How to Save Yourself and Others

A sermon on 1 Timothy 4:12-16 by Coty Pinckney, Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary Graduation, June 7, 2002


As you graduates go out to your new assignments, what is your primary goal? What do you want to achieve, by God’s power?

Surely one of your goals is the salvation of those who hear you. But consider another possible goal: Do you aim to save yourself?

I hope that questions begin to run through your mind when you hear me say “save yourself.” Questions such as:

Those are good questions. But the passage we will consider this morning tells us very explicitly how to save ourselves. Furthermore, this passage promises us that we will save others by following those same methods.

Please turn with me to 1 Tim 4:12-16. If God had given us the privilege of staying at CBTS one more year, I would have asked the President and Academic Dean if I could teach a course on the pastoral epistles. In lieu of that course, this morning we can only look at these five verses. Listen carefully, and see how Paul tells Timothy to go about saving himself and those who hear him. I will read from the NIV, with two changes in v 16 that we will discuss later:

12 Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and teaching closely. Persevere in them, because by doing so, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

So I hope you’re now able to answer “perhaps” to the question: “Does this speaker know what he is talking about?”

Paul DOES tell Timothy how to save himself – along with his hearers – by watching his life and teaching closely. We’ll consider in more detail HOW to do that, but first, let’s be sure we are clear about WHAT PAUL MEANS by “save yourself.”

Can You Save Yourself?

What does “save yourself” mean here?

Although 1 Timothy 4:16 is the only place in the New Testament that uses these exact words in a positive sense, several passages provide similar teaching. This morning we will only look briefly at two of them.

The first is in Jesus’ discourse on last things, in Matthew 24 (and Mark 13). After warning His disciples about persecutions and false prophets, he says in verse 13, “he who endures to the end will be saved.” That is, the one who endures the persecutions, who is not deceived by the false prophets – that person will be saved. In some sense, the person who endures the persecutions and rejects the teaching of the false prophets can be said to save himself.

Secondly, consider Philippians 2:12-13. Paul has been appealing to the Corinthians to be united, to be humble toward each other, to have the same attitude as Jesus Himself. He then summarizes these commands with this statement:  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you.” In effect, Paul is saying. “Keep on saving yourself, for God is saving you.”

That is, you save yourself as you take on the character of Jesus Christ, particularly those aspects of Jesus’ character that Paul has been discussing. But it is really God who is saving you – for God is the one who is working within you, changing you, molding you. Otherwise, you could never take on the character of Christ.

How, then, can we understand this phrase “save yourself” in a way that is consistent with the New Testament’s teaching on salvation?

We are justified, we are declared righteous, we are forgiven immediately upon our first act of genuine faith. But genuine, saving faith is a faith that endures. The person who is truly saved will face trials, persecutions, struggles, and difficulties. But that person will struggle and overcome; that person, by the power of God, will take on the character of Christ.

So “save yourself” in 1 Timothy 4:16 means the same thing as “work out your salvation” in Philippians 2:12. But if this is the case, surely the primary meaning of “save your hearers” in 1 Timothy is the same: that is, helping the saints to endure to the end, helping them work out their salvation. Thus the primary sense of this promise is not that Timothy will bring his hearers to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus (though that surely will occur also), but that by fulfilling Paul’s commands he will enable the saints to endure.

This is a vital thought, with profound implications for ministry. God gives us the grace to endure – THROUGH the ministries of others. This makes the fulfillment of our ministries extremely important. As John Piper says

Here is a key to great earnestness in preaching. If you really believe that “those who endure the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13), and that not only the first act of faith but all subsequent acts of persevering faith are sustained by the Spirit through the Word of God, then virtually every sermon is a “salvation sermon” and the souls of the saints are being saved every Sunday. There is not an earnest sermon for evangelism when the souls of the lost are at stake, and then a less serious and less critical message for the saints to simply add a few stars in their crown. Rather every sermon is crucial and critical in sustaining the faith of the saints and so bringing them safely to glory.

In addition to what Piper says, not only preaching but EVERY aspect of ministry is part of the saving process. God uses every ministry to protect, preserve, and perfect His people.

Saving yourself and others is thus extremely important. How do we accomplish that? Our text tells us.

Save Yourself and Others by Becoming Christlike

In these five brief verses, Paul gives seven commands to Timothy and one command to his people. But these two commands contain basically two ideas. The first is found in 12b:

Set an example to the believers in speech, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity.

The word translated “set” in the NIV is the normal word for “become.” And since it is in the present tense, we could render this phrase more literally, “become and continue to be an example to the believers.” Becoming an example is thus an important aspect of saving yourself and others.

An example of what? Paul lists five areas that, in effect, refer to all aspects of our life. And like the Philippians text we considered, Paul here is telling Timothy to become Christlike.

Let’s look at each of the five areas briefly:

Christlike Speech: This refers to our speech in private as well as in public, our tone of voice as well as the words we say, our speech with Christians as well as with non-Christians, our speech within our families as well as with those outside the family.

Christlike Manner of Life: This refers to our conduct, our behavior, our bearing. In particular, being we are to be gentle and godly (as Paul tells Timothy in verse 11 of the next chapter). Our Christlike manner of life extends to how we treat others, how we use our time, how we react when wronged, how we interact with authority.

Christlike Love: What are the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus? To love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves. Thus, Paul tells Timothy to be an example both in the way he loves God, and in the way he loves others. As Peter says, “love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22)

Faith: Believing God completely, trusting Him completely, even when circumstances seem to suggest that God is not in control.

Purity: Purity of heart, purity of desires. The Greek word refers particularly to purity with regard to sexual desires, so that, if we are married, our sexual desires focus only on our spouse. Married or not, we do not allow impure thoughts to invade our minds.

So Paul tells Timothy to become an example of Christlikeness in these five ways. Briefly, let us note the relation of the second to the first part of the verse. In the NIV, the verse begins, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” In English, this sounds as if Timothy should go around saying, “Don’t you look down on me! Hey, you, appointed deacon – stop looking down on me!”

That is not the meaning at all. Indeed, in Greek it is clear that this command is given not to Timothy, but to those who are under his ministry, the same one who are called his hearers in verse 16. Perhaps a better English rendering of the phrase would be, “No one must look down on your youth.”

What is the relationship between that phrase and the second half of the verse? Timothy ensures that they do not look down on him by becoming an example of Christlikeness. He doesn’t tell them not to look down on him; rather, by becoming Christlike himself, no one is even tempted to look down on him.

So we have examined one way to save yourself and others: Become an example of Christlikeness.

Save Yourself and Others by Using Your Spiritual Gifts

In verses 13, 14a, and 15a Paul gives Timothy commands in the second area:

13 Devote yourself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your spiritual gift

This is the SAME command, restated in two ways. Why do I say that? For two reasons:

First, preaching and teaching clearly are spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8). Since none of the New Testament lists of spiritual gifts is exhaustive, and since the public reading of the Scripture Is listed with two obvious spiritual gifts, that too is likely a spiritual gift.

Second, verse 15 begins, “be diligent in these matters.” The Greek verb “be diligent” is the flip side of the Greek verb used in verse14, translated “neglect”; we could translate these commands “have a care for the public reading . . .” and “do not fail to have a care for your spiritual gifts.”  Yet Paul does not say “be diligent in this” but “be diligent in these matters”. The verb makes clear that he refers to Timothy’s spiritual gift, but why then does he use a plural form, “these matters”? He does so because Timothy’s spiritual gift is plural: reading, preaching, and teaching.

So what is this second command? Paul tells Timothy, “Devote yourself to the use of your spiritual gifts. In this way you will save yourself and your hearers.” In other words: Using your spiritual gifts is absolutely vital to having an effective ministry.

If you are to do this, you must first KNOW your spiritual gifts. Do you know them? Assessment tools can be helpful here, such as the one found in the Biblical Eldership Workbook (among many others). Do not neglect the discovery of your spiritual gifts! Pray about this matter, consider those areas of ministry that are your passions, look at the areas where you have been most effective. If you want to save yourself and others, you must learn how God has gifted you.

Second, once you know your gifts, DO NOT NEGLECT THEM. Unfortunately, many in ministry neglect their gifts. I am not talking about hypocrites, pastors who are living lives of sin, but good men, men who may be good examples of Christlikeness in their personal lives, but fail to devote themselves to the use of their gifts. This happens when a minister:

Some examples:

·        A Pastor/teacher who focuses most of his energy on the church’s building program, or its ministry to the poor, or its administrative needs.

Romans 12:6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (ESV). As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, each of us has a vital role in the body of Christ. And if you are a mouth, yet try to do the job of a foot, the body of Christ will not be able to walk at all, and Christ will not be glorified.

So if your primary gift is as a church planter, and a church of 1000 members calls you and offers you a big salary, what should you do?

If your primary gift is as a preacher/teacher, and someone nominates you to be the next Director of Evangelism and Missions, what should you do?

If your primary gift is as a pastor/shepherd, and the General Secretary calls inviting you to assume a prestigious administrative position in Bamenda, what should you do?

The answer to each of those questions is not necessarily, “Say No”. Perhaps you have gifts of which you are unaware, which the General Secretary or others have noticed. Perhaps God is shifting your calling. If, after prayer and fasting, you are convinced that God has gifted you in such a way that you can better serve Him in this new position, then say “Yes.”

But if, after you pray, you remain convinced that your spiritual gifts are best used right where you are, then you should call the General Secretary and tell him, “Sir, thank you so much for thinking of me. I am honored. But I believe with all my heart that God has called me to serve Him right here, and to accept that position would be to neglect my spiritual gift, in violation of 1 Timothy 4:14. I am sorry, but I cannot accept that position.”

And how will the General Secretary respond? He is here with us, so you can ask him. But his goal is the same as yours: He wants each seminary graduate to work where God has called him, where he is most gifted, so that the Cameroon Baptist Convention might bring great glory to God. So while I do not know his exact words, he will commend you for staying where God has called you.

You see, the ministry is NOT a career. In the ministry, the goal is NOT to climb some corporate ladder of prestige. The goal is to serve our Lord and Master where He has called us, in the way He has gifted us. And by doing this, we save both ourselves and those who hear us.

So we have seen Paul’s two types of commands to Timothy: Become and example of Christlikeness, and be diligent to use your spiritual gifts. Verses 15 and 16 then emphasize the extreme importance of these two commands. In these verses Paul gives four commands to Timothy, underlining these two commands again and again:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them. . . . Watch your life and teaching closely. Persevere in them

Verse 16a makes crystal clear that the two commands we have highlighted are in view. Paul says first, “Watch your life” – or, more literally, “pay attention to yourself.” That is, “Set an example.” Then he says, “Watch your teaching.” (The NIV translates this word  “doctrine;” the Greek word can have that meaning, but since the same word is used in verse 13 and is there used for the spiritual gift of teaching, it almost certainly means the same here.) That is, “Put your spiritual gifts into practice.”

Verse 15b says we should do this in such a way that our “progress is evident to all.” Clearly we should be growing in these areas. Do you think now that you’re graduating, now that you’re about to flip your tassel from the right to the left, you’ve learned all you need to know? Can you now stop reading? Can you stop studying? Can you stop working hard?

My friends, there is no standing still. If you are not diligent to progress, through your lack of diligence you will regress. And you should be diligent to such an extent that everyone notices that progress.

But note: The other commands indicate this is not easy. Paul says, “Be diligent! Give yourself wholly to these matters! Persevere!”

Sometimes we hear people say that the key to living the Christian life is to “let go and let God”. These verses and many others show that Paul would never have used those words. Again and again he tells us: “Work! Strive! Persevere! Endure! Suffer hardship! But do all this not by your power, but by the power of the indwelling Spirit.”

And all this hard work is for a purpose: the promise of 16b:

“By doing this, you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”


So where are you? How are you doing in obeying these commands?

Graduates, and indeed everyone here: This is God’s Word to you today: Pay close attention to yourself and to your spiritual gifts, for by doing this, you will save both yourself and others.



Preached at First Baptist Church, Ndu, Cameroon, on the occasion of the graduation of the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary, June 7, 2002. The John Piper quote is from "Thoughts on Earnestness in Preaching," unpublished teaching notes dated 3/15/99.

Copyright © 2002, Thomas C. Pinckney. You may copy this text for distri­bution to others, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All such copies of this text must contain this copyright notice. You may also use brief excerpts in sermons, reviews, or articles. Other than these excep­tions, this text may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, email, c/o Desiring God Community Church, Box 620099, Charlotte NC 28262.

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