A few weeks ago, I was a guest speaker at a church. I soon learned how the church saw every churchgoer as a minister of the gospel, holding the same vision as staff members. I thought that inclusion was a neat way to express a biblical concept that every church member is a minister of truth.
The same goes for every Christian. What makes a person a qualified minister on behalf of the church and of Christ? This question is answered in many parts of the Bible; but Paul’s command to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4 is extremely helpful for understanding a Christian’s role in service for Christ.
…for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)
God expects a disciplined life be exhibited by every Christian. For Timothy, this meant he needed a disciplined life against false teaching (1:3-11), a disciplined life for planting churches, a disciplined life of a good conscience before the Lord and before men (1:8-20), and a disciplined life in love, in faith, and in purity (4:12).
The individual is to maintain a regimented practice or exercise of following Christ. A disciplined Christ-follower is a good servant when they commit to serving others, when they commit to reading the Bible regularly, praying regularly, and loving regularly within the body of Christ and in their neighborhoods.
A diligent Christ-follower sets out to accomplish God’s vision for their life:
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (4:10)
Diligence is not keeping busy or merely fulfilling a ministry obligation, for this would be fruitless activity. Rather, we commit ourselves to faithfulness, to preserving promises, to working hard and striving with other members of the family of God toward discipleship. Our labor and care for each other is inward, outward, global, and transethnic. Each of the spheres requires diligence on our part. Diligence moves us from complacency to reproducing our vision.
I like the words that Paul leaves to Timothy for him to model:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (4:12)
These five descriptors are encouragement for all generations: speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. This verse is not just a young person’s motto to recite daily, but includes all Christ-followers, young and old.
The reason I like Paul’s list is that each characteristic is an ongoing resolution toward godliness. Christians commit to live in view of thinking through our words and conversations, conducting our activities with ethics, loving the unlovely, and keeping pure in all thoughts and all manner of life. This is not always easy as the flesh wages war with the Spirit; we need God’s help to toil and persevere well in godliness.
I often use the five descriptors as ways to monitor spiritual health. These entries become journal marks for me to reflect upon and deal with weekly and monthly. I may start with one question each day: How am I doing in my speech? How am I behaving before others? How is my love being displayed? How is faith growing? How is purity demonstrated?
In the last three verses of this passage (4:13-15), Paul calls Timothy to “devote,” to “not neglect,” to “practice” these things, “to keep a close watch,” and “to persist in this.” All these are words of devotion. So what does this look like for us?
We must be devoted to the Word of God.
A Christian is to devote their lives to the ministry of the Word. I see this as both a private and corporate action. I teach the Word; some of us may do this formally as a Sunday school teacher; some may lead a small group, work in the nursery, or work with students. But all of us are commanded to make disciples under the Word of God.
We must be devoted to discipleship.
Each of us are called to minister on behalf of Christ. Discipleship starts within my home, and then goes into the broader context of the world.
We must be devoted to watchful care.
Devotion is a way of life, so we keep watch on ourselves and the activities we’re preoccupied with. Devotion to watchfulness places parameters around the relationships we keep and the activities we do, while also pointing out distractions that would keep us from the Lord.
Move Forward in Your Training
So where do we go from here? We have entered the school of Christ. We must realize that the training received is rigorous and long. Some exams will test our resolve, and other exams we will pass without realizing the intensity. But know that each of us must toil, strive, and ultimately set our hope on the living God (4:10).
Consider Bill Hull’s thoughts on rigor of the training:
Discipleship isn’t a program or an event; it’s a way of life. It’s not for a limited time, but for our whole life. Discipleship isn’t for beginners alone; it’s for all believers for every day of their life. Discipleship isn’t just of the things the church does; it is what the church does. (Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ, p. 24).
We’re in this training for a lifetime and have been accepted into Christ’s school to work out our faith with fearing and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Whatever your role today, whether you are a minister as a member of the church or a paid Christian worker, these four qualities of every Christian are essentials to our training, labor, and toil until the Lord returns.