1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope.
2 I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith.
May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace. – 1 Timothy 1:1-2 ESV
Timothy was Paul’s disciple. He had evidently been led to the Lord by Paul during one of his missionary travels to Lystra. During Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy accompanied him to the cities of Troas, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. Timothy was a part of Paul’s third missionary journey to the city of Ephesus and was sent by Paul to minister on his own in the region of Macedonia. This young man also made it to Rome while Paul was there under house arrest. He was well-traveled and well-respected by Paul, having earned the apostle’s trust.
Paul had sent him to the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering when he received this first letter from Paul. Timothy had evidently written Paul, sharing his desire to return to his side and accompany him in his ministry. But Paul was going to break the news to Timothy that he was needed right where he was. In fact, verse three tells us that when Paul and Timothy went to Ephesus on that third missionary journey, Paul went on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind with a job to do.
When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. – 1 Timothy 1:3 NLT
By this time in the story of the spread of the Gospel, there were churches all over that area of the world. The Good News was spreading fast and people were coming to faith in Christ at an incredible rate. The problem was that there were too few men equipped to minister to the large numbers of churches springing up. There were infant believers everywhere and no one to lead and feed them.
Despite his zeal and high capacity for work, Paul couldn’t do it all. Much of his time had been spent in prison or under house arrest. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, and there were no seminaries churning out pastors and teachers. There were no schools raising up and equipping elders for the local churches. Yet there seemed to be no shortage of false teachers and ill-informed individuals with potentially destructive viewpoints on a wide range of topics. So, Paul turned to Timothy. Yes, he was young and inexperienced, but he was needed. Knowing that this young man was probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand, Paul reminded him what the true purpose of all biblical instruction should be.
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. – 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT
Paul’s letters to Timothy have less to do with the teaching of doctrine than the defense of it. The content is practical, not theological. Paul wants Timothy to know how to encourage the believers in Ephesus toward true life change, marked by a love that manifests itself in daily life. Paul is looking for practical expressions of love. He knows that there are three things that will prevent that from happening in any believer’s life: An impure heart, a conscience that is burdened by shame, and a lack of trust in God.
This is basic stuff. It trumps a head full of theology and doctrine every time. But Paul warns Timothy, “some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT).
Somewhere along the way, they had become obsessed with things that were not resulting in increased faith and love. Debating had replaced serving. Controversy had become more popular than showing mercy and expressing love to one another. Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus, “some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following: (Acts 20:30 NLT). He went on to say that these “false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 NLT).
The main problem seemed to have revolved around incorrect teaching regarding the law of Moses. There were those who were presenting their interpretations of the law and its application to the lives of believers, and their instructions were wreaking havoc on the health of the church. Their focus was not on increasing the love and faith of the people of God, but on being seen as experts on the topic at hand.
Paul told Timothy, “they want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). These individuals were cocky and confident, assured that their view was the right one. And all this discussion and debate was causing confusion and conflict within the church. Paul reminded Timothy that love should be the primary motivation for any teacher of the Word of God. Teaching that does not edify and instruction that does not increase faith is misapplied and misses the point. Debating doctrine is useless if it fails to foster more love for God and others. If it doesn’t produce increased devotion to and dependence on God, it’s a waste of time.
That is why the church at Ephesus needed Timothy, and the church today needs men and women who understand that increasing the love and faith of the people of God is the primary responsibility of those who teach the Word of God. Knowledge alone is not enough. It produces pride. Doctrine by itself is insufficient. It can become sterile and little more than head knowledge. Theology, even that which is sound and biblically based, is incomplete if it does not result in more love and greater faith.
Paul was in need of assistance, so he turned to his young protégé, Timothy. This relatively inexperienced spiritual novice was a work in process, but he represented the next generation of spiritual leadership for the rapidly growing church. Paul knew that the future health of the body of Christ would require new leadership. One man could not keep up with the explosive growth of Christianity. There were too many fledgling congregations popping up all over the place and not enough qualified men to lead them. So, Paul took it upon himself to train and prepare the next wave of missionaries and pastors who would minister to the flock of Jesus Christ.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.