1 Timothy: Working for Order in God’s Household
Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Each of the three Pastoral Epistles takes the form of a letter from the Apostle Paul giving counsel to one of his co-workers. In 1 Timothy, Paul gives instructions his younger colleague Timothy about how to minister within the church and how to deal with false teachers. Yet the last words of the letter—“Grace be with you [plural]” (1 Tim. 6:21)—indicate that the letter is meant to be overheard by the whole church in Ephesus so that all may benefit from Paul’s counsel to Timothy.
Because the letters share some common themes, we will combine our discussion of related passages among the letters. The themes will be explored according to the order they first arise in the Pastoral Epistles.
True Belief Leads to a Sound Organization (1 Timothy 1:1–11, 18–20; 3:14–16)Back to Table of Contents
One of the repeated and stressed themes in 1 Timothy is the tight connection between belief and behavior, or teaching and practice. Sound, or “healthy,” teaching leads to godliness while false teaching is unproductive at best and damning at worst. From the onset of the letter, Paul charges Timothy to “instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3) because this different doctrine, along with myths and genealogies, does not promote “the divine training that is known by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4).
Paul is speaking of the importance of sound doctrine in the church, but his words apply just as well to the workplace. W. Edwards Deming, one of the founders of continuous quality improvement, called his methods a “system of profound knowledge.” He said, “Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.” Knowledge of the deepest truth is essential in any organization.
Luke Timothy Johnson has translated 1 Timothy 1:4 more transparently as “God’s way of ordering reality as it is apprehended by faith.” The church is—or should be—ordered according to God’s way. Few would dispute that. But should other organizations also be ordered according to God’s way? The first-century Greco-Roman world believed that society should be ordered according to “nature.” Thus if nature is the creation of God, then God’s way of ordering creation should be reflected in the way society is ordered as well. As Johnson observes, “There is no radical discontinuity between the will of God and the structures of society. The structures of the oikos (household) and the ekklēsia (church) are not only continuous with each other, but both are parts of the dispensation [administration] of God in the world.” Workplaces, households, and churches all reflect the one and only ordering of creation.
A true understanding of God’s ways is essential in all workplaces. For example, a prominent theme in Creation is that human beings were created good. Later we fell into sin, and a central Christian truth is that Jesus came to redeem sinners. Workers are therefore human beings who sin, yet who may experience redemption and become good as God always intended. The truth about goodness, sin, and redemption needs to be factored into organizational practices. Neither churches nor workplaces can function properly if they assume that people are good only and not sinners. Accounts need to be audited and harassment needs to be stopped. Customer service needs to be rewarded. Priests and pastors, employees and executives need to be supervised. Similarly, neither churches nor workplaces can assume that people who err or sin should be discarded automatically. The offer of redemption—and practical help to make the transformation—needs to be made. In churches, the focus is on spiritual and eternal redemption. Nonchurch workplaces are focused on a more limited redemption related to the mission of the organization. Probation, performance improvement plans, retraining, reassignment to a different position, mentoring, and employee assistance programs—as opposed to immediate firing—are examples of redemptive practices in certain workplaces, especially in the West. The particulars of what is actually redemptive will vary considerably of course depending on the type of organization, its mission, the surrounding cultural, legal, and economic environment, and other factors.
If Christians in the marketplace are to understand how God would have them and those around them act (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15), they must understand God’s revelation in the Bible and believe in it. Truth leads to love (1 Tim. 1:5), while false doctrine promotes “speculations” (1 Tim. 1:4), “controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4), and spiritual destruction (1 Tim. 1:19). Knowledge of God’s ways as revealed in his word cannot be the domain of Bible scholars alone, nor is biblical understanding relevant only within the church. Christian workers must also be biblically informed so that they can operate in the world according to God’s will and for his glory.
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All Christians have a leadership role, regardless of their place in the organization. Executives usually have the greatest opportunity to shape the strategy and structure of an organization. All workers have continual opportunities to develop good relationships, produce excellent products and services, act with integrity, help others develop their abilities, and shape the culture of their immediate work groups. Everyone has a sphere of influence at work. Paul advised Timothy not to let his perceived lack of status prevent him from trying to make a difference. “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
It is interesting to note that some of this reality is already perceived in contemporary workplaces. Many organizations have “mission statements” and “core values.” These words mean roughly the same thing to secular organizations as “beliefs” or “doctrine” mean to churches. Organizations, like churches, pay close attention to culture. This is further evidence that what workers believe or what an organization teaches affects how people behave. Christians in the workplace should be at the forefront of shaping the values, mission, and culture of the organizations in which we participate, to the degree we are able.
Prayer, Peace, and Order are Needed at Work as in Church (1 Timothy 2:1–15)Back to Table of Contents
Paul begins this chapter by urging that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1–2). The aim of this prayer is that Christians “may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2). Presumably, these first-century rulers had the power to make life difficult and disruptive for Christians. So Paul urges Christians to pray for their civic rulers. Prayer, peace, and order are Christians’ first instruments of engagement with the secular world.
Again we see that Paul’s instructions are grounded in the oneness of God, the singularity of Christ as mediator, Christ’s universal ransom, and God’s universal desire for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2: 3–7). Christ is the Lord of creation and the Savior of the world. His realm includes every workplace. Christians should be praying for all of those who are in their particular workplace, especially those who have supervisory roles “in high positions.” Christians should strive to do their jobs without disrupting the work of others, without calling undue attention to themselves, and without constantly challenging authority—in other words, working “in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2). For Christians, this kind of peaceable and submissive behavior is not motivated by fear, people-pleasing, or social conformity, but by a healthy appreciation for the order God has established and by a desire for others to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). As Paul says elsewhere, “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).
Does this conflict with the duty to be at the forefront of shaping the mission and core values of our workplaces? Some Christians try to shape missions and values through confrontation around controversial issues, such as same-sex partner benefits, health insurance exclusion for abortion and/or contraceptives, union organizing, display of religious symbols and the like. If successful, this approach may help shape the mission and value of the organization. But it often disrupts others’ work, breaks the peace, and disrespects supervisors’ authority.
What is needed instead is a more personal, deeper, and more respectful engagement of organizational culture. Rather than clashing over health benefits, could Christians invest in friendships with co-workers and become a source of counseling or wisdom for those facing major life decisions? Instead of pushing the boundary between freedom of speech and harassment, could Christians do their assigned work with such excellence that co-workers ask them to explain the source of their strength? Instead of arguing about peripheral issues such as holiday decorations, could Christians help improve the core activities of their workplaces, such as job performance, customer service, and product design, and so earn the respect of those around them? In answering such questions, we can remember that Paul’s advice to Timothy is balanced, not self-contradictory. Live in peace and cooperation with those around us. Seek to influence others by serving them, not trying to lord it over them. Isn’t that what the King of kings did?
Integrity and Relational Ability are Key Leadership Qualities (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9)Back to Table of Contents
First Timothy 3:1–13 is well known and finds a parallel in Titus 1:5–9. Both 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 lay out qualifications for elders and overseers, whereas 1 Timothy 3:8–13 describes qualifications for deacons including, possibly, women deacons. A variety of qualifications is given, but the common thread seems to be moral integrity and ability to relate well to people. Competence to teach, though mentioned as a qualification for elders (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9), doesn’t receive the same emphasis overall. In these lists, we again observe the connection between the household and the church: managing one’s family well is viewed as requisite experience for managing God’s household (1 Tim. 3:4–5, 12; Titus 3:6; cf. 1 Tim. 3:15). We will reflect on this connection more in a subsequent section.
As noted earlier, different organizations have different missions. Therefore, the qualifications for leadership are different. It would be a misapplication of this passage to use it as a general qualifications list for workplaces. “Serious” may not be the right qualification for a tour guide, for example. But what about the priority given to moral integrity and relational ability? Moral qualities such as “above reproach,” “clear conscience,” “faithful [or trustworthy] in all things,” and relational qualities such as “hospitable,” “not quarrelsome,” and “temperate” are much more prominent than specific skills and experience.
If this is true for church leadership, does it also apply for workplace leadership? The well-publicized moral and relational failings of a few prominent business and government leaders in recent years have made integrity, character, and relationships more important than ever in most workplaces. It is no less important to properly develop and select leaders in workplaces than it is in churches. But as we prepare for jobs and careers, do we put a fraction of as much effort into developing ethical character and relational abilities as into developing specialized skills and accumulating credentials?
Interestingly, many of the early church leaders were also workplace leaders. Lydia was a dealer in the valuable commodity of purple dye (Acts 16:14, 40). Dorcas was a garment maker (Acts 9:26–41). Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers (or leatherworkers) who became business partners with Paul (Acts 18:2–3). These leaders were effective in the church after having already proven effective in the workplace and gaining the respect of the wider community. Perhaps the basic qualifications of leadership in church, work, and civic spheres have much in common.
God’s Creation Is Good (1 Timothy 4:1–5)Back to Table of Contents
First Timothy affirms “God’s way of ordering reality” and that this divine ordering has implications for how Christians should behave in their households, churches, and—by an extension of the text’s logic—in their workplaces. The clearest affirmation of God’s creation order comes in 1 Timothy 4:1–5. In 1 Timothy 4:4 Paul plainly declares, “Everything created by God is good.” This is a clear echo of Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Within the context of the letter, this sweepingly positive appraisal of creation is used to combat false teachers who are forbidding marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3). Paul counters their teaching by asserting that these things ought to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3, 4). Food, and anything else in God’s creation, is “sanctified” by God’s word and by prayer (1 Tim. 4:5). This does not mean that God’s word and prayer make God’s creation good when it isn’t good already. Rather, in thankfully acknowledging God as the creator and provider of all things, a Christian sets apart created things such as food for a holy and God-honoring purpose. As a Christian, it is possible even to eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
This affirmation of creation means there is no created material that is inherently evil to work with, and no job engaged with creation that is unacceptable for Christians to do if it doesn’t violate God’s will. In other words, a Christian can dig wells, design computer chips, scrub toilets, walk on the moon, fix cell phones, plant crops, or harvest trees to the glory of God. None of these jobs or materials is inherently evil. Indeed, each job can please God. This may seem intuitive to those in the modern Western world who don’t struggle much with asceticism, as the ancient Greek and Roman world did. But 1 Timothy 4:4 reminds even us not to view the material realm as something neutral in moral value or to view something such as technology, for example, as inherently evil. The goodness of all of God’s creation allows us to live and work in joyful freedom, receiving all things as from God’s hands.
Good Relationships Arise from Genuine Respect (1 Timothy 5:1–6:2; Titus 2:1–10)Back to Table of Contents
First Timothy 4:6–16 is full of specific directives Paul gives to Timothy. It would be helpful for Christian workers to remember that training in godliness is a crucial component of professional development (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8). We quickly move from this section, however, to the next, which runs from 1 Timothy 5:1–6:2. Again, this section is similar to a section of Titus 2:1–10. Being a member of the church should not lead us to exploit others within the church (cf. 1 Tim. 5:16; 6:2), but rather should lead us to work harder to bless them. This applies also at work.
In particular, these two passages describe how men and women, old and young, masters and slaves, ought to behave within the family of God. The first two verses of this section in 1 Timothy are important ones. “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.” This command does not flatten any distinction between families and the church (as 1 Tim. 5:4, 8 makes clear), but it does suggest that the kindness, compassion, loyalty, and purity that should characterize our most intimate family relationships should also characterize our relationships with those in God’s family, the church.
Paul’s exhortation to “absolute purity” reminds us that violations of sexual boundaries do occur in families and churches, as well as in workplaces. Sexual harassment can go unchallenged—even unnoticed by those not being harassed—in workplaces. We can bring a blessing to every kind of workplace by paying deeper attention to how men and women are treated, and by raising a challenge to inappropriate and abusive words and actions.
Is it right to think of a workplace as a family? No and yes. No, it is not truly a family, for the reasons portrayed so amusingly in the television series The Office. Membership in a workplace is conditional on fulfilling a role adequately. Unlike family members, employees who no longer meet the approval of management are subject to dismissal. Employment is not permanent, not “something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” It would be naive—possibly even abusive—to pretend that a workplace is a family.
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Yet in certain senses, a workplace can be like a family, if that term is used to describe the respect, commitment, open communication, and care that family members should show toward one another. If Christians were known for treating co-workers likewise, it could be a great point of the church’s redemptive service to the world. Mentoring, for example, is an extremely valuable service that experienced workers can offer to newer colleagues. It resembles the investment that parents make in their children. And just as we protect family members from abuse and exploitation, Christ’s love impels us to do the same for people in our workplaces. Certainly we should never engage in abuse or exploitation of others at work, because we imagine we owe them less respect or care than we do to family (or church) members. Rather, we should strive to love all our neighbors, including those in the workplace, as our family and as ourselves.
Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19)Back to Table of Contents
The last section of 1 Timothy is packed with powerful exhortations and warnings for rich Christians. (We will skip over Paul’s charges to Timothy in verses 11–16 and 20, which are directed to Timothy in his particular situation.) First Timothy 6:3–10 and 17–19 have direct workplace applications. In reading and applying these passages, however, we must avoid two common mistakes.
First, this passage does not teach that there is no “gain” to be had by being godly. When Paul writes that those who are “depraved in mind and bereft of the truth” imagine that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5), what he is denouncing is the mind-set that godliness necessarily leads to financial gain in this life or that godliness should be pursued for the sake of immediate, financial gain. The folly of this thinking is threefold:
- God often calls his saints to suffer material want in this life and, therefore, God’s people should not set their hope on the “uncertainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17).
- Even if someone were to gain great riches in this life, the gain is short-lived because, as John Piper puts it, “There are no U-Hauls behind hearses” (1 Tim. 6:7).
- Craving wealth leads to evil, apostasy, ruin, and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9–10).
Note carefully, however, that Paul encourages his readers to know that there is great gain in godliness when it is combined with contentment in the basic necessities of life (1 Tim. 6:6, 8). Our God is a God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17). Paul commands the righteous rich “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18)—not to sell everything they have and become poor. They are to be rich in good works so that they might store up for themselves “the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Tim. 6:19). In other words, godliness is a means of gain as long as that gain is understood as life and blessings in the presence of God and not only more money now. Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 6:18–19 is similar to Jesus’ teaching, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20; cf. Matt. 19:21; Luke 12:33).
The second mistake to avoid is thinking that this passage and its condemnation of a love for money means that no Christian worker should ever seek a raise or promotion or that no Christian business should try to make a profit. There are many reasons why someone could want more money; some of them could be bad but others could be good. If someone wanted more money for the status, luxury, or ego boost it would provide, then this would indeed fall under the rebuke of this section of Scripture. But if someone wanted to earn more money in order to provide adequately for dependents, to give more to Christ-honoring causes, or to invest in creating goods and services that allow the community to thrive, then it would not be evil to want more money. To reject the love of money is not to oppose every desire to be successful or profitable in the workplace.
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As usual, except in1,2Thessalonians, Philippians , and Philemon , Paul reminded his readers of his authority as an apostle. Timothy would have read this letter publicly in the Ephesian church, and others would have read it in other congregations later as well.
Paul wrote here that his calling came to him by the commandment or commission of God, not simply by His "will," the term that Paul used more often in this connection. Paul received his commission in Damascus ( Acts 9). This stronger word is one of many indications that Paul stressed the importance of faithful perseverance in God"s calling in this epistle, as he did in2Timothy as well.
The idea of God being our Savior is a characteristic emphasis in the Pastorals ( 1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 1:3; Titus 2:10; Titus 3:4; cf. Psalm 25:5; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 27:9; Habakkuk 3:18; Isaiah 12:2). Christ Jesus is our hope generally in that we have set our hope on Him, and specifically in that we look for His appearing when God will complete our salvation. Paul may have preferred the order "Christ Jesus" because the fact that Jesus was the Messiah was very important to him. [Note: Guthrie, p55.] Paul was not describing the relationship of the Persons in the Godhead to each other but to believers.
"The designation of God as Savior, unusual in Paul, is in keeping with the Old Testament presentation of God ( Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalm 24:5; Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 17:10). It described the God who delivered his people from their bondage in Egypt and many times thereafter as the initiator and originator of salvation. In the New Testament, of course, God as the Savior is the initiator of the program of deliverance through Christ." [Note: Towner, 1-2Timothy ..., p40.]
Our salvation is secure because God is our Savior.
Paul began this very personal letter with a customary salutation to set the tone for what followed. The salutation reveals that this was not just a personal letter, however, but it was also official. Paul wrote epistles to nine churches and to four individuals. Even though he addressed four of his letters to individuals, he undoubtedly intended that they too should be read to churches.
"The opening and closing sections of the pastoral epistles vary considerably from the standard formulae. This suggests a calculated focus toward certain aspects of the author/reader relationship." [Note: Tom Thatcher, "The Relational Matrix of the Pastoral Epistles," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society38:1 (March1995):43.]
Paul may have led Timothy to faith in Christ personally, or Timothy may simply have been Paul"s "child in the faith" in that he was Paul"s protg (cf. Acts 14:6; Acts 16:1). This is the first of19 references to faith (Gr. pistis) in1Timothy. It is a key word in this epistle.
Paul added "mercy" to his customary benediction of grace and peace here and in2Timothy (cf. 2 John 1:3). He probably did so because the Jewish blessing "mercy and peace" was one that Paul could appropriately share with his half-Jewish child in the faith. [Note: See J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, p41.] However, "mercy" also reminds us that we need God not to give us what we deserve, namely, chastisement. These three words summarize all the Christian"s blessings.
"It is much more natural to think that the keen solicitude of the aged apostle for his young friend in his difficult position led him to insert the additional prayer for mercy as springing from his own enlarged experience of divine mercy." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, First Timothy, p24.]
"With these three terms, then, Paul greets Timothy and the church: charis [grace]-God"s ongoing forgiveness and enabling, eleos [mercy]-God"s sympathy and concern, eirene [peace]-God"s tranquility and stability within and among them as individuals and as a Christian community." [Note: George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, p67.]
The two relationships with God that Paul cited, as our Father and our Lord, are especially significant in this letter. Timothy had a tendency to be fearful, so the reminder that God is our Father would have encouraged him. However, Paul eliminated the possibility of permissiveness implied in "Father" by using "Lord." Timothy needed to remember that the Lord had called him to serve a God who loved him as a father yet deserved complete obedience as his lord. We share Timothy"s need.
"Only fifteen times was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament. Where it does occur, it is used of the nation Israel or to the king of Israel. Never was God called the Father of an individual or of human beings in general (though isolated instances occur in second temple Judaism, Sirach 51:10). In the New Testament numerous references to God as Father can be found." [Note: Mark L. Bailey, "A Biblical Theology of Paul"s Pastoral Epistles," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p342. Cf. H. F. D. Sparks, "The Doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood of God in the Gospels," in Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, pp241-62; and James Barr, "Abba Isn"t Daddy," Journal of Theological Studies39 (1988):28-47.]
Paul"s geographical movements, to which he referred here, probably took place between his first Roman imprisonment and the writing of this epistle. We cannot fit them into the chronology of Acts. Acts concludes with Paul"s first Roman imprisonment. The apostle had left Timothy in Ephesus for the general purpose of acting as his special representative. He was under Paul but over the elders of the church in his authority. [Note: Mounce, p. lvii.] As such Timothy occupied a position unique to the apostolic period of church history. The earliest instance of only one elder (bishop, presbyter) being in charge of one local church appears in the middle of the second century. Before then the testimony of the New Testament writers and the early church fathers is that local churches typically had more than one elder. [Note: Cf. Earle, p363.]
"Paul repeats in writing what he had outlined orally for Timothy in order that Timothy might have it black on white and that he might present it as written evidence to those who objected to Timothy"s activities ..." [Note: Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul"s Epistles to the Colossians , to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus , and to Philemon , p498.]
The error of the objects of Paul"s criticism seems to have been more in their emphasis than in their content. "Strange doctrines" (Gr. heterodidaskalein) is a general term that contrasts their novel teaching with what is edifying. It also suggests that a recognized standard of Christian doctrine existed when Paul wrote.
"Some see in this [strange] teaching the influence of Gentile gnostic philosophy with its speculative views of religious beliefs and practices. Such incipient gnostic elements did circulate in Asia during the latter half of the first century and may have been present here. But that the false teaching combatted [sic] in the Pastorals had already become Gnostic in character is doubtful. The Jewish character of the teaching here denounced is obvious." [Note: Hiebert, p30. Cf. Titus 1:14.]
In particular, these teachers seem to have been emphasizing extra-biblical stories that had become part of the traditions of Judaism that grew out of the genealogies of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14; Titus 3:9). "Myths" and "endless genealogies" evidently describe two aspects of one aberration rather than two separate problems. Certain myths about what Jesus did are an example of this ear-tickling entertainment, though these specific myths were not the subject of these false teachers. One of these was that when Jesus was a child he formed a bird out of clay, blew on it, it came to life and flew away. This myth appears in the Koran, which was written several centuries after this epistle.
"The lists of bare names in Old Testament genealogies were easily expanded into fictitious histories, supposed to illustrate God"s dealings with His people and an example is still preserved to us in the apocalyptic Book of Jubilees. The practice, indeed, was so common that the word "genealogy" was often used in the sense of mythical history, and this would seem to be its meaning in the present verse." [Note: E. F. Scott, The Pastoral Epistles, p8. See also Jerome D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary and an Introduction to Titus , I and II Timothy, the Pastoral Epistles, p245.]
This kind of emphasis, Paul warned, simply generated questions for which there are no real answers rather than contributing to the spiritual maturation of believers (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). John Bunyan reportedly said, "Some love the meat; some love to pick the bones." [Note: Harry A. Ironside, Timothy, Titus , and Philemon , p18.] Growth is God"s goal for Christians, and it involves the exercise of our "faith" (cf. Romans 1:17).
Examples of similar errors in teaching today would be overemphasis on typology, numerology, or the details of exegesis along with a failure to emphasize the point of the passage being expounded. This failure to emphasize what the writer of Scripture emphasized and to emphasize something else seems to be at the heart of the problem Paul addressed here. [Note: See Fee, p7.]
"I am personally of the opinion that one of the causes of weakness in the churches today is the virtual disappearance from our pulpits of sound, steady, Scriptural, expository teaching, and that a widespread return to that desirable practice is essential to the solid building-up of our members in the faith." [Note: Guy H. King, A Leader Led, p19.]
A. The task Timothy faced1:3-11
Paul penned these opening words to remind Timothy to correct teachers in the Ephesian church who were majoring on minor matters in their Bible teaching. In so doing he reminded Timothy of his own responsibility as a communicator of God"s truth.
"That the false teachers were ... probably elders [of the house-churches in Ephesus] is supported by several items from1Timothy: their presuming to be "teachers of the law" ( 1 Timothy 1:7), a responsibility of the elders ( 1 Timothy 5:17; cf. 1 Timothy 3:2); the fact that two are named and excommunicated by Paul ( 1 Timothy 1:19-20), not by the church as in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; and the repeated concern about elders in this letter, both as to their qualifications-with no mention of duties-in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and their discipline and apparent replacement in 1 Timothy 5:19-25." [Note: Ibid, p40.]
II. TIMOTHY"S MISSION IN EPHESUS1:3-20
In chapter1Paul charged Timothy to remain faithful to the task with which Paul had entrusted him in Ephesus. He began by reminding Timothy what that task was and how he should carry out his chief duty. Then he exhorted Timothy to be faithful. He reminded his young protg of God"s power to transform lives and warned him of the danger of acting contrary to his own spiritually sensitive conscience.
"The absence of ... [a thanksgiving] here supports the observation ... that1Timothy is really for the sake of the church as much as, or more than, for Timothy himself; what is taking place in the church gives no cause for thanksgiving." [Note: Fee, p39.]
This feature also marks Galatians and Titus.
The ultimate aim of a Bible teacher should not be to generate debate and controversy. It should be to cultivate the lives of his or her students so they manifest love in their daily living. This love should spring from a pure heart, a conscience void of shame, and a genuine trust in God. Faith and love often appear linked in the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 1 Timothy 1:14; 1 Timothy 2:15; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Timothy 3:10; Titus 2:2).
"For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one"s actions by that one"s group-"pain one feels because others consider one"s actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul"s readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group. We, on the other hand, view the conscience as concerned with right and wrong on an individual basis, not necessarily taking into account what others think and expect about us." [Note: Towner, 1-2Timothy ..., p47. See Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, p70. See also Towner, The Letters ..., pp117-19 , for an excursus on conscience in the letters to Timothy and Titus.]
"It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right." [Note: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:259.]
We need to approach confrontation carefully (cf. Galatians 6:1). Is our motivation to help or to hurt the other person? Is our attitude loving, and does this come through in our non-verbal as well as verbal communication? Loving confrontation expresses care and respect for the other person. It communicates that we want the other person to respect us and understand how we feel. The timing, location, and setting are all very important in confrontation. We need to be sensitive to other pressures that may be on the other person. We should also give help with an openness to accept confrontation from the other person as well.
The "Law" is the Mosaic Code but also the Scriptures of Paul"s day, the Old Testament, particularly the legal parts of it. Paul probably did not mean that these erring teachers failed to understand the letter of their content, though this may have been true of some of them. He probably meant that they did not understand what they were really saying and not saying by their emphasis. They missed the point of the Law.
Their "main interest seems to have been to rival contemporary Rabbinical exegesis, rather than to expound the gospel." [Note: Guthrie, p60.]
". . . Paul"s description of their "confidence" implies in this context stubbornness, a refusal to be denied. We might say they are dogmatic, which (along with the claim to authority) Paul regards with irony, since they have no real understanding of the matters they teach." [Note: Towner, 1-2Timothy ..., pp48-49. See David A. Mappes, "The Heresy Paul Opposed in1Timothy," Bibliotheca Sacra156:624 (October-December1999):452-58.]
"This "apostasy" on the part of both the erring elders and their followers is the great urgency of1Timothy." [Note: Fee, p44.]
The Law (Gr. nomos) is profitable if one uses it properly, according to its original intention ("lawfully," Gr. nomimos, a play on words).
"Here its "goodness" is related to its being used properly, that Isaiah , treated as law (intended for the lawless, 1 Timothy 1:9) and not used "illegitimately" as a source for myths and endless genealogies, or for ascetic practices." [Note: Ibid, p45.]
"Thus Paul is saying that the law is not given to apply in some mystical way to people who are already "righteous," i.e, those already seeking to conform to the law. It Isaiah , rather, given to deal with people who are specifically violating its sanctions and to warn them against their specific sins (as the list in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 goes on to do)." [Note: Knight, p83. See Femi Adeyemi, "Paul"s "Positive" Statements about the Mosaic Law," Bibliotheca Sacra164:653 (January-March2007):49-58.]
Paul arranged his first six epithets in pairs ( 1 Timothy 1:9 a). For other Pauline "vice lists," see 1 Timothy 6:4-5; Romans 1:29-31; Romans 6:9-10; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 4:31; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5; Colossians 3:8; Titus 3:3; and 2 Timothy 3:2-5. The leading attitude in each pair precedes the resulting action. There is a progression in these three couplets from more general to more specific lawlessness. The first two terms are introductory.
"Lawless" people refuse to recognize law.
"Rebellious" individuals refuse to obey laws.
The following sins are violations of the first through the third commandments: sins specifically against God Himself.
"Ungodly" men and women have no regard for God.
"Sinners" live in opposition to God.
"Unholy" people are those whose lives are impure.
"Profane" persons treat sacred things as common.
The second group of offenders ( 1 Timothy 1:9-10 a) provides examples of individuals who break the fifth through the ninth commandments of the Decalogue. They are sinners arrayed against society.
"Father-strikers and mother-strikers" is a better translation than "those who kill their fathers or mothers." [Note: E. K. Simpson, The Pastoral Epistles, p31.] Such people have no respect or affection for their own parents (cf. Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; the fifth commandment).
"Murderers" kill people deliberately (cf. Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; the sixth commandment).
"Immoral men" deal perversely with people of the opposite sex (cf. Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18; the seventh commandment).
"Homosexuals" abuse people of their own sex (the seventh commandment). [Note: See P. Michael Ukleja, "Homosexuality in the New Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra147:560 (October-December1983):350-58; and Sherwood A. Cole, "Biology, Homosexuality, and Moral Culpability," Bibliotheca Sacra154:615 (July-September1997):355-66.]
"Kidnappers" steal and sell other people (cf. Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19; the eighth commandment).
"Liars and perjurers" bear false witness (cf. Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20; the ninth commandment).
"Most likely the list is a conscious reflection of the Mosaic Law as law and expresses the kinds of sins such law was given to prohibit." [Note: Fee, p46.]
Paul concluded his list ( 1 Timothy 1:10-11) with a general category of anything contrary to not only the Law of Moses but the larger gospel that Paul preached. That gospel encompassed the Old Testament. "Sound doctrine" does not just describe correct or accurate doctrine but what is healthful and wholesome. [Note: Hiebert, p37.] Paul probably did not refer to violation of the fourth commandment because it is not a part of the moral code of the New Covenant. Perhaps he did not mention violation of the tenth commandment because he dealt with that later (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10) or because violation of it is unobservable.
"Healthy teaching leads to proper Christian behavior, love and good works; the diseased teaching of the heretics leads to controversies, arrogance, abusiveness, and strife ( 1 Timothy 6:4)." [Note: Fee, p46. See Ren A. Lpez, "A Study of Pauline Passages with Vice Lists," Bibliotheca Sacra168:671 (July-September2011):301-16.]
"Missionaries of one particular cult say that their scriptures are authoritative because they stem from God. Its elders usually insist that the Holy Spirit will "move in the heart" to confirm the veracity of their teaching. But when their doctrines do not pass the more objective test applied by the church fathers, what does it matter how one "feels" about their teaching? Such counterclaims to authority are clearly wrong." [Note: Towner, 1-2Timothy ..., p52.]
"It will be clear from any careful reading that this concern for the gospel is the driving force behind the P[astoral]E[pistles]." [Note: Fee, p15.]
Paul"s points in this pericope are the following. When a person teaches the Scriptures, he or she should distinguish speculation that goes beyond what God has revealed from the teaching of God"s Word (the method, 1 Timothy 1:4). Second, love for others should be primary (the motive, 1 Timothy 1:5), not a desire to glorify oneself. Third, the teacher should present a portion of Scripture considering the purpose for which God intended it (the meaning, 1 Timothy 1:8-10). Knowledge of the letter is not enough. A teacher should communicate the spirit of the divine Author as well.
Did God save Paul because He foresaw that Paul would be faithful ( 1 Timothy 1:12)? No, but God entrusted him with the ministry he had received at least in part for that reason.
"Not skill or knowledge but faithfulness is the first qualification for a minister of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 4:2)." [Note: Hiebert, p40.]
Paul had not opposed Jesus Christ and His church because he wanted to dishonor God. Paul believed he was serving God by persecuting Christians. He was mistaken about who Jesus Christ is. For this reason God had mercy on him. The Old Covenant also distinguished between unwitting and purposeful sinning (cf. Leviticus 22:14; Numbers 15:22-31; Romans 10:3; 2 Timothy 1:3). The Greek word translated "violent aggressor" ("violent Prayer of Manasseh ," NIV hubristes) means a proud, haughty man. Such a person heaps insulting language on others and or does some shameful act of wrong against them.
God poured out grace, trust, and love on Paul even though Paul had poured out blasphemy, persecution, and violence on God.
"Jesus recognized this principle when He prayed on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" ( Luke 23:34). Their ignorance did not save them, nor did Christ"s prayer save them; but the combination of the two postponed God"s judgment, giving them an opportunity to be saved." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:212.]
1. A positive encouragement1:12-17
Paul thanked God for changing him to enable Timothy to appreciate the fact that God can transform even the worst of sinners and enable His saints to accomplish supernatural feats. What called forth Paul"s testimony here was the difficult situation Timothy faced in Ephesus made even harder by Timothy"s personal tendency toward timidity. The evidence that Timothy tended to be timid, perhaps partly because of the strong opposition he faced, comes out more clearly later in this epistle.
"V:11 with its assertion that the gospel was entrusted to Paul provides the setting for 1 Timothy 1:12-17. Paul demonstrates how this entrusting and his own reception of mercy and grace in Jesus Christ provides an illustration that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for any sinner, because it has been that to him, a terrible sinner." [Note: Knight, p92.]
B. Exhortations to be faithful1:12-20
Paul proceed to balance his instruction by giving Timothy a positive encouragement and a negative warning so he would deal with the false teachers effectively.
Seven times in the Pastorals Paul evidently alluded to statements that had become proverbial in the early church. They may have been parts of early Christian hymns or catechisms (manuals for the training of new Christians; cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Titus 2:11-14; Titus 3:3-7). [Note: For a brief discussion of these liturgical passages that outline the essentials of salvation, see Bailey, pp349-54; or for a more detailed explanation, see Philip H. Towner, The Goal of Our Instruction, pp75-119.] They may be restatements of what Jesus said about Himself (cf. Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32; Luke 19:10; John 12:46-47; John 16:28; John 18:37). [Note: Knight, p102.] Paul probably alluded to one of these classic statements here, as seems likely from his use of the introductory, "It is a trustworthy statement." Here the great truth affirmed is that the purpose of Christ"s incarnation was the salvation of sinners.
"The repeated formula is always attached to a maxim (relating either to doctrine or practice) on which full reliance can be placed." [Note: Earle, p355.]
Was Paul really the worst sinner of all time (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8)? Obviously many people have lived longer in a more depraved condition than Paul did. He became a Christian relatively early in his adult life. Perhaps the apostle meant that he was the "foremost" sinner in the sense that his sin of aggressively tearing down the work that God was building up was the worst kind of sin. It was much worse than simply ignoring God and going one"s own way.
Note, too, that Paul still regarded himself as a sinner, though a forgiven one: "...I am foremost." [Note: See Robert L. Saucy, ""Sinners" Who Are Forgiven or "Saints" Who Sin?" Biblitheca Sacra152:608 (October-December1995):400-12.]
"The fact is that it is always the characteristic of a true saint to feel himself a real sinner. The air in a room seems to be clear, but when it is penetrated by the sunlight it is seen to be full of dust and other impurities: and so as men draw nearer to God, and are penetrated by the light of God (1John i5), they see more clearly their own infirmities, and begin to feel for sin something of the hatred which God feels for it." [Note: Ernest F. Brown, The Pastoral Epistles, p10.]
God was unusually merciful to Paul because He desired to make the apostle an example of how God can change the worst of sinners into the best of saints. His greatest enemy became His greatest servant. In the light of Paul"s conversion no one should conclude that his or her sin is too great for God to forgive. God may be patient with anyone since He was patient with Paul.
Such grace prompted Paul to glorify God in this brief doxology. God is the King of the ages (sovereign), immortal (eternal), invisible (spiritual), and the only God (unique). To Him belong all honor and glory eternally. "Amen" means, "So be it." The Christians often uttered this word out loud in their meetings, as did the Jews in their synagogues.
The reason Paul referred to his conversion in this section ( 1 Timothy 1:12-17) was to encourage Timothy to be faithful in the ministry with which God had entrusted him ( 1 Timothy 1:3-11). In his ministry at Ephesus Timothy would never encounter a more difficult case than Saul of Tarsus had been. The fact that God had completely transformed Paul shows that He can do the same to anyone. This gives hope to everyone who seeks to win people to Christ and to help them grow in Christ.
The command to which Paul referred here is the one contained in 1 Timothy 1:3-4. He now returned to the subject that he began there. Sometime in the past someone had given prophecies concerning Timothy"s effectiveness as a servant of Christ ( 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; cf. Acts 13:2). We have no certain record of who gave them, when, or where, unless it was at Timothy"s ordination ( 1 Timothy 4:14), but Paul referred to them here to motivate Timothy to carry on. [Note: Mounce, pp70-72 , wrote an excursus on prophecies about Timothy.] Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus ( 1 Timothy 1:3), but more importantly the Holy Spirit had placed him there.
"Here the believer is cast in the role of a soldier who is ordered out into battle. The weapons of this soldier, however, are not clever argumentation or inescapable logic, things that we might think best suited to debates with false teachers. On the contrary, Timothy is to avoid debates ( 2 Timothy 2:23-25). Nor is the soldier"s objective the destruction of his opponent. Appropriate strategy includes instructing, correcting erroneous views and urging repentance (see 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). The minister"s weapons for this fight are the gospel and godly concern for the spiritual condition of the opponent. The goal is to protect the faith of those whom the false teachers seek to influence and, if possible, to win back those who have strayed ( 1 Timothy 1:5). Only the gospel is sufficient for such work, as Paul has just taken great care to illustrate ( 1 Timothy 1:11-16)." [Note: Towner, 1-2Timothy . . ., p58.]
As Timothy fought the good fight, he should continue to trust God and maintain a good conscience (cf. 2 Timothy 1:3). A conscience, like a computer, programmed with the will of God, can be a great asset to the Christian soldier. However if one violates his or her conscience so programmed, that person ignores a warning signal. The results can be disastrous. The conscience is the umpire of the soul. Someone has described it as the capacity to feel guilt. One"s conscience enables him or her to feel dishonor, shame, and guilt.
"In the conflict which we wage outwardly against the enemy, our chief concern is with the inner state and disposition of the heart." [Note: J. J. Van Oosterzee, "The Two Epistles of Paul to Timothy," in Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, edited by J. P. Lange, 11:25.]
"One man said of his hypocritical pastor, "He is such a good preacher, he should never get out of the pulpit; but he is such a poor Christian, he should never get into the pulpit!" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:213.]
2. A negative warning1:18-20
Paul next balanced his positive encouragement based on God"s dealings with himself ( 1 Timothy 1:12-17) with a negative warning based on God"s dealings with two unfaithful ministers. He did this to challenge Timothy further to remain faithful to God as he discharged his duties. His thought returned to what he had written in 1 Timothy 1:3-7. Towner saw this whole section ( 1 Timothy 1:3-20) as loosely chiastic. [Note: Towner, The Letters . . ., pp104-5.]
Paul cited two examples of casualties of this type with which Timothy was apparently familiar: Hymenaeus (cf. 2 Timothy 2:17) and Alexander (cf. 2 Timothy 4:14). Paul had turned them over to God"s discipline because of their determination to continue living in a manner contrary to the will of God. This discipline would come on them through the agency of Satan so they would repent and stop blaspheming God by their lives. [Note: See Sydney H. T. Page, "Satan: God"s Servant," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society50:3 (September2007):449-65.]
Handing someone over to Satan may mean that Satan had permission to inflict some illness or disability on the evildoer (cf. Job 2:6). [Note: Kelly, p59; Mounce, pp69 , 72. Cf. Matthew 18:15-20.] It may picture life outside the fellowship of the church as Satan"s sphere (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5). [Note: See Knight, p111.] Thus to deliver these men to Satan could mean that Paul had removed them from the church"s fellowship and placed them in Satan"s realm where they would experience his malice (cf. Acts 5:1-11; Acts 13:11). [Note: Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jeremiah , 1 , 2 Timothy ,, Titus , p81. Thomas Lea wrote the commentaries on1,2Timothy in this volume. See also Walter Lock, The Pastoral Epistles, p19.] These men appear to have been leaders, teachers, and even elders in the Ephesian church. It was very rare for Paul to name names when referring to serious sinners. That he did so here indicates that he wanted everyone to know to whom he was referring.
"It is certainly a disciplinary or remedial and not a merely punitive penalty ..." [Note: J. H. Bernard, The Pastoral Epistles, p36. Cf. Guthrie, p69.]
"We should not misunderstand the nature of this process. It was not simply intended to "cut out a cancer" in order to preserve the rest of the body, as some churches view it today. Neither is it a practice that the church today can afford to ignore, as if it were an aberration belonging to the Inquisition. Taken together, Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 reflect the development of a carefully measured process. Each step was designed to bring the erring individual to the point of admission and true change of mind and behavior. Even if the individual persisted in a stubborn refusal to change (like the two mentioned here), the final step of expulsion from the fellowship back into the hostile world was ultimately intended as a means (desperate and last-ditch though it be) of reclamation. To be handed over to Satan (compare 1 Corinthians 5:5) is to be exposed, without the protection God promises to his people, to the dangers of sin. For some it takes being cast off into the sea to realize the advantages on board ship [cf. Jonah]." [Note: Towner, 1-2Timothy . . ., pp59-60. Cf. idem, The Letters . . ., pp161-62.]
Hymenaeus and Alexander appear to have been genuine believers in view of how Paul described them here and in his other references to them in2Timothy. [Note: See Knight, p110; and Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pp333-36.] Perseverance in faith and good works is not inevitable for the Christian. The many New Testament warnings against turning away from the Lord and the truth should make that fact obvious. There are also examples of Old Testament believers who did not remain faithful to the Lord (e.g, Lot, the Israelites in the wilderness, Saul, Song of Solomon , Uzziah, et al.).
"Within the overall context of the PE ... it seems that Paul is saying that the opponents rejected their personal faith and as a result have brought the Christian faith into reproach ..." [Note: Mounce, p67.]
The Greek word translated "blaspheme" (blasphemein) means to "by contemptuous speech intentionally come short of the reverence due to God or to sacred things." [Note: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "blaspheme," p102.]
This first chapter deals with matters of vital importance to every Christian since we are all ministers of Jesus Christ. These matters are especially relevant to church leaders. In the communication of God"s Word, our primary responsibility ( 2 Timothy 4:2), we should avoid speculation and seek to represent God"s intention accurately ( 1 Timothy 1:3-11). We can face our task optimistically since God has the power to transform even the worst of sinners into the greatest of saints ( 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Nevertheless we should be careful not to go against the warnings of our consciences programmed with God"s Word as we carry out our ministry.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/1-timothy-1.html. 2012.