1 Timothy 4: “Put Your Own Mask On First”

1 Timothy 4:12-13 (NLT) 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Being a youth pastor for eight years I used this verse often to encourage my teenagers to realize that they should never be looked over because of their age. Although this scripture does have value to teenagers, it has even more value to a brand new senior pastor who took over an incredible church at the age of 32!

Truth is, when we read this passage in context, Paul was writing to a young pastor named Timothy. The word “young” used by Paul is actually a word that indicated “a grown-up military age, extending to the 40th year” (Lock). Through careful scrutiny of the scripture we can conclude that Timothy was roughly 30 years old at this point. We also know that Paul was probably around 70 when he wrote this letter.

So when we read this passage again, we begin to see what exactly Paul is indicating in this passage. Paul is not only encouraging Timothy, but he’s also encouraging him to be an example to all believers…

  • in what you say
  • in the way you live
  • in your love
  • your faith
  • and your purity

He goes onto to instruct Timothy to do three primary things…

  • focus on reading the scripture to (the church)
  • encourage the believers
  • and teaching (the church)

Paul continues… 1 Timothy 4:14-16 (NLT) 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15 Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.

I read and re-read these words I can’t help but be reminded of the call that God has placed on my life. My hope and prayer is that I too will live and lead in such a way that my life will be live in honor to God. I especially appreciate verse 16 and the warning to, “keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.” It sounds pretty common, but there’s something very important to glean from this teaching. Pay attention to the order that Paul instructs Timothy:

  1. Keep a close watch on how you live
  2. Keep a close watch on your teaching

The priority for a pastor is not to focus first on the teaching and let it spill over into their life; instead the focus should be on the way they live, which will spill over to the way they teach. Again we see Paul making sure to focus on the next priority:

  1. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation
  2. Stay true to what is right for the sake of the salvation of those who hear you

Again, the first focus should be your own salvation, THEN the salvation of others.

Put Your Mask On First

Many times in ministry I sit with people who are struggling with guilt over who they should help first, themselves or others? I typically tell them this analogy.

If you pay attention to the flight crews announcements before a flight, you will often hear the following announcement. “In the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the overhead panels…  Parents traveling with younger children should first secure their own mask, and THEN their child’s mask.”

The Takeaway

Like an unconscious parent is useless to help their children, so is a pastor or ministry leader who doesn’t take care of themselves spiritually, first.