But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
— 1 Timothy 4:7

When the time came for our family to move to Moscow to start our next church, my wife and I knew that God wanted us to turn over the care of our large church in Riga, Latvia, to our associate pastor. After serving as a son in the Gospel for many years, he was as well-trained and prepared as anyone could be to step into the position of senior pastor of that church.

My associate was so excited. Just as we were certain he was the man to lead the church, he was convinced that God had chosen him. This was the day he had dreamed of for so long! After serving me for so many years as my associate, he would finally step into the senior pastor position and lead this great church. The vision of God was exploding in his heart as he dreamed of what would be accomplished in the ensuing years.

So with great reverence, my associate and his wife knelt on the platform of the large auditorium before the Riga congregation; then Denise and I laid our hands on him and installed him as the leading pastor of that congregation. After turning over the church to his care, my family and I turned our attention to the new work God had called us to establish in Moscow.

*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]

bookmark2After the first year of leading that church by himself, my former associate told me, “Rick, I had no idea how much responsibility is placed on the senior pastor of a church. I thought I understood so much, but now I see that there was so much I never comprehended. It was only after you left and the whole weight of the church became my responsibility that I really began to realize the enormous responsibilities of a senior pastor.”

I listened with great interest as he continued to give me his views about leading a large church. Then he said to me, “You know, it finally dawned on me that this was my responsibility and that I couldn’t depend on anyone else to lead this church. As pastor, it’s up to me to guide and to see that things are being done correctly. It’s a huge responsibility to lead a church — much bigger than I ever realized!”

That conversation made me think of what Timothy went through after he became the pastor of the church of Ephesus — the largest church in the world at that time. Imagine how extremely stretched Timothy must have felt as he led the world’s largest and most famous church! Yes, he had served at Paul’s side for many years and was as prepared as anyone could possibly be for such a task. But now Paul was gone, and all eyes were on him!

The demands placed on the pastor of a large church are immense. His care for the church is nonstop. Twenty-four hours a day he must be available to the members of the congregation. Leaders must be trained; rebels must be corrected; and finances are needed to pay for the church as it grows. And in addition to church responsibilities, the pastor is most often a husband and a father as well. He has a massive church family to oversee and manage, and he also has his own personal family for which God will hold him responsible.

Timothy was just settling into the job of senior pastor when Paul wrote him the letter that became the book of First Timothy. At the time, Timothy’s responsibilities were increasing daily. His massive church was becoming even more massive as it continued to grow. He was constantly training new leaders and replacing old, rebellious leaders who thought Timothy was too young to be pastor of such a prominent church. And in the midst of it all, Timothy was learning how to cope with being the most visible Christian leader in a large metropolitan city. It was in the midst of these developments that Paul wrote to him and said, “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what these old wives’ fables were. However, it seems that Timothy may have been so exhausted that he was starting to daydream about finding an easier and more trouble-free way to do his job (like all of us are tempted to do from time to time). I have personally wondered, Was Timothy tempted to daydream about life in the ministry becoming simpler? Was he hoping that things would eventually become a lot less hectic, demanding, and complicated? If Timothy was thinking along this line, his musings would definitely fall into the category of a fable!

When God trusts you enough to give you more and more responsibility, it always demands more of you, not less. I gave up the idea many years ago of thinking that life would eventually become less demanding. Ministry is work, and none of us should ever forget that fact!

If you are mightily anointed by God, it is just a fact that your schedule will get busier, your demands will increase, and your challenges will grow. But as long as you allow God to develop your character along the way, you will find that you’re able to successfully manage anything He puts on your plate!

Paul ordered Timothy to quit fantasizing about things getting easier, telling the younger man to “…refuse profane and old wives’ fables….” The word “refuse” tells us how strongly Paul felt about Timothy’s frame of thinking. It comes from the Greek word paraiteomai, and it means to reject, to refuse, to rebuff, to decline, to snub, or to decisively turn away from something. It denotes the attitude of a person who is so disgusted with something that he has resolved he will have nothing to do with it. His feelings about this issue are so pungent that he sharply rejects what is being offered to him and vigorously declines any form of participation in it.

Whatever these “old wives’ fables” were, Paul viewed them as extremely detrimental — so much so that he strictly ordered Timothy to reject these notions. To better understand what these “old wives’ fables” might have been, let’s see what the words “old wives” and “fables” mean in the original Greek.

The Greek word translated “old wives” is grauodes, which comes from the word graus, the word for an old woman. But when the word graus becomes grauodes, it denotes anything that is old-womanish. The word “fables” is the word muthos, which typically describes fictitious stories and is where we get the terms myths and mythology.

The word muthos describes legends, folklore, or fairy tales — the kind of stories an old woman would tell to entertain her grandchildren. One New Testament Greek scholar speculates that Paul was saying in effect, “Timothy, it’s time for you to quit fantasizing that you’re going to escape hard work and find an easier way to do what God has called you to do. Why, this unrealistic kind of thinking is the stuff of fairy tales! You’re thinking like an old woman who tells fairy tales to children.…

Instead, Paul challenges Timothy to adjust his thinking and to take a different approach to the challenges he faces. Rather than pray for these challenges to go away, Timothy should embrace those challenges and use this time to develop himself. This is Paul’s message when he tells Timothy to “…exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” As noted earlier (see November 3), the word “exercise” is the Greek word gumnadzo, which describes the strenuous physical exercise required to produce the finest athletes.

When you are physically or mentally exhausted, your mind may be tempted to daydream or to wander to other places. It is amazing how the mind tries to escape from reality. But rather than let yourself float away on a cloud of fantasy that doesn’t help you fulfill your God-given assignment, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see things realistically. That’s the only way you’ll be able to put your whole heart and soul into completing your task exactly as Jesus wants it done! You can do great things for God’s Kingdom, but it will require both concentration and commitment!

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to stay focused on what You have called me to do and to embrace everything that comes with Your call on my life. Forgive me for the times I’ve tried to find a shortcut to avoid responsibility. I want to put my whole heart into the race You have set before me — to fulfill my assigned task fervently, passionately, and with the highest level of excellence.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that I am both faith-filled and realistic about what God has called me to do. I realize that it’s going to take hard work and commitment to take this assignment to the high level that God expects of me. I refuse to shrink from my responsibilities, and I choose to put my whole heart and soul into the task Jesus has given to me.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

sparking gems from the greek

Questions to Answer

1. Have you been trying to mentally escape from the responsibilities of your life? Have you been living in a fantasy that things are going to change without any effort?

2. What do you need to do to bring concrete change to the challenges you are facing in your life? What steps can you start taking today — right now — to start turning things around for the better?

3. Have you considered asking a close friend to help you focus on the things you need to be doing to get things moving in the right direction in your life? Who is a friend you could depend on to encourage you to take the right steps toward needed change?