3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. – 1 Timothy 1:3-11 ESV
The book of Acts records that Timothy accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey, including a lengthy stay in the city of Ephesus. During their time there, Timothy was able to witness his mentor ministering to the Jewish residents of this prosperous Roman city. And, as usual, Paul’s efforts met with mixed results.
Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord. – Acts 19:8-10 NLT
Timothy had a front-row seat to Paul’s zealous preaching and teaching ministry in the bustling environs of this cosmopolitan melting pot. And he must have been awestruck by Paul’s supernatural ability to do the inexplicable and impossible.
God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. – Acts 19:11-12 NLT
Timothy would have recalled a particular incident in Ephesus involving seven Jewish brothers who tried to emulate Paul’s Spirit-imbued power by attempting to cast out a demon. They seemed to believe that they could replicate Paul’s miraculous crowd-drawing power by simply mimicking his words.
They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” – Acts 19:13 NLT
But they were in for a rude awakening. The demon they tried to cast out questioned their identity and credentials.
“I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” – Acts 19:15 NLT
Then Luke records the rather Monty Python-esque scene that transpired.
…the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. – Acts 19:16 NLT
But this incident had a sobering effect on the city. Luke reports that news of the demonic attack “spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices” (Acts 19:17-18 NLT).
The impressionable young Timothy would have been deeply impacted by these events. He stood back and watched as the gospel message radically transformed the lives of the people in Ephesus. This city was a hotbed of sorcery and witchcraft, and the gospel message began to make an impact on those who embraced these pagan practices.
A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. – Acts 19:19 NLT
While many were coming to faith in Christ, others in the city saw Paul and his companions as a threat to their religion and their way of life. After Paul sent Timothy on to Macedonia, a riot broke out in the city of Ephesus, spurred on by the guild of the local silversmiths who had seen a dramatic decrease in their sale of idols. They enlisted the other craftsmen in town and launched a crusade against Paul.
“…this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!” – Acts 19:26-27 NLT
Eventually, Paul was forced to leave Ephesus for the region of Macedonia. But all of these events would have had a dramatic impact on the life of Timothy. When he eventually returned to Ephesus, he knew he was facing an uphill battle. And Paul’s letter to him was intended to provide encouragement and support in the midst of a hostile environment. Paul had given Timothy a very difficult assignment.
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
Paul’s emphasis was on the state of the local church in Ephesus. It had become infiltrated by men who were promoting doctrines that contradicted the words of Jesus and the teachings of Paul. The apostle reminded Timothy of the purpose of his ministry: “…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). But things in Ephesus had taken a turn for the worse. The influence of the false teachers had already begun to take effect, leaving the believers in Ephesus focusing on the wrong things.
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.
…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
And it was Timothy’s job to confront these false teachers and to correct the misguided members of the local congregation who were buying into their rhetoric. These purveyors of manmade doctrines wanted “to be known as teachers of the law of Moses,,” but Paul said, “they don’t know what they are talking about” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). They were making stuff up as they went along and yet billed themselves as experts in the law of Moses.
In the early days of the church, it was easy for anyone to set themselves up as an expert. There were no seminaries and no established criteria for examining anyone’s leadership credentials. Just about anyone could declare themselves a spokesman for Jesus Christ and promote their own agenda and dogma. But Paul warned Timothy that the basis for judging sound teaching was “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11 ESV). If anyone taught anything that contradicted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were to be avoided like the plague. This was a pervasive problem in the early church. In fact, Paul warned the believers in Galatia about this very thing.
You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.
Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT
He accused the believers in Corinth of succumbing to the same false rhetoric.
You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT
So, Paul repeated the same warning to Timothy, preparing him to do battle with the flagrant falsehoods being propagated by the self-proclaimed teachers of the gospel. They were to be exposed for what they were – liars and deceivers. And their false teaching was to be rejected and replaced with the pure and life-transforming power of the gospel.
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.