1Tim 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
1Tim 1:2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
1Tim 1:3 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,
1Tim 1:4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
1Tim 1:5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Tonight we begin a series on Paul first letter to Timothy. This letter is part of what are known as the “Pastoral Epistles” – letters written by Paul to two men, Timothy and Titus, with the intent of giving guidance to those serving in the office of pastor or overseer. Tonight we are going to try and accomplish three things: 1) An examination of who Timothy was – his background before this letter was written and his current state as Paul wrote to him, then 2) An overview of why Paul wrote the letter – this is the “big picture” part of our time – why Paul wrote to Timothy and what issues Paul addressed as he wrote, and finally 3) An exposition of the first five verses. I’ll try to squeeze all this into 90 minutes, OK?
Just who was this Timothy to whom Paul wrote? Not every letter Paul wrote was intended by God to be preserved in inscripturated form in our Bible, but this one was – and is – so who was Timothy?
We see our first mention of Timothy in Acts 16, where Paul visits Derbe and Lystra, which are located in modern-day south-central Turkey. Here Paul encounters Timothy, who is described as a disciple – who was most likely from Lystra, which was about 60 miles from Derbe – and who was the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer and a father who was Greek and evidently the paternal influence was great because we know that Timothy was not circumcised until after he encountered Paul as we see in Acts 16. It’s important to remember the motivation and the context of this circumcision – remember, this is in Acts 16, shortly after the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, where the Apostles gathered to work out the role of circumcision in salvation. That Council made a clear stand that circumcision was not essential to salvation and a letter was generated to be distributed among the churches saying such.
Paul’s circumcision of Timothy – so that, as Acts 16:3 says, Timothy could engage the Jews of Lystra and Iconium because all the Jews there knew Timothy’s father was Greek. This circumcision was nothing more than a means to eliminate an objection – in fact, an excuse – for the Jews who would otherwise discount Timothy’s message in the event he had not been circumcised. Paul was applying his instructions of 1 Corinthians 9 where he says he became all things to all people – but within limits. “All things” had limits – it did not mean every single possible “thing” that could be done. Timothy was circumcised, but not for the purpose of making that part of the Gospel.
Sheryl and I know a couple who were missionaries to Japan for over 40 years. They adopted some of the cultural behavior of the Japanese in order to become part of the culture – but only those things that did not violate Scriptural commands. One thing the wife still does to this day is something Americans find repulsive – she bows before you when meeting you and when saying goodbye. Americans bow before no man, right? Well, in Japan that is a form of respect and to not do so would be taken very negatively. This couple did not bow before Buddha or any of the other false gods of Buddhism or Shinto or any other religions they encountered – but a bow, just our calling someone “Sir” or “Ma’am,” was an act of courtesy that did not add anything to or subtract from the Gospel.
Timothy learned the Scriptures from his mother and his grandmother as we see in 2 Timothy 3, where we read that he learned the sacred Scriptures from his childhood and we know from earlier in 2 Timothy in chapter 1 that Timothy’s faith was alive first in his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois.
We usually think of Timothy as being very young – but in fact, when this letter was written, he was most likely in his 30’s. From the time when Timothy first encountered Paul in Acts 16 to the time of this letter was around 20 years. Timothy also was most likely not the pastor of the Ephesian church – he was Paul’s representative there, expressing Paul’s apostolic authority to this church. Please note I said “Ephesian” church.”
Paul most likely wrote this letter to Timothy within a couple years of his letter to the Ephesians. When we read Ephesians, we don’t see Paul addressing and issues such as the ones we’ll be discussing in his letter to Timothy. It’s just an example of how quickly things can go downhill in the life of a church with regard to false teaching. The date for this letter to Timothy is around 62-65 AD.
We have no biblical data for what happened to Timothy after Paul finished writing his two letters, but there are references outside the Bible, which of course, must be taken with a small grain of salt. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, a younger contemporary of Timothy’s wrote that Timothy never married. Several hundred years later, the historian of Constantinople wrote that tradition recorded Timothy as having been beaten to death during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who reigned from 81-96 AD and that this death occurred in Ephesus- yes, Ephesus, because of Timothy’s protesting against those who were worshiping the goddess Artemis.1 Keep in mind that the temple to Artemis, located in Ephesus, was one of what we call the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
That’s our background on Timothy. Now, why did Paul write Timothy?
False teachers. Bad doctrine. How many times did Paul write because of these? He wrote the Galatians because of this, he wrote Timothy another letter because of this, he wrote Titus a letter because of this, he wrote the Colossians because of this, he wrote the Thessalonians because of this. It’s very popular in our day to say that “Doctrine doesn’t matter.” Many people say that. I have friends that say that, but only until I say something and they go, “Wait a minute!” Over and over Paul wrote on the importance of sound doctrine and the importance of not allowing false teachers. Jesus had many encounters with people that were on the issue of sound doctrine – over and over Jesus told people their doctrine was wrong.
There’s a reason why churches like ours have rather long, detailed statements of faith. We also affirm documents such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and its 32 sections. No document can ever cover all fine points of doctrine, but ours, combined with the London Confession and the other documents and confessions we affirm, does a pretty good job of covering all the points of doctrine that arise in teaching. Somebody is bound to say, “All we need is the Bible.” Well, yes, that is after all, the only infallible source of matters concerning faith and practice within the church – but only if one affirms Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, as we discussed in our Sunday School series a while back. But how many different interpretations of this Scripture are there? The writers of the Scripture say there is only one. The writers of the Scripture also are very detail-oriented as we saw Paul state in Galatians, when something that is so seemingly minor as Peter switching seats the dinner table endangered the very Gospel itself. It’s not like Peter was saying there are many ways to Heaven and Jesus is just one of them – all Peter did was change seats from sitting with the Gentiles to sitting with the Jews. That seat change resulted in Paul making a doctrinal statement that doing so was “another Gospel.”
When we examine Paul’s statements concerning false teachers and making sure they don’t infiltrate the church, what needs to come first? What needs to come first is an understanding of what right doctrine is. I understand those who are on the lookout for counterfeiters don’t spend most of their training trying to determine what a phony $20 bill looks like – they are trained in all the fine points and minute detail of what a true $20 bill looks like and once they know that, they know when they find a $20 bill that doesn’t match the real thing, they know it right away. That’s what we need to strive for – not so much knowing what the false teachers teach or the fine points of Islam or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we need to know true doctrine inside and out first – once we know that, we’ll be able to recognize false doctrine for what it is.
Given the time we have left, let’s look at the first five verses of 1 Timothy. By the way, you’ll have some time to read up on 1 Timothy because for the next two Sunday evenings, we will be having a guest speaker and then pick up this series on July 31. I was originally scheduled to do the July 31 message but last week I was asked by the chaplain at Kinross Correctional to fill in for him at their church service that night so on the 31st I’ll be at Kinross and they only offer the Lord’s Supper twice a year there – when the chaplain speaks on the fifth Sunday – and he has asked me to have the Lord’s Supper that night. If they will let me bring grape juice inside. We shall see.
Paul starts off the letter by proclaiming his credentials as an apostle by the command of God his savior and of Christ Jesus. He makes a doctrinal statement right away – God is Paul’s Savior. What was prevalent in the culture of that day? Other gods and other saviors. Rome said the emperor, for instance, was its “Savior God.” Then, Paul uses “Christ Jesus” here intentionally as he did much more so in his later writings than in his earlier ones. If we read his earlier work, we see in the letters such as Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians and Romans, he used “Christ Jesus” 32 times but “Jesus Christ” 54 times. By the time he wrote to Timothy and Titus, he used “Christ Jesus” 25 times and “Jesus Christ” only 5 times.2 The significance? Well there is no inherent difference in meaning – they are synonymous, but “Christ Jesus” places emphasis on the office or title of Jesus as the “Anointed” or the “Messiah” – it would be equivalent to us saying “President Reagan.” The office or the title precedes the name.
He then addresses Timothy as his true child in the faith – your translation, as most others, may say Timothy is Paul’s “son.” Now, we know Paul had no natural children but we do know that Paul looked upon Timothy as his spiritual son, having played a large role in Timothy’s growth as a Christian. We can’t say for sure that Timothy was converted under Paul’s preaching, although it is a very real possibility. At the least, we can certainly say that Paul was Timothy’s spiritual mentor.
Mentoring younger people is something that I would dare say the church is not doing very well. As a mater of personal experience, when I began to take my faith seriously in the late 90’s, I had no one to whom I could go for guidance. Everything I learned I ended up learning the hard way – by myself, making way too many mistakes along the way. When you have a desire to grow and you ask people for help or you ask them questions and you get little if any response or a superficial response that doesn’t really address your issue, it can be frustrating. A mentor also needs to be someone who can tell the truth. Paul certainly didn’t beat around the bush, as we well know. Over time, my best friend became my mentor but I also sort of became his as we would discuss spiritual issues for two hours every week driving back and forth to the prison for the bible study. We most certainly didn’t agree on everything but over time we came to agree on many issues as we wrestled with the Scriptures and how to apply them to real-life situations.
For the last couple years the two of us had taken on a mentoring role with a younger man – in his mid-30’s – who began coming to the bible study with us. This guy was eager to learn not only the Scriptures but wanted lessons in how to be a husband and a father to his wife and five children. My friend and I, between the two of us, certainly have made almost every mistake one could make in those areas so we were able, hopefully, in some small way, to help this younger man to grow in his faith. Over time, we encouraged him to step out in faith and even lead the bible study at the prison. The first time he did it, he went in by himself without either one of us and the discussion became heated to the point where one guy got up and stomped out. So, what did we do afterward? We talked about how to keep a discussion on point and how much rope to give the participants and we also said the only way he would learn is to do it again, which he did, with much more control and civility in the study.
Paul tells Timothy to stay at Ephesus- why? Because there are false teachers there. This wasn’t the first time Paul had said this – see that Paul said as he had urged him as when he was going to Macedonia. Perhaps then this issue wasn’t a new one. What issue? To summarize it, the false teachers were adding to the Scriptures. They were preaching another Gospel and Paul said what with regard to that in Galatians 1? He said if anyone – even an angel from heaven – preaches “another Gospel,” then that preacher is to be accursed – damned.
These false teachers were making up stories and they were embellishing their family trees – the genealogies – and to what end? Well, people love a good storyteller, don’t they? Still happens today. People love to sit in church and hear a good story. There are some wonderful storytellers in the pulpit today. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with telling stories – Jesus most certainly told stories, didn’t he? Jesus’ stories, however, always had a very real spiritual point – they were never stories for the sake of telling stories to amuse or entertain people. Jesus never told stories that went outside the bounds of Scripture.
This past week I went to a funeral. A very large funeral – had to be 500 people there. As any pastor knows – or should know – what better place to preach the Gospel? The man who died was a Christian and his family is Christian. The funeral was in, shall we say, a mainline denominational church. The pastor who preached the funeral was a friend of the deceased who had gone into the ministry under the mentoring of the deceased around 20 years ago. There were two Scripture passages that were the topic of the sermon – Isaiah 40:28 and John 14:1-8. Isaiah 40 concerns soaring on wings like eagles and John 14 is the “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” passage and I’m standing there – no room to sit – thinking, “Alright, what a good funeral sermon text.”
That will teach me to think. You know what the pastor said about John 14? All he said was that the part of the passage that said, “In my father’s house there are many rooms/mansions/dwelling places,” whatever your translations says – he said this” “I don’t think that’s right. I think of something else that I know IS NOT IN THE BIBLE.” He then went on to talk about something called the “Hallelujah Playground” or something like that where people go when they die – he said “WE don’t know the name” but proceeded to give that “place” its own name. He then went on to tell this flowery story about this so-called place and people there were enraptured by this unbiblical account. I most certainly wasn’t. No Gospel presentation from John 14, believe it or not. But a warm, touchy feely fable that the pastor admitted was extra-biblical? Yes, sir.
That’s what Paul is getting at here – within the church, those who teach have been given stewardship of the most precious message there is – the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves sinners. The false teachers here were not good stewards of their opportunities by their teaching which came from outside the Scriptures which produce what? Meaningless speculation.
I may have told this before and if I have, I ask your indulgence. Every so often at the prison study some guy would raise his hand and ask a question along the lines of “What do you think would have happened if such-and-such would have happened instead of what really happened?” He was asking me to speculate as to what would have happened if things would have gone differently than what the Scripture tells us. I have one response for all of those questions, no matter what they are: “I don’t speculate. It’s a waste of time because we just don’t know.” We don’t know. Speculation never leads to truth because by its very definition we can’t have an answer for the question – that’s what makes it speculation.
In verse 5 Paul says that proper stewardship that comes from God by faith – following verse four – results in love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. True love for the people whom the teachers teach is supposed to be shown by teaching the truth as it is stated in the Scriptures as a matter of proper stewardship. How many times have I stood here – not many – but said a little something about the responsibility one has when standing here? Same thing in Sunday School or any teaching setting. If we, as teachers, love the people, we will teach them biblical truth and only biblical truth. We can only teach them out of a pure heart if that heart has been given to us as a sovereign, gracious act of the living God as, for instance, Ezekiel 36 says when the Lord was speaking to Ezekiel, telling him what to say to the house of Israel:
“Ezek 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezek 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
In Psalm 51:10 David, because he knew only the Lord could do this, wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
In the same vein, Paul also knew the importance of a clear conscience and Paul wrote repeatedly of the importance of this and the importance of addressing peoples’ consciences throughout his writings. God gave us a conscience as that internal alarm that goes off and tells us if we’re doing right or wrong. I don’t know how many times I’ve had prisoners tell me they could never go to sleep at night until they had come to grips with their sin and come clean before the living God. Once they’ve done that, they say they can go to bed and go to sleep. That’s what a clear conscience can do for us – we know who we are in relationship to God and we know we can take comfort in the work of Christ Jesus – our hope, as Paul has said in verse 1.
Paul wrote this letter out of love – he wrote out of love for 1) his friend Timothy, 2) the church – Paul never gave up on the church that he loved so, even when of all people, Paul had reason to give up on the church. Look at all the people who had deserted Paul – look at all the problems in the churches – but Paul never quit on the church that he knew was the body of Christ. Paul also wrote out of love for the Savior whom he knew would, as he wrote in 2 Tim. 4:18, would one day rescue him from every evil deed and deliver him safely into his heavenly Kingdom.
1. The Expositor’s Bible, Volume 6, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (The W.W. Scranton Company: Hartford, Conn., undated) p. 394)
2. William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Thessalonians, the Pastorals and Hebrews (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007), p. 51.
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