notre dame montreal

First letter of Timothy Chapter 1



Paul is writing to Timothy in Ephesus. Ephesus was a religious centre in Asia. Its harbour was silting and so it was in decline but nevertheless it had the temple of Diana (Artemis) the goddess of fertility, one of the seven wonders of the world. This was a tourist attraction selling souvenirs. It was full of all the expected fertility practices and Paul trusts Timothy and wants him to sort out some of the troubles which were going on. The problems were associated with false teaching and Paul condemns wrong, gives advice for dealing with it and calls the church to consider. The purpose of the letter is in 3:15.

The church is both

  • a monument (pillar)
  • an upholder (ground) of truth.

It is the truth of Christ which builds up the church and which the church displays. Are we concerned about truth? There are many people giving us God's last word on a variety of issues from birth control to state education. Obey the bible we are sometimes told.

Unfortunately the bible was written two thousand years ago to a country the size of Wales. In vitro fertilisation, cloning of Dolly the sheep and so many other issues we face today would be unimaginable. It is clearly not a simple matter of following the bible.

The Bishop of Edinburgh recently castigated those who treat the Bible as some sort of manual running for texts. I think we have to be careful but he has a point. We don't do as the Bible says on a whole range of things such as stoning people who work on Sundays, so we have to be careful about simply taking out the bits we like.

It is worth noting the sorts of issues and the sorts of people who do like to pull out bible quotes. We see it with religious bigots in Northern Ireland all the time, we see it with those who want homosexuals banned from church. We see it also from those who want to attack the role of women in church, so often it is to confirm positions of hatred.

We have to have a method or model for interpreting the Bible and understanding it for today. The Devil tempted Jesus by quoting verse! Texts can say just about anything. The abomination of apartheid as practised in South Africa, was justified in the churches by the use of certain proof texts in the Old Testament which speak about racial discrimination—like Leviticus 20:22-24.

Timothy was in a church where teachers claimed to know all sorts of things and had the texts to prove it! So in the search for truth what are the important issues?

1. We are always to seek out Apostolic tradition—the teaching passed to us by the apostles. We must shun other doctrine.
2. Paul wants an end to endless discussion (There goes 50% of Anglican training).

What are we to seek instead? Faith love a pure heart and a clean conscience—a genuine faith. It is only when we read in love and faith that we can get through the misunderstanding. It is these two principles which Paul seeks to stress. They are timeless. They look for guidance not in pat answers or slick quoting of verses, whipped out of context before anybody can guess where they came from.

Guidance comes from standing in the presence of God. We all have appetites which can be good or bad. Baby foods are very interesting because they are now sugar and salt free to try to educate babies appetite. So Paul is trying to change the appetites of his readers. He wants to steer them away from things which are bad like gossip and idleness and instead cultivate faith in Christ.

Verse 1 Paul begins by calling himself an apostle He does this especially in letters in which his authority is in question or requires additional weight. In more personal letters he uses the word 'servant'. Timothy does not need reminding, rather it is for the benefit of the false teachers that he makes this statement about his status as an Apostle. He will require Timothy to take action and he reminds Timothy that he is acting under God's command. This is a military term which Paul is using, the orders given to a soldier. It is worth mentioning the greeting which Paul gives which is 'grace mercy and peace' Paul transformed the Greek greeting chairein (Greetings!), into Charis, which meant grace, He then brought it alongside the Hebrew geeting Shalom (Peace). So for Paul · Grace comes from God · through Christ · and issues in Peace.

Verse 2 Timothy is called 'my true child'. It is nice to think that this is a personal touch, Timothy's father was a Gentile and his mother a Jewess. So according to Jewish teaching he was illegitimate. So here he is given status. Timothy was a fellow worker with Paul. In Philippians 2:19-24 Paul speaks in favourable terms about Timothy.

Verse 3 Here Paul launches into the subject matter without words or thanksgiving. There is only one other letter of Paul which does not have a thanksgiving... first one to find it! (Galatians). Here he launches directly into an immediate problem of deserting truth and going to a different gospel. Paul probably felt that what was going on in the church was no cause for thanksgiving, so he omitted it! Instead of thanksgiving Paul launches into an attack on the church and the problem- false teachers. The whole letter is a response to false teaching. It is probable that these false teachers were not outsiders but elders in the church.. This seems to be supported by 1:19-20 where two of them are named and excommunicated from the fellowship, Hymenaeus and Alexander. verse 7 also indicates that they were insiders. They presumed to be teachers of the law.—a responsibility of elders (5:17, 3:2) What is false teaching today ? What should our response be?

Verse 4 Examples are shown here, 'myths and endless genealogies' We do not know exactly what this included but we can say that it concerned speculation and endless talk which went nowhere. Probably there was some Jewish influence in this. If I had to look for a modern parallel it would have to be horoscopes.

Verse 5 The false teaching is involved in speculation (v4), and endless talk (v 6) and ultimately led the church into quarrels (6:4-5). Instead Paul wanted to see love, a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. The conscience is an interesting thing. It can either be defiled and warped and excuse the very worst thing, like genocide of the Jews and apartheid. Or it can be brought under the love of God to be purified. By faith Paul means three things,

  1. Trust in God
  2. Faithfulness
  3. The content of Christian belief.

Verse 6 Some have wandered away form this pattern. In Ephesus they were not concerned with preaching the crucified Christ but rather wanted to be teachers of the law. Of course Paul was a brilliant Rabbi and knew the Jewish scriptures better than any of them and said that they did not know what they were talking about. I can imagine him being a little less than patient with folk today about some of the issues which we discuss. Is it possible to wander away from the Gospel? Can you think of any examples? Did they think that they were perverting the gospel of Christ when they did it? (Galatians 1:7-8) How can Paul be so cruel as to call down curses? What do we think about the service of commination?

Verse 8-12 Paul seems to think that Christians do not need the law as they are not the ungodly ones. Do you agree that it is only the perverts who need the law? The Christian should of course be under a different kind of law, and this is that found in Galatians 5.

Verse 12-18 We are told about Paul

Verse 15 This is worth noting because it shows the desire of Paul always for evangelism and outreach.

Verse 18-end if someone is delivered up to Satan then we can assume that this means that they are delivered out of the environment of the church. They are not banned from heaven rather kept out of God's environment until they repented. Paul sees bad teaching and bad learning to lie at the heart of much of the trouble in the church. When a Christian or a church ceases to want to study the things of God then there will be a breakdown in the church. The further away from God we become the less we want to study the word of God which will condemn us.


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