I thought Jesus told us to “deny” ourselves (Matthew 16:24).
That being true, what is the problem with the teaching Paul opposes in chapter four? After all, even Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says it is better not to marry and the Jerusalem church council in Acts 15 recommended staying away from certain foods.
So why is Paul upset?
The difference is context.
Jesus was urging restraint in life and self-discipline. Paul’s recommendation against marriage was for a particular reason, but even he counseled in favor of it – in the same passage where he recommends against it. And the advice of the Elders in Jerusalem on dietary matters was not a blanket prohibition, but given for specific reasons and circumstances.
Paul is upset here because false teachers are promising heightened spirituality through asceticism (even Timothy seems to have “bought in” to their teaching – see 5:23). But their behavior does not create godliness, and depending on that behavior for spirituality focuses on their own works, rather than the work of God. In some cases, it even depreciates God’s work (see verse 3). Our hope must be solely in Him.
How young was Timothy?
We must be careful not to read too much into the statement “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” A man’s “youth” in the ancient world lasted for as long as he was old enough to go to war. When Timothy joined Paul on the second missionary journey (cir. 49 AD), he was old enough to travel alone, old enough to be respected by fledgling churches, and wise enough to lead and instruct new Christians in matters of teaching and polity. It is now fourteen years later. Though to Paul, Timothy will always be his “child,” he is far far from being a “kid.”