(The studies in the book of I Timothy are based on a verse-by-verse application of the Bible truth found in the epistle. To profit from this lesson the reader should have a Bible open to the first chapter of First Timothy.)
The letters to Timothy and Titus are often called “pastoral epistles” because they deal with matters affecting pastors and their congregations. The Apostle Paul’s purpose in writing was to admonish, instruct, and give direction to God’s people, and especially to those in leadership positions in the church.
Timothy was an overseer in the church at Ephesus, a city of 300,000 inhabitants located on the west coast of Turkey. It was the city where the temple of Diana was located. Diana (the Greek name was “Artemis”) was the goddess of fertility, a black, ugly, repulsive figure covered with a multitude of breasts. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the daughter of Zeus, the chief of gods. The temple at Ephesus was a huge structure supported by 127 columns each sixty feet high. It was in Ephesus that the silversmiths (who made souvenirs of the temple) were upset with Paul (Acts 19:27). Paul had founded a church at Ephesus.
The theme of I Timothy is set forth clearly in chapter 3:14-15, which says, “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The letter to Timothy is a kind of guidebook with instructions about how to conduct a local church.
The letter opens with a salutation and greeting. Verse 1 names the writer; verse 2 names the receiver of the letter. Paul was an “apostle.” The word “apostle” had a two-fold use. It was used as the official name for “the Twelve” who ministered with Jesus, and were so named by Him (Luke 6:13). The word “apostle” also was sometimes an unofficial way of describing one who had been sent on a special mission (for example, Barnabas, in Acts 14:14). We notice that Paul had not chosen the ministry as a career. God had chosen Paul. He was an apostle “by the command of God,” not by his own design.
The last phrase of verse 1 speaks of “the Lord Jesus Christ who is our hope.” Some think that money is our hope for a better future. Others look to armed power and military preparation as our hope for a more peaceful world. Some believe in science, culture, and improved education. But the Bible says that Jesus is coming back, and when He returns, wrongs will be righted, a kingdom of peace will be established, and righteousness will finally prevail on earth. Thus, Jesus is our hope.
Verse 2 introduces the receiver of the letter. Timothy first appears in Acts 16:1, during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. Timothy was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother. He was so devoted to Christ, that local church leaders recommended him to Paul (Acts 16:1-3), and Paul chose to have Timothy accompany him on his journeys. Timothy’s mother (Eunice) and his grandmother (Lois) had likely been reached by the Gospel message during Paul’s First Missionary Journey a few years earlier.
The words, “grace, mercy, and peace” convey Paul’s good wishes for Timothy’s well-being. Grace, mercy, and peace are the triple blessings of the Christian life, just as faith, hope, and charity are the triple fruits of Christian character.
1. The Charge to Proclaim the Pure Gospel (1:3-11)
False teachers abounded in New Testament times, and in the early part of the letter to Timothy, Paul urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus—to teach the Word of God and to warn believers against accepting false doctrines.
The word “besought” (1:3) is a strong word which could well be translated “begged.” Ephesus was a large and wicked city marked by the worship of pagan idols, and Timothy apparently wanted to leave Ephesus. Paul was pressed to say, “Stay where you are.” (There are many occasions in life when it is far easier to move on, than it is to remain in a difficult situation. And there are times when it is proper to go to another area, but Satan is good at disguising a situation so that it appears to be the will of God that we move on. Many times we must learn to persevere where we are.)
Timothy was to charge church leaders “that they teach no other doctrine.” The word “other” means “new” or “novel.” Nothing is more valuable for a believer than to do a careful study of sound doctrine—seeking a clear, systematic understanding of the great themes of the Bible. It is frightening to hear people say that what we need is not more doctrine, but more experience and practice. Such a philosophy may sound reasonable, but it fails to take into account the fact that what a person believes (his doctrines) determines to a large degree how he behaves (his practice). Beliefs determine behavior.
Many today are living in a kind of fog regarding Christian doctrines. They see nothing clearly; they are not sure they have any kind of set beliefs; they seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought. No wonder many churches today are becoming places for entertainment, rather than for the enrichment that comes from hearing sound doctrine.
The words “fables” and “endless genealogies” (1:4) speak of the legends and stories that were made up about Old Testament characters and were passed along from generation to generation. But this kind of teaching, centering around fascinating legends, was “ministering questions” rather than providing godly edification for the church (1:4). The passage is telling us to ignore those who go off on tangents and want to discuss fanciful ideas—like “How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?” Such ideas tend to stir up arguments rather than help people understand wholesome doctrine. Yet in almost every local church there are a few persons who get a kind of carnal pleasure out of engaging in hairsplitting discussions. This can be a tremendous waste of time and a violation of the true goal of good teaching.
The word “commandment” (1:5) is the noun-form of the word “charge” found back in verse 3. The “charge” was to “teach” no novel doctrines. The goal of good teaching is “charity” (love) that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (1:5). True teaching will lead to a sincere faith, in contrast to the strife and confusion produced by the endless discussions of verse 4. Sometimes in lesson discussions, the class gets detoured from the clear lines of thought presented in the Scriptures, and this often becomes “vain jangling” (1:6)—a wilderness of words and nothing that edifies. To spend lots of time on trivial matters is a gross distortion of God’s intent for the Bible teacher.
Verse 7 (1 Timothy 1) says that some of the “would be” teachers just didn’t know what they were talking about—and so they turned to the “fables” and “genealogies” (of verse 4), and ended up with the “vain jangling” (of verse 6). John Bunyan used to say, “Some like the meat; others love to pick the bones.”
Verses 8-11 remind us that the Law has a place, although a limited one. The Law of Moses was not meant to give people a list of commands for every occasion, but was intended to show human beings their sin, and bring us to God. It was given to convince us of the enormous guilt that is ours because of our sins, and the certainty of punishment for those sins. The “lawful” (or “legitimate”) use of the Old Testament Law is to expose, restrain, and convict us of sin. It cannot save lost sinners, but it can reveal their need for a Savior. The Law is like a mirror. It shows our face to be dirty, but it cannot remove the dirt. Thus the Law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), that we might be justified by faith in Him, and cleansed from our iniquities.
Verse 9 reminds us that the Christian’s relationship with Christ enables us to live above the Law, and so the Law has little relevance for law-abiding people. The proper use of the Law is to apply it to sinners, to show them their sin and to bring them to the place where they are utterly crushed by the load of their sins. And then (in verses 9-10) we are given a catalog of more than a dozen sins which are characteristic of the world in which we live. The “lawless, disobedient, ungodly, unholy, and profane” are those who have no desire to conform to the mind of God, who have no respect for God’s name or God’s day—and deliberately violate God’s laws to satisfy their own passions. The “manslayers” (1:9) is a reference to murder and to those who have no respect for the sanctity of human life. The word refers to the abortionist as well as to one who takes the life of a fellow human being by sheer violence.
The “whoremongers” (1:10) are those given to all kinds of sexual immorality. The phrase “defile themselves with mankind” is a reference to sodomy and every kind of homosexual practice—a sin which is everywhere condemned in holy Scripture. The word “menstealers” refers to slave traders and kidnappers. “Liars” are those who intentionally deceive. “Perjured persons” are those who are untruthful, even when under a civil oath. “Any other thing” refers to those sins that are not named in this list, but are nevertheless violations of the law of God.
The Law was given to bring sinners to the point where they feel utterly crushed under the load of their sin, so that they will be open to the need for “the glorious gospel” (1:11). The Gospel is the way of redemption for sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, which God has committed to the preacher as a sacred trust (1:11). Thus, instead of getting hung up on trivial anecdotes about early Jewish ancestors, Timothy is to present the Gospel clearly, so that the goal of verse 5 will become a reality.
2. Thanksgiving for the True Grace of God (1:12-17)
The charge in 1 Timothy is to proclaim the pure Gospel. Now we are reminded about God’s mercy and grace, especially illustrated by the Apostle Paul’s own experience of salvation. Paul tells a little bit here about his own past life and his present ministry.
Paul was deeply grateful to the Lord that God had reached down and saved him, and assigned him the responsibility of ministering the Word (1:12). In Paul’s life, we see something of the wonder of God’s grace and of His saving power.
Before Paul was converted, he took delight in carrying out violent and outrageous acts against the believers. Paul was a man of violence who enjoyed inflicting pain upon others. When Paul recounted his conversion experience, he explained that he persecuted even with murder in his heart (Acts 22:4; 26:10-11). Paul referred to these events, not to glory in his sinful past, but to magnify the grace of God. Paul’s plea of ignorance (1:13) is not an excuse for his guilt, but it is one of the reasons why God extended mercy to him.
Paul loved to speak about the grace of God (1:14). Grace is the sheer, undeserved, unmerited, unearned, incredible kindness of God. Grace is getting from God what we do not deserve. Paul was a person who hated Jesus Christ, and was seeking to stamp out His church—yet God lovingly reached down from heaven and opened Paul’s eyes to see the truth—and the Lord graciously provided forgiveness. Each of us can echo the words of the hymn which says: “I know not why God’s wondrous grace, to me, He hath made known; nor why—unworthy—Christ in love, redeemed me for His own.” Yet, so it is. Christ has made our redemption possible.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1:15). The words “of whom I am chief” need not be taken in the absolute sense. It is not that Paul was absolutely the most wicked person who ever lived, but his heart was black and he had fallen very low. And if God stooped to save the worst of sinners, surely he will save any sinner who meets the conditions of salvation.
Just as Paul had been the chief of sinners, now he would be the chief display of God’s untiring grace (1:16). Paul’s salvation was a demonstration of God’s mercy toward a sinful man—an example of the lengths to which God will go to save a person. Thus, there is hope for everyone. (This passage is important to show to the person who fears that he is too wicked to be saved, or who feels that his condition is beyond hope.)
When Paul thinks of the love and grace of God which had reached down to save him, his heart burst forth into a doxology of praise (1:17). Our God is the “King eternal” (King of the ages); He is “immortal” (living on without end); He is “invisible” (a great spirit invisible to the human eye but very real to the human heart).
3. The Commission Given to Timothy (1:18-20)
Timothy is, in the closing verses of chapter 1, reminded that the ministry is not a trifling matter, but is an order from the divine Commander in Chief.
Certain predictions were in some way granted to Paul—concerning Timothy—before his call to the ministry. Apparently Paul sensed that here was a man God could use (1:18).
Paul gives Timothy a series of three charges (1:18b-19a).
a) Fight a good warfare
Timothy was to fight a good fight. We are to run, fight, strive, wrestle, and press on. Life is not a playground; it is a battleground. The Christian worker must be a good soldier.
b) Safeguard the faith
The reference here (1:19) is not to one’s own personal trust in God, but to the body of truth (the Christian doctrines) which the false teachers at Ephesus had cast aside.
c) Maintain a good conscience
A “good” conscience is one that has not been betrayed by compromise. The “conscience” is the faculty within which demands that we do the right and shun the wrong. With our wills, we accept a certain standard—a basis for making decisions—and the conscience will remind us when we fail to keep that standard. A good conscience is one which has not compromised the standard one has chosen to live by. The standard for Christian conduct is found in the New Testament.
In the latter part of verse 19, we read about some who put away a good conscience. They laid aside correct doctrinal beliefs and reverent behavior—and as a result, made shipwreck of their lives. One who alters his position on biblical truth, and tolerates things which he knows are wrong—will eventually experience spiritual shipwreck.
Hymenaeus and Alexander are cited as examples of shipwrecked believers (1:20). They weakened people’s faith by teaching that the resurrection was past already. The Apostle Paul led in their excommunication from the church as he had also done in the case of the fornicator in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. The clause, “whom I have delivered unto Satan” indicates that the two men named were placed into the realm of Satan (the world). They were excommunicated from the fellowship of the local church.
There are at least four reasons for initiating discipline in the church.
- 1. An irreconcilable spirit toward another Christian (Matthew 18:15-18).
- 2. Offensive, shocking, ongoing immoral conduct (1 Corinthians 5:5).
- 3. A contentious and ongoing defiant spirit (Romans 16:17).
- 4. One who advocates and teaches heresies (Galatians 1:9).
The purpose of such discipline is not to punish but to awaken. It is true that discipline has sometimes been abused and motivated by wrong motives, but this is no reason for doing away with all discipline (as is happening in many local churches). Our duty as Christians is not only to evangelize and recruit good soldiers for Jesus Christ, but also to give dishonorable discharges to those who are persistently unfaithful to Christ. Discipline is necessary to preserve the purity of Christ’s church. One missionary said many years ago, “It is more fitting that the kingdom of heaven be clean than crowded.”
Paul’s letter to Timothy was not merely a piece of correspondence from one close friend to another. It is really a set of divine instructions for the church. The epistle deals with the need for fighting the good fight of faith, behaving properly in the fellowship of God’s people, learning to pray with proper motives, receiving teaching about the appearance and activities of women, discovering the qualifications for elders and deacons, learning how to care for widows in the church, and receiving instructions about the use of money. The message in this book is for all of us. The “you” in 1 Timothy 6:21 is plural (in the Greek text). The wish is for God’s grace to be upon all believers.