The Goal of Our Instruction

1 Timothy 1:1-5

 

After spending most of this year in this column looking at various Psalms, we now turn our attention back to the New Testament, specifically Paul's two epistles to Timothy.

These two short books are densely packed with instruction and exhortation, and layered with deep concern for the truth and proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They touch on themes of church order, leadership, teaching and preaching, pastoral care, and the disciplines necessary to a faithful life. Their overarching theme, however, is one of refuting and rebuking false teaching (1 Tim.) and standing firm in the truth of God's Word (2 Tim).

As with our earlier series on 1 Peter, these articles are written from the traditional assumption of authorship-the writer of the Timothys claims to be Paul, sounds like Paul, and corroborates Paul's experiences (as recorded in Acts), so there is little reason to assume that the Pastoral Epistles were not from him. As with so many books of the Bible, the authenticity of these epistles has come under assault from the higher critics, but their arguments are weak and have often been refuted by orthodox Christian scholars. For a fuller discussion of these issues, I would recommend looking at many of the fine commentaries available, such as Gordon Fee's entry on the Pastoral Epistles in the Good News Commentary series.

Who Was Timothy?
It is no small honor to have two books of the Bible named for and addressed to you, so Timothy must have been an important figure, both to Paul and to the Church. When we look across the New Testament, we see Timothy as Paul's frequent companion and faithful brother; a man he trusted implicitly and poured himself into.

Timothy is first called by name in Acts 16:1-3, "Paul came also to Derbe and Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." It is possible that Timothy was converted during Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), during which he visited that area of Asia Minor, because he references his persecutions of that journey as though Timothy understood them in 2 Timothy 3:10-11.

We see Timothy again in Acts 17:14-15, with Paul and Silas in Berea. Paul left Timothy and Silas there with instructions to follow him to Athens as soon as possible. He is mentioned again in Luke's account in Acts 19:22, when Paul sends him with Erastus to Macedonia, and again in Acts 20:4, when Paul sends Timothy and others on ahead of him back to Asia.

Timothy also shows up repeatedly in Paul's letters to other churches. Paul includes a greeting from Timothy in Romans 16:22 (which was probably written during his stay in Corinth recorded in Acts 18). Paul sent Timothy to be his emissary to the church at Corinth and to correct the body there, referring to him as "my beloved and faithful child in the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:17). We see in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-10 that Timothy had been sent back from Athens by Paul to build up the church there, and a similar assignment is reflected in Philippians 2:19-24. In the case of 1 and 2 Timothy, we will see that Paul had given him a charge once again to minister, this time in Ephesus.

He is referenced in the opening of several of Paul's epistles in such a way that it is reasonable to assume he may have assisted in writing them, or at least was with Paul as a co-laborer and encourager during the times he was writing. In 2 Corinthians 1:1, Paul opens the letter, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother." Similar constructions are found in Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Some of these include Silas (Silvanus) as well, so it may be that Paul included the names of his coworkers as a familiar touch in letters to those cities where the three of them had ministered together.

We last see Timothy referenced in Hebrews 13:23: "Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you." The author of Hebrews, probably writing a few years after Paul's death, was also a friend and confidant of Timothy. We learn from this short note that Timothy was likely imprisoned for a time for his faithful witness. All these references speak to a man of God, faithful in service to the Gospel and the Church for a lifetime.

1 Timothy 1:1-5
The first five verses of Paul's letter set the tone for what follows over the next six chapters. He opens the letter with a greeting that focuses heavily on the person and work of Christ: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (1 Tim. 1:1-2).

As he usually did, Paul included an appeal to his apostolic authority, giving weight to what followed as a message under God's authority. He states that his apostleship is by the commandment of God the father and of Christ "who is our hope." Through this phrasing, he immediately sets up a defense of the faith, as the message of salvation through Christ alone is reiterated multiple times in this book. He addresses Timothy warmly, and extends a standard salutatory blessing of grace, mercy, and peace to him.

Whereas 2 Timothy opens with a much more personal greeting, here Paul launches directly into his message. Some commentators speculate that this is because he wanted and expected Timothy to share this letter with the church at Ephesus for their correction and edification. Paul writes, "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith" (1 Tim. 1:3-4).

This commission sets the timeline for Timothy's ministry in Ephesus somewhere around Acts 20-21, probably after Paul had left the city for the last time. His charge to Timothy references false teachings that had cropped up in the church. Unlike in some other letters in which he attacks false doctrine brought in from outsiders, the heresies afoot at Ephesus seem to have come from within the church itself, just as Paul prophesied to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."

We are not told precisely what these false teachings were, but from their description here and elsewhere in the book, they were likely additions to the truth of Scripture that distorted the message. The "myths and endless genealogies" combined with Paul's discussion of the Law in following verses (which we will examine next month) seem to reflect a Jewish background to some of the false teachings. Elsewhere in the book, the false doctrine seems to be an asceticism that denies God's good gifts (4:1-5).

Whatever these errors were, Paul's message to Timothy was clear: they are a threat to the church, confusing and distracting Christians from their true calling, and they must be stopped in their tracks by sound teaching. His choice of words at the end of verse 4 indicates that the spiral of speculation and doctrinal confusion was hindering the church from the work of God, presumably evangelism.

Paul then contrasts his teaching with that of the false teachers: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). The false teachings circulating around the Ephesian church, like most heresies, were motivated by a desire for influence (cf. 1 Tim. 6:5). Paul reaffirms to Timothy that the true Gospel is driven by love, both for Christ and for those He came to save. That is the overriding attitude that distinguishes the proclamation of the truth.

As we dig into 1 and 2 Timothy over the coming months, we will see these themes brought out again and again. In our day, just as in Paul and Timothy's, there are those who would seek to distort the Gospel of Christ and distract the church from our calling. These attacks may come from outside the church or from within our own ranks, and in either case, we must be vigilant and oppose them with the truth of God's Word, but also be faithful to build up the Body and evangelize the lost from a heart transformed by Christ's love.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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