1st & 2nd Timothy — Lesson 5

The Key to Spiritual Growth

Read 1 Timothy 4:12-16.

12Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (NKJV)

In the New American Standard Version, verse 15 reads “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.” Paul here tells Timothy to do something so that not only will grow spiritually, but his spiritual progress will be evident to all. What is it that Paul wants Timothy to do? What is the key to experiencing such spiritual growth? Before we answer that question, let’s first consider another question:

If I were to ask you what is the greatest transgression, what would your answer be?

Murder? Adultery? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

Whereas those transgressions are certainly great, I submit that at least one transgression is greater. Let’s read Matthew 22:35-38 for a clue.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment.”

Can’t we conclude that if the greatest commandment is to love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind, then the greatest transgression must be my failure to love him in that way?

If that is in fact the greatest transgression, then I think it would be very wise for us to carefully consider what that great commandment requires. What does it mean to love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul?

Whatever is involved in obeying the greatest command, it must be true that the first step in loving God with all of our heart, mind, and soul is for us to focus our attention on God. If we do not focus on God, then it will be impossible to love him with all of our heart, soul, and mind.

Now, what did Paul tell Timothy to do in 1 Timothy 4:15? He told him to give himself entirely to spiritual matters – to be absorbed by it. In short, he told Timothy that spiritual focus is the key to spiritual growth.

This should not be a surprise since the key to growth and progress in any area is focus: Think for a moment about those who have done great things in the world of art, the world of music, the world of literature, the world of science, the world of sports.

What do they have in common? They were able to focus on a goal and, laying aside every weight, they were able to work toward that goal.

A young research assistant working at Princeton University in the 1940s recounted how his boss had searched for a paper clip. “We had finished the preparation of a paper and we were looking for a paper clip. After opening a lot of drawers, we finally found one that turned out to be too badly bent for use. So we were looking for a tool to straighten it. Opening a lot more drawers, we came upon a whole box of unused paper clips.” His boss, the assistant said, “immediately started to shape one of the good paper clips into a tool to straighten out the bent paper clip.” When the assistant asked him what he was doing, he said, “Once I am set on a goal, it becomes difficult to deflect me.” That boss' name was Albert Einstein.

Would Einstein have been able to accomplish what he did without that ability to focus? Those who have accomplished the most have been able to focus on their mission without being diverted.

I think all would agree that the church today is not accomplishing all that it once did. I am sure there are many reasons, but I am equally sure that one reason must be that we have lost the focus we once had. Those who accomplish much are those who are focused on their goal.

We should not be surprised if the church has lost some of the focus it once had, because the society in which we operate has lost whatever ability it ever had to focus on a problem or an issue and work toward a goal. I want to look first as the lost of focus in society and then consider the importance of focus to the church.

What has caused this loss of focus in society? There are many theories and no doubt many contributing causes.

Let’s come at this backwards. If we wanted to destroy someone’s ability to focus on spiritual matters, what would we do?

1. We need to create discontent so people would look elsewhere.

2. We would need to actively promote ungodliness.

3. We would need to de-emphasize the written word.

Is there anything around today that does these three things? Yes, and you may already have one in every room of your house: Television! That may sound like an overly simplistic cause for such a complicated problem, but let’s consider the effect of TV for a moment.

We have become a visual society instead of a verbal society. One commentator has said that TV has this culture by the throat.

Before TV, American thinking and discourse were dominated by the printed word and speech. Images now dominate words.

We spend hours before a sheet of glass staring transfixed at the moving images on its surface and we wonder why we have trouble focusing on God. As one social critic has written, we are amusing ourselves to death.

Our attention spans have been reduced to seconds as we flip from channel to channel and surf from web site to web site, not taking the time to focus in on any one idea for more than a few minutes. (At least most of us leave our TVs behind when we leave the house, but soon that will not be the case with the Internet. The Internet will be on and available 24 hours a day wherever we are on the planet. What effect will that have on our society?)

Does the Bible have anything to say about TV? Read Deut. 7:26.

Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.

Read 1 Timothy 6:6.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain.

What are the two key byproducts of TV? Ungodliness and discontentment!

What does the Bible have to say about words and images?

As for words, one title for Christ is the Word – the Word made flesh.

As for images, the first commandment given to the Israelites was that they have no other gods. And the second commandment? God told them not to exalt images. In God’s first written communication to his people, written on tablets of stone by God himself, he told his people not to exalt images.

That is a message we need to hear today in a land where image is everything.

God has chosen to communicate to his creation through the written and spoken word, and we must never abandon God’s chosen method of communication.

God’s chosen form of communication is not multimedia. He communicates to his creation through the word and we must never reject his chosen form of communication.

As a result of our exaltation of images, our society is loosing the ability to focus and think. This modern malady has infected the church and we can already see its effects.

We, who used to be known for our knowledge of the Bible, have been diverted by other concerns.

If God wants anything, he wants our attention – our total, undivided attention.

Yet we sometimes have trouble giving him our attention.

Our society is the great leisure class. We have more diversions available to us than any other society in the history of the world. Is it any wonder if we have lost our ability to focus, not just on religious matters, but on anything?

Why do men seek diversions? What are they trying to be diverted from? What are they trying to avoid?

One answer was given by a 17th century philosopher named Pascal –

He was not just a philosopher. He was also a great scientist – physics and mathematics, especially probability theory. He invented the world’s first computer. A computer language is named in his honor.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth century philosophy tried to apply the scientific method to every aspect of our existence – this idea led to the so-called Enlightenment.

You might think that a philosopher/scientist would quickly jump on that bandwagon – but Pascal did not. Pascal understood man’s problem and he understood why man seeks diversion.

Pascal on diversion –

If man were happy, the less he were diverted, the happier he would be. But is a man not happy who can find delight in diversion? No, because it comes from somewhere else, from outside; so he is dependent, and always liable to be disturbed by a thousand and one accidents, which inevitably cause distress.

Continuing, Pascal wrote:

I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.

What did Pascal mean by that? One commentator on Pascal wrote –

We [speaking for the modern unbelievers] want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very thing we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it. We think we want peace and silence and freedom and leisure, but deep down we know that this would be unendurable to us, like a dark and empty room without distractions where we would be forced to confront ourselves, the one person (next to God) whom we fear the most, yet need the most, and the only person (next to God) whom we are constantly trying to escape, yet the only person (next to God) whom we can never escape, to all eternity.

If you are typically modern, your life is like a rich mansion with a terrifying hole right in the middle of the living room floor. So you paper over the hole with a very busy wallpaper pattern to distract yourself. You find a rhinoceros in the middle of your house. The rhinoceros is wretchedness and death. How in the world can you hide a rhinoceros? Easy: cover it with a million mice. Multiply diversions.

Well that is what the philosophers have to say – and I think what they have to say is useful as far as it goes. But what does the Bible have to say about the importance of focus and diversion? Quite a lot. How important is focus in the church?

First, what is the goal from which we must not be diverted?

Philippians 3:13-14 but one thing [focus!] I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

How are we to go about achieving that goal?

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

What does the Bible say about those who are diverted from that goal? The Bible says that there are several unavoidable consequences that result when we lose our focus.

James tells us that a lack of focus (he calls it having a double mind) can hinder our prayers.

Focus is a primary theme in the book of James. It’s not surprising that James (who grew up with Christ) would say so much about focus. He witnessed Jesus’ lifelong focus on his mission.

James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James 1:7-8 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

A lack of focus and a double mind can hinder our observance of the communion.

1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.

We should pray that our heart will be united.

Psalm 86:11 Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.

Both the Bible and common sense tell us that we cannot focus on two things at once.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

A lack of focus causes us to be unfruitful and it chokes the word.

Matthew 13:22 “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

Jesus is calling us to focus on the “one thing” that is needed.

Luke 10:41-42 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. [You are diverted!] 42 “But one thing [Focus!] is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

God wants pure hearts. God wants undivided hearts. God wants united hearts. We cannot keep one foot in church and one foot in the world and please God. We cannot serve two masters. We must focus on our one true master and refuse to be diverted by the others.

Isn’t this what Paul tells us in Colossians 3:2?

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

And in Romans 8:5.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

And in Phil. 3:18-19.

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.

Notice that Paul does not say that those who lack focus are godless – he says their god is their belly. What is idolatry if it is not simply our focus on something or someone other than God?

If we lack focus then we lack pure hearts.

James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. [Paraphrase: Blessed are those who focus on God, for they shall see him!]

Rather than being double-minded, we must be single-minded. The Psalmist wrote, “I hate the double-minded.” (Psalm 119:113)

We hear much about air pollution and water pollution, but we hear very little about heart pollution. Our heart becomes polluted when we fail to focus on God – when we are double-minded.

Read Proverbs 4:23.

Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.

And look at verse 25: “Let your eyes look straight ahead.” Focus!

Remember the song:

Purer in heart, O God, Help me to be; May I devote my life wholly to thee. Watch thou my wayward feet, Guide me with counsel sweet; Purer in heart, Help me to be.

Purer in Heart, O God, Help me to be; That I thy holy face one day may see. Keep me from secret sin, Reign thou my soul within; Purer in heart, Help me to be.

In Luke 14:15-24 we find a parable about focus:

Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, “and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ “But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ “And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ “Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ “So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ “And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. ‘For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ ”

When Jesus calls, does he get a busy signal? Are we too busy for Jesus? Are we focused on something else?

The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. The greatest transgression is our failure to do that. To follow that command we must lay aside every weight and distraction. We must focus on God.

The key to spiritual growth is spiritual focus.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)