Getting Things Right - 1 Timothy 1:1-7
©December 29th, 2019 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: 1 Timothy
Today we begin a new study in the book of 1 Timothy. It is immensely practical, but I think it will also challenge us to build a deeper faith. 1 Timothy is part of a group of Paul’s letters known as the “pastorals”. These books are addressed to an individual, instead of a group of people, and their intention is to instruct these individuals in how best to shepherd (pastor) the church. Though these letters were addressed to an individual, they were not private. The expectation was for them to be shared and circulated amongst the churches.
Like most ancient letters, 1 Timothy begins with a brief introduction,
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. 2I 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, NLT)
We often gloss over these introductions, but there are several things we need to notice in Paul’s opening statement. First, he identified himself as the author, but he added a couple important credentials. He called himself an apostle of Christ Jesus, but he went further and pointed out that he was appointed an apostle by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus. Paul was reminding both Timothy and the other believers who would read this letter that God appointed him to this task, which meant he was not sharing mere opinion, but speaking on behalf of God. In other words, the things Paul wrote in this letter should be taken as truth and should be put into practice as though they were given by God himself. This truth should bolster Timothy’s confidence in putting some of the teachings (which would be unpopular) into practice, because he could point to Paul’s authority and instructions for justification.
He also identified his intended recipient, Timothy, whom he called his true son in the faith. It is here that we need a little background information.
Paul met Timothy during his first missionary journey. Timothy lived in a town called Lystra, and was the son of a Greek pagan man and a Jewish woman named Eunice. His grandmother, Lois, was also Jewish. Paul may have stayed with Timothy’s family during this first missionary visit. Most likely, Timothy and his mother and grandmother became believers during Paul’s first visit. When Paul returned to Lystra on his second missionary journey, Timothy was a young man (likely still a teenager), but Paul believed God could use him as a missionary as well. So Paul took Timothy along with him. Because Timothy had been raised by a Greek father, he had not been circumcised. Paul knew circumcision was not necessary for salvation but he also knew that if Timothy was not circumcised, he would have a difficult time doing ministry among the Jewish people. So Timothy was circumcised as an adult. It is a testament to Timothy’s devotion that he was willing to do this.
As we read through Paul’s other letters, we find that Timothy was usually with Paul wherever he went. Paul also used Timothy as a messenger, sending him to churches that needed a personal touch when Paul himself was unable to get to a town. Timothy became a trusted assistant and protégé.
During his ministry, Paul spent two years teaching at the church in Ephesus and building up that body of believers. (Paul traveled from church to church teaching for various lengths of time.) Knowing he couldn’t stay, Paul put Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus to help them continue to grow. When Paul wrote 1 Timothy, Timothy was still in Ephesus leading the church, and this was Paul’s encouragement to him.
Why did Paul call Timothy his true son in the faith? For a couple of reasons. First, he had likely led Timothy to the Lord and felt a responsibility for him, much as a father feels for their child. We ought to feel a similar responsibility for those we have helped in the journey of faith. We have a responsibility to mentor younger believers by encouraging them to get involved in a church, in personal Bible study, and in service to the Lord. We need to remind them of great truths of the faith when they struggle and gently correct them when we see them straying. This is what Paul did with Timothy, and it’s what we should do as well.
The second reason Paul called Timothy his true son in the faith is that Timothy’s father was most likely not a believer in Christ. In the eyes of many Jewish people this made Timothy an illegitimate child of the faith. He was not truly Jewish, and his family was tainted. Timothy may have even felt that he was not fit for the job before him (and surely others said as much to or about him).
I think Paul used this title as much for Timothy’s benefit as for the others who would read it. From what we can glean from Paul’s other writings, it seems that Timothy was not the force of nature Paul was. Timothy was easily discouraged, may have suffered from some physical ailments, and was also young. This would have made it easy for him to get discouraged or shy away from the task God had called him to. But Paul was reminding Timothy that he had great confidence in him, and that he was supporting and vouching for his ministry.
Paul’s Reason for Writing
With this background information in place, we can now understand Paul’s intention in writing this letter. 1 Timothy is a manual for how the church is supposed to function. Paul lays out some very important principles for what the church’s focus should be on a wide range of issues, but his overarching goal is to strengthen the church for the work of God, which also required correcting some of the errors that had crept in to the Ephesian church. In these opening verses, we get a glimpse of some of those particular errors.
3When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. 4Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God. (1 Timothy 1:3-4, NLT)
Paul wanted Timothy to remain in Ephesus because some people were teaching things contrary to the truth. This is an important statement, because it indicates that there is truth to which the church (and those who lead and teach in it) must subscribe.
There is a trend in our society (including many churches), to believe truth changes over time. As society’s ideas change, so does truth. Paul condemned such attitudes. He recognized there is one truth to which we must adhere (which is found in the Bible), and anyone teaching something contrary to that should be stopped. There is too much at stake to allow people to twist the message of the Bible for their own purposes. Paul urged Timothy (and would urge us today) to stand up for the truth and to oppose those whose teachings are contrary to it.
Paul gave examples of false teachings prevalent in Ephesus at that time. He told Timothy not to let the people waste their time in “endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees.”
Most likely, these people had started doing what some Rabbis had done in Judaism. Rather than applying God’s law to their lives, they were looking for ways to make the scriptures more interesting. A favorite pastime of some rabbis (and likely some people in Ephesus) was to study the genealogies of the Bible and construct elaborate stories about the individuals in these lists of names. The problem with doing this is that there aren’t any details about most of these people. They were literally creating mythologies based on the Bible! Paul rightly condemned this practice as a waste of time!
Paul’s reason why these things were a waste of time is they didn’t help people live a life of faith in God. This is the goal of all biblical teaching: to help us to know who God is and what He wants us to do, so we can live in a way that is pleasing and honoring to Him. When we get sidetracked on things that do not matter, we get into trouble.
It is important that we don’t swing too far in the opposite direction, however. Some would tell you the Church shouldn’t focus on doctrine and theology but should simply focus on being the kind of people God wants us to be. But we can’t know who God wants us to be unless we learn about Him! This is why theology matters—it forms the basis for how we put our faith into practice. We must focus on both things: studying the character of God, and then allowing that to guide the way we live.
Let me give you an example. Many churches today adopt a mission statement for their church that is simple: Love God, Love Others. This is good, because it is based on what Jesus said were the two most important commandments. Jesus said that if we get these two things right, we’ll keep the rest of the law. The problem is that many of these churches do not teach people what God means by love. They don’t teach people about God’s character: His holiness, justice, and grace. They don’t ensure people understand the gospel message. Instead, they repeat this mantra and assume people will do it right.
The result is church-goers who believe you should never tell someone what they are doing is wrong, because that is unloving. Or people end up worshiping a god of their imagination (which is usually a projection of ourselves) rather than the God of the Bible, because they haven’t been taught about Him. And people in these churches can’t articulate the gospel, but can only tell you that things just “feel right” in their church. As a church we are supposed to love God and love others, but in order to do that, we need to teach people about the character of God, so we know what He wants from us. We must build a solid theological foundation, because what we believe determines how we act.
Paul goes on to explain what he hopes his letter will accomplish.
5The 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. 6But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. 7They 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 1:5-7, NLT)
Paul gave both a positive and a negative example here. Let’s start with the negative. He talked about how some people love to talk about meaningless things because they think it makes them look smart and important. Then they try to pass themselves off as experts, when in fact, their hearts are far from the Lord.
Paul was not condemning asking good theological questions that help us to understand God more fully. But he was saying people often run after all sorts of new and novel things instead of taking time to understand the foundational truths of the faith. So many people get sidetracked arguing about the end times or the “right” way to structure a church or the importance of one spiritual gift over another. These are not bad things to study, provided they don’t get in the way of us growing deeper in our faith overall. But many people get hung up on these things and ignore the rest of the scriptures.
Additionally, Paul said these people wanted to be seen as teachers of the law, though they didn’t actually know anything. A good leader or teacher is not interested in prestige or power. They are not interested in titles. They are not interested in being seen as the expert. They are simply interested in helping others understand their faith, grow deeper in it, and live it out.
Sometime you may listen to someone teach and conclude they must be really smart because you didn’t understand what they were talking about. That is not the mark of a good teacher! A good teacher makes solid truth accessible. They help you understand these truths for yourself and put them into practice. While I certainly hope you think I’m an intelligent guy, I am far more concerned with helping you live out your faith than I am trying to impress you with fancy words or concepts. We should strive to communicate the message of the gospel clearly, and help others put it into practice. Run from those who seem to have another agenda in mind!
We’ve seen what not to do. What should we be doing? Paul said the goal is for the Church to be filled with love. That is one of the marks of Christianity. Since God is love, and He pours His love out on us, our lives should also be marked by love. But much of what is called love by the world is not biblical love at all. Genuine love is not being nice to people and letting people do whatever they want. Biblical love is much deeper than this. Our love must come from the right place. Paul gives us three areas that lead us into the kind of love God desires.
First, is a pure heart. A pure heart comes from being purified by God. This means confessing our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. It means working to align our thoughts, attitudes, and actions with God’s. This starts by saturating our lives with God’s Word but also means we work to put God’s Word into practice. If we align our hearts with the Lord, love will naturally flow from them.
Second is a clear conscience. A clear conscience comes from confessing and rooting out sin, but also by being honest about our motives. It means being honest about:
When we’re gossiping rather than “sharing a concern”
When our acts of service or devotion are really intended to draw attention to ourselves rather than serve the Lord
When we said something in anger instead of saying that we were simply speaking the truth
When our priorities are out of whack instead of trying to make excuses
If we’re honest in our motives it will help us root out sin we don’t even realize is there. We can’t have a clear conscience until we’re honest with God and ourselves.
Third is a sincere faith. It is possible to be sincerely wrong about what you believe. We must make sure our beliefs are correct before we work to make them sincere. But sincere in this context means more than just believing something strongly. Here it has the meaning of honest, not hypocritical, and genuine. The literally means, “without wax”. In ancient times people who made clay pots would fill cracks or weak spots in those pots with wax. They looked good on the outside, but once they got hot, the wax would melt and the pot’s deficiencies would be revealed. Potters would mark their pots sin cere to advertise that they were made without wax—that what you see is what you get.
This is what a sincere faith looks like. It is consistency: what you see is what you get. We should be the same people regardless of who we are around. A person with sincere faith is always guided by their faith, even when no one else is looking. We don’t have to be perfect, but people should be able to see that we are “without wax”.
If we focus on building these things into our lives, a lot of the other issues will take care of themselves. If we strive to know God fully and to serve Him wholeheartedly, our lives will be characterized by love, and God will be honored—not just by us, but also by those around us.
Even in these opening verses, Paul has given us some challenging, yet practical instructions. He has shown us negative examples of those who do not subscribe to the true gospel and has shown us what we should do instead. I want to give you some closing action steps I think we should take.
First, spend time studying God’s Word for yourself. I know this seems daunting at first, but take time to read and meditate on some portion of the Bible each day. We’re about to begin a new year, and this is a great time to start integrating Bible study into your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be a large section, it may only be a few sentences, but each day I would challenge you to read a section of scripture, try to understand what it tells you about God, about yourself, and about how God wants you to live. Then, make it a focus to put that into practice that day. I guarantee if you do this, you’ll begin to see changes in your life that make you more like Jesus.
Second, take stock of your motives. We tend to focus only on our actions without thinking about the reasons behind those actions. If we want to honor God, it must go beyond what we do to why we do it. Be painfully honest with yourself about why you choose to act the way you do. If you find your motives are wrong, focus on changing how you think about things. It’s not enough to do the right things, we must also do them for the right reasons.
Third, make being together with other believers a priority. 1 Timothy reminds us that God designed us to work better together than we ever can alone. When we worship together, study the Bible together, talk about our struggles together, and serve the Lord together, we strengthen each other. We learn from one another and grow in faith. Let me challenge you to find a way to connect with other believers this year. Maybe that’s finding a new way to serve, a Bible study or Sunday School class to join, or making being in worship a priority. Whatever the case is, recognize that God designed us to be stronger together—so use that to your advantage.
Ultimately, our goal should be to serve God wholeheartedly and boldly. That’s what the book of 1 Timothy is all about. If we work to get the foundational things of the faith right, a lot of other things fall into place. And when that happens, we honor the Lord and serve as an example to the world around us.
©December 29th, 2019 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: 1 Timothy
 I was assisted greatly by the framework laid out in: Barton, Bruce B., David Veerman, and Neil S. Wilson. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus. Life Application Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993.