St. Paul considered himself to be Timothy’s spiritual father, which is why v.2 reads, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” At the time Paul wrote this, his world-altering ministry was in its twilight and he was passing on the baton to the next generation of defenders of the faith. And so, we may consider this Epistle a letter to a young pastor.
Paul wastes no time steering Timothy in the right direction. Already v. 1 is full of profound teaching about the attributes and activities of God. God is our Savior; he says right off the bat. This phrase, “God our Savior,” looks back to the salvation God accomplished through Jesus Christ. The phrase, “Christ Jesus our hope,” looks forward to the day when Christ will return in power and glory. Paul locates his apostleship in a historical context, whose beginning was the saving activity of God our Savior in the birth, life, and death of Jesus, and whose culmination will be our resurrection in Christ.
Paul’s greeting in verse 2 is also full of profound theology. He offers Timothy, “grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Apostle starts with the traditional Greek salutation of “grace” (χάρις), ends with the traditional Jewish greeting of peace (shalom = εἰρήνη), and inserts mercy (ἔλεος) to make a distinctively Christian blessing. This is no coincidence. Paul is penning an epistle by way of the movement and operation of the Holy Spirit, who is purposed to throw as much light on Christ as possible. This epistle is going to be about Jesus the Christ.
So, how did Paul and Timothy meet? Well, it was not on Facebook. Paul first met the young man when he passed through Lystra on his second missionary journey. Paul heard of his reputation and invited him to join his missionary team (Acts 16.1-3). Timothy began his vicarage under the Apostle’s tutelage. They knew each other the way a father and son can know and love each other.
Paul’s purpose in 1 Timothy is to help his spiritual son remain true and bold. In the opening verses he exhorts him to hold on to the true faith (v.2), to defend the true doctrine (vv.3-4), to uphold the true use of the Law (vv.6-11), and to cherish a true love (v.5). Simply put, Paul writes to embolden Timothy, despite his youth, to defend the faith through those things he learned at St. Paul’s Theological Seminary; things he had sworn to do in his ordination vows.
Paul got specific about the things Timothy was to uphold and defend, even with his very life, if it came to that. Timothy was to safeguard and promulgate the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news that God’s Kingdom has come through the atonement of the Son of God on the Cross and its benefits come to us through the Gospel Word and blessed Sacraments – all of them.
Paul is entreating Timothy to be a man of Biblical conviction, a man stout in the theology of the Bible, a man who will, “believe, teach, and confess,” according to the Apostolic faith. Paul knows how in this Gospel business ‘milquetoast’ pastors will get trampled underfoot. He has been there and seen wishy-washy pastors driven about by every wind of doctrine and devoured by the Devil because their theology is not tight. Men of no conviction: politically correct talking heads with manicures and politic-speak. Those guys, Paul wants nothing to do with. If they cannot articulate the doctrine of justification by grace through faith and delineate the Sacraments, they are dangerous in their confessional weakness.
Paul says, if a true son becomes a minister of the Gospel, he must teach true doctrine. This is the first thing Paul articulates in the body of his letter: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (vv. 3-4). For the purposes of Gospel ministry, the doctrine must be tight. Where there is division in doctrine the ministry and mission are encumbered and suffer. So, be on it – break out your seminary notes and hit the Confessions. Doctrine does not divide, Timothy, it unites.
This command helps put the entire epistle into context. Timothy was in Ephesus, the center of Paul’s church-planting strategy for Asia Minor. Paul writes him a semi-private letter so what he says to Timothy ends up in the hearing of the congregation. In other words, this was not a private correspondence. This letter was for the whole church to read. Their doctrine had to be tight. Timothy was left in Ephesus in order to, “charge certain persons not to teach anything different” (1.3). In other words, no one has the liberty under Christ to depart from orthodoxy, to be inventive with theology, with the Gospel, or with the Sacraments. There is only one orthodoxy; everything else is heterodoxy. What was said to Timothy and the congregation he served is said to us: faithful ministers and parishes are not permitted to coin any new doctrine, but they are to cleave to God’s teaching.
Paul’s concern is for false teachers who will draw the people of God away from the Gospel truth. The contemporary church faces the same danger. The myths of the present day are extrabiblical texts which are treated as Scripture or which undermine true Scripture. The Book of Mormon falls into this category. So does the so-called Gospel of Thomas or the popular The Bible Code. Many evangelical discussions on the end times also fall into this category. Likewise the doctrines of Purgatory and St. Mary’s status as co-redeemer are extrabiblical myths. Homosexual ordination, a female priesthood, ambiguity about human life, a functionalist view of Holy Ministry, and Platonic trivializing of the Sacraments are exactly the kind of “different teachings” the Bible condemns.
True sons and daughters in the faith are commanded not to teach such things for two reasons. First, they, “promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1.4). The other reason not to teach false doctrine, it is a complete waste of time. “Certain persons,” Paul says in v.6, “by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion.” In Galatians, Paul attacks false teaching because the Gospel is at stake. Here the problem is not so much a gospel issue as a stewardship issue. Heterodoxy is a waste of time, full of gossip, divisive and subversive to sound theology and ministry. It undermines the mission, ministry and minister.
Today one place to find such meaningless talk is on the Internet or the History Channel, where people engage in unproductive theological babblings and the postulation of equipollence across differing religious traditions. So, Paul says to Timothy, either we can promote controversy, or we can exercise good stewardship in thinking about theology. Salvation in Christ is the most important thing God has ever planned or accomplished for His people and it is not something to be goofed with. Therefore, a New Testament understanding of the birth, life, atoning death and justifying resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is the most important message for us to study, to teach, and to live and confess with the Church. “Nothing should distract us from that message,” declared my preaching mentor, Philip Ryken, “least of all some idle speculation.”
Face it, the last person most people want to meet is someone who will straighten out their theology, especially some young pastor. However, this is exactly what Paul tells Timothy to do: “…charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1.3). The reason for this is because theological precision and unity matters. When we change the theology, particularly the words or wording of orthodoxy, we lose the meaning. If we lose the meaning, we have lost the significance. Tip one theological domino and others follow. The Bible thus gives ministers the opportunity to oppose false doctrine. Yet notice how the purpose or goal of defending true doctrine is to create and foster true love (1.5): “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” A true son in the faith must have true love, which flows naturally from a love for doctrine.
False doctrine does just the opposite. The problem with heterodoxy is not only that it is unorthodox, but also how it leads to controversy. It disturbs the life and love of the Church. Only true doctrine teaches people how to love God and others. Love is the best test for our theology, for true love and true doctrine go together. Liberal theology wants love without doctrine. On the other hand, some churches are willing to go without the love as long as they maintain sound doctrine. But this is neither true love nor true doctrine. Wherever doctrine is purest, love must be the highest.
Concordia Theology -Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching I Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17.