Sunday, May 14, 2023
1 Timothy 1: The King Eternal
Letter writing in our electronic age is quite uncommon, isn’t it? I was never a great letter writer before texting and emailing, but it’s been years, it seems, since I’ve written a letter, and especially a letter with pen and paper.
In the Bible, we have in our hands two letters written by a man named Paul to his protégé. His disciple in the faith, named Timothy.
Timothy was like a son to Paul, so this letter has some personal elements to it, but it mostly consists of eternal truth that not only Timothy needed to help churches he was working with, but that we need to know even today as we live out the Christian life in the church.
Though the letters were written more than 1,900 years ago, they are as relevant today as they were then.
In the next 10 weeks as we go thru these two heaven-inspired letters, we are going to use these CSB Journals.
This morning we will cover Chapter 1. I will read every verse in the Chapter, but I won’t comment on everything.
However, we will work hard to get the overall sense of the entire letter and chapter 1, as well as diving in more deeply to a few things.
So open up your Journals or other Bibles.
First read vs. 1-2.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior 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.
Though we will see some personal notes from Paul to his disciple, as with all Paul’s letters, this is not a chatty, casual letter. Paul had a clear purpose in mind.
But let’s start with some basics.
So who were Paul and Timothy?
We can go to the Book of Acts to find out much about their stories. The title “Acts” speaks of the “acts” or the “deeds” of the apostles, those men like Peter and Paul who were specifically called by Jesus to take the gospel message of eternal life to the world.
In Acts 8, we are introduced to Paul—then called by his Jewish name, Saul—who was a zealous man, influential in the Jewish community, and a hater of this Jesus who was killed. And the rumor on the streets was that this Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.
Paul was so zealous against Jesus and his followers, that he violently persecuted the Christians.
He participated in the murder of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Acts 8:1–3 CSB Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem… Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
Later here in back in Timothy 1, we will get Paul’s take on this, how God had mercy on him, and how Paul was transformed from the inside out, going from a violent persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ to a humble, loving, faith-filled servant of Christ who eventually died for his faith.
If any of us are ever tempted to think we’ve ever sinned too extensively or frequently for Christ to forgive us, we’ll want to pay attention as we read Paul’s words.
So that’s a screenshot at who Paul was.
Then who was Timothy?
We are introduced to Timothy in Acts, as well. Paul was on his second missionary journey, and he met Timothy.
Acts 16:1–2 CSB Paul went on to Derbe and Lystra [two cities in the area we now call Turkey], where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.
We will read later in Paul’s second letter called 2nd Timothy that Timothy was influenced for the gospel by his mother and grandmother.
And Timothy was much younger than Paul, and he became like a son to him, a son in the faith.
From the Book of Acts and from some of Paul’s other NT letters, we discover that Paul and Timothy traveled much for ministry, planting churches and pastoring churches together.
The setting of the letter:
From verse 3, we will learn Timothy is in the ancient city of Ephesus, located in what we call today, “Turkey”, the western edge. Ephesus had a church there, and church where Paul himself had spent much time.
(We just read from Acts 16 that Timothy was from the Lystra area.)
We don’t know where Paul was when he wrote the letter.
Let’s step back for a moment and examine not only 1 Timothy but 2 Timothy and Titus.
All 3 of these letters that are commonly called, “The Pastoral Epistles.” They were likely written in the early 60’s A.D., in the order shown on the slide, so about 30 years after Jesus Christ died, rose, and ascended.
Like Timothy, Titus was Paul’s disciple and co-worker, and both those men were helping churches, either in the role of Apostles or Pastors. So the Pastoral Epistles are letters written to pastors and for pastors.
But the term “Pastoral” may be too narrow. For as we read all three letters, we see that they are highly relevant to the churches in the 60’s A.D. and to our little church here in 2023.
That’s some of the background. Now let’s continue reading.
3 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine
4 or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.
5 Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
6 Some have departed from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.
7 They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
8 But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.
9 We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers,
10 for the sexually immoral and males who have sex with males, for slave traders, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching
11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me.
In vs. 3 Paul gives us a glimpse into his reason for writing this letter.
He wanted Timothy to stay in the city of Ephesus because of false doctrine that was being taught to people in the church.
The word “doctrine” simply means “teaching.”
So both true and false teachings are a significant theme of all three of the Pastoral Epistles.
So what is this “doctrine”, these “teachings” that Paul is talking about?
We may think of “doctrine” or “teaching” as mere facts, like facts in a history or chemistry class. Paul is speaking of facts, to be sure. But he means so much more than that. The “teachings” Paul speaks of center around the will of God for mankind. And if we zoom in on that, we find that the teachings Paul is concerned about it all that revolves around Jesus Christ…What he has done for us in his death and resurrection.
Because these true teachings of the gospel have eternal impact, Paul is very concerned about anything false being taught. Anything untrue and anything that distracts us from a knowledge of and devotion to Christ.
This is so important to Paul (and to God) because what we are taught affects what we believe. And what we believe affects how we live. This is important: What we are taught (what we hear) leads to what we believe (faith). And what we believe works itself out in some kind of behavior (actions, character). So teachings (what we hear, whether good or bad) develop the ROOT in our hearts. And that ROOT results in the FRUIT.
In this case in Ephesus where Timothy is, it’s possible these false teachers were formers pastors/elders in the church. I don’t have time to show why that’s possible, but the last verses in Chapter 1 and some of Paul’s words in Acts 20 indicate that may have been the case.
If this could happen in a church that Paul helped establish, we would be foolish to think it couldn’t happen to us at Stonebrook or to any other church. That is one reason our pastor team spends so much time each week talking about the Scriptures together, what we understand it to mean, and what we will teach. We work hard to stay united in our teaching. This is why it’s good for all of us to learn in community, not in isolation. We can help protect one another from false doctrine that inevitably leads us away from Christ.
False teachers today can also come in from outside in the form of media: books, websites, and YouTube. This is why we’re careful what books we recommend.
So one theme of 1 Timothy as well as 2 Timothy and Titus is to be on guard against false teaching (false doctrine) and the importance of preaching what is true to one another.
There is also one other theme in 1st Timothy, and it is related to what I just mentioned.
We look ahead to chapter 3:
1 Timothy 3:14–15 CSB I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Paul wrote to promote right teaching that leads to right living if we believe it. Paul certainly wants them to KNOW what is true. And he wants them to BELIEVE what is true. And he is equally concerned that they LIVE out what is true. He writes to Timothy to tell the saints how they should live with one another.
A phrase that Paul uses several times in the Pastoral Epistles is “sound doctrine.” “Sound” means good teaching. Healthy teaching.
So putting it all together, healthy teaching leads to healthy living.
And a key word Paul uses throughout the Pastoral Epistles to describe this “healthy living” is “godliness.” Godliness means “a devout walk with God. A deep inward walk with God that is matched with outward actions.”
So what is Paul’s motivation in writing all this to Timothy and emphasizing teaching truth that leads to godliness? Is he simply a demanding, pushy religious leader? Is he out to make lots of money? Is he looking for the applause of others?
Vs. 5 tells us his goal in all his instruction in this letter and everywhere he goes: He is motivated by love. Love for God and love for others. He goes on to say he’s not interested in constant chatter and endless debates about things that are really not central to healthy teaching and healthy living. He cares genuinely for others, and simply wants them to find the joy and hope and glory of the gospel that leads to eternal life.
One application here:
Pay attention to two things:
- The teachings you hear.
- Your life.
What do I mean?
1 Timothy 4:16 CSB Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
We shouldn’t ignore what we teach and what we hear or read. Pay attention. Give yourself as much input into your soul as you can. And we shouldn’t ignore how we are living. Is it pleasing to God? Is there any sin that I need to get help in in order to have “healthy living?”
So pay attention to the ROOT and to the FRUIT.
We need to get help from one another. And we need to help each other.
Read vs. 12-17.
12 I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry—
13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief,
14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.
16 But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
This passage has been on my mind at least once a week for years, whether I’m thinking about it for my own soul or sharing it with many of you. I absolutely love Paul’s words here for three reasons.
One is his honesty. He has a dark past, and he’s not hesitant about telling us about it. That’s surprising. We commonly are tempted to hide our dark past.
Second, Paul’s focus is not morbidly bragging about how bad he was. I know I did that as a young man before Christ saved me: my friends and I would try to outbrag each other in how many sins we committed the night before out partying and other crazy and evil things. No, Paul never brags about such things. His bragging is on the grace of God.
God’s patience to Paul is absolutely astounding. God’s willingness to forgive this violent, blasphemous man is remarkable. Even shocking. Consider God’s kindness to Paul. If you hurt my children and grandchildren the way Paul hurt God’s children, I cannot imagine being so gracious to you.
Third, Paul’s words her give you and me true hope. Hope. The hope of peace with God. Complete peace. The hope of radical forgiveness. The hope of a brand new life.
So let’s take this in for a moment. Sometimes we think we should never think about them. In fact, we want to ERASE the memories of our sins. We don’t want anyone to know our sordid past, whether that past was from 30 minutes ago or 30 years ago. I understand that completely.
But Paul is recounting some horrifically evil things he did, and at the time Paul thought he was doing it in the name of God. Paul’s history was so dark that if he came to Stonebrook and wanted to help in Sunday School, on paper he wouldn’t pass our background check. Which of you parents would want a former murderer in your child’s class?
Why does Paul share his story? How can he do this without being overwhelmed by guilt and shame? Here’s how: Paul now had absolute confidence about his salvation. No doubts. He knows his forgiveness is complete. About 5 years earlier, he wrote his Epistle to the church in Rome, chapter 8 of Romans, telling that church that there is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
Paul understands the ramifications of the gospel so well that he can tell us about his dark, dark past with complete peace in his soul. So Paul’s new life in Christ is a powerful testimony of just how radical and thorough and eternal is the work of Jesus Christ—his death and resurrection.
Consider this: If God is willing to save Paul by his mercy, surely anyone of us can be saved, right? If Paul can say, “There will never again be condemnation for me!”, can’t we say that? He no longer had to carry the weight of guilt and shame. He didn’t need to hide his horrific past. Rather, his dark past became part of his testimony of grace.
Do any of us have a past that is worse than Paul’s?
LISTEN: You and I have to come to grips with the beauty and depth of our salvation through Jesus Christ. All this is how Paul can say in Romans 5:20 that when “Sin abound, grace abounds all the more.” That’s the essence of a song we sing here, “Grace that is greater than all our sin.”
From my study of God’s Word and my observations of people, including myself, two things stand in our way of having this radical freedom revolutionize our lives.
- Our pride. We simply want to believe that we are better than we really are. That we’re not that bad. But when we’re faced with our badness, our pride pushes back and we look for another solution. We excuse ourselves. We do penance. We try harder to show, “Maybe, just maybe I’m not as bad as I’m faced with.” We need to humble ourselves before our mighty, eternal, merciful God. As John the Baptist said in John 1, “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.”
The second thing that stands in our way of walking in joy and hope in this radical salvation:
2. Our unbelief. We read the gospels. We hear the NT epistles. All describing this glorious, life-altering gospel message, and we simply don’t believe it. We think, Surely it’s too good to be true. Surely God isn’t really that patient and kind and merciful. Surely I have to do something to make all this happen. But simply: We must repent of our unbelief, and like a child come to God with a simple trust. If God says it, it is true. If it’s not true, then our Christianity is a huge hoax, and we are wasting our time here. Let’s all just go home right now.
If we have believed in Jesus Christ, our past sins are now part of our testimony of God’s grace. You and I can speak of such things freely and give God glory. We need not walk in shame and condemnation. We can say, “Hey friend, may I tell you just how kind and patient God has been with me??”
Glory to God!
Then in vs. 17, is it any wonder that Paul breaks out into praise, into this brief but beautiful doxology?
“Now to the King. To the Ruler of all things. The King of all kings to whom every knee will bow before…
“To the King who is eternal. From eternity past to eternity future. No beginning and no end….
“To the King who is immortal. He is life and he has life. All things that live, live because of him…
“To the King who is invisible. He is the Holy, Invisible, All-powerful, Majestic King…
“To the only God….the only One….There are no others. For all other so-called gods are pathetic imitations…
“To this King and God, be all the honor I can muster. To him be all the glory I can express.
With my words. With my song. With my hands and my feet.
With my very life….to him be honor and glory.
“For how long? Forever and ever.
There is no one like him.
Paul is writing this letter as he does all his letters: He prays for, pleads for, and expects that the Holy Spirit will take this heaven-sent words and radically change our lives. Yes, I know it can take time to grow. Yes, I know obstacles stand in our way. But the healthy teaching…this healthy doctrine…that Paul writes about is transformative. It is dynamic.
The Scriptures God has given us all have been so beautiful to me for so many years. Since my sophomore year of college here at Iowa State when I believed in Christ…44 years ago…God has taken the words he has spoken in the Scriptures and consistently driven them into my heart like a hammer to a nail. I owe Christ everything.
One application here:
As you read Paul’s epistles, remember his former life. The violence. The blasphemy. The harm he brought to so many Christians. With that in mind, pay attention to what he says about forgiveness. About our identity in Christ. About the radical forgiveness we have in Christ. And when you read those words, pray something simple like this:
“Lord, help me to believe you with all my heart like Paul here. Help me to walk in that radical joy and freedom. Help me to walk in devotion to the One who brought me peace with God through his blood and through his resurrection.”
Pray that. And pray it again and again. And pray it constantly for your friends. And see what God does to transform you and the rest of us from the inside out.
Now let’s read the last 3 verses.
18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight,
19 having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and have shipwrecked their faith.
20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.
I wish we had more time to talk about the themes Paul raises here. But we’ll hear more of them later.
- Faith. Simple, childlike trust in the Living God. Faith doesn’t mean we understand everything. It doesn’t mean every question has been answered. Faith simply means trust. We trust in the most trustworthy Person in the Universe. We are in a spiritual war for the souls of men and women, so Paul says, “Fight the good fight.” We do that first by holding on to a simple trust in the God who made us and saved us.
2. A good conscience. This means to be at a place where this God-given, inner voice of right and wrong is clear. Is at peace with God and man. It doesn’t mean we’ve done everything right. But when we haven’t, we got right with God and man.
To hold on to these two things will result in a very fruitful life in Christ. But to reject these two things means the ship of our lives will crash on the rocks and sink like these two men.
One application here:
Pay attention to your conscience.
The first thing we follow is the clear instruction of God’s Word. But on matters where the Scriptures are silent, we must pay attention to our conscience. If to take some certain action bothers us, we should pay attention to that and follow our conscience.
This is topic we don’t talk enough about, but we should. Let’s begin some conversations about what it means to walk with a clear conscience.
Let’s close with a brief summary:
- Healthy teaching…if we believe it…leads to healthy living.
- The gospel is so rich and full and beautiful that we can embrace our past, dark lives as part of our testimony of proclaiming the wonderful grace of God.
- Let’s fight the good fight of faith by walking by faith and with a clear conscience to have a more fruitful life.