism that Christianity at first found a home. St. Paul, however, saw no reason to dwell on this point at any length; the gross absurdity of such a “counsel “as a rule of life was too apparent; it was a plain contradiction of the order of Divine Providence. But the next question which presented itself in the teaching of these false ascetics, as we shall see, required more careful handling.
And commanding to abstain from meats.—Once more we must look to those famous Jewish religious communities of Egypt (the Essenes and Therapeutæ), the precursors of the great monastic systems of Christianity, as the home whence these perverted ascetic tendencies issued. These precepts too, like the counsel respecting marriage, were adopted in after years by several of the principal Gnostic sects; and it was especially those times St. Paul looked on to, although, no doubt, the seeds of their false asceticism had already been sown broadcast in the principal Christian congregations.
It has been asked why, in these solemn warnings against a false asceticism which St. Paul foresaw might and would be substituted for a really earnest Godfearing life, the question of celibacy was dismissed with one short sentence, while the apparently less-important question of abstaining from particular kinds of food was discussed with some detail. The reason is easily discoverable. The counsel to abstain from marriage was a strange and unnatural suggestion, one contrary to the plain scheme of creation. Any teaching which taught that the celibate’s life was a life peculiarly pleasing to God would, at the same time, throw a slur upon all home and family life, and the Apostle felt that men’s ordinary common sense would soon relegate any such strange teaching to obscurity; but with the question of abstaining from meats—that was connected with the precepts of the Mosaic law, which dealt at some length (probably from reasons connected with the public health) with these restrictions in the matter of meats.
These false teachers, while they urged such abstinence as a likely way to win God’s favour, would probably base, or at all events support, their arguments by reference to certain portions of the Mosaic law, rightly understood or wrongly understood.
These points, then, might have risen into the dignity of a controverted question between the (Pauline) Gentile and the Jewish congregations. So St. Paul at once removed it to a higher platform. All food was from the hand of one Maker—nothing, then, could really be considered common or unclean without throwing a slur upon the All-Creator.
Which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving.—God’s primeval intention is thus sharply contrasted with men’s arbitrary restrictions. This divine intention is repeated with still greater emphasis in 1Timothy 4:4.
Of them which believe and know the truth.—The true “Gnostics,” in St. Paul’s eyes, were not those self-sufficient men who were out of their own corrupt imagination devising these strange and unnatural methods of pleasing God, but those holy, humble men of heart who believed on His crucified Son, and knew the truth of the glorious gospel.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:(4) For every creature of God is good.—To teach that anything created was unclean would be an insult to the Creator. The very fact of its being His creation is enough. If made by God, then it must be good.
And nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.—Every kind of food and drink may become hateful in the eyes of the all-pure God if misused, if partaken of without any sense of gratitude to the Divine giver. But nothing which can be made use of as food ought to be regarded as unclean or as polluted; every kind of food is intended for man, the only condition being that whatever is partaken of should be gratefully received by him as a gift.
For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.(5) For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.—Not only are all created things to be considered pure, and not lightly to be put aside; but in the sight of God “every creature” is holy when received as His gift with thanksgiving and with prayer—such thanksgiving-prayer containing thoughts in exact accordance with the Spirit of God revealed in Scripture. Thus all food is sanctified, not only, or even chiefly, by the common formula of a Christian grace before meat. This too often degenerates into a mere form of words—into lip-service of the most heartless form—and is too often looked upon as a kind of religious charm. The sanctification referred to by St. Paul belongs to no one prayer or grace, but to the constant habit of referring everything to God as the giver of all—to the perpetual “office” of a devout heart which, taking everything as a gift from God, the lover and the friend of man, thanks God from the heart continually.
One, if not the oldest, form of a Christian grace before meat is the one found in the Apostolic Constitutions. It is very simple and beautiful, and perhaps not too long for daily use. It runs as follows: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord, who nourisheth men from very youth up, who givest meat to all flesh; fill our hearts with joy and gladness, so that we, always enjoying a sufficiency, may abound unto every good work in Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom be ascribed to Thee glory, honour, and power unto the ages. Amen.”
If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.(6) If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things.—The “things” of which he was to put the brethren in mind were those practices connected with that foolish, false asceticism alluded to in 1Timothy 4:3-5. Not a few, probably, in that Ephesian flock had been won over by the persuasive words of the false teachers to attribute a peculiar virtue to such practices—practices which, if persevered in, St. Paul well knew would tend to set up for imitation in the Church an unreal, unhealthy standard of life.
Thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.—A high title to honour, this, “a good minister of Jesus Christ,” and one Timothy would well earn if he would set himself in all earnestness to oppose and discredit the sickly teaching of the Ascetic school.
He would by such opposition, indeed, earn the “title to honour,” for St. Paul well knew how great was the danger of a comparatively young and ardent disciple like Timothy being attracted by such mistaken teachings of perfection. But “the good minister of Jesus Christ” must teach “a life” which may be led by all, not by a select few merely, of the believers on his Master. Asceticism is too often a winning and attractive school of teaching to ministers, as, at a comparatively easy price, they win a great, but at the same time thoroughly unhealthy, power over the souls of men and women who practise these austerities, which tend necessarily to remove them out of the stream of active life.
Nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine.—The Greek present participle rendered here “nourished up in,” marks a continuous and permanent process of self-education. It might be translated “ever training thyself”—a wise and never-to-be-forgotten precept of St. Paul’s, this reminder to his own dear son in the faith, Timothy—and through Timothy to all Christian ministers of every age—never to relax their efforts for self-improvement. The education of the good minister of Jesus Christ is never to be considered finished. He—the teacher of others—must ever be striving himself after a higher and a yet higher knowledge in things spiritual.
Whereunto thou hast attained.—More accurately translated, which thou hast closely followed. In the teaching respecting faith and practice which Timothy, as a disciple, has diligently followed out step by step—in that teaching he is to study to advance yet farther, so as to gain deeper and ever deeper knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom.
But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.(7) But refuse profane and old wives’ fables.—Here Timothy—who has been previously (see 1Timothy 4:1-6) warned against a false asceticism, against putting an unnatural interpretation on the words of Christ, against sympathising with a teaching which would unfit men and women for practical every-day life—is now urged to guard himself against the temptation to give himself up to the favourite and apparently enticing study of the sayings of the famous Jewish Rabbis, in which every book, almost every word—in many cases the letters of the Hebrew Scriptures—were subjected to a keen but profitless investigation. In such study the spirit of the holy writers was too often lost, and only a dry and barren formalism—commands respecting the tithing of mint, and anise, and cummin—remained, while the weightier matters of the law—judgment, justice, and truth—were carefully sifted out. Round the grand old Jewish history all kind of mythical legends grew up, till for a Jewish student of the Rabbinical schools the separation of the true from the false became in many cases impossible—through all this elaborate and careful but almost profitless study. The minister of Christ was to avoid these strange and unusual interpretations, this vast fantastic collection of legends, partly true and partly false. He was to regard them as merely profane and old wives’ fables, as being perfectly useless and even harmful in their bearing on practical every-day life.
And exercise thyself rather unto godliness.—Instead of these weary profitless efforts—the painful, useless asceticism on the one hand, and the endless and barren Rabbinic studies of the Law on the other—Timothy, as a good minister of Jesus Christ, was to bestow all his pains and labour to promote an active, healthy, practical piety among the congregation of believers, as we have seen in 1Timothy 4:6, in the words, “ever training thyself.” To lead such a life required ceaseless pains and efforts, for true godliness is ever a progressive state. Surely exercising himself unto godliness would be a task hard enough to satisfy the most ardent, the most enthusiastic soul! The “godliness,” or “piety,” here alluded to, as the end toward which Timothy was to direct all his efforts, was that practical piety which influences for good, which leavens with a holy leaven all classes of society, all life, of the slave as well as of the patrician.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.(8) For bodily exercise profiteth little.—More accurately rendered, bodily exercise is profitable for little. St. Paul here, no doubt, was thinking of those bodily austerities alluded to in 1Timothy 4:3. The stern repression of all human passions and desires, the abstinence from all compliance with the natural impulses of the flesh—such an unnatural warfare, such an exercise, such a training of the body, no doubt in many cases would lead, in many cases certainly has led, the individual to a higher spiritual state. Such a total surrender for the one who so exercises himself is, no doubt, in a certain sense, “profitable.” But then it must be remembered that this kind of victory over the flesh, in very many instances, leads to an unnatural state of mind; for the rigid ascetic has removed himself from the platform on which ordinary men and women move. His thoughts have ceased to be their thoughts, his ways are no longer their ways. For practical everyday life such an influence, always limited, is at times positively harmful, as its tendency is to depreciate that home-life and family-life, to raise and elevate which is the true object of Christian teaching. Still, the Apostle, while remembering, and in his teaching ever carrying out, the spirit of the Lord’s solemn prayer to the Father, “I pray, not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil,” refrains from an entire condemnation of a life which received, on more than one occasion, from the lips of the Sinless One a guarded commendation (Matthew 17:21; Matthew 19:12).
St. Paul, in his divinely-taught wisdom, recognises that such an austere and severe example and life, though by no means the ideal life of a Christian teacher, yet in the great world workshop of the Master might receive a blessing as “profitable for little.”
But godliness is profitable unto all things.—Better, for all things. But while this “bodily exorcise,” this austere subduing of the flesh, can only weigh with a narrow and circumscribed group, St. Paul points out that the influence of “godliness is world-wide;” a godliness, not merely an inward holiness, but an operative, active piety, which, springing from an intense love for Christ, manifests itself in love for His creatures. This godliness transfigures, and illumines with its divine radiance all busy, active life—every condition, every rank, all ages. That surely is what the good minister of Jesus Christ must aim at!
Having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.—For this godliness, which may and ought to enter into all states, all ages of life, promises the greatest happiness to those who struggle after it. It promises “life”—that is, the highest blessedness which the creature can enjoy in this world—as well as the rich prospect of the endless life with God in the world to come; whereas a false asceticism crushes out all the joy and gladness of this present life, and is an unreal preparation for that which is future.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.(9) This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.—Again we have the striking formula which always calls attention to some great truth which, in the Church of the first days, had already obtained among the congregations a broad, if not a universal currency, as one of the great watchwords of the faith. Now we find one of these taken apparently from a Christian hymn, now from one of the public prayers or thanksgivings. The “faithful saying,” in this instance, was that “godliness,” that is, “active, living piety,” is profitable for all things, seeing it has the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.
For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.(10) For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach.—And for this end—to obtain this glorious promise, this highest blessedness here, that endless life with God hereafter, to win this glorious promise—we Christian missionaries and teachers care for no toil, however painful—shrink from no shame, however agonising.
Because we trust in the living God.—More accurately translated, because we have our hope in the living God. And this is why we toil and endure shame. We know that the promise made will be fulfilled, because the God on whom—as on a sure foundation—our hopes rest, is a living God. “Living,” in strong contrast to those dumb and lifeless idols shrined in the well-known Ephesian temples.
Who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.—These words, like the assertion of 1Timothy 2:4, have been often pressed into the service of that school of kindly, but mistaken, interpreters, who ignore, or explain away, the plain doctrine of Holy Scripture which tells us there are those whose destruction from the presence of the Lord shall be everlasting, whose portion shall be the “second death” (2Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 21:8). These interpreters prefer to substitute in place of this terrible, but repeated declaration, their own perilous theories of universalism. Here the gracious words seem to affix a seal to the statement immediately preceding, which speaks of “the hope in the living God” as the source of all the labour and brave patience of the Lord’s true servants. The living God is also a loving God, the Saviour of all, if they would receive Him, and, undoubtedly, the Redeemer of those who accept His love and are faithful to His holy cause.
It must be borne in mind that there were many Hebrews still in every Christian congregation, many in every church, who still clung with passionate zeal to the old loved Hebrew thought, that Messiah’s work of salvation was limited to the chosen race. This and similar sayings were specially meant to set aside for ever these narrow and selfish conceptions of the Redeemer’s will; were intended to show these exclusive children of Israel that Christ’s work would stretch over a greater and a grander platform than ever Israel could fill; were designed to tell out to all the churches how indeed “it was a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel.” Still, with all these guarded considerations, which serve to warn us from entertaining any hopes of a universal redemption, such a saying as this seems to point to the blessed Atonement mystery as performing a work whose consequences reach far beyond the limits of human thought, or even of sober speculation.
These things command and teach.(11) These things command and teach.—“These things”—i.e., the real meaning of “godliness,” that practical everyday piety which, in contradistinction to the severe and strained asceticism of a limited and narrow section of society, should enter into all homes and influence all lives without distinction of class or race, age or sex. “These things” in the Church of Ephesus must form a part of the public commands and charges to the congregations, must likewise enter into private Christian teaching.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.(12) Let no man despise thy youth.—If Timothy desired that his teaching should be listened to with respectful earnest attention, if he hoped to use a holy influence over the flock, let him be very careful that his comparative youth prove no stumbling-block. To Paul the aged, his son in the faith seemed still youthful—at this time Timothy could not have been more than forty years of age. The old master would have his young disciple supply the want of years by a gravity of life; he would have him, while fearless, at the same time modest and free from all that pretentious assumption, unhappily so often seen when the comparatively young are placed in positions of dignity and authority. Paul proceeds further to explain his solemn warning by instancing the especial points in which Timothy was to be a pattern to the other believers. These gentle words of warning, such notices as we find in 1Timothy 5:23 and in 1Corinthians 16:10-11, seem to point to the fact of there being nothing winning in the personal appearance of Timothy, but rather the contrary. It is deserving of comment that among the more famous of the early Christian leaders, beauty of face and form appears to have been the exception rather than the rule. This was, of course, utterly different from the old Grecian idea of gods and heroes. It was no doubt part of the counsel of God that this world-religion should owe nothing to the ordinary conditions of human success. The teaching was novel and opposed to the maxims which guided and influenced the old world. The noblest ideals proposed for Christian imitation were strange and hitherto unheard of. The very foremost preachers of the faith of Christ, as in the case of Timothy, seem to have owed nothing to those personal gifts so highly prized among Pagan nations. So the appearance of St. Paul, the greatest of the early Christian leaders, seems to have been mean and insignificant, “ein armes diirres Männlein” as Luther has it. The blessed Founder of the religion is described by Tertullian, who lived in the same century with those who must have conversed with Christ’s disciples, as “having no human beauty, much less any celestial splendour.” Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, and other very early writers, join in the same testimony. It is, however, only fair to say that on this point the view of Origen appears to have been different. The Messianic prophecies evidently looked forward to this as the will of the Most High. (See Psalm 22:6-7; Psalm 22:15; Psalm 22:17; Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2-4.)
In word.—This refers to the public utterances in teaching and exhortation, but more particularly to the words used by Timothy in social intercourse. These, in such a life as that of the young presiding elder of the Ephesian Church, must have been of the deepest importance. The tone of his conversation was no doubt imitated by many, it would influence for good or evil the whole Christian society of that great centre. The words of men placed in such a position should ever be true and generous, helpful and encouraging, and, above all, free from slander, from all low and pitiful conceptions of others.
In conversation.—This rendering might mislead—the Greek word signifies rather “manner of life,” or “conduct.”
In charity.—Better rendered, in love. This and the following “in faith,” comprehend the great graces in that inner Christian life of which the “words of the mouth,” and “conduct,” are the outward manifestations. He was to be the example to the flock in “love” to his neighbours, and in “faith” towards God.
The words “in spirit,” which in the English version occur between “in charity,” and “in faith,” are found in none of the older authorities.
In purity.—Chastity of mind as well as body is here signified. The ruler of a church—among whose members evidently a school of teaching existed in which a life of stern asceticism was urged on the Christian believer as the only acceptable or even possible way of life for the servant of Christ—must be above all things watchful lest he should seem to set a careless example in the matter of morality.
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.(13) Till I come, give attendance to reading.—The words evidently imply a hope, perhaps even an expectation, on the part of St. Paul, that he would one day be enabled once more to visit the Church of Ephesus; but so long as that absence lasted, Timothy was to attend carefully to three special points in the public ministry in which he was, in the Apostle’s absence, the chief officer.
The “reading” was that public reading of Scripture in the congregation—a practice borrowed from the synagogue service, when publicly the Law and the Prophets were read to the people assembled. (See Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15.) In these early Christian assemblies, about the year 66-67, the question arises, Were any Scriptures read in public besides the books of the Old Testament? No certain reply can be given: it is, however, probable, even at this very early date, that one at least of the older Gospels (probably St. Mark) was already known and used in the Christian churches, and read along with the Scriptures of the old covenant. That the reading of the “Gospels” very soon became a part of the regular service in the congregations of Christians is evident from the words of Justin Martyr, Apologia, i. 67, written in the first half of the first century.
To exhortation, to doctrine.—These both most probably refer to the public ministry in the congregation. The first, “exhortation,” particularly applies to the feelings. The reading of the Scriptures must be followed by an earnest practical application of their teaching to the affairs of that life in the midst of which the Christian listener was living. The word “doctrine” suggests a public teaching directed rather to the understanding of the hearers. The idea of exposition, or even of dogmatic teaching, seems here included.
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.(14) Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy.—Here the Apostle reminds his representative in the Ephesian congregation of his special gift of teaching and exhortation—that divine gift which had been conferred on Timothy at his solemn ordination long ago, when the young son of Eunice was designated for the post which John Mark had once held with the Apostle. It was in many respects a similar office, that which Timothy held about St. Paul, to that which in old days Elisha had held with Elijah; and, as in the case of the Hebrew prophet of the old dispensation, so here, the choice of St. Paul had been divinely guided. The very titles of the old covenant dispensation seem to have been revived in this instance of the divine selection of Timothy; for in 1Timothy 6:11 the older Apostle addresses his representative at Ephesus with the old prophetic title when he writes: “Thou, O man of God, flee these things.” Now he solemnly calls attention to that strange, miraculous “grace” which some inspired prophet at his ordination declared was to be conferred on Timothy. The “gift” was said to be conferred, as to its certainty in the divine counsels, by such prophecy—the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of one or more of His prophets, declaring His will and intention to confer this special grace on the young companion of St. Paul.
With the laying on of the hands.—This was a symbolic action—the outward sign of an inward communication of the Holy Spirit for some spiritual office or undertaking—and was derived from the old solemn Hebrew custom. (See Numbers 8:10 in the case of the consecration of the Levites, and Numbers 27:18, Deuteronomy 34:9 in the ceremony of the dedication of Joshua.)
Of the presbytery.—The brotherhood of presbyters connected with the place where the ordination of Timothy took place is here alluded to. There appears to have been such a body of elders in each particular city or district. The presbytery in this instance would seem in all probability to have belonged to the district of Lystra, Timothy’s native city; but an old ecclesiastical tradition speaks of Ephesus as the place of this ordination.
Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.(15) Meditate upon these things.—Better rendered, be diligent in these things. With these words St. Paul closes this division of his solemn directions to his chosen disciple and representative at Ephesus. He must dwell on these things and must be diligent in their practice: he must show himself active and industrious as a public teacher, and must also order his life so as to be an example to his fellow-believers.
Give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.—More accurately rendered, thy advance (or thy progress) may be manifest to all. To these points—his public teaching and his public example—he must give ceaseless attention, that the Christian brotherhood of the Church over which he presided should be enabled constantly to see what progress their chief pastor was making in Christian experience and life. The word we have translated “advance” or “progress” reminds Christian ministers and teachers of St. Paul’s grave words to Timothy—and, through Timothy, to all occupying any position of authority in the congregations—that there must be no standing still, no resting content with knowledge already acquired, no being satisfied with the present spiritual life; there must be a restless striving after the acquirement of new stores of knowledge, ever deeper and more accurate; there must be a ceaseless endeavour to attain to a higher eminence in the spiritual life; and, if the minister or teacher would be successful, the result of these efforts must be manifest to the brethren with whom his lot was cast.
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.(16) Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them.—Thy teaching is a more accurate rendering of the original Greek word than “the doctrine.” The Apostle in these words sums up the two chief pastoral requisites, and then points out the mighty consequences which will result from faithfully carrying them out. The minister of Christ must keep his attention fixed on his own demeanour and conduct, and at the same time give equally careful heed to the quality and character of his teaching. This teaching must be true and manly, and, above all, it must be faithful in doctrine; and he himself must exemplify it in word and deed. Without true and efficient teaching, the pure and upright life of the Christian pastor will fail to win souls for his Master; and, on the other hand, the most efficient instruction will be of no avail unless the life corresponds to the words publicly uttered.
For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.—“Thou shalt save”—that is, in the great day of judgment; for only one meaning, and that the highest, must be given to “thou shalt save.” Eternal happiness for pastor and flock is the double reward offered to the faithful servant of the Lord. In striving to save others, the minister is really caring for his own salvation.