In our second study of Paul’s pastoral epistles (1&2 Timothy and Titus), we examined the first chapter of 1 Timothy. In this first part of his letter to Timothy, who is in charge of the church at Ephesus, it is clear that Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 has come true – the church is plagued by heretical teachers.
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30
Now, in his letter to Timothy, Paul asks Timothy to stay in Ephesus and command the heretics to stop teaching false doctrines and debating myths and genealogies. Paul doesn’t hold back in his condemnation, saying they have turned away from the truth in favor of meaningless talk. Luther, fighting heretics in his day, admires Paul’s strong words – “Oh, how beautifully he gives it to them.” These men were probably the predecessors to the Gnostic heretics of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Paul derides them as wannabe experts:
They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
1 Timothy 1:7
They talk about God’s Word, but their teachings are meaningless because they misuse it. In our day there may be less focus on Biblical genealogies, but there are many churches where salvation by works and morality, cheap grace, and the prosperity gospel are held up as God’s truth. Even in churches that preach God’s miraculous redemption of humanity by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, the gospel message can be obscured by idle speculation about the end times or distractions such as teachings about life skills, personality types, personal finances, etc.
In the second half of the chapter Paul talks about God’s overflowing grace to him, in appointing Paul to his service despite his persecution of the church. Paul says he is an example to all who would believe, that Jesus can forgive even the worst of sinners and has patience with us. This is the first of five “trustworthy sayings” that are sprinkled through the pastoral letters:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15
Let none despair that they are somehow unforgivable – God’s love and mercy are powerful, and He pours out His grace abundantly on any who by faith will accept it. Paul admonishes Timothy to hold to this instruction and fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience (v.18). Today we continue to fight with the weapons of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-18) – a fight both internal and external. We fight our internal struggles against despair or overconfidence, and we fight external battles against heresy and error. In his commentary on 1 Timothy Luther admonishes us to “fight against confidence in our own works” and rely on the abundant grace of our loving God.
Due to the winter storm on January 20 and a guest speaker on January 27, our study continues on Sunday, February 3, at 9:30 with a close look at 1 Timothy chapter 2. Whether you have time to read it in advance or not, we welcome your participation as we seek to apply God’s Word to our daily lives.