“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness…” (1 Tim. 4:7).
The apostle sets down a straight-forward contrast. He instructs young Timothy to completely avoid “irreverent, silly myths” on the one hand, and the “train himself for godliness” on the other.
The word translated “myths” in the ESV is rendered “old wives’ fables” in older versions like the KJV. Early use of the word centered on tales or fables used for teaching or instruction. The word doesn’t necessarily include falsehood, but it does include things fabricated by the mind which are set against reality and true truth (to borrow Schaeffer).
However, the NT always uses the word to indicate lying fables, falsehoods, and pretenses… dangerous and erroneous ideas with harmful impacts on people. These myths and fables are sophistry used for deception.
Timothy, and the good pastor, is to have nothing to do with these myths. He is to decline or refuse the myth’s begging to be heard. He is not to permit it entrance or effect in his thinking.
I take this to mean that the pastor’s mind and mouth is to be diligently guarded.
1. Pastors live a great deal of their lives inside their minds. So, we must make sure we have truthful conversation partners there. We should be sure that we’re not merely listening to ourselves, repeatedly rewinding and playing the tape of our thoughts (our own myths and fables) without assessing and changing them. A good pastor needs a steady diet of truth, not fable. The surest way to achieve this is dedicated and focused study of the Scripture, where eternal truth is preserved and revealed. But also a pastor should dedicate himself to the active reading of solid, time-tested classic works of godly saints… always holding those up to the light of Scripture as well.
2. Good pastors must excuse themselves from quidnunc and yenta spreading their popular contemporary forms of myth and fable—lying, gossip, half-truths, innuendo, exaggeration, embellishment, dirt, hearsay, tale-bearing, and slander. In my experience, Christian circles are sometimes as bad as non-Christian circles when it comes to these things. Given how often he spoke against it, I take it that it was Paul’s experience too (Eph. 4:25, 31; 5:4; I Tim. 3:11). His instruction to Timothy is to deny, avoid, excuse himself from such company and ideas. Our consecration includes our separation from the water cooler chatter. The ears of the pastor should be the final resting place of myths and fables given life by chatterers.
3. A good pastor must not break the confidences of his people. He should be trustworthy with the truth. He should use a lot of discretion in deciding when, what, how much, and with whom to share information about the ministry and about the congregation. This isn’t to say that a pastor leads a life of secrecy and swearing “confidentiality” as if he is a clinical psychologist or something. It means he is to be discerning, recognizing that souls are in his care, that reputations are in his hands, and that even if he speaks factually and accurately, the transmission of what he said to others may certainly be corrupted. A good pastor doesn’t promise confidentiality where sin and illegal activity are concerned. But nor should he be a tale-bearer contributing to the rumor mill and strife that flows from it. And as someone whose job it is to speak and talk primarily, we pastors must realize what a great temptation this will be. Perhaps we should regularly ask our fellow elders if we’ve betrayed any confidences, spoken any myths or fables, or shared too much accurate information. We need accountability in this area.
4. A good pastor traces error back to its roots in our thinking. This was Jonathan Edwards’ 24th resolution: “Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back until I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully to endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.” When examining the errors of our lives, we should ask, “Does the error spring from a fable or myth, or from a truth wrongly applied?” And we should direct our energies at renewing our minds in these things so that our thinking is inhabited increasingly with purity.
Instead of giving way to fables, Paul instructs Timothy to exercise himself to or train himself for godliness. Now there’s a word that needs recovery in Christian circles: godliness. It’s true devotion or piety toward God. It’s true biblical religion, a pious and morally good life animated by deep affection for the Savior. Godliness is holy living, and we need it in the pastorate.
Paul says godliness is to be the aim of Timothy’s exertions. And it is to be the aim of every Christian’s exertions, especially the pastor who is to be an example to the people. In his letters to Timothy, the apostle uses the word four times, including this charge. These instances are a helpful way to think about exercising ourselves to godliness.
1. Pray for civil authorities and leaders (1 Tim. 2:2). The apostle understands that our prayers should not only include those in authority over us, but that such intercessions are linked to our ability to live godly lives. So, exercising ourselves to godliness includes praying effectively for government stability, peace and authority. Godliness is associated with stability and society, not anarchy or radical independence.
2. We are to combine godliness with contentment (1 Tim. 6:6). Godliness is one-half of the formula for “great gain.” As we develop godliness we must also cultivate contentment. It’s hard to imagine lasting godliness apart from genuine contentment. Otherwise, dissatisfaction, murmuring, and complaining will eventually erode the gains of godliness. As pastors, we must guard against such erosion by coupling true piety and affection for God with contentment in the providence of God.
3. We may train ourselves in godliness by anticipating persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). All who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall see persecution. It’s a fact of life. Godliness so marks you out from the world that pressure and persecution inside and outside the church will be the result. We may train ourselves in godliness by not wilting in the face of persecution. As pastors, we must remember that we don’t deserve treatment any better than what the Savior received. If He was mocked, beaten, and cursed, why should we think our lot is to be any better for following Him? Where it is, it’s either because of His super-abundant grace… or perhaps we’re not living in as godly a manner as we think. Asking which is the likely cause is a good exercise. And though we anticipate persecution, we don’t do so with a morbid doubt or fear. We’re to remember that the Lord knows how to deliver the godly men from trials (2 Peter 2:9). So, exercising ourselves toward godliness includes preparing for persecution in the full confidence that no one can pluck us from the Father’s hand, realizing that we don’t fear those who can destroy the body but He who can destroy both body and soul. We “do not love our lives so much as to shrink back from death” (Rev. 12:11).
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