The apostle Paul instructed Timothy (1 & 2 Timothy) on numerous ecclesiastical and ministerial concerns. Out of all of them, one particular verse that I find to be especially pressing for ministers of the word is 1 Timothy 4:16. It is a verse that I consider my “ministry verse” (like one’s “life verse”). It contains within its bounds two necessary disciplines of a minister, with a solemn and blessed promise for the one who faithfully abides by them.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (NASB)
The two necessary disciplines are: 1. Pay close attention to yourself, and 2. Pay close attention to your teaching.
1. Pay close attention to yourself. Paul is basically telling Timothy to keep a close watch on his life/conduct. He is essentially instructing Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (vv. 7-8). Both moral purity and godly pursuits are an important aspect of every Christian’s life, but especially for the minister, who is charged with the duty of instructing God’s people and is looked upon as an example of those who believe (v. 12). Whether in speech, conduct, love, faith, or purity, ministers are to be exemplary. The weight of such a responsibility should cause fear and trembling. He who does not tremble at such a prospect has not comprehended the weightiness of the matter, and is therefore not fit for service. It is necessary that ministers of the word take heed to these things.
2. Pay close attention to your teaching. Paul here is telling Timothy to keep a close watch over his teaching, as he is expected to do of his life. Paul earlier emphasized this when discussing the importance of pointing out error or falsehood, and how Timothy is to be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which [he has] been following” (v. 6). As a minister of God’s word, Timothy is expected to discipline himself in the study of God’s word, so that he may “present [himself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The minister of God’s word must “[hold] fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9).
Both of these disciplines are necessary. It is not enough to be disciplined in the one and neglect the other. What good is a minister who is of high moral caliber and good works, yet preaches/teaches false doctrine? What good is a minister who preaches/teaches the truth, yet fails to live by it? Such a one is a lopsided minister, a blind man leading the blind. Richard Baxter brings out well the necessary balance of the two:
Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and lest you lay such stumbling-blocks before the blind, as may be the occasion of their ruin; lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labours…. It is a palpable error of some ministers, who make such a disproportion between their preaching and their living; who study hard to preach exactly, and study little or not at all to live exactly. All the week long is little enough, to study how to speak two hours; and yet one hour seems too much to study how to live all the week. They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons, or to be guilty of any notable infirmity, (and I blame them not, for the matter is holy and weighty,) but they make nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions, in the course of their lives.
Finally, then, we come to the solemn and blessed promise for the faithful minister who abides by these two disciplines. Paul says, “…for as you do this, you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” Salvation! This is no trivial matter. Souls are Paul’s concern here; both the minister’s and those who sit under his charge.
In short, the minister may have assurance of his salvation if he demonstrates soundness in life and teaching. That is, if the minister holds to and preaches/teaches the biblical gospel, and walks in a manner worthy of the gospel (see Phil. 1:27), then there is no reason for doubting God’s saving grace in his life. Good fruit is evident. Further, those who hear (in faith!) the minister’s preaching/teaching, they too have assurance of salvation. The people have a godly and faithful example in the minister, of whom they may follow with confidence, resting in the sufficient, redeeming work of Jesus Christ that the minister proclaims.
The weight of responsibility in this text rests on the minister. Paul refuses to sugar-coat the weighty responsibilities and duties of the minister of God’s word. But to him who faithfully disciplines himself in these areas — discipline in life/conduct and discipline in teaching — God supplies a precious promise of saved souls. Though salvation is ultimately in the sovereign hand of God, we cannot neglect our responsibility and the means by which God works.
Related Teaching from Proverbs
“He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” (10:9)
“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” (10:10)
“The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.” (13:13-14)
 Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor (PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007, first published in 1656), 63-64.