by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 2 Study # 3 Lincolnton, NC August 7, 2005
7 But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
1901 ASV Translation:
7 but refuse profane and old wives' fables. And exercise thyself unto godliness:
I. Paul's Continuing Application of the Spirit's Warning to Timothy's Setting.
A. On the positive side, Paul encouraged an outward focus and an inward personal focus.
1. Outwardly, Timothy was to address the brethren with edifying Truth.
2. Inwardly, Timothy was to accept nourishment from the words of the faith.
B. Now, there is a prohibition (i.e., a "negative" issue).
1. The heart of the prohibition is, as almost always is the case, the verb.
a. The word translated "refuse" is used in 9 helpful contexts in the New Testament. It invariably signals "non-participation". Sometimes the non-participation is precipitated by the participant; sometimes it is precipitated by someone who does not allow the participation of another for various reasons. In every case, however, whatever might be caused by the input of the participant is completely blocked.
b. Paul's command is for Timothy to exercise some discernment about what kind of participation is to be "allowed" in his pursuit of the objective.
1) This, obviously, raises the question of that "objective". What is it that Timothy is supposed to be pursuing?
a) The answer is in our text: godliness (both in the lives of the 'brethren' and in his own life).
b) This objective is another of those "servant objectives"; it is not a "final" end, but a means to a greater end. If we take Peter's list of virtues in 2 Peter 1 as a guide, "godliness" is supposed to lead to "brotherly kindness". Thus, the "end" in view is the development of a virtue that will lead to the development of better relationships with "brethren".
c) The issue of "godliness" is enormously significant in light of the fact that of the 15 uses of this particular word in the New Testament, 10 of them are in the pastoral epistles, and 9 of them are in Paul's instructions to Timothy.
d) Thus, the issue of "godliness" is central to this letter and, thus, must also be "in our minds" as we pursue its meaning. What is "godliness"? If we take Paul's use of the word in 6:5 as a foundation, what we have is the idea that "godliness" is the "presentation of the truth about God by means of words and deeds". In other words "godliness" is a life of balanced virtues that reveals what God is like in terms of the various requirements of His attributes as they exist in harmony with each other. In this light, Paul's statement in 2 Timothy 3:5 about people who have a "form" of godliness that is undercut by the inherent "power" of the reality (real godliness) are frauds and dangerous people who must be "rejected", is enlightening since the "point" is an accurate presentation of the balance that exists in the attributes of God.
2) Just as obviously, if one approach is disallowed, what approach is to be used?
a) The answer is in the word "exercise" in combination with the context: Timothy is to "be nourished by the words of the faith" so that he can "exercise" himself unto godliness.
b) The word translated "exercise" carries the idea of an activity that pushes one beyond the boundaries of the norm so that those boundaries expand. It can signal both a good effort and an evil one. The root notion is that of the reinforcement of an attitude/action so that it becomes more dominant over time. Just as a muscle is reinforced over time by exercise that is deliberate in pushing the muscle to strength that it only has at its outer boundaries of usefulness, so also "godliness" becomes more and more the characteristic of those who do not settle for the current norm. The question is this: how was Timothy to "exercise himself"? The answer is in the text: in both the positive exhortation to be nourished by the words of the faith and in the negative prohibition to permit "myths" to have a place in his study and thinking, there is this constant: "exercise" is the action of pushing the "words of the faith" to explain themselves to me while completely rejecting the "words of myths" as having any helpfulness at all.
2. The focus of the prohibition: profane and old wives' fables.
a. Hebrews 12:16 is the clearest text in the New Testament on what constitutes "profanity": Esau was "profane" because he "sold his birthright" for "one morsel of meat". In other words, Esau was profane for one reason: his value system was upside down; he considered the lust of the flesh a "need" to be satisfied at whatever price. Thus it is with "profane myths" -- they agitate for the exaltation of the inconsequential over the crucial.
b. Why does Paul link these "profane" myths to "old wives"? He didn't. The word is relatively rare, but it signals "old" as indicated by "age wrinkles". It is not so much a matter of "gender" (old woman) as it is a "time worn" issue that seems to have survived the aging processes -- i.e., "myths that have become accepted as truths". Clichés.
c. The issue of "fables" is indicated, by all five of the references to them in the New Testament, to be a "doctrine" held as true because of a long history of entrenched presence but which has no foundation in Truth whatsoever. Peter calls them "cunningly devised". Paul refers to them four times in the pastorals and demands that both Timothy and Titus stay away from them altogether. The point is clear: lies cannot edify.