Paul’s first epistle to Timothy was probably written from Macedonia in 64 AD. By that time, the apostle had been set free, having successfully defended himself before Nero Caesar. No wonder he begins by calling to Timothy’s mind, and ours, the “hope ... grace, mercy and peace” that is ours in Jesus Christ (1:1-2).
Paul exhorts young Timothy to remain in Ephesus to complete his assigned task, and not flee adverse conditions and contentious heretics. Timothy is to charge false teachers to conform to “the apostle’s doctrine” (Acts 2:42 KJV). Doctrine is the basis of faith and has precedence over devotion. There is no place for pernicious teachers in the Church. Those who refuse correction must be disfellowshiped, as were Hymenaeus and Alexander for shipwrecking the faith (1:19).
Paul also urges Timothy not to pursue futile discussions of fables and genealogies when the real goals were love, a good conscience and edification (1:5). The Church is not a debating society. Believers need comforted and built up. In Paul’s day, the Jews were pretentious teachers of the Law, but missed its point, which was to condemn the grosser sins of profanity, murderer, immorality, sodomy and anything else “contrary to sound doctrine” (1:10). Futile discussions lead to greater sin. Hence Paul urges Timothy to concentrate on matters related to “love out of a pure heart … a good conscience and faith unfeigned” (1:5). There is no profit in being occupied with religious niceties while committing profanity.
Paul reminds Timothy of the evangelical value of the Law as a means to convict one of sin. Thus he cannot resist giving his testimony and thanking God for His mercy towards sinners, “of whom I am chief” (1:15). The doxology which follows confirms that our salvation is the basis of our praise and worship.
Paul’s call to pray especially includes “kings, and all that are in authority” (2:2). At the time, Nero and subsequent Caesars prohibited Christianity; but as history proves, it was the prayers of the saints which toppled pagan Rome. Whether under monarchy, republic or dictatorship, Christians should continue to pray for those who rule, as only prayer allows Christians to live at peace with their rulers and also permits the progress of the gospel (2:4). Paul also reveals that our saintly intercession relates to the marvelous truth of Jesus as the “one mediator between God and men” (2:5). As He gave Himself “a ransom for all” (2:6), so the grace of God extends to include preaching to heathens and despots. Paul, recognizing God’s desire, made the Roman Empire his parish and preached Christ where His Name had never before been heard (Rom. 15:19).
The apostle condemns using the prayer meeting as a contest between spiritual giants, a fashion parade or a beauty contest. Dignity and reverence in men complemented by the chaste and modest adornment of women are prerequisites for effective prayer (2:8-10). He also re-endorses the ordinance of 1 Corinthians 14:34 regarding the silence of sisters. This reminds us that God has not revoked the decree of Genesis 3:16-19. Even today “Men must work and women must weep.” but also the latter must be in a place of “subjection” and “silence” in the church (2:11-12). And Paul goes back to Eden to make his point.
Paul writes that those with a shepherd’s heart, who desire to care for the flock of God, “desireth a good work” (3:1). He then defines the criteria required to qualify for oversight. While there are no qualifications for secular rule, and God may choose “the basest of men” (Dan. 4:17), the Lord is specific about those who rule in His Church.
The tenor of the criteria is that candidates for oversight must be scrutinized for conformity. Otherwise spontaneous appointments could prove regrettable in later times. For instance, a slippery-tongued expositor could lead the saints into false teaching or practice (Acts 20:29-30). The overseer’s gift must be matched by a blameless, reputable life. We must also guard against the “novice” who rashly recognized might quickly fall into the snare of pride (Prov. 16:18). The apostle also sets out parallel qualifications for deacons who must prove themselves faithful and capable before being recognized and given tasks of a servant.
But having given these instructions, Paul suddenly soars to the heights as he rejoices in the sublime truths of the Incarnation, Resurrection, Glorification and Ascension of the Son of God. The implications of the mystery of godliness overwhelm this one who can’t forget his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road!
This chapter contains Paul’s vision of the post-apostolic future. The Spirit had revealed to him that in later times there would be apostasy. Reprobate religionists would defect from the truth and teach lies in the Lord’s name. This would be the work of another spirit using “seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons” (4:1) – a conflicting fusion of sinful excess and senseless abstinence. Having tried to bring the disciples under the Law, the heretics would teach riotous anarchy. While Jude tells of “ungodly men turning the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Jude 1:4), this would be a doctrine of salvation through celibacy and severity to the body. A new generation of “saints” would arise with fasting and monasticism as their means of grace. Marriage would be forbidden as would certain foods. Whereas Peter had to learn that all creatures had been cleansed, to this Paul adds that what is received with thanksgiving is sanctified.
The apostle also warns against the growing mythology of his time: “new saints” with tall tales of their exploits in pursuit of holiness. He likewise warns against pre-occupation with our bodies. It’s more profitable for Christians to walk from Emmaus to Jerusalem than for unbelievers to run from Marathon to Athens.
Though a novice must not be promoted above his ability, Paul exhorts Timothy to “let no man despise thy youth” (4:12). He tempers this by forbidding the rebuking of an elder. But Timothy is to assert himself before those who would count him too young to know anything. We should reflect on the fact that our Teacher had completed His ministry by the age of 33. Also, young Saul became the foremost teacher among the apostles (Acts 7:58).
Paul was not writing to a novice, for Timothy was a man of God, recognized and approved by the elders. Even before Paul chose him as a fellow-worker he “was well reported of by the brethren” (Acts 16:2). However, Timothy must not suppose that in Paul’s absence he could retire to a little country church. He had hard work to do and plenty of it. He was not to neglect his gift but to use it tirelessly in serving. By this means he would save himself from the “untoward generation” (Acts 2:40) of that perilous time. When we slack in the service of God we become prone to the sins of complacent idleness.
Timothy is also given wise advice concerning women: treat the older as mothers and the younger as sisters with all purity (5:2). This was sound advice in a world defiled with gross sins. It also reminds us that disciples are not immune to the sins of the flesh. But it was never more applicable than in today’s world of shameless permissiveness. Paul had already condemned “them that defile themselves with mankind” (1:10). In the modern context, we will do well to guard against Sodom and Gomorrah revisited. While subject of fierce dispute in some denominations, it can never be tolerated in the Church of the Living God.
This chapter deals with delicate matters of moral purity and money – two subjects which cause embarrassment among saints who can’t have enough of the first but desire too much of the second. And so the apostle introduces a new commandment regarding widows. Remember that the first dispute in the Church was over the care of widows (Acts 6:1). At that time the twelve used their wisdom to restore the balance. Likewise Paul, directed by God, exercises his apostolic authority, proving his equality with the twelve. Also, whereas some have judged Paul’s teaching on widows as out of date, they have forgotten the widows indeed and in need in less privileged parts of the world.
In Paul’s day there were those widows, of good report and over 60, who should be “taken into the number” under the church’s care (5:9). If they had children, they should be cared for by them (5:4). But younger widows who became wantons of idleness and gossip were potentially very dangerous. As idle busybodies they went from house to house pursuing sensual gossip. Paul even dares to say that “they have cast off their first faith” (5:11-13). His charge is that the latter remarry and have children as a way to reestablish their testimony (5:11-14).
The apostle endorses the financial support of those fully engaged in the Lord’s work. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the grain.” Then he quotes Jesus: “The laborer is worthy of his reward” (Lk. 10:7). Paul leaves God’s Word to do its work. He respects those who rule in the Church, but is ruthless with offending elders who are to be rebuked publicly.
In an apostolic age of miracles, Timothy was denied healing, and Paul suffered a thorn in the flesh over and above his many persecutions (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul commends the medicinal use of wine (5:23). While drunkenness is condemned in the New Testament, alcohol is permissible for remembrance and remedy.
This chapter deals with practicalities which are the true test of Christianity. The delicate subject of work relations is Paul’s first consideration. Servants were to respect and obey their masters, so that “the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed” (6:1). In the case of believing employers, servants were not to abuse the privilege. While today slavery is deplored, there remain places where believers endure slavery under another name. Paul warns us to withdraw from those who pursue social or political contentiousness in the name of justice. He exposes those whose motive is no more than “the love of money” (6:10).
Instead, he urges us rather to be content with godliness, as envying the prosperity of the wicked only leads to sorrow and sin. Indeed, he reminds Timothy that all that we have now will come to nothing (6:7-9). However, he never condemns riches in themselves, but condemns “trust in uncertain riches” (6:17). He also convicts those who are good to themselves but miserly towards the needy. Not only are we to shun materialism, but we are to “flee these things” (6:11).
As he nears the end of this pastoral letter, Paul urges Timothy to occupy himself with “the good fight of the faith,” citing the supreme example of Christ “who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession” (6:12-13), despite threat of crucifixion. It is with a view to our appearing before the King of kings that Paul charges Timothy to be faithful to God’s commands.
Paul then closes abruptly by urging Timothy to keep his mind set upon the main goal and not to be drawn aside into profitless controversies. He also warns against the “vain babblings and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called” which have led some astray (6:20). While probably alluding to the pretentious professions of the Gnostics, Paul’s warning was never more relevant than today.
By Tom Summerhill
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org