Following a customary brief introduction (vv.1-2; cp. Acts 23.26), in which the writer and recipient were named and a short greeting was given, Paul reminded Timothy of his solemn duty to silence the false teachers of Ephesus (vv.3-11; 18-20), while expressing his own unceasing thankfulness to Christ for the privilege of serving Him (vv.11-17). Unsurprisingly, such a charge detailed the characteristic features of true servants, namely Paul and Timothy, in glaring contrast to the false teachers of whom Hymenæus and Alexander were prominent (v.20).
Timothys Charge (vv.3-11; 18-20)
The Greek words paraggelia and paraggello both express military authority. They occur three times in ch.1 and describe both the commandment to Timothy and his subsequent order for the false teaching to stop: "thou mightest charge" (v.3), "commandment" (v.5) and "charge" (v.18). This charge to Timothy was first, a written restatement of a previously given verbal exhortation (v.3); second, a timely appeal to defend the faith in the light of encroaching error (vv.3-4); third, a concerted effort to achieve godliness in believers (vv.5,20); fourth, an authoritative commandment which came from God (v.18); and fifth, a serious call to personal effort and endurance (v.18).
First, Paul departed from Ephesus before completely dealing with its false teachers (v.20). Therefore, unwilling to abandon the flock, like David who "left the sheep with a keeper" (1 Sam 17.20), Paul assigned Timothy the important task of addressing heresy (v.3). This letter provided a written reminder of his responsibilities. Such aide-memoires concerning Christian duty are invaluable.
Second, Pauls former warning to the Ephesian elders had been literally fulfilled: "after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20.29-30). Even an assembly as privileged as Ephesus, having been taught by Paul for three years, succumbed to ungodly teaching. Error both differs in character from (v.3), and actively opposes, "sound doctrine" (v.10). It is frequently propagated by those within the Christian circle. Therefore, each local church must constantly scrutinise everything against the plumb-line of Scripture and vigorously repel error, so "earnestly [contending] for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude v.3).
The false doctrines of Ephesus arose from a wrong application of the law of God (v.7), with the addition of "fables and endless genealogies" (v.4) fictitious expansions of Old Testament stories and family trees. The New Testament considers "the law [as] the written Mosaic law, including generally the entire Pentateuch [Genesis-Deuteronomy]".1 Each of these five books is specifically referred to as law in the New Testament:
Gen 3.16 1 Cor 14.34
Ex 20.17 Rom 7.7
Lev 19.18 Lk 10.26-27
Num 28.9-10 Mt 12.5
Deut 25.4 1 Cor 9.9.
Although occasionally law describes the entire Old Testament (e.g. Jn 10.34 considers Ps 82.6 as law; 1 Cor 14.21 refers to Is 28.11-12 as law), "even in this rare usage it must be remembered that the whole Old Testament Scripture assumes the existence of the law, calls men back to the law and threatens the penalties of the law for its violation".2 Since "the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient" (v.9), it cannot be viewed as the rule of life for the believer in the Lord Jesus. In fact, the Christian has "become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that [he] should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that [he] should bring forth fruit unto God" (Rom 7.4). No matter how well meaning, those who teach that New Testament believers must obey the law "understand neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (v.7). They fail to appreciate a true definition of the law, its character and purpose, and the Christians relation to it. Teaching Christians to keep the law is, in Peters words, "[putting] a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" (Acts 15.10). Such teaching leads to a myriad of unanswerable "questions" (v.4), and fails to accomplish "the administration [or stewardship] of God" (v.4, Newberry margin) entrusted to Bible teachers. The Christian "is rather occupied with the [law] as a revelation of the divine holiness, and finds in its spiritual breadth a means of humbling his heart and so leading him to fall back on the saving power of that righteousness of God which is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith".3
The false teachers "missed the mark" (Newberry margin) and voluntarily "turned aside to vain discourse" (JND) with no profitable results (v.6). Their ambition to become prestigious law-teachers was mixed with ignorance "understanding neither what they say" and outright assertiveness "strenuously affirm" (v.7, JND). Such eagerness to establish themselves led to blasphemy (v.20), the putting away of a good conscience, and irreparable shipwreck of their faith (v.19). In contrast, the true teacher should build up, stir up and lift up the saints (1 Cor 14.3),4 while being humble yet knowledgeable, authoritative yet meek. He must have a high regard for God, a clear conscience and a Biblically based foundation for his life.
Third, the ultimate goal in disciplining erring believers is their eventual restoration. Therefore, when Hymenæus and Alexander were "delivered unto Satan" excommunicated from the protective sphere of the local assembly it was in order "that they may learn not to blaspheme" (v.20). Timothys charge to the false teachers was also intended to have the positive result of love which, in order to develop, requires "a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned [non-hypocritical]" (v.5).
Fourth, the church is likened to a building "built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph 2.20). At the beginning of the church period, before a completed New Testament, God instructed saints through authoritative apostolic teaching and Spirit led prophetic ministry. Since Timothy was specially identified for Christs service through prophetic utterance (v.18) his duty at Ephesus came with divine authority.
Fifth, the sheer difficulty of Timothys specific mission, and the stamina required for the Christian life generally, was implied by the words, "war a good warfare" (v.18). By reflecting upon the prophecy that called him to service, Timothy was to be heartily encouraged in his difficult endeavour.
Pauls Thankfulness (vv.11-17)
Paul was unceasingly grateful to the Lord for considering him faithful, who before his conversion was "a blasphemer and persecutor, and an insolent overbearing man" (v.13, JND). In giving him a work to do "putting me into the ministry" (not a paid pastorate, but lowly service) and providing the necessary strength to accomplish it "hath enabled me" Christ entrusted Paul with the invaluable treasure of the gospel (vv.11-12). This gospel glorifies God, is worthy of acceptance by all in every detail, and focuses on the pre-existent Saviour who stooped from unspeakable heights to enter this world for the salvation of sinners (vv.11,15). Such gratitude was combined with a deep sense of his own unworthiness and Gods ineffable majesty.
Paul considered himself to be the worst sinner (v.15) and, therefore, his own conversion became a pattern which displayed the length to which Christs longsuffering may extend to save a guilty soul (v.16). He was transformed from "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9.1) into a devoted servant of the church, energised by "faith and love" (v.14). Now none need despair that they are beyond redemption.
Having explained the reasons for his thankfulness, Paul burst forth with praise to God that was full of doctrinal richness (v.17):
"The King of the ages" (JND) implies Gods sovereignty and transcendence over the succeeding ages of time.
"Incorruptible" (JND) suggests both the immutability (never changes) and holiness of deity.
"Invisible" reminds us that "God [who] is a Spirit" (Jn 4.24), dwells "in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6.16, JND), and "there shall no man see [Him], and live" (Ex 33.20). He has, however, graciously made Himself visible in His beloved Son (Jn 1.18).
"The only wise God" explains that He is unique and incomparable with heathen idols: "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?" (Is 40.18).
"Be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen" Gods praise will never end.
To be continued.
1McClain, J A. Law and Grace: A study of New Testament concepts as they relate to the Christian life (BMH Books).
3Lilley; cited by Hiebert, D E. Everymans Bible Commentary: First Timothy (Moody Press).
4Newell, D J. Studies in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (unpublished).