We've reviewed the background of Paul's first letter to Timothy who was a young preacher working at the church in Ephesus which seemed to be embroiled in controversy over heretical teachers promoting "Gnostic" ideas. Gnosticism was a mixture of concepts and practices taken from philosophy, pagan mysticism, Judaism and Christianity which were brought together to form a new, and as some thought, superior form of doctrine replacing the gospel which Paul had originally taught these brethren.
Paul writes to Timothy with his own mix of encouragement, challenge and teaching in order to help him confront these false teachers, organize the church and prepare it for service in peaceful harmony.
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, 2To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Vs. 1 - Paul introduces himself as an Apostle of Jesus, in the circle of the 12, by the command of both God and Jesus. This establishes his authority, his teachings and the source of both. Very early in the letter he introduces the idea that Christ is our hope, worthy of our trust (as opposed to trusting in some sort of secret knowledge or teachers).
Vs. 2 - He establishes the credibility and integrity of Timothy, the recipient of the letter whom Paul blesses. The idea of a "true child" not only denotes their closeness but also the fact that Timothy was trusted to represent Paul in spiritual matters as well. The blessing that he gives includes:
- Grace – favor or good things like past forgiveness and a future hope of heaven.
- Mercy – pity, help, compassion.
- Peace – harmony between God and man, as well as peace between men themselves.
With his opening lines Paul does the following:
- Declares his own inspired authority which is derived from God Himself.
- Confirms Timothy's charge to teach.
- Offers a blessing on the evangelist and the ministry he must fulfill at Ephesus.
This letter has the same charge to preachers today, giving them the same authority to instruct, correct and build up the church as it did for Timothy when it was first sent to him.
Paul and Timothy (1:3-20)
Paul's Charge to Timothy
Paul now turns to address Timothy directly and charge (challenge) him concerning the carrying out of his ministry, especially concerning the false doctrine being taught at Ephesus.
3As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,
Timothy is reminded of his original charge to instruct certain men not to teach other doctrines (than had been taught by the Apostles). Some (Gnostic teachers) were straying from the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and Timothy was to rebuke them for this and demand that they stop spreading their false ideas.
4nor 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.
He gives a brief description of the type of teaching not to listen to and reminds Timothy that godly teaching is restricted to matters that develop faith and knowledge of God's word.
Paul makes a brief reference about myths and endless genealogies. These Jewish myths were not part of the inspired Scriptures but rather a kind of speculation regarding genealogies found in Gnostic genealogical tables. These discussions did not produce the spiritual virtues that Paul mentions in the following verse:
5But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
The 'acid' test for the teaching of true and godly doctrine was the development of love as a direct result of that teaching. The 'fruit' of proper teaching from true teachers, Paul says, will be:
- Pure heart – A clear mind and unwavering heart.
- Good conscience – One whose conscience is clear because of trust in God's grace and a righteous lifestyle.
- Sincere faith – A solid faith and assurance nourished by God's word, not secret knowledge.
Debates, pride and division are not the fruit of solid teaching from approved teachers.
6For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,
Some teachers who were on the right path have been distracted, Paul says, and have been caught up in this false teaching. They have "turned aside" means that they have left Christ's teaching in order to champion this new knowledge which Paul says is simply a waste of time.
7wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.
It seems that the Gnostic teachers' desire was to become something other than "Christ-like." The "Teachers of the Law" refers to rabbis of the Jewish religion. The Gnostic teachers wanted to assume this type of position and thus create a role of authority for themselves within the church. "Teachers of the Law" were not the same as Judaizers or the Circumcision Party who taught that you had to become a Jew and therefore be circumcised before you could become a Christian. This teaching was contrary to what Jesus required and taught by the Apostles (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16).
"Teachers of the Law" in this case referred to those at Philippi who were using certain ascetic practices found in the Jewish Law such as food or marriage restrictions as part of their Gnostic doctrines over which they became the teachers, arbitrators or "Christian" rabbis.
8But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,
Paul, the former Pharisee and expert in these matters, explains that the Law was given for specific purposes but in certain cases could be used incorrectly. These Gnostic teachers had formulated a new doctrine which was foreign to apostolic teaching in that they were binding certain aspects of the Law on Christians, and this was incorrect.
9arealizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person,
Paul, therefore, goes on to explain some of the proper uses for the Law (i.e. Ten Commandments and the ordinances contained in the Old Testament).
- To reveal the nature of sin (Romans 3:20b; 7:7)
- To reveal the punishment for sin (Romans 6:23)
- To reveal God's justice (obey - live, disobey - die).
The Law was never given as a means to justify oneself before God; it was designed to reveal our unrighteousness and our need for God's forgiveness and mercy.
9bbut for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10aand immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers,
Paul continues to show that the Law is not directed at those who are saved. Christians are under the principle of grace, not the principle of law.
- Under the principle of grace God repeatedly forgives our sins, bears with our weaknesses, promises to transform us into perfect spiritual beings at the resurrection, and asks that we trust in Christ and remain faithful unto death.
- Under the principle of law if you sin once, you are condemned. Anything less than perfection is unacceptable. You are saved and receive glory only if you do not sin.
Paul, therefore, emphasizes the fact that Christians are not under law because the Law is designed for godless, unrepentant, ignorant sinners. He then goes on to give examples of the type of people that the Law will judge:
- Lawless – those who know the Law but act without concern for it.
- Disobedient – rebellious individuals, spoiled, undisciplined. Those who refuse to obey the Law.
- Ungodly – those who are irreverent, impious and without respect for spiritual things.
- Sinners – wicked, evil and immoral.
- Unholy – totally devoted to the world.
- Profane – those who ridicule spiritual or holy things.
- Murderers of parents – self-explanatory.
- Man slayers – aggressive, violent, unkind, oppressors.
- Immoral persons – all kinds of sexual sins.
- Sodomites – translated into English as homosexuals but the Bible has no word for homosexual therefore it simply describes the actions involved in these unions.
- Kidnappers – slave traders.
- Liars – hypocrites, dishonest (I John 2:4; 4:20).
- Perjurers – being false with the intent to injure someone else; not keeping vows.
This is not a complete list of sins but rather a representation of the kinds of people and sins that the Law will reveal, condemn, judge and then punish.
10band whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted
Paul completes this section by saying that aside from this list of sins, God will condemn and punish those who teach anything else other than the gospel given by Christ and taught by the Apostles.
The point he makes here is that any system of philosophy or religion which promotes another way to come into communion with God, other than salvation obtained through faith in Jesus Christ, will be judged/condemned and punished under the Law as something sinful.
Paul, in his charge to Timothy, confirms the idea that only the gospel, given by God to Christ who then taught it to the Apostles, is valid teaching. In saying this Paul makes two important points:
- He establishes Timothy and his teachings as legitimately coming from God.
- He condemns the teachings and teachers of Gnostic ideas as false.
1. Nothing changes
2000 years after this letter was written the sins are exactly the same, the punishment is exactly the same and the way of salvation is exactly the same. However, there continues to be various solutions to the sin problem offered today that still keep God and the cross of Christ out of the equation.
2. The gospel is our only response
I'm not ashamed of the gospel for it's the power of God unto salvation.
- Romans 1:16
There are many young Timothys in today's generation who are insecure in their faith thinking that they are no match for the slick atheists of our time or the apologists who embrace a universal spirituality with no reference to Christ. There is, however, nothing new here or changed since the beginning. We still have the same cast of sinners, unbelievers and religious frauds who promise heaven without the cross of Christ and lead the ignorant into greater darkness.
We don't need to prove anything to atheists or disprove anything to those who have another religion. Our task, like Timothy's, is to simply proclaim the gospel and live our lives faithfully in order to confirm that we actually believe what we preach.
The temptation to out-smart or out-debate atheists or to deconstruct everyone else's ideas about religion or spirituality are the devil's way of immobilizing us with the fear of ridicule and self-doubt.
We've been sent to proclaim and explain our faith, not other people's ideas about religion. Paul wasn't ashamed because he knew that the gospel message itself had the innate power to reach everyone from the pious Jew to the most worldly Gentile.
As Christians we have only one response to questions, challenges and ridicule, and that is the simple message of the gospel proclaimed in love. If we have answered in this way, we have fulfilled the charge given to us by Christ to preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).