The Bible - Book by Book - 1 Timothy
The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) come from a time in the life of Paul that is not recorded in the book of Acts. These are letters that are addressed to individuals and not churches. But it is clear from the content that these letters were not to be kept hidden. They were to serve as general instruction for the leadership of the churches. The churches planted around the whole area were growing and blossoming. They had progressed beyond the embryonic stages and were not established. But these established churches were dealing with concerns and problems that were different than they had initially faced. The churches were no longer small, intimate affairs. Their size had grown and it was no longer possible for one person to even know every member of the churches. And there needed to be a stability of tradition, organization, and doctrine in the churches. These Pastoral Epistles deal with how now the growing church was to function.
Paul writes to Timothy during a delay in his journey to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3). He had instructed Timothy to remain in Ephesus in order to instruct the church until they could be reunited. Due to Paul’s delay, he writes this Epistle to Timothy with two main points. Timothy is to instruct the church in her doctrine and in her practice. This letter will largely alternate between dealing with false teachers and explain the proper conduct in the church.
Paul skips the customary thanksgiving section in this letter and gets right down to business. Gordon Fee notes that it is likely that Paul skips the thanksgiving section because there is no reason for thanks to be given. He reminds Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1:3, 4). Proper teaching is essential to the life of the church. If wrong doctrine is taught, then wrong beliefs about God and the gospel will permeate throughout the church. So, false doctrine is of paramount importance in the church.
Who were these “certain persons” teaching false doctrine? Likely they were elders who had abandoned sound doctrine. Teaching was the responsibility of the elders. Paul will spend a good deal of time in this letter explaining the qualifications of elders. He will also mention by name Hymenaeus and Alexander as two who were excommunicated. This coupled with Paul’s exhortation to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20 that wolves would come “from among your own selves” to attack the flock, it seems that the certain persons were known to those in the church. These deceivers desire to be “teachers of the law,” but they do not understand it (1:7). Paul’s answer to this is to look properly to the law. It provides a right way to live. He acknowledges that the law can be twisted and distorted, but proper teaching will convict the sinner and lead even one who blasphemed, persecuted, and opposed the church like Paul to repent and believe. “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1:14, 15). Paul summarizes near the close of the letter that Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20).
Along with an admonition to hold fast to the truth of the Gospel, Paul instructs Timothy in the proper practice and conduct of the church. How does a growing church govern itself in a way that honors God? How are the members of the church to relate to one another in holiness? Paul will give guidance on the public ministry of the church, the qualifications of officers in the church, how to care for those in need, and how to steward your possessions.
Prayer is to be a priority in the public ministry of the church. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (2:1, 2). There are to be all kinds of prayers made for all kinds of people. These prayers should even be for unbelieving government officials. The content of those prayers is firstly, that they would believe and come to faith in Jesus Christ and secondly, that they would govern in a manner that allows Christians to live Christian lives without hinderance.
The church is to be governed by proper leaders. Paul lays out qualifications for men who would be elders and deacons. Proper leadership is vital to the health of the church. A failure to hold the line on proper leadership will result in a compromised church. This includes understanding the gender distinctions in church office. Paul ministered alongside many women (Phil 4:2-3, Rom 16:1-4, 6, 12-13, and others). But we never see the women mentioned in Acts or Paul’s letters doing what Paul forbids in 1 Timothy 2. Men and women are equal before God, but they are not the same. And God has not called women to exercise authority over men in the church. Paul roots this not in the local circumstances but in creation (2:13).
Paul finally addresses the manner in which care is to be given to those in the church. He specifically mentions the best way to help and not hurt widows. Assistance to women who do not truly need assistance only hinders them from maturing. At the same time, the church is called to be generous with their money. False teachers are motivated by financial gain. But Paul puts forward “godliness with contentment” (6:6). Those who are rich are to be generous with their resources. In doing so, they store up treasures in heaven and “take hold of that which is truly life” (6:19).