The Discipline of Reformation (I Timothy 4:16)
Topic: The Reformation Passage: 1 Timothy 4:16
The Discipline of Reformation
I Timothy 4:16
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
September 10th, 2017
I. Then and Now
Almost 500 years ago, on October 31st, 1517, on the eve of the All Saints Holy Day, a thirty-three year old Augustinian monk nailed a provocative treatise to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. It was a document he also sent to his archbishop, a document calling for debate on the Roman Catholic Church's practice of selling what were called indulgences. If one gave a financial gift to the church, one could receive spiritual merit to reduce one's obligation to perform penance for sins, or after this life, to reduce the time one would have to spend in Purgatory.
The German monk certainly recognized how greed and political ambition were at work in the selling of indulgences. And others had argued for reforms in light of clerical corruption. But this monk's criticism was unique in that he was emphasizing a life of true inward repentance, in light of the testimony of Scripture. Now, while this could have amounted to nothing but an academic and clerical tussle in one corner of Catholic Europe, it became much, much more.
You see, these ninety-five points of dispute were printed and sent around Germany as pamphlets. This led to a pamphlet war with those who sold indulgences. Within two months, the monk's ninety-five theses had spread throughout Europe. It was this public proliferation that caused the Roman Catholic authorities to bring charges against the monk. As the monk and his followers wrestled with the church, he was coming to understand, and write about, and recover biblical truths that were far more foundational; far bigger than indulgences.
The proliferation of his ideas, as well as his unwillingness to 'stand down' in the face of Roman Catholic threats, led to his excommunication less than four years later. But his influence, along with the influence of other like-minded leaders, led to a movement that would go on to change Europe, and through Europe, to change the world.
The monk's name was Martin Luther, and the posting and publishing of his statement on indulgences is the traditional start date of what we call the Protestant Reformation. Now, to be sure, the Reformation was many things, including a political and cultural and economic movement. And because it involved sinners, it most certainly had its warts, weaknesses, and wrongs.
But for us as followers of Jesus, our concern this morning, and for the coming weeks, all the way up to October 31s, is with the Reformation as a spiritual movement, for that it is ultimately what it was. It is not an exaggeration to say that we would not be here this morning, in this place, worshiping as we are, were it not for God's work through men like Luther. You see, while the Reformation is often called a schism, with the Protestants pictured as breaking away from the church, the Reformers argued that it was Rome that had left the true Church. Their restorative work was to continue in the truth of God's word and the work of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, we are the spiritual descendants of those reformers. And as we approach the 500th anniversary of this movement of restoration, it is absolutely fitting for us to reflect now on what happened back then; to consider what lessons we might learn today in light of God's work five centuries ago.
But no need to worry. We aren't replacing the sermon with a history lesson. Our aim in the coming weeks is to allow the banners of the Reformation to direct us back to God's word. And even more than that, to allow the spirit of reformation, the spirit of restoration, to stir our hearts, just as it did our spiritual ancestors.
With this in mind, turn if you would to I Timothy 4.
II. The Passage: "Keep a Close Watch" (4:16)
From its earliest days, the church has always needed reformation and renewal. It comes with the territory whenever human beings are involved. But the reformation of the church always begins with the reformation of the heart; with your heart; with my heart. Where does the Bible teach this principle of reformation. Look at verse 16. I Timothy 4:16. Paul tells Timothy...
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (I Timothy 4:16)
The title of the letter reminds us that Paul was writing this letter to his younger associate Timothy. Chapter 1 tells us that Paul left Timothy in a city called Ephesus in order to help protect and pastor the church there. Verse 16 comes at the end of a chapter in which we find Paul routinely talking to Timothy about his duties as a pastor and his devotional life.
So to understand the full import of verse 16, we need to pull in other parts of chapter 4. I've broken verse 16 into three parts. Let's use those as our guides. First, Paul speaks about...
1. Watching Yourself (4:16a)
We see in verse 16 that Paul encourages Timothy to “Keep a close watch on yourself...”. Now, that could mean a number of things. People hire detectives to keep an eye on those acting suspiciously. Doctors tell us to keep any eye on things like our blood pressure. Maybe Paul thinks Timothy is on the verge of pastoral burnout. So what exactly does Paul mean?
This is where the context is so helpful. Look back at verses 7-8...Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;  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.
This training in godliness means exemplary living. In what areas? Verse 12...Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. And Paul drives this training home in verse 15...Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.
So when Paul tells Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself”, he is calling this young man to be spiritually vigilant in regard to his own heart. What does this have to do with the spirit of reformation? You will never sense your need for inner reformation unless you are willing to take a hard look at your heart.
Paul knew Timothy needed to hear this because Paul knew himself. Paul knew the human heart. One thing you can be certain of in this life is that you will always be pulled, inwardly and outwardly, toward a place of compromise; to compromise in your speech, to compromise in your conduct; to self-centeredness instead of love, to doubt instead of faith, to conformity instead of purity.
It should always be a concern, because it is an ever-present danger, for us as it was for Timothy. In most cases, keeping a close watch on your heart will lead, by God's grace, to regular reformation of the heart. But there's more here. Paul also wants Timothy to be...
2. Watching the Teaching (4:16a)
Remember the whole first half of verse 16: Keep a close watch on yourself AND on the teaching. Now what might Paul have in mind when he talks about “the teaching”? Again, the context can fill out that picture. After the initial teaching in verses 1-5, Paul writes in verse 6...
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
Clearly, “the teaching” of verse 16 is bigger than the ideas we find in verses 1-5. Those ideas are part of it. But more broadly, “the teaching” must be connected to the “words of the faith” and the “good doctrine” Paul mentioned in verse 6. And what is the source of these words, of this doctrine? Paul answers that in verse 13...
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
If Timothy is to keep an eye on “the teaching”, on what he is teaching and on what is taught in the church at Ephesus, he will need to keep his eyes on God's word. Like a new ninja or a police academy graduate, Timothy will need to remember his training, right? Verse 6: he has been and is being “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine”. So keeping a close watch on the teaching means remembering that training and using it to guard and to guide the church.
Why guard the church? Because the same thing that threatens our behavior also threatens our beliefs: compromise. And compromised beliefs eventually give rise to compromised behavior. The book begins with and ends with and is filled with warnings against false teaching. And in some cases, this included very subtle lies.
Paul knew Timothy was not immune to the taint of compromise when it came to what he believed. And neither are we. All of us are susceptible to accepting subtle distortions of the gospel, OR to minimizing the importance of the truths of God. When we don't keep a close watch on what we believe, we may find, over time, we've come to believe something else.
But there's one more part here in verse 16. In that second half of the verse, Paul talks about...
3. Watching God Work (4:16b)
Why is all of this so important? Why is it so critical that Timothy keep a close watch on himself and the teaching? Because, verse 16, by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Wait, what? I thought Timothy and those in the church were already saved? What does Paul mean? Well, once again, it's the context that helps us understand what Paul is saying. Look for example at 4:1, 2...
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,  through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared...
Paul is describing there the consequences of false teaching. When compromise gets a hold of our behavior, we are more tempted to compromise what we believe; in the words of II Timothy 4:3, we are tempted to “accumulate for [ourselves] teachers to suit [our] own passions”. And when that happens, Paul warns in I Timothy 4:1, that ”some will depart from the faith”.
And this is not an isolated theme. In 1:19, Paul talks about those who “have made shipwreck of their faith”. And in 6:21, he refers to those who “have swerved from the faith”.
So in contrast to these tragic scenarios, faithful preaching by a faithful preacher is the only scenario in which preservation can be found. But again, is Paul warning Timothy and his church that they might lose their salvation? No. But the NT is clear that people can walk away from Christ and thus prove they never truly belonged to Him in the first place.
Therefore, teaching that is faithful to God's word matters, not only because it can save the unsaved in the church, but because by it, God inspires endurance in those who truly belong to Christ. This is precisely why Paul urges Timothy, in 4:16, to “persist in this”. In what? In keeping a close watch on yourself and the teaching. It should become a discipline. And that discipline of vigilance, should regularly lead to a discipline of reformation.
So think about what we've seen. Paul's charge in this final verse depends on the rest of the chapter, doesn't it? Timothy is (v.16) to “keep a close watch” on himself and the teaching in light of what Paul has instructed in verses 6-15. The majority of the chapter lays out the path. Verse 16 is Paul saying, “Be very careful to stay on the path”.
III. The Five “Alone”(s)
In 1674 a Protestant leader in the Netherlands wrote these words: “The church is reformed and always being reformed [or always in need of being reformed] according to the Word of God.” In Latin, that last phrase is semper reformanda...”always being reformed”. Isn't that the very thing we've seen this morning? That God was reminding Timothy to about the need for personal vigilance, and then when necessary, personal reformation?
Brothers and sisters, God is reminding us through these words that our desire, our commitment, is that we are “awlays being reformed” by the word of God, through His Spirit.
What does all this have to do with THE Reformation? The reformation that took place 500 years ago was necessary because so many in the church failed to do the very thing Paul instructed Timothy to do here: to pay keep a close watch on themselves and the teaching.
Brothers, sister, are you willing to take a hard look at your own heart, at your own attitudes, at your own words, and reactions, and affections, failures, and pattens of sin, and doubts; at your own growth or lack of growth in godliness? AND, are you willing to take a hard look at what you believe about God, at what you believe about God's word, and about God's Son, and God's grace? Are you willing to be as honest as you can be about the adequacy or inadequacy of what you know; and in light of God's word, about the truthfulness of what you believe?
And are you willing do these things on a regular basis? To persist in these things, so that this “watch” becomes a discipline, a holy habit...of both personal, spiritual vigilance, and then when necessary, personal, spiritual reformation? Whatever your answer, please know we must do this. Why? Because it is essential to the Christian life. Jesus talked about it when He urged his followers to “stay awake” and “be ready” for His coming.
When I say “must”, am I now putting my salvation into my hands? No. “Must” means that God has called me to do this, because of the certain and ever-present reality of temptations to compromise. But my obedience to God's call to this watchfulness is grounded in the reality that God alone gives me grace to obey; I can work hard spiritually with the assurance God's Spirit is at work within me; that it is all of grace. That leaves no place for pride.
But the Reformation that began 500 years ago is important for other reasons. Not only was it and is it a powerful reminder of the need for semper reformanda, for “always being reformed” by the word of God, but it also reminds us of what was reclaimed. The Reformation reclaimed and revelled in precious truths from God's word, precious and foundational, because they represent the very center of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You see, so often, the strategy of spiritual compromise, the tactic of our Enemy, is not to take away from the gospel, but to add to it. This makes it an even more subtle threat. But the Reformers understood this. Later generations who reflected on what was reclaimed in the Reformation began to talk about those beliefs using the word “alone”. More recently, those truths have been summarized by five of these “alone” statements:
The Reformation reclaimed the precious truths that we are saved by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, according to Scripture alone, that God alone would receive the glory.
Over the course of the coming weeks, we will dig into each of these truths by letting the history of the Reformation point us back to God's word. My prayer for you and for myself is that we would listen to each of these messages with the very spirit that Paul prescribed for Timothy, with the spirit of watchfulness that God is calling you to nurture, and to persist in.
This week, brothers and sisters, semper reformanda. Let that be your prayer and your practice, for His glory and your eternal good.
More in Semper Reformanda: Reformation Then and Now
September 17, 2017Guided by Scripture Alone (Acts 17:10-12)