Timothy was one of the Apostle Paul’s principal associates. He had joined Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:2), having become a believer in his home city of Lystra in modern day Turkey, probably when Paul had preached there. His mother was a Jewess, his father a Greek, and he had been brought up to know the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14-16). Timothy was with Paul toward the end of the Apostle’s first imprisonment in Rome (Philippians 2:19-24).
They travelled to Macedonia (Philippians 2:24), stopping in Ephesus on the way. But they discovered that false teachers who had taken over the church. Paul had predicted this (Acts 20:29-30). So, he left Timothy to deal with those who were leaders but preaching a false message (1:3-4). Paul instructed that two of these men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, must leave the church (1:19-20).
Some have called Timothy a pastor, but he is probably best seen as the Apostle’s special envoy sent to provide temporary help until the church was able to thrive.
The letter was written to support Timothy as he exercised authority on behalf of Paul within the church, but also intended for the wider audience of the Ephesian church.
It must have been written sometime after Paul’s release from his first imprisonment (AD 61) and probably before his re-arrest and final imprisonment, and subsequent execution, so maybe around AD 62-64.
In 1 Timothy 3:14-16 Paul gives the purpose of the letter: ‘… so you will know how people should conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.’ 1 Timothy is a practical letter about how a godly church should be: good teaching, prayerful worship, faithful leaders, godly living, generous caring. Paul started by clearly addressing the root problem of false teaching. 1 Timothy 1:3 says, ‘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…’
The letter identifies the false doctrines and outlines how Timothy needed to act and preach as a leader in the church. It includes instruction on how the church should organise its services and practices, ahead of the time when Paul said he hoped to visit them again (2:14-15) though we have no evidence that he ever did. Paul encouraged Timothy to live in a godly way at a time of pressure from those inside the church (6:11-12).
The letter explains the character qualities of a church leader (chapter 3), and some of the elements for public worship (chapter 2). It reminds us that although church should be a loving and welcoming community, false teaching will destroy the spiritual vitality of any church. Those who refuse to conform to sound teaching need to leave, or they will harm the church.
Stick to the Truth
The letter reminds us that some so-called Christians live and teach differently; if they do not follow apostolic teaching, they are wrong. Many false teachers claim to have biblical backing, but they ultimately undermine the pure Gospel - that we are only saved by grace through faith, which frees us to live a godly life (1:3-11, 4:1-16). Godly churches encourage godly living and rescue people from foolish and deadly teaching. Churches cannot become healthy unless they teach what is ‘sound’ or healthy (6:3).
Timothy was a younger man lacking in confidence. Paul instructed him to focus on what is important. This should come to each generation as a fresh reminder not to be distracted, but to concentrate on using God’s gifts in His way for the benefit of all (4:12-16).
The church and money
‘… the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ (6:10). This truth must firstly be applied to the church. Preachers who promise wealth or demand money are not teaching biblically (6:6-10). Churches must be careful how they handle money; in chapters 5 and 6 Paul applies this to how the church gives to the needy, supports its leaders and relies on God. Paul reminds us that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ which should be the attitude of all in the church including its leaders.
Living a godly life
A recurring theme of the letter is what true godliness looks like. The summary verses (3:14-16) show us that godliness looks like Jesus. The word ‘mystery’ (v16) means something that was hidden but is now revealed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of a godly life: a church that is healthy is a church that loves Him, listens to Him, lives like Him and tells others about Him.
Instructions to the church
|1||Warning against false teaching|
|2||How to worship God in prayerful submission|
|3||Who to appoint as church leaders|
Instructions to Timothy
|4||Teach and live the truth, even if some people despise it|
|5||Relate within the church as a family|
Beware of false teachers who are greedy for money (6:3-10)