1 Timothy 4:7 MEANING

1 Timothy 4:7
(7) But refuse profane and old wives' fables.--Here Timothy--who has been previously (see 1 Timothy 4:1-6) warned against a false asceticism, against putting an unnatural interpretation on the words of Christ, against sympathising with a teaching which would unfit men and women for practical every-day life--is now urged to guard himself against the temptation to give himself up to the favourite and apparently enticing study of the sayings of the famous Jewish Rabbis, in which every book, almost every word--in many cases the letters of the Hebrew Scriptures--were subjected to a keen but profitless investigation. In such study the spirit of the holy writers was too often lost, and only a dry and barren formalism--commands respecting the tithing of mint, and anise, and cummin--remained, while the weightier matters of the law--judgment, justice, and truth--were carefully sifted out. Round the grand old Jewish history all kind of mythical legends grew up, till for a Jewish student of the Rabbinical schools the separation of the true from the false became in many cases impossible--through all this elaborate and careful but almost profitless study. The minister of Christ was to avoid these strange and unusual interpretations, this vast fantastic collection of legends, partly true and partly false. He was to regard them as merely profane and old wives' fables, as being perfectly useless and even harmful in their bearing on practical every-day life.

And exercise thyself rather unto godliness.--Instead of these weary profitless efforts--the painful, useless asceticism on the one hand, and the endless and barren Rabbinic studies of the Law on the other--Timothy, as a good minister of Jesus Christ, was to bestow all his pains and labour to promote an active, healthy, practical piety among the congregation of believers, as we have seen in 1 Timothy 4:6, in the words, "ever training thyself." To lead such a life required ceaseless pains and efforts, for true godliness is ever a progressive state. Surely exercising himself unto godliness would be a task hard enough to satisfy the most ardent, the most enthusiastic soul! The "godliness," or "piety," here alluded to, as the end toward which Timothy was to direct all his efforts, was that practical piety which influences for good, which leavens with a holy leaven all classes of society, all life, of the slave as well as of the patrician.

Verse 7. - Unto godliness for rather unto godliness, A.V. The R.V., by putting a full stop after "fables," disturbs the natural flow of the thought. The two imperatives παραιτοῦ and γύμναζε connect and contrast the thoughts in the two clauses of the verse, as the A.V. indicates by the insertion of "rather." Profane (βεβήλους; 1 Timothy 1:9, note) Old wives' (γράωδεις); only here in the New Testament; not used in LXX.; rare in classical Greek. Exercise thyself unto godliness (γύμναζε σευτόν). The verb γυμνάζειν occurs in the New Testament only in this place, twice in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:14; 12:11), and once in 2 Peter (2 Peter 2:14). In the LXX. it occurs only once (2 Macc. 10:15), but is common in classical Greek. The metaphor is drawn from training for gymnastic exercises. As regards the whole passage, it seems that there were current among the Jews at this time many "fables" (1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16), childish legends and doctrines, some of them directed especially to enforcing certain rules about eating and drinking, and other "bodily exercises," which St. Paul utterly discountenances, and contrasts with that "good doctrine" which he directs Timothy continually to teach. This would account, naturally, for the introduction of the phrase, γύμναζε σεαυτόν.

4:6-10 Outward acts of self-denial profit little. What will it avail us to mortify the body, if we do not mortify sin? No diligence in mere outward things could be of much use. The gain of godliness lies much in the promise; and the promises to godly people relate partly to the life that now is, but especially to the life which is to come: though we lose for Christ, we shall not lose by him. If Christ be thus the Saviour of all men, then much more will he be the Rewarder of those who seek and serve him; he will provide well for those whom he has made new creatures.But refuse profane and old wives' fables,.... Either Jewish ones, the traditions of the elders; or those of the Gnostics, concerning God, angels, and the creation of the world; or those doctrines of demons, and which forbad marriage, and commanded abstinence from meats before mentioned; which are called profane, because impious and ungodly, and old wives' fables, because foolish and impertinent; and which were to be rejected with abhorrence and contempt, in comparison of the words of faith and good doctrine.

And exercise thyself rather unto godliness; either to the doctrines which are according to godliness, and tend to godly edification, which the above fables did not, study these, meditate on them, digest them, and deliver them to others; or to a godly life and conversation, exercise thyself, to have a conscience void of offence to God and men; or to internal religion, inward godliness, the exercise of the graces of faith, hope, love, fear, reverence, humility, &c. or rather to the spiritual worship of God, according to his will, not in a formal, cold, and customary way, but with the heart, in truth and sincerity, in faith, and with fervency and purity.

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