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‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ (Psalm 119:105, ESV) Thank God that his light still shines on the path of wayward Christians.
1 Timothy 11Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2To Timothy my true son in the faith:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Warning Against False Teachers of the Law3As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. 5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. 8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
Truth or love
Which is more important for the church: truth or love? Which feels more important to you? Compare verses 3 and 5 for Paul’s answer: neither! In Scripture, truth and love are inseparable. Paul charges Timothy to ‘command’ the false teachers to stop; but his goal in this is not to win the argument or have his ego massaged, but love. The goal is that through the unrivalled teaching of God’s truth, a community of love would be built, one that is pure and kind and sincere. We all want that in our churches, but do we recognise that the love of God means love of his truth, and love of his truth includes opposing falsehood?
The false teachers in Ephesus probably had leadership roles within the church. What they were teaching seems to have been tied up with spurious interpretations of Old Testament texts (vs 4,7), secret spiritual insight (6:20), asceticism (4:3), and possibly legalism (1:8). They taught that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18). Perhaps this was an early ‘health and wealth’ gospel of the initiated few receiving all God’s blessings now. What should you do if you’ve come across this kind of teaching recently?
The list in verses 9 and 10 follows the Ten Commandments, the Creator’s pattern for lives filled with love for God and neighbour. Ask God to give you a ‘pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith’ from which this love comes (v 5).
When he came upon the Ephesian church in disarray, Paul trusted Timothy, who had been ministering with him for over ten years (see Acts 16:1–3), to remain there and continue restoring it to health. Among other things, that meant: silencing those teaching false doctrines and their supporters; appointing new leaders in place of those deposed by Paul; unscrambling a messy situation over widows; and keeping himself on track while stressed and isolated.
1 Timothy is different from most of Paul’s letters in getting straight to business (there is no extended thanksgiving). It also might not have been intended for reading in gathered worship, with just some sections to be shown to relevant people (eg 3:1–13; 5:7). The epistle has a thoroughly practical character. In interpreting it for our own times, we must keep in mind that it is addressed to someone having to exercise godly authority to restore a church to health: the ‘letter brought the young leader instructions for providing first aid to a traumatised congregation – exceptional measures for a critical situation’.1 Significant and unusually authoritative intervention has been necessary. We must take care not to normalise an abnormal situation. For example, the epistle recommends restrictions on our freedom in Christ for the purpose of restoring order (eg ch 2). We may ask, once order is restored, what next? Is the freedom in Christ proclaimed by Galatians 3:26–29 to be lost for ever because things got out of hand for a while in Ephesus?
There’s a danger of using the text to answer questions it’s not addressing and are way beyond its scope (such as finding a biblical basis for church order on three words 1 Timothy uses for leaders). Read in context, however, as wise advice for a church restoration project, we find – at least – the following principles that always apply: focus on truth; get people praying and listening to healthy teaching; appoint leaders whose characters have been tested; and work on arrangements that can be seen to be fair for all.
1 Gilbert Bilezkian, Community 101, Zondervan, 1997, p108Mike Archer
Paul, an apostle by the command of God (v 1), urges Timothy to continue his work of restoring the church in Ephesus. When Paul commands Timothy he uses the same word throughout the letter (1:3,5,18; 5:7; 6:13,17). Its root meaning is ‘to transmit a message’. Authority is to be exercised by Timothy through making public commands in Paul’s name, commanding false teachers to be silent
Why is this necessary? Passing through on his way to Macedonia, Paul found God’s household in Ephesus in a mess (1 Tim 3:15). Key leaders have been teaching differently (v 3, literally), that is, not in accordance with the ‘sound’ teaching (v 10) that comes from the good news entrusted to Paul. Paul gives us few details of that different teaching. ‘Myths’ (v 4) may be idiomatic usage for far-fetched stories about the gods of Olympus. ‘Endless genealogies’ might refer to speculations about lineage from the Pentateuch, perhaps to justify a right to Levitical heritage1 and explaining the desire to be ‘teachers of the law’ (v 7). The Law, Paul insists, has nothing to say to those made righteous by faith (vs 9–11).
This reconstruction is tentative, not least because a letter between two close friends assumes common knowledge and Paul doesn’t spell this out. What’s clear is the impact on the church: controversy, disunity and devotion to meaningless talk, rather than a ‘stewardship of God in faith’ (v 4, literally). Restoring this stewardship is at the heart of Timothy’s commission. It might be best understood as pursuing God’s ordering of things.2 Sometimes there is no alternative: a line between truth and error has to be drawn, for to do anything else is to collude with darkness; no compromise is possible. Where might you be facing such a choice?1 PH Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Eerdmans, 2006, p109–110
2 Towner, p113Mike Archer
The three letters – 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – are known as pastoral epistles because they are largely taken up with advice given by a mature pastor to younger men who in turn would be training others for the pastoral office.
Timothy’s father was a Greek but his mother Jewish. He was converted at about the age of 15 when the apostle Paul visited his home town of Lystra (Acts 16:1–3); 1 Timothy 1:2). Seven years later he became Paul’s missionary companion and there developed a strong bond of friendship between Paul, who was now about 70 years of age, and his younger colleague.
After his first imprisonment Paul visited, amongst other places, Ephesus and, not being able to stay there for very long, he left Timothy in charge of the work. Timothy found being left on his own a sore trial because he had leaned heavily on Paul for counsel. By nature he was rather shy and sensitive. Paul wrote to him from Corinth to encourage him and give him some advice.
The key verse is 3:15. Paul was keen to see his young spiritual son measure up to his responsibilities as a Christian leader. He was anxious that in every respect Timothy would set an example to the Christians who looked to him for leadership (1 Timothy 4:12).
There are several words and phrases which are only found in the pastoral epistles, such as ‘God my Saviour’ (1 Timothy 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10,13; 3:4) and references to ‘sayings’ worthy of special note (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9,10; 2 Timothy 2:11–13; Titus 3:8). Christian workers have consistently found the pastoral epistles to be a source of encouragement and practical advice.
Taken from The Bible in Outline (SU, 1985)
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