In recent months, my blog has somewhat swerved from my initial, intended purpose: to bring substantive, textual meditations on the word of God. Moving forward, my desire is to systematically go through books of the Bible in order to dig deeper into God’s word so that the blog will “build you up” and “give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). This also will hopefully prevent me from distractions and fly by, sensational blog posts (which I despise and apologize deeply, having fallen into this occasionally).
We will begin with a series of meditations on what is often referred to as the “Pastoral Epistles” which includes 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. The terminology “Pastoral Epistles” isn’t preferable, seeing that these letters were written to preachers not pastors (a distinction that the New Testament makes, Eph. 4:11), but is often the language used to describe these letters (just so you know for your personal study).
If you are looking for sound, substantive commentaries on these epistles I recommend Wayne Jackson’s “Before I Die: Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus” as well as the Truth for Today commentary by David L. Roper.
Within 1 Timothy 1:1-7 we discover Paul’s intention in writing this letter by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is addressed to the young evangelist who he converted during a previous missionary journey which took him through Lystra (Acts 14; 16:1). I would encourage you to read and reflect on the text (maybe print the text out and use a pen and highlighter to mark elements which stand out) and then continue with the study:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
Jesus Our Hope
Within the introductory remarks Paul refers to “Jesus our hope” (v. 1). Jesus of Nazareth is the embodiment of the Christian hope. It is within Christ that we are given “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Through His work of salvation we are “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3) which is a manifestation of God’s grace (2 Thess. 2:16). As one writer said “New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward. For the Christian, the best is always yet to be.”
Notice though that Jesus is “our” hope; that is, He is the hope of those who place their faith in him and obey His will. Jesus is the hope of the world in that his invitation extends to all of humanity (1 John 2:2), yet that hope is given only to those who have been “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). This hope is for the glorious inheritance of eternal life which will be given to God’s redeemed people within the resurrection. Since the gospel is the message of hope (Col. 1:5), any deviations or departure from its teaching must be taken seriously; especially those which cause doubts and distract from the central message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. As we will see, Paul’s strict adherence to the truth isn’t due to some meticulous obsession with rule keeping, but to a genuine love for the message of hope and those who need it. The message can’t be changed, or the hope will be lost—and our world desperately needs something to look forward to.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace
Those who receive the grace, mercy and peace that comes through knowing “Jesus our hope” want nothing more than to extend that blessing to others. Paul’s usual greeting of “grace and peace” (1 Cor. 1:3; Col. 1:2) here adds mercy. Paul saw himself as a product of God’s grace and mercy (1 Tim. 1:14-15) and this is what resulted in his hope of glory. This was a humbling truth for Paul and influenced how he viewed himself and others. I have no doubt that, even though Paul must rebuke false teachers within this epistle, he wants nothing more than for them to experience the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ which would come from their repentance.
When we encounter those we disagree with, even those who teach false doctrine, do we desire for them to experience the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ? By our words and actions, do they see disagreement yet deep love? Sarcasm, bitterness, and rudeness are a hindrance–not a help–to the promotion of truth.
Teach No Other Doctrine
In our post-modern, pluralistic society which bristles at any concept of absolute truth, Paul’s firm admonition for Timothy to tell others to “teach no other doctrine” wreaks of the bigotry of a closed mind. Yet, Christianity is founded upon the absolute, historical reality of Jesus Christ and the knowable truth which He revealed (John 8:31-32). As previously mentioned, Paul recognized that the message of gospel was inseparably tied to the hope of the resurrection. If the church in Ephesus received a tainted or twisted interpretation of the gospel then they would not experience the “hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). This is similar to a parent instructing their child to eat a healthy diet, and to not to deviate, because the result will be far better for them in the end.
While we don’t know the exact nature of the false doctrine to which Paul is referring, he mentions “myths” and “endless genealogies.” Jackson believes this was “a Judaistic, and possibly, a proto-Gnostic cult” (Jackson, 29). Whatever it was, it resulted in “speculation” instead of a faithful preservation of the truth. Paul sees the church’s responsibility as a stewardship of faith for continuing generations, not wild speculations in which we are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Paul isn’t condemning an honest questioning of the text, nor a deeper study into the word of God; rather this rebuke is for those who attempt to create doubt and new systems of faith based upon myths which have little connection to scripture. This loving but firm censure does show the unfortunate obligation that is occasionally laid at the feet of ministers to rebuke individuals for teaching heresy. This would be particularly difficult for Timothy who may have been more timid (2 Tim. 1:7-8), yet the importance of the preservation of truth was far too weighty to be hindered by personality.
Paul describes these individuals as having “swerved” and “wandered” away into vain discussions” (v. 6). This seems to imply that these were brethren who knew the faith but had taken a “detour” from the truth and were now obsessed with matters which ultimately held no eternal value. Yet, although they have no substantive foundation for their beliefs, they hold them confidently (v. 7). But, confidence doesn’t mean competence; they teach “without understanding what they are saying” (7b). This is an appropriate warning for all Christians, particularly ministers. Its so easy to be diverted from the true message of faith into trivial matters—even matters which have some connection to scripture—and lose sight of the purpose of ministry. I personally have fallen into this snare and we must constantly guard against it in the church.
Within this admonition we see the purpose of ministry and the church: to hold faithfully to the pattern of sound words as we await the return of Christ (2 Tim. 1:13). This doesn’t mean that the church can’t learn how to engage the culture in fresh ways, depending on our historical moment. It does mean however that, as we engage our society, the central message of truth doesn’t change. Every generation needs hope, therefore every generation needs the unaltered gospel in a world of wild speculation and doubt.
The Aim of Our Charge is Love
While some may view Paul’s admonition as rude or domineering, he viewed it as a measure of love. Sound, healthy teaching will always produce love—for God and others. Sound doctrine isn’t a cold, lifeless concept but a vibrant reality that is experienced within the body of Christ. As we all adhere to the truth, our love and affection for each other grows as we learn to value those who value Jesus. Sound doctrine and Christian fellowship are always tied together; without the one you can’t have the other. Sound doctrine, and our adherence to it in a world of secularism, materialism, and idolatry, is what makes the fellowship of the church so sweet. Elders should keep this in mind when they are struggling with disciplining a false teacher: it isn’t simply for the sake of truth, but also for the sake of love.
Yet, this love is specific in nature; it “issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (v. 5). Love apart from purity, filled with guilt and doubt does the Christian no good. It is only when our love originates from a heart that has been purified by the gospel, held by a conscience freed from the slavery of sin, and with a faith that sincerely wants to know Christ and His truth, that we mature into the image of Jesus. As Roper notes, “For our love to be what God wants it to be, it has to proceed from a pure heart, be directed by a good conscience, and be nourished by a sincere faith. Each of these spiritual attributes adds to our love” (Roper, 39).
ConclusionAs we come to a close we can properly summarize Paul’s message within 1 Timothy 1:1-7: Paul is deeply concerned with the proper transmission of the hope of the gospel, and therefore men must be rebuked and admonished to teach no other doctrine. In every generation of the church, this charge remains true. There is always the temptation to theorize beyond what scripture allows and to invent a new way of faith. Yet, our mission as the church isn’t to invent but to preserve; finding fresh ways to present old truths to new people.