Date: 10 Mar 2019
Text: 1 Timothy 1:1-11
I spent my first year at Bible College at Moorlands in Dorset. Shortly before I arrived they had opened a brand new library that contained well in excess of 30000 books on every theological and ministry subject that you can think of as well as some that you probably can’t! Many of those books covered the subject of being a Pastor with plenty of advice on what the role consists of and how to fulfil that role. However, despite all those books the Principal was at pains to remind all new students that the main “source” or “text” book for the College was the Bible and it is the Word of God that contains everything that anyone needs to know about God and how to serve Him.
That applies especially to the three books 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus which are known collectively as the Pastoral Epistles since they contain Paul’s advice to Timothy and Titus, two of his long term helpers, on how to behave and perform as Pastors. Text books may come and go but the Word of God will also endure forever. We should never lose sight of the fact that, as the writer to the Hebrews said, “Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8), and His Word will endure for ever.
Now whilst the first Epistle to Timothy contains advice on being a Pastor it also contains useful guidance for everyone, not just Pastors, and I want to explore that advice over the next few sermons.
Since the Epistle is addressed to Timothy it is worth beginning by asking, who was Timothy? We first meet him by name in Acts 16:1 when Paul was in Lystra during his first missionary journey. However, whilst he isn’t mentioned by name, it seems possible that Timothy may well have been present when Paul preached in the synagogue at Lystra, an event that is mentioned in Acts 14:6-7. It is also possible, although not confirmed, that Timothy was one of those who witnessed Paul being stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:19). Such events could well have had a profound effect on the young Timothy and may well have helped in his becoming a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. Timothy’s mother was a Jewess whilst his father was Greek. We know from 2 Timothy 1:5, that Timothy’s grandmother was Lois and his mother was Eunice and Paul tells us in that verse that Timothy’s “sincere faith” “first lived” in them and now lives in Timothy. I think it is safe to assume from that that they both had a great influence over Timothy given that he seems to have had a good understanding of the scriptures and as Paul tells us, “The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him” (Acts 16:2). I think we can take “brothers” to mean fellow believers in Jesus Christ! Although it isn’t stated explicitly it may be possible that it was Paul who led Timothy to faith in Jesus Christ. Whether that was the case doesn’t really matter since they certainly had a close relationship since Paul refers to Timothy as, “my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 4:17). Later in 2 Timothy 2:1 Paul again refers to Timothy as “his son”. The bond between them was obviously very strong and the feeling that I get is that Paul trusted Timothy enormously and relied on him a great deal.
The letter itself was probably written by Paul in 64 AD either from Rome or Philippi shortly before his final imprisonment and it was written to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding area.
Paul opens the letter in his regular way by identifying himself and sending his usual greetings in the form of, “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1:2). Notice that in 1:1, Paul makes it clear exactly what his credentials are by reminding Timothy that he was called by Jesus Christ Himself. He writes in the opening verse that he was, “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope”. We already know that he was an Apostle appointed by Christ Himself as a result of that incredible encounter on the road to Damascus. We also know that under the Lord’s instruction Paul was cared for by Ananias and when a very worried Ananias questioned that request, the Lord told him, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) Given that, I don’t really think that Ananias could argue.
Now I realise that some of you may remember all of that but I think it is always worth being reminded of how God’s plan unfolded. Jesus didn’t just come into the world for the Jews but for everyone without exception. Paul was His chosen Apostle to help spread the good news among the Gentile world; not exclusively though as he was also likely to meet and speak to Jews wherever he went. However, Paul’s main ministry was among Gentiles and Timothy, as his protégé, followed suit.
It is when we get to 1:3 that Paul gets down to the nitty gritty! In the next few verses he urges Timothy to remain in Ephesus and continue his work there. By this time Paul had already gone to Macedonia and left Timothy in Ephesus. For reasons that become obvious Paul wanted Timothy to remain in Ephesus and to continue the work there. That work was quite simple; he had to combat the false teachers who were active in the city and the region.
Throughout his ministry Paul had this ongoing battle with false teachers; those who taught that there were other gods; that there was another way to heaven; that there was another way to come to know God Himself. Paul of course knew that that thinking was wrong and warped. Paul had been taught by Christ Himself in the period following his amazing conversion, and so he was also familiar with events during Jesus’ life. He knew that during one particular encounter with His disciples, Jesus had told them that He had to go away but that “You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:4). Thomas, being Thomas, said to Jesus that they didn’t know where He was going so how could they know the way. Jesus replied in those famous verses in John 14:6-7, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
Paul knew and believed that and he shared that belief throughout his ministry. The problem he faced on repeated occasions was that others were teaching that it was possible to come to know God through any number of other routes and not necessarily only through Jesus Christ.
Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus as his representative and as Pastor of the church. Now Timothy faced this seemingly never ending problem of false teachers spreading a different message and Paul wanted to encourage him in that battle. These people were teaching what Paul describes as “false doctrines” (1:3). Timothy was to warn and admonish those teaching these false doctrines and command them to desist. The basic Christian doctrines are unchanging; they were established during Jesus’ earthly ministry and have not changed since. We are all sinners; sin must be paid for in blood, which, without repentance, generally meant death; Christ was born as God’s Son, was crucified at Calvary and rose again on the third day. He died in our place to pay the price for our sins. All who accept Him by faith as their Lord and Saviour are forgiven their sins and receive the gifts of new life in Him and eternal life in paradise with Him. It is all down to faith as Paul makes clear at the end of 1:4. Nothing else is needed and there is no other way to receive salvation and forgiveness no matter what the false teachers may have been saying, nor what they may say today.
Ephesus was facing a similar problem to that experienced in Colossae; to be acceptable to God people needed to discover certain knowledge and worship angels. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae on this very subject and said to them, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) Later in the same chapter he added, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you.” (Colossians 2:18) Sadly the people in Ephesus were now in danger of travelling down that same road.
The people in Ephesus believed that other philosophies could aid them in their quest for salvation. In order to achieve that they came up with stories and myths based on Old Testament history or genealogies. They also made great use of non-Biblical Jewish writings and may have over emphasised their importance. These false teachings frequently led to discussions and arguments which moved their thinking further and further away from the truth of Jesus Christ. Spending time on these discussions and arguments prevented people from having enough time to spend on studying scripture and learning the truths of the gospel, and that failure led to their not building up their faith in Christ. Paul describes these false teachings and studies as “promoting controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work” (1:4). The writer to the Hebrews also warned of such a problem when he wrote, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace...” (Hebrews 13:9)
Similar things are happening today where new groups and ‘religions’ are formed claiming that they know that more is needed to come to know God; that there is more than one route to faith. Many of these groups are really only promoting the ego and expertise of their leaders who claim to know more and to have special powers. Just in case you think I may be exaggerating let me share with you a story that I read in last Tuesday’s (05 Mar 2019) Times. It seems that a Pastor in Johannesburg raised a man from the dead in front of a crowd of worshippers. The man was lying in his coffin when the Pastor laid hands on him and he suddenly sat up. This was apparently the latest in a long line of so called miracles by this Pastor that have been shown on-line. Some of the worshippers at these events have at various times shown their devotion by paying huge sums of money or performing extreme challenges to demonstrate their faith. The Pastor concerned did later admit that the ‘dead’ man had been breathing when he placed his hands upon him. However, he is quoted as saying that he had “completed a miracle started by God”! It was further reported that the ‘dead’ man had been involved in an earlier ‘miracle’ when posing as a disabled person sat in a wheelchair. After being hit on the legs by a “holy stick”, the man got up and walked. None of these are miracles; they are the false teachings of someone out to make money and they bring dishonour to God and His love. I’ve no doubt that similar things may well have been happening in Ephesus.
Such thinking and actions are wrong; there is only one way to faith and knowing God and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ, and that is what Paul wanted Timothy to focus on.
Paul wanted Timothy to keep his message pure and full of love; the love that God has for us all. The love that we have comes from having a pure heart. Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We keep our hearts pure by being devoted to God and keeping our focus on Jesus rather than the things of the world. We also need a good and clear conscience which we can only get by confessing any previously unconfessed sins and by doing things not for our own pride or personal gain but simply to serve the Lord. We must also have a “sincere faith”; that is a faith in Jesus Christ alone and not simply in our own abilities. We can do nothing without Him and we certainly can’t love in the way that we are urged to if we do not have that sincere faith.
Paul is anxious in 1:6-7 to remind Timothy that there were those who had “departed from these”; that is, departed from the love, pure heart and good conscience that are essential for following and serving the Lord. Instead they had “turned to meaningless talk” (1:6) which the Amplified Bible translates as saying that they had “wandered away into vain arguments and discussions and purposeless talk”. We all need to be careful and avoid doing the same. It is all too easy to drift off into hypothetical and pointless discussions that pull us away from God’s Word.
Following on from that Paul makes it very clear that whilst these people wanted to be “teachers of the law” they didn’t know what they were talking about and had simply built their teaching on a minimal understanding of scripture. They may have either been Gentiles with only a vague understanding of scripture, the Pentateuch in particular, or Jews who didn’t know too much but wanted people to respect them as great teachers and leaders. Both sets of people were of course, wrong! For anyone to teach God’s Word they first need to be called by God and then thoroughly learn His Word, just as Paul had done.
Following his regular opening of a letter Paul doesn’t beat about the bush but gets straight to the heart of the matter; the issue of false teachers. Whichever of Paul’s letters we read we will always find references to those who were false teachers; people who were teaching that faith in Christ wasn’t enough; that more was needed. Or they taught that there was another way to salvation other than through faith in Christ. Both philosophies were wrong and Paul’s main emphasis in these early verses was to urge Timothy to work against these false teachers and teach the one, true gospel.
This problem of false teaching wasn’t only a problem in Paul’s time but still exists today and we all need to be on our guard to avoid such teaching by having faith in and following Jesus Christ and Him alone.