1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope,
2 To Timothy my true son in the faith:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
In case you think that Paul is a bit of an upstart, or that what he says is only his opinion, Paul makes his credentials clear right at the beginning of this letter. He was appointed and ordered to be an apostle, by “God our saviour and Christ Jesus our hope” [see also v 12] apostle was Jesus’ representative, authorised and commissioned by him. It was not a role that Paul sought but one he lived out with all integrity and all his strength. And it is not just Paul who claims this role, but Luke tells us of his commissioning in Acts 9. Luke is an independent witness to Paul’s apostleship. We need to be careful when we want to disregard what he says. Here in chapter 1 Paul is going to make some tough decisions and ask Timothy to carry them out. For instance, he is to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” And certain people he has “handed over to Satan”. You can imagine how that might have gone down in the young church where Timothy ministered amongst those who he was going to reprimand. The church is not a democracy. It belongs to Jesus – he is the head [Col 1:18]. Jesus calls the shots and in the early days he exercised his authority through his word administered by the apostles. Today we have the words of God in the Bible, and the words of Christ in the New Testament both directly from his own mouth and indirectly through his Apostles and recorded for us in the scriptures. For us today those scriptures are the final authority. We need to work hard at understanding what they say and what they don’t say in their context and in their literary form but having done that we ignore them or disagree with them at our peril.
Paul refers to “Christ Jesus our hope”. In 1 Peter 1:3 Peter refers to “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jesus doesn’t just give us hope, he is our hope, that is, Jesus himself is where our hope is placed. Only as we are joined to him do we have his righteousness, his holiness and his redemption [1 Cor 1:30]. Have you seen those Russian dolls that have smaller dolls inside them? They’re called babushka dolls. If I take a doll into a room with me, I carry another doll inside that first one. That is a bit like being in Christ. We are in heaven, in the Family of God, because we are in Christ there. He is totally acceptable and so are we because we are in him.
God our father, what an amazing gift your word is: it is a light to our feet and entirely life-giving. Feed me from your word. Amen
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work – which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
These are tough words from the apostle especially in our age of tolerance. In many Christian churches and denominations, the pressure is on to ignore or reinterpret many long-held Christian beliefs on things such as sexuality, marriage, gender, family life, the idea that there is only one way to God, Christ dying in our place for our sins (substitutionary atonement), God’s wrath, and the list goes on. For many, the idea that you would censure anyone for promulgating differing views is anathema, yet Paul here is clear that there should zero tolerance in the church for anyone teaching things that are not in agreement with apostolic teaching. It’s not just here that the Bible condemns influencing others towards beliefs that are contrary to the scriptures. [Deut 18:20; Jer 14:14; Matthew 24:24; Acts 20:28-30]
It’s not only false teaching that gets condemned but pointless controversies that don’t have any bearing on the gospel. Paul mentions “myths and endless genealogies”, “controversial speculations” [v4] and “meaningless talk” [v 6]. The problem with these things was that they were preventing people from advancing God’s work [v 4]. We’re not sure what the “myths and genealogies” were about, but it certainly wasn’t about gospel issues. The famous example is the 15th century debate about whether a million angels can fit on the point of a needle.
I work with a number of people who have different views from me on some biblical issues and we have great fun discussing them, but it doesn’t stop us having a deep fellowship and respect for each other, neither does it stop us working together or getting on with the work of the kingdom. That would not be the case if our differences were over the centrality of the 5 solas, for instance – faith alone, Christ alone, Bible alone, grace alone, to the glory of God alone (called the 5 solas – sola being “alone” promulgated during the reformation). Then we could not work together.
Paul’s command that Timothy prevent people teaching false doctrines flows from his love [v5]. He will not tolerate anyone encouraging people to put their faith in something that will not save them. He loves people and doesn’t want them to miss out on what God is offering through Christ. It is not unloving to censure false teaching. It is loving to disabuse people of their false hope.
Lord, let me be driven by truth and love in all I do and say. Amen
They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. 8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practising homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
The meaningless talk is partly around the biblical law. It seems that the problem was that people were teaching the law in a way that was not relevant to those who live by faith [v 4]. Paul says that the law is not for the “righteous” [v 9] but for those who don’t have faith in Christ for their righteousness, and then he gives some examples of those who aren’t righteous. Biblical righteousness is not about moral perfection, but rather about faithfulness. The law was given to convict of sin and the need for the righteousness that only comes through Christ. Hence Paul’s comments that the law was for those mentioned in v 9-10. It was meant to lead us to Christ. “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.” [Romans 7:7]
24 “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” [Gal 3:24-25]
As Christians we now have the Holy Spirit who produces in us the fruit of the Spirit. Those who love well have no need for laws that are designed to stop us stealing or bearing false witness or not honouring our parents. Those who love God have no need for laws telling them not to worship other gods or to spend one day a week in honouring him. We have a far higher standard. We are governed by our desire to honour God and to treat others with love.
It is interesting that the work of the law was to convict of sin, as is one of the works of the Holy Spirit [John 16:8], yet in so many ways we are encouraged in our evangelism to avoid the whole issue of sin and judgment. We are told that people are more attracted to Christ by speaking of God’s love than by talk of sin and judgement. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. What do you think?
It seems that Paul was addressing the issue of people preaching the law as the way to approach God, and although we know it’s wrong, we can still fall into thinking that our obedience to the law or not determines God’s love for us. Thank God that is not the case. His love is unconditional towards those who are joined to Christ.
Father, thank you for your unconditional love. Help me to live up to the honour. Amen
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul has told Timothy to silence those who were teaching the law as the way to God, and here he writes of his wonder at God’s grace towards him personally. If he’d been judged under the law, he’d have been sunk. He was a blasphemer and a violent persecutor of the godly. He was the worst of sinners [v 15]. Why did Christ choose Paul to be his? So that his amazing grace might be displayed for all the world to see and encourage others to experience his grace. It was nothing good in Paul that prompted Christ to call him into his family but rather it was for the glory of Christ – that all may wonder at his glorious forgiveness. That in itself is an encouragement to faith; no one is too far gone for Jesus. Christ doesn’t choose the deserving, but the underserving – you and me.
It shows the fallenness of mankind that many find the idea of a deathbed conversion of an evil person so “wrong” and “unfair” when in fact it displays the incredible patience and grace of God. Isaiah commented on that;
“Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.” [Isaiah 5:20]
Jesus’ grace poured out on his people is “poured out abundantly”. It is lavished on us. “See what great love the father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God.” [1 John 3:1].
This is all to the glory of God [v 17], and Paul breaks out in praise in the midst of his instructions to Timothy. His reflection on God’s goodness towards him is too much for him to hold in. I can still vividly remember a lecturer at college over 30 years ago stopping his lecture halfway through in order to lead us in prayer in praise of God’s goodness.
Refection on our sin and fallenness can be maudlin and unhelpful, but it can also be the spark for praise and worship of our wonderful God and heavenly Father as we consider the wonder of our deliverance and the depth of God’s love and grace. Like the writers of the Psalms, we studied last term reflection on our life’s situation should lead us to praise and wonder.
God and Father of my Lord Jesus, your patience and love are beyond my understanding, but for the depths I can grasp I thank you. Amen
18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
What follows is Paul’s injunction to his protégé to “fight the battle well” [v 18]. It’s not fashionable is some circles to speak of the Christian life as warfare because war is ugly and brutal and we shouldn’t glorify it, but surely that is the point! We are in a life and death struggle and although we should avoid war wherever possible, our enemy will not allow that. His plan is to destroy us. [1 Peter 5:8] It is ugly and brutal. We are to fight for the lives of others as well as our own. Losing in this war does not bear thinking about.
Paul encourages Timothy to look back to his call to ministry [v 18]. There is a lot in the Bible about remembering. It’s reflecting on what God has done in the past so that we can be strengthened for the future. It’s recalling God’s goodness to his people and to us in particular. When doubts assail us it’s good to remember how God called us to him in the first place; how he drew us with cords of love into his family. It is good to remember what God did for us in Christ – it is the proof of his love for us [1 John 3:16] and his care for us in the future [Romans 8:32].
Part of fighting the good fight is “holding onto the faith and a good conscience.”, two things Paul mentions in verse 5. There is effort involved in holding on. It’s like being given a heart transplant – the recipient gets a gift but having received it they must now live a changed life to look after their new heart or the gift is wasted. That is what has happened to the two mentioned in verse 20. They have wasted the gift offered.
What has Paul done in handing them over to Satan? Derrick G Jeter puts it like this “This is a curious phrase. Paul didn't mean he handed them over to Satan literally. Rather, Paul meant he excommunicated them from the church, exposing them to the realm of satanic influence. Those outside the church are not under the spiritual protection of the body of Christ and, in this way, are exposed to the dangers of sin. Paul used a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 5:5. In both cases, the intent of the disciplinary measure was to bring about repentance and return to true fellowship (1:20).” [Handed Over to Satan? https://insight.org/resources/article-library/individual/handed-over-to-satan]
It's an extreme measure and again should only ever be carried out from a loving desire to see people restored to the kingdom, and to stop a serious infection of the church of Jesus.
My God and Father, by your Spirit help me to hold onto the faith and a good conscience. Amen