The New Testament book of 1 Timothy was written to give encouragement and instruction to Timothy, a young leader in the equally young Christian church. Timothy had been influenced by godly relatives; his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were Jewish believers who helped to shape his life and promote his spritiual growth. Timothy was the first “second generation” Christian mentioned in the New Testament; he became Paul’s protege and the pastor of the church at Ephesus, sent to counter the false teachings that had arisen there. Until Paul could actually visit Timothy, and because Timothy faced all manner of pressures, conflicts, and challenges, he wrote the letter to give Timothy practical advice regarding ministry. 1 Timothy, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, comprise what are known as the “Pastoral Letters”.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy affirms their relationship (1:2). Paul begins his fatherly advice, warning Timothy about false teachers (1:3-11) and urging him to hold on to his faith in Christ (1:12-20). Next, Paul considers public worship, emphasizing the importance of prayer (2:1-7) and order in church meetings (2:8-15). This leads to a discussion of the qualifications of church leaders – overseers and deacons. Here Paul lists specific criteria for each office (3:1-16).
Paul speaks again about false teachers, telling Timothy how to recognize them and respond to them (4:1-16). Next, he gives practical advice on pastoral care to the young and old (5:1, 2), widows (5:3-16), elders (5:17-25), and slaves (6:1, 2). Paul concludes by exhorting Timothy to guard his motives (6:3-10), to stand firm in his faith (6:11, 12), to live above reproach (6:13-16), and to minister faithfully (6:17-21).
1 Timothy is a letter that contains many lessons. There is a model for counseling church leaders in appropriate qualifications and conduct, as well as in establishing a Christian home: this can have an enormous effect on those who may rise to become church leaders of the future, and can have an equally significant impact on the propagation of the faith.
The Layout of 1 Timothy
Instructions In Right Belief:
This is concentrated in (1:1-20) … Paul advised Timothy on a host of issues, not the least of which was right belief in the core doctrines of the faith.
Instructions For The Church:
This is concentrated in (2:1-3:16) … Paul touched on the qualifications for effective church leaders, how to conduct public worship, how to identify and confront false teaching, and how to treat the various groups of people within the church.
Instructions For Leaders:
This is concentrated in (4:1-6:21) … Paul emphasized that right belief and right behavior – both, not one or the other – are critical for those who desired to lead and serve effectively in the church.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
Paul instructed Timothy to preserve the Christian faith by teaching sound doctrine and modeling right living. Timothy had to oppose false teachers who were leading church members away from belief in salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
We must know the truth in order to defend it. We must cling to the belief that Christ came to save us. We should stay away from those who twist the words of the Bible for their own purposes.
Prayer in public worship must be done with a proper attitude toward God and fellow believers.
Christian character must be evident in every aspect of worship. We must rid ourselves of any anger, resentment, or offensive behavior that might disrupt worship or damage church unity.
Paul gives specific instructions concerning the qualifications for church leaders so that the church might honor God and operate smoothly.
Church leaders must be wholly committed to Christ. If you are a new or young Christian, don’t be anxious to become a leader in the church. Seek to develop your Christian character first. Be sure to seek God, not your own ambition.
It takes discipline to be a leader in the church. Timothy, like all pastors, had to guard his motives, minister faithfully, and live above reproach. Any pastor must keep morally and spiritually fit.
To stay in good spiritual shape, you must discipline yourself to study God’s Word and to obey it. Put your spiritual abilities to work!
The church has a responsibility to care for the needs of all its members, especially the sick, the poor, and the widowed. Caring must go beyond good intentions.
Caring for the family of believers demonstrates our Christ-like attitude and exhibits genuine love toward non-believers.
A Closer Look… 1 Ti. 1:1-20
Paul takes Timothy in hand right away, and warns him about false doctrines:
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless geneaologies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 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 Ti. 1:3-7)
Paul talks about the law, and who it was made for – and who it was not made for:
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that 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, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Ti. 1:8-11)
Paul speaks of the abounding grace of God, even for such a vile man as he was before his life-altering encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus; he ends with a benediction:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 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. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Ti. 1:12-17)
Paul gives solemn charge of his ministry to Timothy, a moving passage of Scripture in which is mentioned the custom of handing over unrepentant sinners to the ruler of this world as their punishment:
Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Ti. 1:18-20)
A Closer Look… 1 Ti. 2:1-15
Paul has instruction for Timothy as to how public worship should be conducted; he starts off by asking for intercession by God to be made. This passage of Scripture contains an essential truth regarding Jesus Christ and the centrality of His role:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Ti. 2:1-6)
Paul says what the proper attitude should be for prayer, so that it is conducted as a praise and as an honor to God:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Ti. 2:8)
Paul touched on the role of women in the church. Understand that what Paul says is based on the relationship of man and woman in the original order of creation:
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one decieved; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Ti. 2:9-15)
Some explanation is required here. While women are not to overtly assume the office of teacher in the church, there is no strict injunction against their teaching: they must not usurp the role from man is what is indicated. Older women are to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Again, the role of women follows the order of the original creation, with an emphasis on the fact that a woman’s greatest and most lasting achievement is following her divinely ordained role: helping her husband, bearing children, and following a faithful and chaste way of life.
A Closer Look… 1 Ti. 3:1-16
Paul speaks about offices in the church body… bishops and deacons:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkeness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become deceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Ti. 3:1-7)
Note that an overseer is also known as a bishop, although also as an elder (in Tit. 1:5, 7 the two terms are used interchangeably). The elder, a principal official in a local church, was: 1) called by the Holy Spirit (Ac. 20:28), 2) recognized by other elders (1 Ti. 4:14), 3) qualified according to the above passage of Scripture. The duties of an elder included: 1) ruling (1 Ti. 5:17), 2) pastoring and shepherding the flock (Ac. 20:28, 1 Pe. 5:2), 3) guarding the truths of the faith (Tit. 1:9), and general oversight of the work of the church, including finances (Ac. 11:30).
Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (1 Ti. 3:8-13)
The word deacon means “minister” or “servant”. Deacons were originally the helpers of the elders, and thus their qualifications were almost identical to those for the elders. This office had its beginnings in Jerusalem (Ac. 6:1-6). However, it is important to note that the word deacon is used in an unofficial sense throughout the New Testament to identify anyone who serves (Eph. 6:21) in any capacity, as well as those who in the official capacity; hence, the association of the word with the spirit of service.
Paul ends the chapter by speaking of the mystery of godliness as personified through Jesus Christ:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Ti. 3:16)
Paul was referring to Christ being incarnated in the flesh (2 Ti. 1:10, Tit. 2:11), and being fully and completely justified by the Holy Spirit in His resurrection from the dead as the first-born from among the dead (Rom. 8:11).
A Closer Look… 1 Ti. 4:1-16
Paul speaks about ever-present dangers to the church:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Ti. 4:1-5)
The lesson is clear: God has created all things out of His perfect will, therefore nothing that He has created should be looked upon as unfit when it has been received with glory and praise being given, in consecrated prayer, to He who both created it and gave it.
Paul explains the benefits of holding to the truth:
If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Ti. 4:6-10)
Paul is nothing if not bold and forthright:
Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Ti. 4:11-16)
Paul has a critical message: it is not only yourself that you will save if you hold fast to the truth of Jesus Christ: it is all who hear your voice!
A Closer Look… 1 Ti. 5:1-25
Paul gives instructions regarding conduct toward various persons… those older and younger:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Ti. 5:1-2)
Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. (1 Ti. 5:3-6)
Paul states a truth:
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Ti. 5:8)
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (1 Ti. 5:9-16)
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. (1 Ti. 5:17)
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. (1 Ti. 5:19-20)
I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (1 Ti. 5:21-22)
In the above passage, Paul indicates that angels observe all that goes on in the churches; someone is always watching, therefore the elders and those who serve with them must conduct themselves well, with much deliberate thought put to church affairs before actions are taken.
Paul ends the chapter by talking about sins and good deeds of those who administer the church:
The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. (1 Ti. 5:24-25)
Paul indicates that what you are are is going to follow you and, sooner or later, be visible to all.
A Closer Look… 1 Ti. 6:1-21
Paul continues to give instructions… first regarding masters and slaves (again, in this day and age, a better analogy might be employers and employees):
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them. (1 Ti. 6:1-2)
…then false teachers:
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (1 Ti. 6:3-5)
… then money and godliness:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Ti. 6:6-10)
Paul appeals directly to Timothy (and to all believers), closing with a powerful benediction:
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Ti. 6:11-16)
Paul continues his appeal:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Ti. 6:17-19)
Finally, Paul enjoins Timothy (and all believers) to be careful with that with which he has been entrusted:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you. (1 Ti. 6:20-21)