Authority and Hope for a Pastor and His Church
Main Idea: The God-inspired letter of 1 Timothy was written by the apostle Paul to Timothy, and the letter was graciously given for the good of all God’s people.
- A Brief Introduction
- Setting the stage for 1 Timothy
- The author, the recipient, and the occasion
- The time and the place
- The many challenges
- The urgent message
- A Glorious Greeting (1:1-2)
- First Timothy is authoritative.
- It was written by an apostle.
- It was breathed out by God.
- First Timothy is timely.
- It was essential for Timothy.
- It is essential for every pastor.
- It is essential for every follower of Christ.
- First Timothy is filled with hope.
- God is our Savior.
- Christ Jesus is our hope.
- Grace, mercy, and peace are gifts.
In their book Health, Wealth and Happiness, David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge highlight a disturbing trend in the church: “A new gospel is being taught today. This new gospel is perplexing—it omits Jesus and neglects the cross” (Health, Wealth and Happiness, 15).
Jones and Woodbridge report that 46 percent of self-proclaimed Christians in the United States agree with the idea that God will grant material riches to all believers who have enough faith (Health, Wealth and Happiness, 16). This teaching has become known as “the prosperity gospel.” Although it takes many shapes and sizes, the prosperity gospel promises material and physical blessings in this life so that central elements of the gospel, such as the finished work of Christ on the cross and the forgiveness of sins, take a backseat. Sadly, professing Christians seem to be taking the bait, and not just here in America. The prosperity gospel is sweeping across large portions of the world. False teachers are alive and well.
The problem of false teachers and false teaching is by no means a new problem for the church. In fact, these battles are quite old—approximately two thousand years old. When Paul was giving his final instructions to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20:29-30, he warned them that “savage wolves” would enter the church and wreak havoc, luring away disciples. When we turn to 1 Timothy, we see that Paul’s predictions were not exaggerated, and they wouldn’t require centuries to play out. False teaching was staring the first-century church at Ephesus square in the face.
For a man like Paul, who gave his life to establishing and strengthening churches among the Gentiles, false teaching was more than just an apologetic hurdle. It was a deadly cancer that had to be removed if the church was to remain healthy and continue its mission. As we move through Paul’s first letter to Timothy, we’ll also consider other important issues the apostle addressed. Like any missionary or church planter, Paul cared deeply about the people to whom he ministered, and he knew that what they needed was not human wisdom. They needed to stand on the truth of God’s Word and to fix their hope on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Brief Introduction
We’ll begin by setting the stage for 1 Timothy, considering both the context and the background of the letter. The letters of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are often referred to as the Pastoral Epistles. These epistles, or letters, are labeled as “pastoral” because they have so much to say about the responsibilities of pastors in leading and ministering to God’s people. While these letters have a number of similarities, each letter has its own unique aspects. Below we’ll look at some of the specifics related to 1 Timothy under the following headings:
- The author, the recipient, and the occasion
- The time and the place
- The many challenges
- The urgent message
First, as we think about this powerful letter, we need to consider the author, the recipient, and the occasion. First Timothy was written by the apostle Paul to his “true son in the faith,” a man named Timothy (1:2). Timothy was younger than Paul, possibly in his thirties (Ryken, 1 Timothy, 5), and he had assisted Paul in a number of different ministry contexts (see for example, 1 Thess 3; 1 Cor 4:16-17; 16:10-11; and Phil 2:19-24; Towner, Letters, 52). Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and author of 13 letters in the New Testament, had stationed Timothy in Ephesus to do the difficult work of combating false teaching (1 Tim 1:3). Timothy was also told to lead the church to be faithful in a number of different areas, including godly living. Leading God’s people is no easy task. However, it is a glorious task worth giving one’s life to, and Paul wanted Timothy to be faithful in his calling as a minister of the gospel.
Other factors we need to consider include the time and place of the letter. Followers of Christ have always had to face a unique set of challenges related to their ministry context. For example, pastors and churches in our own culture continue to face complex questions related to who we are as humans. Could anyone have imagined, even a generation ago, that Christians would have to think through biblical positions on cloning or gender reassignment? Nevertheless, we would be seriously mistaken to think we are the first generation of Christians to face complex issues. The church at Ephesus is a case in point.
Consider the context for Timothy and the church at Ephesus in the mid 60s of the first century AD (see Carson and Moo, Introduction, 571-72). At this time the city of Ephesus was large, diverse, religiously complex, and flourishing commercially (Towner, Letters, 38), not unlike a major metropolitan area of the United States today. Since the temple of Artemis was located in Ephesus, the cult of Artemis was especially influential in this Imperial capital. This cult affected commercial activity, and it seems to have engulfed a number of other cult practices such as “the practice of magic, sorcery, and soothsaying” (Towner, Letters, 38). Needless to say, Timothy was not ministering in a culture founded on Judeo-Christian values. Ephesus had its own particular brand of sin and rebellion, but this doesn’t mean Paul’s instructions have no relevance for us today.
The many challenges facing Timothy and the church at Ephesus went beyond their immediate cultural context, as difficult as that context must have been. Consider some of the issues Paul addressed within the church: men and women needed to be instructed about their God-given roles and conduct in the church’s gathering, faithful elders and deacons needed to be identified and appointed, widows needed to be cared for properly, and the pursuit of wealth seemed to be a real temptation for some in the congregation. Does any of that sound familiar? Paul’s concerns could easily be copied and pasted into a list of issues the church continues to face in the twenty-first century.
As we mentioned earlier, the church at Ephesus was also dealing with the deadly serious problem of false teaching. Paul mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander as two individuals who had to be excommunicated, or removed, from the church for rejecting “faith and a good conscience” (1:19; see also 2 Tim 2:17). It’s not a good sign when two of your elders have to be taught not to blaspheme! We can’t be too precise with regard to the content of the false teaching, but Paul did give us some clues throughout the letter. Here is some of what we can piece together about the false teachers:
- They were straying in their doctrine (1:3).
- They were preoccupied with myths, genealogies, and speculation (1:4).
- They misused the law (1:7).
- They were apparently immoral (1:19-20).
- Their consciences were seared (4:2).
- They were forbidding marriage and certain foods (4:3).
- They craved controversy and quarrels (6:4).
- They were using godliness for material gain (6:5).
The false teachers in the Ephesian church may have been influenced by early seeds of a heresy that later became known as Gnosticism. This heresy came onto the scene in the second century AD after the writing of the New Testament. What seems more certain is that the false teaching in Ephesus had some strong Jewish elements. For example, the apostle mentioned that these teachers wanted to teach the law (1:7) and that they had an unhealthy interest in genealogies (1:4; Fee, Timothy, Titus, 41). Many commentators have seen similarities between the false teaching in 1 Timothy and what we see in a book like Colossians. Whatever the precise nature of the false teaching, we know it was dangerous because it diverted people from the truth of God’s Word. Paul even referred to such false teaching as demonic (4:1)! The church was not merely dealing with preferences for the style of music—the gospel itself was at stake.
Unfortunately, some Christians have gotten the wrong idea that a book like 1 Timothy is only relevant for the church staff. The urgent message it contains is sometimes passed over because the book is referred to as a “leader’s manual” for pastors. Now this is definitely a book pastors need to be intimately familiar with, so if you’re a pastor, 1 Timothy is certainly in the “must know” column. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore this book if you’re not in a position of church leadership.
Most people won’t say it aloud, but they may be thinking, “I know this book is important, but I’m not a pastor, so I should read something that applies to me.” Is that you? If so, let me urge you to rethink your perspective on 1 Timothy. Whether you minister by taking meals to homebound members or by seeking to evangelize unreached people groups, don’t ignore this important book. You might be missing more than you think. Consider just a few important questions addressed by Paul:
- How do Old Testament laws apply to Christians today? (chap. 1)
- Can women teach in the church? (chap. 2)
- Who is qualified to be an elder or a deacon? (chap. 3)
- How do I spot false teachers? (chap. 4)
- Which widows should the church support? (chap. 5)
- What should wealthy Christians do with their money? (chap. 6)
Anyone who professes to be a follower of Christ and who is a member of a local church—those two should always go together—needs to know what God has said about how the church is to function. Consider what Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:15, a verse that is integral to the message of the entire book: “But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
Did you catch that? This letter is all about how God’s people conduct themselves in God’s household, and Paul was not talking about our personal etiquette in the sanctuary. “God’s household” is the church, the gathered people of God. This letter was written so that we would know how to conduct ourselves when we come together as followers of Christ for worship and then when we spread out to serve the Lord throughout the week. This book clearly has relevance beyond church leaders. Its message is for every person and for every context.
As the “pillar and foundation of the truth,” the church of Jesus Christ has a weighty calling. But this is an infinitely glorious calling, and God’s grace and power are more than sufficient for the task.
A Glorious Greeting
1 Timothy 1:1-2
The church was God’s idea. That may sound obvious, but with the number of conferences, books, and magazines offering advice on how to “do church” today, it’s easy to forget the church is not ours to run. To be fair, some of the material out there is biblical and much needed; however, too much of the advice being offered today ignores the church’s marching orders given by King Jesus Himself. We dare not forget that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church (Col 1:18). Samuel J. Stone’s old hymn says it well:
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He founded it by His life, death, and resurrection, and since Pentecost He has continued to build it by His Spirit (Acts 2). Therefore, what matters most in the life of the church is not the church’s website or the latest statistics on what visitors are looking for in a worship experience. What matters most is what the Lord of the church has said.
The opening words of 1 Timothy demand our attention: “Paul, an apostle.” We tend to skim through the greetings of the New Testament as if these were throwaway verses. However, these greetings are so much more than a “Dear Joe” kind of formality. Paul, the author of this letter, was giving us his credentials as an apostle, which means we had better listen to what he said. We’re reminded that 1 Timothy is authoritative.
According to Acts 1:21-22, in order to be one of the original 12 apostles, an individual had to be present during the earthly ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John to his resurrection and ascension. Jesus sent these men, these eyewitnesses of His ministry, to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth, and several of them were even used to pen the Scriptures. In fact, every book of the New Testament is written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle. So instead of treating the opening of this or any other New Testament letter as trivial, our reaction should be just the opposite. We should pay close attention, for these are words given to us by a special representative of the King of the universe.
Unlike the other apostles Paul did not accompany Jesus during His earthly ministry, nor did he see the resurrected Lord before the ascension. But Paul did have a personal encounter with Jesus, an amazing account of God’s sovereign grace recorded in Acts 9. This former persecutor of the church was appointed to the ministry by Jesus Himself (1 Tim 1:12) as the last of the apostles (1 Cor 15:8). Paul would become the greatest missionary in the history of the church and the author of a significant portion of the New Testament. So the first thing that grabs our attention as we start reading through 1 Timothy is that it was written by an apostle.
Paul emphatically made his point about being an apostle when he said in verse 1 that his apostleship is “by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” Paul wasn’t elected by men. He was divinely appointed to be an authoritative representative of the risen and ruling Lord. We should not fail to mention that Paul ascribed this command of apostleship to both the Father and the Son. It is clear, then, that Paul assumed the deity of Jesus Christ, for we would be shocked to hear that a command came from God and the apostle John! This exalted view of the Son of God is also evident in verse 2, where we read that “grace, mercy, and peace” are given by “God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now to be clear, not everything an apostle said or wrote is authoritative. We only need to think of Paul having to confront Peter’s hypocrisy in Galatians 2 to make this point (Gal 2:11-14). Authority does not ultimately rest in a group of men, no matter how privileged their position may be. Rather, Scripture carries this authority, for as Paul told Timothy elsewhere, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16). Peter put it this way: “Men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). Men are not inerrant; God’s Word is. The apostles were fallible men whom God used to pen these inspired words. Therefore, the fundamental reason Timothy, the church at Ephesus, and everyone else since then needs to submit to this letter is because it was breathed out by God.
The fact that God’s Word is inspired and inerrant is not only a doctrine to be affirmed; it’s a firm foundation to stand on in a culture and a world that suppress and oppose the truth of God. When everything around us seems to be caving in, we need to hear God’s Word and submit to it, knowing that what God has said is true and good and right. We can imagine that Timothy may have been a little shaken by the issues he was facing in the church at Ephesus. Along with the daily pressures of pastoral ministry, he had to deal with false teachers who were undermining God’s Word. In this sense 1 Timothy is timely in that it was essential for Timothy because it dealt with issues he was facing.
Paul called Timothy “my true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Elsewhere Paul said something similar, demonstrating his affection for Timothy: “But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father” (Phil 2:22). Timothy traveled with Paul often as a fellow worker in the ministry, so the apostle knew him well. We have, then, a personal letter here from Paul to a younger brother in Christ.
It is also essential to see that Paul’s instructions here are meant for a wider audience than Timothy. As we saw in verse 1, Paul spoke as an apostle, and his words as recorded in Scripture bear the authority of God. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say that it is essential for every pastor to hear these instructions. The issues that arise in Ephesus are not confined to one time and place, for sin has continued to rear its ugly head ever since the fall in Genesis 3. In fact, we can go even further and say that 1 Timothy is essential for every follower of Christ. All of us need to know what God has said about how we relate to Him and to one another in the church. The fact that God chose to include this letter in the Bible means it is relevant for every child of God. First Timothy is God’s Word to all of us.
We shouldn’t bypass this opening greeting without recognizing that 1 Timothy is filled with hope. Yes, this inspired letter is authoritative and timely as it deals with a number of difficult issues in the church, but it’s also full of gospel hope. This is apparent right from the start in verse 1 when Paul referred to “God our Savior.” Paul was not sent by some nameless deity. He reminded Timothy and all who hear this letter that the God he serves is the saving God of the Scriptures. So we are reminded at the outset of the letter that God is our Savior.
In the next phrase we see more good news. Paul was sent not only by “God our Savior” but by “Christ Jesus our hope.” What an encouraging reminder at the beginning of a letter that deals with so many difficult and thorny issues. Christ Jesus is our hope! Surely Paul intended for us to think on the hope that is ours based on Christ’s death and resurrection. He is, as Paul said later, the “one mediator between God and humanity” (2:5). Paul also talked about the “mystery of godliness” as it relates to Jesus Christ:
He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (3:16)
While 1 Timothy contains a number of exhortations and commands, we can’t forget that Paul gave his instructions in the context of the gospel. This precious gospel should come to mind when we read the close of Paul’s greeting: “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1:2). Again, this is one of those portions of the greeting we tend to pass over lightly, but consider what is being said here. God’s dealings with His people are full of grace, mercy, and peace. That’s good news for those who are still battling sin, which is all of us.
Neither Timothy nor the church at Ephesus was being called to “clean up their act” in order to gain God’s favor. For that matter, neither are we as followers of Christ today called to appease a perfectly just and holy God through our obedience. God Himself has decisively dealt with sin in the cross of His dear Son (Rom 8:3), thus securing for us an eternal and unshakable hope. On this basis God addresses us. Conducting ourselves rightly in God’s household is made possible only by God’s grace. Yes, it is imperative that we obey God’s Word and conform to His will, for saving faith always produces spiritual fruit. But true, God-honoring obedience is always rendered in the context of a loving relationship made possible by the gospel. The close of Paul’s greeting in verse 2 reminds us that grace, mercy, and peace are gifts. In the remainder of chapter 1 Paul will continue to reflect on the mercy he has been shown, a mercy that serves as a demonstration of Christ’s “extraordinary patience” (1:16; see 1:13).
Reflect and Discuss
- Which false doctrines seem to be the biggest threat to your church and to Christians you know?
- Why did Paul call Timothy his “son”? Do you have any children or siblings “in the faith” who seem closer than your blood relatives?
- What are the greatest cultural changes facing the church today?
- How do the eight aspects of false teaching on page 4 distract believers from growing in Christ? How do they interfere with evangelism?
- What leadership roles do you fill in your church or your home? How can studying 1 Timothy guide you in these roles and opportunities?
- What is the danger when a church identifies more with a dynamic pastor than with the truths of God’s Word? How can that mind-set be avoided?
- What qualified Paul to write Scripture?
- How does the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture form the foundation of all other Christian theology?
- How can a letter from a mentor to his student find application to all leaders and members of churches through the ages?
- In what specific ways might you pray for the leader of your church?