I Timothy 4

Bill McFarland

December 11, 2005


In my Bible reading this past week, I have been reading from I and II Timothy and also from I Peter.  I noticed the phrase in these letters that suggest an important theme in Christian living.  It is a phrase that is hard to put into English words, apparently, because it is translated in at least four different ways that I could find.  Sometimes it is put “fix your hope” as if it is calling upon us to zero in on something like a great telescope fixes on a star out in the universe somewhere.  Sometimes it is put “set your hope” suggesting that our hope needs to be intentionally set on a good solid foundation much like someone would purposely set a house on a foundation which is sure to support it for a long time.  Sometimes it is just translated to “trust him” as if we are being called to actually decide to depend on something like the song we have just sung has called us to do – his oath, his covenant, his love.

Sometimes it is just translated “hope in” as if we are being called to on purpose decide that we want to desire and to expect certain things to be a reality in our future and that we want to let that desire and expectation govern our lives while we are here.  We want to invest ourselves in this hope that we have.  We want to use our lives for this hope that we have fixed our eyes upon.  We want to make sure that we live each day and that we endure every hardship with our feet solidly planted on this hope that we have set for ourselves.  The kind of letters that this phrase appears in (for example, the pastoral epistles as the letters of Timothy are called or the general epistle like I Peter) suggest that this choice of where we set our hopes, what we fix our hopes upon, what we set our desire and expectation by has the largest possible bearing on how we are supposed to live our lives and upon what it takes for the church to be strong and to honor God in this world. 

Notice if you will the passages where I found at least this phrase.  We will start with I Timothy 4:10.  Paul is calling upon Timothy to train himself for godliness here, and he says, “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.”  Then look at I Timothy 5:5.  This verse is in a context where Paul is talking about the need to care for those who are truly widowed – those who are great Christian women who have been left completely alone.  He says, “She who is truly a widow left all alone has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.”  Then look with me at I Timothy 6:17.  Paul in this letter has a lot to say about dealing with money matters and personal wealth.  Here he talks to those who are rich.  He says, “As for the rich in this present world, charge them not to be haughty not to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”  Next, look at I Peter 1:13.  Peter has introduced in this chapter the great theme of salvation through Christ.  He has noted in verse 3 that we have been born again to a living hope.  Then he says in verse 13, “Therefore, preparing your mind for action and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 

Those passages read together suggest that our great ultimate choice has to do with whether we decide to set our hope on self-based things or upon God-based things.  The one great choice of all of our lives that then fashions the rest of our experience in this world and then in whatever is beyond is what we have decided to set our hope upon.  On the one hand, there is the effort to set our hopes on things that we have either done or decided or chosen for ourselves.  It is interesting some of the forms this choice may take.  There are some of us who have in essence set our hopes upon the possibility that there is no hope.   I realize that is a strange statement, but it is true.  There are a lot of people like the little saying quoted in I Corinthians 15 who have decided “Let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  A lot of folks have set their entire course of life on the chance that we just die and that’s it, and there is nothing at all beyond the here and now.

Bro. Wayne Jackson recounted in an article he wrote.  The time was when the very famous skeptic of his day, Robert Owen, was in a debate with Alexander Campbell.  Owen visited with Campbell on Campbell’s farm prior to their debate in the year 1829, and as they walked about the estate one day, they came to the family cemetery.  Owen paused and remarked to Campbell, “There is one advantage I have over the Christian.  I am not afraid to die.”  Campbell asked him then, “Have you any hope in death?”  After a moment Owen replied in the negative.  And then answered Campbell pointing out an ox that was standing nearby, “You are on a level with that brut.” 

You can set your hope on the idea that there is no hope, but that choice has some consequences.  One of the things that it overlooks is that the Bible clearly teaches the resurrection of Jesus assures that there is something beyond the here and now, and that each one of us ultimately stands before God to give an accounting of ourselves.  Someone who thinks that he can live without hope now has to ask, “What about that?  I have used my life here as if that didn’t exist, and when my short span is over, I have wasted the thought of hope.”

There are some who besides that choice we just mentioned who depend completely on man by turning to human thinking and human ingenuity and human activity and even human good works as the basis for hope.  Some people hope in human power and human thinking and what we either are able to do in our great skills or what we have done to lay up a score of good things with God in the hereafter.  In short, some of us are hoping in our own works, and we expect to be able to stand before God, if it comes to that in our minds, and to claim that he is in our debt because of all the things we have done for him.  In one form or another, this type of thinking and this type of activity takes in a large percentage of the population of this world.  We may allow that there is something that we ought to be thinking about the nature of our lives here.  We think we are alright because, after all, we are good enough or we are strong enough or we are strong enough to take care of whatever comes along.

In Psalm 33, this part of human nature is taken up by the psalmist, and he uses for his illustration the tendency of some of his day to depend upon either political power or military power.  Military power here is represented by the horse, and political power is represented by the king.  In Psalm 33, beginning at verse 16, the scripture says, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.”  Think about that.  The possible basis for hope here are the army, the warrior’s strength, and the horse.  We might make the parallel of airplanes, bombs and missiles, but it would still be the same thought.

In verse 18 it continues, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” (isn’t it interesting that reverence for God and hope in his love are paralleled) “that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.  For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.  Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”  Hope in God is to wait for him, to be glad in him, to trust in his holy name.  That stands in opposition to the idea of depending upon human power and achievement.  

In the third place there are many who rely on the hope of a god created for self.  Every generation of human beings has had the tendency to want to believe in God and then makes that god into one who is manageable by men.  Today you will hear individuals say from time to time, “Well, my god would,” or “My god wouldn’t” as if the activity of God is determined by what we think he should or shouldn’t do.  In the Bible that problem takes the form of idolatry.  One vivid illustration of the problem of idolatry is found in Jeremiah 10.  He says beginning in verse 2, “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity.”  By the “customs of the peoples” he is talking about idols here.  Look at what he says: “A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. (He is not talking about a Christmas tree here; he is talking about an idol made by human hands – a god, so called, fashioned by human thinking and power)  They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.  Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk.  Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”  Here is a god who can’t see, think, speak, walk or act, and yet you find people basing their hope on a god like that.  Jeremiah continues that these things are both stupid and foolish, but he says in verse 10, “The Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King.  At his wrath the earth quakes and the nations cannot endure his indignation.”  That is one choice – to hope in things that are based in self. 

The other choice suggested by the verses we have read is to base our hope, to set our hope, to fix our hope on things that God has done.  Did you notice that Paul refers to God in I Timothy 4:10 as “the living God?”  If you want to live in hope, you have to base that hope on a living god.  You can’t base things on things that are going to die and have hope.  The living god is the god who is the source of life.  He is the god who has life in himself.  He is the god who is, the god who can say, “I am who I am.”  He is the god who is eternal and unchangeable.  Someone who fixes their hope in that god can have a real and living hope.

Secondly, in the verses that we read from I Timothy and I Peter, the claim is made that that living god has acted to save people.  When it says in I Timothy 4:10 that he is the savior of all men and especially of those of the household of belief, he is not saying that everybody is saved regardless of their relationship with Christ or God, and then somehow those who believe are especially saved (translated specifically those who believe).  That might fit better with what he is actually saying.  The idea is that God has manifested or revealed his son, and that his son as we have remembered at the table this morning, has tasted of death for all of us.  He bore our sins in his body on the tree.  He paid the debt that we owed.  He is offering us through that sacrifice hope, hope of a right relationship with God and of sharing the resurrection which he has pioneered for us. 

In I Peter 1:21, we learn that our hope is based on the fact that God who offered him up to redeem us, then raised him up from the dead.  Our hope is based on the living God, on the gift of his son, and then, according to I Peter 1:13, on the grace that will be revealed to us.  Grace is revealed in the gospel now.  Grace will be revealed when Jesus comes, when he calls people who belong to him and says, “Well done good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Lord.”  There is an inheritance reserved for us because of the work of Jesus Christ, and that alone serves as a basis of real hope.  Do I want my hope set on things that I design myself or do I want my hope set on the living God and what he has done in raising up his son and on the grace that will be brought at the end?  That is the choice before me, and to me it is an easy choice.  I want to set my hope on the living God and what he has done through Christ and on the grace that will be revealed when Christ comes again.  The question is, “How do I set my hope where it ought to be?”

Let’s notice from these verses five things that we can do to set our hope on the living God.  First, you set your hope on the living God by becoming a Christian, by being born again through obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I Peter 1:3 makes the point that “God is to be blessed because according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  That is a wonderful statement.  We worship God and we bless him because he has given us new life.  We have been born again.  But look a little further at I Peter 1.  Peter explains what he is saying.  In verse 22 he says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  He then explains that the living and abiding word is the gospel.  If someone has that seed planted in him and he obeys from the heart that gospel, then he is born again through the work of God and he has a living hope.  The first thing I need to do if I want to set my hope of Christ is to actually become a Christian.

Secondly, to set my hope on the living God, I want to be a person who disciplines myself spiritually, who trains myself for godliness.  I want to grow in godliness in my life.  Here in I Timothy 4 again, Paul has compared Timothy’s responsibility as a Christian young man to that of an athlete.  He uses the example of how athletes in training discipline themselves in what they eat and how much rest they get, what kind of exercises they do and he is calling to mind the remarkable self-control it takes for someone to really, truly excel at that kind of thing.  But he says, whatever good that can do, to discipline yourself in godliness would do a lot more good because it gives you the best of life now and then hope in the hereafter.  And so, Paul says, “to this end we toil and strive.”  The word for strive is a word that we have taken and just put into English letters – agony, agonize.  We pray if we get around to it.  We come to church if we don’t have something else to do or somewhere else to be.  We give if it is convenient.  We talk to other people if we are not afraid of being embarrassed.  Setting our hope on the Lord involves a greater discipline than that.  That is what Paul is telling Timothy to do.

Thirdly, we set our hopes on the living God by being so aware that we are relying on him, that we are constantly casting our cares on him and praying to him and leaning on him in our lives.  That person in I Timothy 5 who was a widow indeed did not have government programs to help her.  She had nowhere else to turn if she was truly all alone in life.  She realized that to the point that she had set her hope on God and that she continued in supplications and prayers night and day was a way of life for her.

In the town of Porthole, Canada there is monument erected, not to some leading citizen or political leader, but for a poor, unselfish working man who gave most all of his life and his energy to helping people who couldn’t repay him.  His name was Joseph Scribbin.  Joseph Scribbin was born in Dublin, Ireland in the year 1820.  He was a man who, even as a young fellow, had the highest ideals and aspirations in his life.  He fell in love with a beautiful young lady and was engaged to be married.  He had all these dreams about how they would live and what their lives would be.  But on the eve of their marriage, this young lady fell into a pool of water and drowned.  Scribbin never overcome the shock of that tragedy, but he did learn to go on with his life.  Although he was a college graduate, which was rare at the time, and had the possibility for a brilliant career, he began to wander around to try to get away from his sorrow.  His wanderings finally took him to Canada where he spent the last 41 years of his life.  He was a very devout believer.  That is what led him to try to help people and never receive anything for it.  Nobody knew that he also wrote little poems.  When he died at the age of 60, a friend who had been sitting with him while he was ill discovered a poem that he had written to his mother during his time of sorrow.  Scribbin had apparently never intended that anybody else see this poem.  But it said, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear; what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.  O what peace we often forfeit; O what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”  I have heard those words.  Haven’t you?  That is what I Timothy 5:5 is saying.  If you want to set your hope on the Lord, you have to act like the Lord is your hope.

Then notice in I Timothy 6:17 and following, to set our hopes on the Lord, we use the gifts that he has given us with eternity in mind.  In this passage that man who is rich had great responsibility.  He had to be sure that he did not allow his wealth to make him proud and to make him think he was better than everybody else.  And then he had to set about using those gifts to richly bless other people.  He was to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for himself as a good foundation for the future so that he might take hold of that which is life indeed.  Set your hope on the living God and use the blessings he has given you with his reward of an inheritance in mind.

Fifth, to set our hopes on the living God we have to be people who are alert and active and sober in our thinking.  I Peter 1:13 said to prepare your minds for action, to gird up your minds.  That had to do with the way the flowing robes that were worn in that day were gathered up and tucked in a belt so a person could move.  Somebody said it is the equivalent to saying now, “Roll up your sleeves, take off your coat so you can get to work.”  That is the idea here only he is talking about the mind, the thinking.  The person is to be sober, or sensible, and balanced, to have his hope fully set on grace that will be brought.  I read somewhere of a little girl who lived near a cemetery.  That cemetery was a dark and dreadful place for her, and she struggled with fear about it.  She often had to walk through it to get home late in the day.  One day she was coming home and she had waited a little too long and darkness fell.  As she was walking along, her friend asked her, “Aren’t you ever afraid?”  The little girl replied, “Oh, no.  My home is just on the other side.”  That is how a Christian thinks.

We all need to choose where we are going to set our hopes.  If we are going to set our hopes on the living God, we will need to become Christians, to exercise ourselves with godliness, pray constantly to the Lord, to use the blessings and gifts we have in his service and to be careful to think clearly all the way through.  There is a song in our songbook which has the chorus: “Some build their hopes on the ever drifting sand; some on their fame or their treasure or their land; mine is on the rock that forever shall stand, Jesus, the Rock of Ages.”  The Lord used a little story about building your house.  To have the option of conveniently building it on the sand with no trouble, but you need to know that when the storm comes, it won’t stand.  Or you can choose to dig all the way down to solid rock and set it on a hope that will last.  That doesn’t promise you there will never be a storm, but it does promise you that it will stand.  You want to set your hope on the rock today.  If we can help you with your response to the gospel, will you come right now while we stand and sing?