“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.”1 Those are the words of Job after he loses his family, possession, and health and gives his opening discourse to his friends. Similar words could be used by Paul as he wrote the first letter to Timothy. A few years before this letter Paul had gathered the Ephesian elders to himself as he made his journey to Jerusalem. He reminded them of his labor among them, charged them to oversee the flock, and then he declared, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore be alert …” (Acts 20:29-31). Sadly, the occasion for the writing of 1 Timothy is that Paul’s words had proved prophetic. Indeed, false teachers had arisen from the church itself (possibly even from those who were elders in the church), and so Paul writes to Timothy (and to the church and Ephesus) to charge him to deal with these false teachers and their teaching.
Therefore, as we read Paul’s charge to Timothy and the church, we need to hear it as a charge to us as well. For it may be that our present circumstances aren’t like those with which Timothy was dealing in the sense of the exact same attack on the gospel taking place. However, we need to realize that in every age there are numerous attacks on the gospel, and these will not cease until the return of Christ. Satan knows his time is short and so he is ferociously waging war in these last days. That is why we must take up arms to wage warfare ourselves. And 1 Timothy 1 is a beginning place for us to learn the terms and conditions of our fight. With that said, then, let’s turn to this first chapter of Timothy and see what it is that we must think and do in light of the Scripture.
First, from the opening verses of the chapter we are reminded that we must fight against any teaching that is against the gospel and the purposes of the gospel.
We must fight against any teaching that comes against the gospel and its purposes (1-7)
After introducing himself in the letter as an apostle and noting Timothy as the recipient Paul writes in verses 3-4, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.”
We don’t know if Timothy had been sent specifically to Ephesus or simply had remained there after Paul had left, but what we do know is that Paul wanted Timothy to remain there for the task of confronting certain individuals who were teaching heresy in the church. Paul never gives us the details of what they were teaching, but he does show us that it is connected to things untrue (thus ‘myths’) and connected to genealogies. Possibly they were speculating on what certain Old Testament saints did and therefore what others should do. We don’t know. What we do know, however is that they were leading people away into speculations and pulling them away from laboring to fulfill God’s plans and purposes. Therefore Paul urges Timothy to charge these men to stop such teaching, seeing it as a danger to the church.
Verses 5-7 show us the great degree of their heresy. Paul first reminds Timothy of the goal of their labors, writing in verse 5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” Paul’s labor was to proclaim the gospel to men so that their hearts were made pure and their consciences were cleansed through faith which would lead to a life of love. These men, however, had clearly rejected this aim; they had rejected Paul’s gospel altogether. Thus Paul writes in verses 6-7, “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
These “certain persons” in the church had neglected that which would bring about a pure heart, clear conscience, and sincere faith and had focused on their vain discussions. They had denied the gospel themselves, as Paul mentioned that they had “swerved” from the effects the gospel produces, and they were trying to teach the law. However, they were ignorant of the law and its purposes. They were men whose lives had not been transformed by the gospel, teaching others while withholding the message of the gospel which brings about transformed lives. Therefore, again, Timothy is charged to confront these men and stop this teaching in the church that was coming against the gospel and the results the gospel brings, namely a life of love flowing from a transformed heart.
I believe this should be a loud and clear reminder to us that we must confront those teaching falsehood that comes against the gospel. Now, you could say that this is a command given to Timothy and therefore should only be applied to leaders in the church so that they alone are responsible for confronting false teaching. However, I believe we should apply this command to all believers for two reasons. First, when Paul writes to the Galatians about teaching coming against the gospel he writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Therefore, Paul lays the responsibility on the church to guard itself from false teaching, even if it were coming from him. So we may easily conclude that this church should confront false teaching, going against the gospel, even if it is coming from one of the elders, for the church is responsible to guard itself from false teaching. Second, when Paul ends the letter to Timothy he writes, “Grace be with you,” the “you” is plural, meaning he intended on the whole church hearing this letter and responding to it. Therefore, this could have been a reminder to the church in the future that even if Timothy himself departed from the gospel he should be confronted.
Now this is a good reminder to us not because I think we as a congregation love falsehood and hate the gospel. I know there is a love for the gospel. However, it is a good reminder to us because the default thinking in our age is that confrontation for any reason is bad and unloving. So it’s easier for us just to say, “Oh well, it’s false teaching, but I’d rather keep the peace than confront him.” But if that’s our temptation, what we need to remind ourselves of is that a life of sincere love coming from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith is only produced by the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel alone produces that kind of loving life. So, if we decide not to confront falsehood in the name of love we are actually allowing the only power to produce love to be silenced, namely, the power that comes from the proclamation of the gospel. For this reason this letter begins with a good reminder to us that we need to confront any teaching that comes against the gospel and the goals of the gospel. And again, this is so necessary because of what Paul makes even clearer in verses 8-11, namely, that the gospel alone transforms us so that we can live holy lives. So, not only does the text challenge us to confront anything that comes against the gospel, but it also reminds us that the gospel alone has the transforming power to produce holy living.
We must realize that the gospel alone transforms us so that we can live holy lives (8-11)
Having noted that these false teachers in the church didn’t understand the law or the things about which they make confident assertions, some might think that Paul sees no use for the law. In fact, maybe the false teachers were charging Paul with not seeing the law as he should. Therefore, Paul takes up verses 8-11 to show how the law is good if it is used correctly, but in the midst of it we see the message of the transforming power of the gospel.
Paul writes in verses 8-11, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”
Paul says the law is good, but it is good if it is used correctly. And you will only use it correctly (or lawfully) if you understand that the law was established not for Christians but for unbelievers, not for the righteous but for the wicked. The false teachers had missed the point of the law.
Now at first this may seem surprising to us. After all, it seems weird to hear that something in the Scripture, namely the law established with Moses, is not for Christians but only for unbelievers. Therefore, let me first show this is a common teaching with Paul before coming back to the text. In Galatians 3:19 Paul asks why the law was given, and then he answers, writing, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” That is, the law was given to show us our transgressions, our sins, so that we might look to Christ. Paul then goes on, writing, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:23-26). The law held us captive, pointing out our sins, revealing our need for Christ. However, once we see Christ and place our faith in him, we are no longer under the law.
Again, Paul writes earlier in Galatians, writing in 2:19, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” That is the purpose of the law was that we might die to it by coming to faith in Christ and thereby being made alive. That was the law’s purpose. That’s why Paul can say, “through the law” (that is, because of the law) I died “to the law.” The law was intended to bring one to die to it and live to Christ. Finally, in Romans 7:6 Paul writes, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” Thus, again and again we see in Paul’s writings that in coming to faith in Christ one dies to the Mosaic law. It is intended for the unbeliever to point him to Christ, not for the believer who has died to it.
Now does this mean that we as believers have no laws or standards by which we live? Of course we have laws and standards. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians that he is not under the law quickly notes that he is under the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). We are commanded to obey everything that Christ commands. We are under the law of our covenant. But we are not under the Mosaic law. It’s intended use is for unbelievers to see their sin and come to faith in Christ. Now let me add one explanatory note here as well. Some might then ask, “Then why do we even preach from the law? Why preach through the book of Genesis, for example?” And the answer is so that we might allow Genesis to display for us the glory of Christ in how he fulfilled the law and brought about righteousness on our behalf. We don’t preach Leviticus, for example, because we are bound to go through the same sacrifices they did but to allow Leviticus to highlight for us the glory of Christ in offering himself for us. The law is to point us to Christ, and that’s exactly what we celebrate as we preach through these books. But now back to our text.
It appears that the false teachers in the church had abandoned the gospel (again, “swerving from” a purse heart, good conscience, and sincere faith) and were attempting to teach the law as if that was what was necessary to bring about transformed Christian living. But Paul clearly shows that it’s not. That was never the law’s purpose. It was for the unjust and lawless. The way to produce that kind of life is to proclaim the gospel, have people believe, watch their hearts and consciences be transformed, and then live out a life of love from their transformed hearts. That is how Christian love is produced, not from putting yourself under the law. Holy living is produced from transformed hearts which are transformed only because of faith in the glorious gospel of Christ with which Paul had been entrusted. So, in showing the right use of the law Paul points us back to what he has already spoken of in verse 5, namely, the transforming power of the gospel. Therefore, again, we are reminded that the gospel alone brings the power to transform lives and produce holy living. To neglect the gospel in hopes that the law alone will bring about holy living will soon show itself in people living lives contrary to the Scripture. That appears to be exactly what was happening in Ephesus. In fact, quite possibly the reason Paul goes into so much detail describing those who live lawless lives is because he knew these kinds of people were in the church. Their lives were the product of hearing only the law and neglecting the gospel. Only right teaching can produce right living.
Then, having ended the section on the right use of the law with the note that he had been entrusted with the gospel, Paul begins to speak of his own life and testimony in verses 12-17. And in these verses we are reminded that not only can the gospel bring about transformation in peoples’ lives but if the gospel is truly accepted in faith then it inevitably brings about a transformation in peoples’ lives.
We must see that the gospel inevitably brings about transformation in our lives (12-17)
Paul begins this section writing in verse 12, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service through formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” Therefore, we see that strength has come to Paul making him a faithful servant of Christ to proclaim the gospel while he had been a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of Christ. How does one go from being a blasphemer, persecutor, and opponent of Christ to being strengthened to be a faithful servant of Christ? From where does this power and strength come? Paul has already answered in the chapter. It is from the gospel alone. Therefore, in this section he holds up his own life as a contrast to the false teachers, showing that his message is indeed the true message of Christ and his life is a model for what happens when one accepts the gospel by faith.
Though he had been an opponent of Christ, Paul writes, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (13-15).
If Paul’s opponents were to point to Paul’s former sins as a means to discredit him, Paul points out that he acted ignorantly in unbelief. That is, he was an unbeliever. Whereas Paul’s opponents now live unholy lives while proclaiming to be Christians, Paul lived his life as an un unbeliever. Then, however, grace, mercy, faith, and love came overflowed for him in the gospel so that his life was changed. His life had been transformed because of the gospel message.
“But,” we might ask, “Is Paul an exception to what happens when we respond in faith to the gospel?” No, Paul writes in verse 16, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul, being the worst of the worst if you will, is an example to us of Christ’s patience in dealing with us and how he can transform our lives. Whereas the false teachers had seen the lack of transformation from their teaching, Paul himself is an example of the transforming power of the gospel. His life had been changed, and he was simply an example of pattern for us who believe to see what happens when the gospel is believed.
When someone is genuinely converted, he is changed. It might not be that like Paul you persecuted the church before your conversion and then became a missionary spreading the gospel all over the world, a reality that leads Paul to end this section overwhelmed in praise to God declaring, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (17). However, if you have truly believed in the gospel then your heart has been transformed so that you love God and your brothers and sisters in Christ. That is what inevitably follows genuine belief in the gospel. It is evidence that we truly know Christ, and its absence was the evidence that these false teachers were not proclaiming the true gospel.
Therefore, Paul ends, repeating his charge to Timothy, a charge which reminds us that we must hold fast to the gospel, having been entrusted with this message.
We must hold fast to the gospel, realizing we have been entrusted with this message (18-20)
Paul ends this chapter, writing, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (18-20).
He reminds Timothy again of the charge to confront false teaching, reminding him of prophecies that head been made about him. Whatever these prophecies were they no doubt were passed on from men telling Timothy that he indeed had been appointed by God to lead in the church. So Paul was reminding Timothy of this and exhorting him again to wage war against this false teaching. And he reminds Timothy again of the serious nature of this battle by reminding him that he had already had to put two men out of the church that they might learn not to blaspheme. This was no light task. It was something Timothy had to faithfully carry out; he had to defend and promote the gospel against falsehood.
And so it is for us. We have been entrusted with this gospel message. How will anyone hear the gospel unless we preach? Therefore, let us be faithful to confront any teaching which comes against the gospel, let us be faithful to declare the gospel to those who have not believed that they might know Christ, and let us be faithful to proclaim the gospel to ourselves and our brothers and sisters so that we might continue to witness the transforming effect of the gospel in purifying our hearts, cleansing our consciences, and through faith producing lives which love God and one another.
May we now display our delight in the gospel and our intent to obey the word we have just heard in faith as we come to the table. Amen.