Years ago Winston Churchill, who was for many years prime minister of Britain, had just published a collection of his magazine articles under the title Thoughts and Adventures (Amid These Storms). In Churchill’s biography, William Manchester writes: “As usual, (Churchill) … sent copies to friends and acquaintances in high places. Opening an envelope bearing the royal crest, (Churchill) read aloud an acknowledgment from the Duke: ‘Dear Winston. Thank you for your new book. I have put it on the shelf with the others.’” (William Manchester, The Last Lion, Vol. II, p. 19) I guess we know what the Duke of Gloucester thought about Churchill’s new book!
As servants of God, what are we to do with our Master’s Book? One thing we know: we are NOT just to “put it on the shelf with all the others”! But what DOES God want us to do with it? Our verse for today, I Timothy 4:6 tells us.
I Timothy 4 opens with a warning against false teachers and their heretical teachings. We are living right now in days just like these verses describe: many falling away from the faith, “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” — that is, doctrines that demons inspire to deceive people with, and turn them away from the Biblical faith. But God says in verse 6: here is what I want YOU to do. YOU be a “good servant of Christ Jesus” in these times, “nourished on the words of the faith …”, “which YOU have been following,” and “pointing out these things to the brethren.” Notice there are at least three ways this verse teaches us that the good servant of God will respond to His word:
I. NOURISHED on the Word.
“nourish” yourself on “the words of the faith and the sound doctrine”
“Nourish” of course means “to feed.” And what is it that you are to “feed” yourself with? “The words of the faith and the sound doctrine …”. “The words of the faith” are the scriptures, the Bible. “Sound doctrine” is good Bible teaching. So as servants of Christ, we are to nourish ourselves, “feed” ourselves, on the Bible and solid Biblical teaching. Just as you need food for regular nourishment of your body, so you need God’s word as regular nourishment for your soul. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) We need to “feed” on God’s word.
All through the Bible, God talks about how His word is like “food” to us:
— I Peter 2:2 tells us like newborn babes to long for “the pure MILK of the word”
— that passage I just read, Matthew 4:4 says it’s like “BREAD”
— But then Hebrews 5:12 says the mature teaching of the word is like “MEAT (KJV) or “solid food”
— Psalm 119:103 “how sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than HONEY to my mouth”
So God says His word to us is like our “milk” as babies; it’s like our daily “bread,” it’s like solid food or meat as we mature; it’s even our “dessert,” our “honey”! As His servants we are NOURISH ourselves on His word; FEED on it regularly: read it, study it, pray through it, “feed” our souls on it!
Now, how often do you like to eat physical food? Once or twice a week, is that pretty good? Most of us would shout and complain if we only got to eat once or twice a DAY! We like to eat every day, even more than once a day. (My mom said when I was a preschooler, I once told her: “I want to have three meals a day around here!”) We like to eat! And most of us are what you might call “well-nourished” as a result!
We need to be doing the same thing spiritually. As God’s servants, we need to realize that His word is our FOOD. His word is what gives us health and strength spiritually. We will not be strong and healthy spiritually without it. So we need to “nourish” ourselves at LEAST once a day in God’s word, if not more.
The problem is, many of us as God’s people are NOT getting the nourishment we need from His word. Many Christians are NOT reading it every; many read it only once a week, sometimes only at church. And that is good way to “starve” yourself spiritually.
Honestly, even many Christians who DO read their Bible every day are reading so little — maybe a verse or two in some devotion book — that they are basically on a “starvation diet.” I mean, it’s a little bit, and YES, that’s a whole lot better than nothing — but you really need a lot more than that!
I think this verse puts it very well: we need to “nourish” ourselves in God’s word. Read it — and not just a little; “feast” on it; think about it what it means. Pray about it. Apply it to your life. Let it really “feed” your soul. Not a “30-second snack.” “Nourish” yourself in the word of God.
Sir Francis Bacon was an English philosopher and scientist who lived in the late 1500s & 1600s. One of his most famous quotes is from his essay “Of Studies,” and it has to do with how we read books. Bacon wrote:
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.’” (Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, p. 110)
Of course, that last is how the Bible should be read: not just “tasted,” but “swallowed, chewed, digested” — “read wholly and with diligence and attention.” You can “skim” some books — but you need to really “feast” on God’s word. Give it as much time as you need every day.
I believe the daily Bible reading plan we have for this year is a good one — it gives us a “well-rounded meal” of scripture, with two Old Testament readings, and one in the New Testament. When we’re NOT doing this plan, I usually start my morning worship time with a Psalm for my prayer time, then do ONE Old Testament reading, and ONE New Testament reading — with no specific “length” that I have to read — that way I can spend as much time as I need to in the word, really “digesting” whatever truth I find there. This year is a little different, with the “through the Bible in a year” plan, and as I’ve said before, I think it’s good every few years to read the Bible through, to give us the “big picture” of what’s there — I Timothy 4 here might call it a “well-rounded diet” — but generally I like to slow down just a bit more, so I can really “digest” what God is saying to me. It’s SO important that we really “GET” what God is saying to us in His word. It IS our “nourishment,” our “spiritual food.”
Monday we read in II Kings 19:30 where God said of Israel (who was being punished and taken into captivity for their idolatry) that they would one day be restored, and that they would “take root downward, and bear fruit upward.” I thought, man, that is a good picture of any healthy, growing thing. You want to “take root downward,” so that you can “bear fruit upward.” The thing is, YOU CAN’T BEAR FRUIT UPWARD IF YOU DON’T TAKE ROOT DOWNWARD! That’s certainly true in the Christian life. You’ve got to develop “roots” in your life spiritually. Roots “nourish” a plant. A plant can’t grow without roots. And YOU will never grow as a Christian unless you grow spiritual roots; you can’t “bear fruit upward” if you don’t “take root downward.” You’ve got to spend quality time in God’s word, every day. It would be a good slogan, for a church, or a ministry, or for us as individual Christians: “TAKING ROOT; BEARING FRUIT”! But we’re never going to bear fruit, if we don’t “take root.” If we want to be good servants of Christ, we’ve GOT to be nourished in God’s word every day.
II. FOLLOWING the Word.
He says: “which you have been FOLLOWING.” God wants us not only to “nourish” ourselves in His word, but also to FOLLOW it.
Now, this is a very particular Bible word for “follow.” The Greek word “akolutheo” is typically used to mean “follow.” But instead the Lord chose to use another word here: “para-akolutheo,” which means “alongside, to follow;” or more specifically, “to CLOSELY follow.”
I picture it like when our children were little, and they were first learning to ride a bike. I would put them up on the bike, and I would very closely follow right alongside them. I was careful to watch them; my hands were right by them; if they looked like they were about to tump over, I was going to grab that bike. I was very closely “following/alongside.”
That is the picture of the Bible’s word here. It’s saying we should “closely follow alongside” God’s word. We’re to follow it carefully. And when the Bible says “follow” here, it doesn’t mean what a lot of us today mean when we say “follow.” You know what I mean: a lot of people “follow” certain people on social media, on Facebook or Twitter. To “follow” on social media means you get notifications about what the person has written. You can see what they are doing. They might put up a quote or a picture and you might “like” it, but your “following” them doesn’t change what you do, or really affect your life in any way.
That is NOT what God has in mind when He says that we are to FOLLOW His word? To “follow” His word means that we “nourish” ourselves in it, yes; we need to know what it says — but it also means that we are to get up and DO what it says. To “follow” God’s word means to OBEY it. If we don’t obey it; if we don’t DO it; we are NOT really “following” God’s word!
And this is a BIG problem in American Christians today: so many people think that because they have read the Bible, or have studied the Bible and know a lot about it, that they are therefore “a good servant of Christ Jesus.” But the Bible makes it clear here, that that is not so! A good Christian is not someone who KNOWS a lot about the Bible. A good Christian is someone who FOLLOWS the Bible personally; who applies it to their life and lives it out. There is a HUGE difference.
When President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916, Secret Service Agent E.W. Starling watched him being sworn in for his second term. He wrote: “We went to the President’s room … He then took the oath of office from Chief Justice Edward D. White. As he put his hand on the Bible—the same one he had used four years before … when sworn in as Governor of New Jersey—I felt a tingling along my spine. The man and the Book were one, I suddenly thought, and come what may, he would do its bidding. He meant every word of the oath he was repeating. He would keep the faith.” (E.W. Starling and Thomas Sugrub, Starling of the White House, p. 84)
What agent Startling described there, is how we as God’s servants are to be with God’s word: we are to be “one” with this book; WE ARE TO DO ITS BIDDING! Not “just” read it; not “just” study it — though those things are good and necessary — but we must also DO IT!
— It’s not enough for us to know that Jesus said we are to forgive others who have hurt us; we are to actually forgive them! We are to DO it!
— It’s not enough to memorize The Great Commission or Acts 1:8, we are to share the gospel, here where we are, and on mission.
— It’s not enough that we know that the Bible calls a certain thing a sin; we are to make every effort with God’s help to turn AWAY from that sin.
If we don’t DO what the Bible says in our own life, we are missing the point. We are not just to “nourish” ourselves in this book, we are to FOLLOW it! Remember Jesus closing, climactic words in His Sermon on the Mount: He said the one who hears these words of Mine and ACTS upon them, is compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rock. NOT the one who just “hears” them; but who DOES them. We must FOLLOW His word; do what it says. And if we aren’t, we are NOT “a good servant of Christ Jesus,” and we have no business trying to teach it to anyone else!
III. SHARING the Word.
“pointing these things out to the brethren”
This Bible word here for “pointing these things out” (hupo-tithemi) is only used once in this way in scripture; it literally means: “to place, under.” It can be translated: “lay it down” to someone — or “put it in their mind.” It’s kind of a general word indicating that we are to SHARE God’s word with others in some way: “point these things out,” as the NAS says. The real idea here is: what you have nourished yourself with, and are following personally, you don’t keep to yourself. You are to SHARE it with others.
Now there are all kinds of different ways that you can do that:
— One way to share the word, of course, is to “formally” teach a class at church, or preach a sermon. We have a number of adult, and youth, and children’s “Sunday School” or small group classes that meet at 9:00 Sunday mornings before worship, and these are good opportunities to share the word. We often need teachers these classes. Some of you should be involved in this ministry. But again, you can’t really be effective at that unless you are personally “nourishing” yourself on God’s word daily, and are “following” it yourself. If you aren’t spending time in God’s word and prayer every day, then there’s no way you’ll bear good fruit in your teaching. And if you aren’t personally following the word you’re teaching, you’re being hypocritical. You have no right to teach something you aren’t making a genuine effort to try to live out yourself. But teaching the Bible in church is one way to share the word.
— We can also share the word in personal witnessing opportunities. Stephen Head shared a testimony last Sunday about how he led a young lady through the plan of salvation, verse-by-verse from the Bible. He was “pointing these things out;” sharing the word with someone who needed the gospel. We should all be praying and watching for these opportunities. Share the word!
— There are many different ways to share the word. Cheryl is great at saying to people in an off-hand way. “This morning I read in my daily Bible reading …” Just the other day she was talking to somebody on the phone and I heard her say: “Well, just this morning in my Bible reading it said …” and she shared something that just fit perfectly into the conversation she was having. Again, we should always be watching for those kinds of opportunities. Of course, the thing is, you can’t really share with someone what you read in your Bible this morning, UNLESS you WERE reading your Bible this morning! You’ve got to be “nourished” on the word, in order to share the word!
— And you can instruct your kids and others in the day-to-day opportunities you have to interact with them. Cheryl & I had TONS of chances to do this when our kids were growing up, and now it is so neat to see our children doing that with THEIR kids. A few days ago our grand daughter Lottie tried to argue with our daughter Libby about needing to obey what she told her. Libby said: God gave you to me as my child and you need to obey me. Lottie said, “God didn’t say that!” — so Libby quoted Ephesians 6:1, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” Libby said Lottie didn’t have a rebuttal to that one! We should have tons of conversations like this with our children and grandchildren, as day to day life course of living. Honestly, this is really where our sharing the word should BEGIN: in our own homes; with our own families.
There are all kinds of ways and means of sharing God’s word. You don’t have to do it like I do it, or like Stephen does it, or like Cheryl does it, or like Libby or anyone else does it. But as a Christian, in SOME way, you should be sharing the word of God with others. Would you ask yourself the question today: “In what ways am I sharing the word of God with others?” Are you preaching, are you teaching, are you witnessing, are you sharing in personal opportunities, sharing with your family — how are you sharing it? You can do it all kinds of different ways. But if you are not sharing the word in SOME way, you are NOT “a good servant of Christ Jesus.” The Lord has commanded us repeatedly to share His word. To be “a good servant of Christ Jesus,” we MUST be sharing His word
And the thing we have to realize, is that we ALL need ALL THREE of these in our lives. It’s not “multiple choice.” You need to be doing all of these, to be the Christian God wants you to be.
— you need to be personally nourished in the word,
— you need to be personally following what you read,
— you need to be personally sharing the word
And you HAVE to have all of them, to work together, in order to be a genuine, well-rounded follower of Christ:
— you can’t follow a word that you don’t know; that you are not spending time in every day.
— and you are not going to be sharing — bearing fruit upward — if you are not “nourishing” — putting roots downward. You’ve got to spend time “nourishing” every day
— and if you are not personally following the word, then anything you DO share, no one is going to listen to, because it is hypocritical — and you and everyone else knows it!
So it’s not like you ask: “Which one of these three should I do?” No, we ALL need to be doing ALL THREE of these:
— you need to “be nourished” in the word;
— you need to “be following” the word,
— and you need to “be sharing” the word, if you want to be a good servant of Christ Jesus.
If you know for sure that you are a follower of Christ this morning, would you evaluate your own life by what we saw here in I Timothy 4:6 this morning?
— How are you doing in “nourishing” in God’s word every day? Are you reading it? Are you “feasting” on it — or are you on a “starvation diet” in the word?
— And not just are you “feeding” on it, but are you FOLLOWING it? Is there any area of your life right now, where you are disobeying God’s word – or that you have failed it recently? If so, ask Him to forgive you, and help you CHANGE in that area. Commit yourself FOLLOW His word!
— And then: are you sharing it? Where/with whom in your life, are you sharing God’s word? Maybe you’re feeling a call from God to teach a class. Maybe He’s laying someone on your heart to witness to. Or maybe you need to ask Him to “give you a nudge” to share as opportunities open up this week
— And, as you may have noticed, these words are written to those who are followers of Christ. BUT ARE YOU a follower of Christ? Do you need to ask Him to be your Lord & Savior today?