Nowhere in 1 Timothy are the consequences of whether Timothy heeds Paul’s instructions more clear than in 4:16. The very salvation of Timothy and the Ephesian Christians hinges upon his willingness to watch closely himself and his teaching. To one degree or another this is true of us all — our salvation and that of others depends on how we guard our lives and our doctrine.
Paul is not abandoning salvation by grace alone and embracing works-righteousness in today’s passage. But he is asserting an important biblical truth, namely that while salvation is of the Lord, He has decided to redeem people through the use of secondary means such as the preaching of the gospel by His servants. How can those who do not know Jesus call on Him unless someone tells them the good news, and how can someone proclaim the gospel unless he is sent by the Spirit through the call of the church (Rom. 10:14–15)? Surely, John MacArthur writes, “though salvation is God’s work, it is His pleasure to do it through human instruments” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,792).
Our Creator does not need us to accomplish His purposes, but He has graciously chosen the foolishness of preaching to bring about the salvation of the world. When we pay heed to such preaching, God corrects and refines our understanding of His truth, making us able to avoid the errors that have prevented millions from believing the gospel. In so doing, we also persevere in the faith, being used of the Lord to keep us in salvation and to redeem others from spiritual darkness (1 Tim. 4:16). Moreover, guarding our lives through the diligent pursuit of holiness is one of the means by which we and others are saved. Christ is blasphemed when professing Christians follow the way of sensuality (2 Peter 2:2) because their blatant sin can lead unbelievers to falsely assume that Jesus has no power to change things. John Calvin says, “Doctrine will be of little avail, if there be not a corresponding goodness and holiness of life.”
We have no control over the false opinions the world may form of us. But let us never give them fuel for their blasphemous fires. Instead, may we teach and live out the gospel that we might be living examples of its grace and truth.