Introduction to 1 Timothy
Passage: 1 Timothy 1:1-2
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that our next study will be 1 Timothy. I’ve enjoyed diving into this book the past few weeks because I haven’t spent as much time in 1 Timothy as I have some other epistles, and I’m really looking forward to doing this study together. We are going to have a lot of interesting discussions during the next few months as we discuss such things as church discipline, God’s desire for the nonelect, women’s role in the church, the qualifications and responsibilities for pastors and deacons, caring for widows, and how we should view wealth. And there are lots of other fascinating sections of this book that discuss how we cultivate godliness and live the Christian life. Of course 1 Timothy is best known for its unique and important instructions regarding how the church should function. And I believe that studying some of these topics is very important for where we are as a church. Life Point consists of people from many different church backgrounds, and so we include many different assumptions and convictions about the mission of the church and how we should fulfill it. I believe the best way we can move toward greater unity of mind is to go to the Scriptures and particularly to a book like 1 Timothy and study together what the Bible says about these things. I hope that you will engage your heart and mind in this study. Read 1 Timothy on your own, and maybe pick up a commentary to supplement your study. I’d be glad to give a recommendation if you are interested.
We are going to begin our study this morning by using 1 Timothy 1:1–2 as a platform to introduce the background and major content of the book. This message probably won’t be the most inspirational message of this series, but it’s going to provide a pretty important foundation that will hopefully bring this book to life for us. I’d like to begin by considering the author of 1 Timothy.
The Author (v. 1)
Paul’s Claim of Authorship
The book begins by identifying the Apostle Paul as its author, and the entire book is presented as Paul’s letter to his close associate Timothy. For those of us who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, v. 1 settles the fact that Paul wrote this book. Notice as well in v. 1…
Paul’s Claim of Authority
Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” The apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ whom he appointed as the authoritative founders of the church. To drive home his role as an apostle, Paul adds that he came into this position “by the commandment…” In other words, God made Paul an apostle, and he commanded Paul to fulfill his role as an authoritative witness of Christ and as a founder of the church. But why did Paul feel the need to remind Timothy, one of his closest friends, that he was an apostle by the authority of God? I believe there are two basic reasons. First, Paul is reminding Timothy that the content of this book is not ultimately the opinions of a friend but the authoritative word of God. Timothy needed this reminder because following through on some of Paul’s instructions would be very hard. Timothy needed to remember that God’s authoritative command stood behind Paul’s words. A second reason is that Paul intended this book for a wider audience than just Timothy. There are clear indications throughout the book that Paul intended for this book to be read to the church at Ephesus. And so this book claims to bear the authority of God through the pen of the Apostle Paul.
Challenges to Paul’s Authorship
But unfortunately, modern, liberal scholars typically don’t accept Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy or of 2 Timothy and Titus. These three books are typically called the Pastoral Epistles because they are addressed to two of Paul’s coworkers in ministry. Their content is closely related; therefore, addressing the authorship of one of them requires talking about all three. There are two basic objections that are raised against Paul’s authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.
The pastoral epistles have a unique style and content that is different from Paul’s other epistles.
We won’t talk at length about this issue, but the basic argument is that the Pastoral Epistles use different vocabulary from Paul’s other epistles, and they also describe a more developed church structure than what liberals believe was possible during Paul’s lifetime.
The historical references in the Pastoral Epistles do not fit within the timeline of Acts.
First Timothy says little about the setting in which it was written, but 2 Timothy and Titus say things about Paul’s travels that are very hard to reconcile with the record in Acts. For example, Titus mentions a visit to Crete, but Acts never mentions a visit to Crete, and there are similar challenges in 2 Timothy. Because of this, liberals believe that an anonymous author wrote the Pastoral Epistles in the second century and used Paul’s name in order to add authority to his letters.
The Historical Timeline
There is a pretty simple answer to the second objection that is also helpful with the first one. That is that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles after the events of Acts took place. You may recall that when Acts ends, Paul is on house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:30–31). Notice that these verses describe Paul as having a lot of liberty to minister, and they don’t say anything about Paul dying at the end of these two years. Paul wrote Philippians during this imprisonment, and he clearly indicates in Philippians that he expected to be released from prison. His mood is very different from in 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy, Paul is in prison again and he expects to be executed for his faith. Because of that, it seems safe to conclude that Paul was ultimately released from his first Roman imprisonment and that he enjoyed at least a couple more years of free movement throughout the Roman Empire. It was during this time that he ministered in Crete, sent Timothy to Ephesus, and visited some of the churches in Asia Minor and Macedonia before he was ultimately imprisoned and killed under the evil and demented Nero. Several of the Church Fathers strongly support this timeline, including Clement of Rome, who alludes to Paul’s release, the ministry that followed, and his subsequent execution. Clement’s testimony significant because he wrote in 96 and would have had people in his church who would have been alive and witnessed Paul’s imprisonments in Rome.
Based on this timeline, we can conclude that Paul wrote 1 Timothy and Titus somewhere between 62 and 66 A.D. He then wrote 2 Timothy during his second Roman imprisonment, shortly before his death.
And so there is no good reason to question Paul’s authorship of the PEs. The fact that Paul wrote them several years after his other epistles explains their differences from Paul’s other epistles, and the orthodox Church Fathers never questioned Paul’s authorship. Let’s talk next about…
The Recipients—Timothy and the Ephesian Church
Verse 2 states that this letter was written to Timothy, and much of the letter has a personal, fatherly tone. But there are also clear indications that Paul intended for the letter to be read to the entire Ephesian church. Occasionally, Paul uses plural addresses, and the letter includes instructions that were for the entire church, not just Timothy. But for us to understand this letter well, we need to talk a little more about who Timothy was and about the relationship he enjoyed with Paul. Verse 2 tells that…
Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father.
Paul calls Timothy his “true son in the faith.” Very likely this means that Paul led Timothy to Christ. Timothy’s spiritual heritage is rather interesting. Second Timothy 1:5 tells us that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were devout Jews, and so he grew up with a strong understanding of the Law and the Jewish religion. However, Acts 16:1 tells us that his father was Greek and probably was not a believer, since Timothy had not been circumcised. Paul probably met Timothy and told him about Christ on his first missionary journey when he visited Timothy’s hometown of Lystra. When Paul returned to Lystra on his second missionary journey, he was reacquainted with a young man who had grown from a new Christian into a highly regarded member of the church. Paul recognized the potential value Timothy had for his ministry, and so he took Timothy along.
Timothy was Paul’s trusted coworker.
Timothy pops up everywhere in Acts and in Paul’s epistles. He was with Paul more than anyone else, and be probably became Paul’s closest and most trusted friend in ministry. Paul expresses his love for Timothy several times in 1 Timothy as he makes very personal appeals. In 2 Timothy as Paul approaches his execution, he longs to see Timothy before he dies. Some have taken the appeals that Paul makes to Timothy as indicating that Timothy was a timid and weak individual, but the evidence clearly indicates that Timothy was anything but weak. For one, there’s no way Paul would have taken a wimp along with him shortly after he refused to take John Mark based on his lack of trust in John Mark’s fortitude. Travelling with Paul was not for the spiritually faint. As well, Paul sent Timothy into some very hard circumstances on numerous occasions. In Acts 17 when the situation became so hostile that Paul had to leave Berea, Timothy stayed to teach the new believers. He also sent Timothy to Corinth, Paul’s ultimate problem child, to help them work through their difficulties (1 Cor 4:17). And during his first Roman imprisonment, Paul sent Timothy to Philippi to help the church endure suffering. And notice what Paul says about Timothy in Philippians 2:19–22. Timothy was no slouch. And Paul had once again sent him into a difficult situation.
Timothy was on a mission to the Ephesian church.
1:3 makes this clear. Let’s talk next about what was going on at Ephesus and why Paul felt the need to write this letter.
There are several important factors that ultimately led Paul to send Timothy to Ephesus and then to write this letter.
False teachers were influencing the Ephesian church.
Paul references these teachers in 1:3–7. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what they were teaching, though we can make some conclusions based on Paul’s references in this epistle. We’ll talk about that more next week when we get into vv. 3–7. But for now, I want to note that this heresy was having a significant impact on the church. It was confusing their understanding of the gospel, causing division, and promoting ungodly behavior. Interestingly, Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that, “after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29–30). But apparently, they still weren’t ready to deal with the heresy themselves.
The Ephesian church was struggling to manage several matters of church order.
One of the outstanding traits of 1 Timothy is all that it says about the function of the church. Ephesian church must have needed help with these matters. I believe it is significant that Paul provided this kind of instruction at the end of his life. The apostles were starting to die off, and Paul surely knew that he wouldn’t be around for long. The churches needed to prepare for life without being able to ask an apostle what to do. First Timothy is very important for preparing churches to function under a regular church order that they could maintain after the apostles were gone. Based on these circumstances…
Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to combat the false teaching and to set these matters in order.
It’s worth noting that Paul had probably invested more time in the Ephesian church than any of his other works. Ephesus was his last stop on his second missionary journey, and he visited again during this third journey and stayed for 2.5-3 years. Again, on his way back to Jerusalem at the end of his third journey, he met the Ephesian elders in Miletus to give them encouragement and instruction. He was deeply invested in this church, and he wasn’t about to let it be torn apart by false teachers. And so he sent Timothy to deal with the issues in a similar fashion to how he had sent him to Corinth and other places to provide apostolic teaching and to deal with problems. Therefore, even though 1 Timothy is called a “Pastoral Epistle,” Timothy wasn’t actually the pastor of the church. He was a mature representative of Paul who was there to give the pastors direction and to help them and the church move toward maturity. Timothy’s role was very similar to what Dan Eads is doing in Tanzania. He is there to disciple the pastors and to help the five churches in the network to move toward maturity.
Paul hoped to visit Ephesus and confront these matters himself, but he was not sure when he would be able to visit (3:14–15).
We don’t know if Paul ever made it back or not.
Timothy was feeling the pressure of managing a challenging situation.
Again, I don’t think it is fair to say that Timothy was a timid man, but this epistle clearly indicates that he was feeling the weight of managing a difficult situation. We see that in the fatherly encouragements Paul gives him (1:18; 4:12–16; 5:21–23; 6:11–14, 20–21). Paul tells Timothy over and over to keep going, keep doing what is right, and don’t back down. In light of that, the purpose of the book is…
Purpose: To instruct and encourage Timothy and the Ephesian church regarding how to respond to false teaching and how to conduct church life until Paul comes (3:14–16).
These verses sum up Paul’s intent pretty clearly. There is right doctrine that must be taught and defended, and there is a right order for how the church must function. Finally, I’d like to list…
The Major Themes
The Importance of the True Gospel and Right Theology (3:16)
We just read 3:16. Most scholars think that this verse quotes an early creedal statement that was intended to teach foundational doctrine. There are several other such statements that are intended to drive home fundamental doctrines about the gospel, the nature of God, and the nature of sanctification. We live in a day of relativism, and our culture values diversity—not just racial or cultural diversity, but diversity of truth. In a day like ours where there is a strong push to create unity by minimizing differences, we need to heed Paul’s appeals to hold firm to right doctrine and right practice. As 3:15 says, one of the church’s greatest responsibilities is to be the guardian of truth. We must be educated about the truth and not ashamed of the truth. But believing the truth ourselves is not enough.
The Importance of Confronting Theological Error and Sinful Behavior (6:3–5)
Our natural tendency and certainly the convenient way to respond to these things is to pretend they don’t exist or to downplay the differences that are there. But Paul doesn’t mince words about these false teachers, and he commands Timothy to “withdraw” from them. First Timothy is going to create some important discussions for us about our church’s responsibility to address false doctrine and sinful behavior. But lest we think that 1 Timothy is just a brainiac’s book for theologians and pastors, it also emphasizes…
The Importance of Genuine Godliness as a Test of Theology and a Defense against Error.
In the passage we just read, Paul confronts the ungodly practice of the false teachers, and he is going to make it very clear throughout this book that right theology must lead to godly life. A church full of eggheads who know everything but don’t live it does not honor God. First Timothy calls us to make sure that our lives match a strong theology. It also teaches that godly living will ultimately help us protect our theology (4:6–8). In the midst of encouraging Timothy to stand against error, he urges him to live a spiritually disciplined life, feeding on the Scriptures and pursuing godliness. There’s an important lesson there for all of us. The best way to keep yourself from getting sick is to have a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy foods, maintain a good sleep schedule, and exercise. The same is true spiritually. The best defense against a major spiritual fall is to walk with God every day. Read your Bible, pray, go to church, and obey God in the small things. We are going to learn a lot about this pursuit from 1 Timothy.
The Importance of Biblical Order in the Church
I’ll admit up front that some of this stuff probably excites me more than it does most of you. I doubt many of you lie awake at night thinking about the roles of pastors and deacons. But biblical order affects us all more than we may think. The health of our church affects all of us, and if we want to be a healthy church, we need to do things God’s way. I think that you’ll ultimately see that there is a lot of significance for all of us in the instructions Paul gives.
First Timothy is God’s inspired gift to us. Let’s all come to God’s Word hungry to hear from him and to learn about him and his will. And let’s commit to obey what he says.