TRANSFORMING TRUTH 1 Timothy 1
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15).God’s truth transforms.
Itinerancy in the first century.
It’s popular to speak of Timothy and Titus as “pastors” of local churches. In fact neither Timothy nor Titus settled down into a pastoral role. Each of these younger companions of Paul served as a trouble-shooter, sent by Paul to correct abuses or give additional instruction to congregations the apostle had founded. Timothy and Titus were much more like the modern “bishop” or “district superintendent” than like local church pastors. It’s difficult for us to recapture the role of the itinerant Christian leader of the Apostolic Age. Letters of Polycarp, dating to aboutA.D 115, show that significant changes in church structure had already taken place by his time. Many, many more changes have taken place since. However, the basic framework of first-century church life and ministry are relatively clear. Christians met in houses in smaller groups, which may infrequently have met together. Local elders guided the church in the wider community, and the terms “elder” and “bishop” were used interchangeably to identify them. The churches also developed the office of “deacon.” Their function seems to have centered on charity and on those administrative tasks required in any organized group. The life of these early churches was enriched by many intinerant teachers and preachers, who traveled from city to city visiting the house-churches. The itinerant teacher would stay for a while with a Christian family, share his special teaching, and then move on—often helped along his way with a gift of funds or food. But one problem with itinerants was that false teachers could and did pose as Christians. Some, particularly those with a Jewish background who argued that Old Testament Law was binding on Christians, succeeded in subverting the faith of young congregations. The Apostles followed the itinerant pattern, though they and their representatives were rightly viewed as having special divine authority. Timothy and Titus were two of these “sub-apostles,” by whom Paul sent special messages to the churches he founded. Paul also sent them to correct doctrinal errors introduced by false teachers, and to call believers back to a dedicated Christian lifestyle. In reading the Pastoral Epistles, then, we are reminded of the needs of all Christian churches, not just the situation in a single church pastored by Timothy, or by Titus. What we read here applies to the church of Jesus Christ everywhere, at all times. Thus it applies, not just to leaders, but to you and to me as well, and the congregations of which we are a part.
Paul warned Timothy (1:1–2) against false teachers (vv. 3–7) who misunderstood the nature of the Law (vv. 8–11). The Gospel emphasizes transforming grace (vv. 12–17) and calls for commitment (vv. 18–20).
Understanding the Text
“Timothy my true son in the faith” 1 Tim. 1:1–2. The word translated “true” here means “genuine.” It was frequently used in first-century letters to indicate affection and appreciation. Timothy was the young son of a Jewish mother and Greek father whom Paul met on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3). Paul invited Timothy to join his missionary team, and within a few years Timothy was trusted as an emissary Paul could send to visit churches in his stead. Paul said of the faithful Timothy in Philippians 2:20: “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” This letter was written to Timothy to give him special instruction and encouragement while he was on a mission for Paul in Ephesus. “Myths and endless genealogies” 1 Tim. 1:3–7. This phrase, with the observation that many in Ephesus were devoting themselves to “empty chatter,” suggests that some in the church there had begun to follow Jewish teachers who used an allegorical method of interpreting the Old Testament. It was not uncommon in late Judaism or in early Christianity to look for “spiritual” meanings assumed to be hidden in the literal words and narratives of Scripture. The great Jewish philosopher, Philo, and the second-century Christian theologian, Origen, are both examples of this tendency. But the great problem with speculative approaches to Scripture is that there is no check on a person’s interpretation—and that such approaches fail to promote faith. The meaning of the events of Scripture, as of the teaching of the Prophets and Apostles, is found in the plain intent of the words of the Bible, not in some hidden meaning discovered by supposedly gifted interpreters. Those who ignore the plain meaning of God’s Word show that “they do not know that they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” “The goal of this command is love” 1 Tim. 1:5. In the Pastoral Epistles Paul often emphasized the importance of teaching “sound doctrine” (cf. v. 10) as well as of silencing those who teach “false doctrines.” His reason was not just that sound doctrine is true, and false doctrine is not. Paul noted that teaching sound doctrine produces a distinctive lifestyle—and that teaching false doctrine does not! The product of sound doctrinal teaching is “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v. 5). This conviction was the foundation of Paul’s ministry. Teaching the truth will transform human beings. God’s truth has the power to stimulate faith, to cleanse the conscience, and purify the heart. A person touched by truth will become a loving, caring individual. We’re not to fight for God’s truth. We are to open our hearts to the truth, and let it transform us. “Law is made not for good men” 1 Tim. 1:8–10a. The allegorical approach of the teachers Timothy was to silence emphasized Law, not faith (cf. v. 4). Paul was not anti-Law. But he insisted Law be given only its rightful place. Law is something like the iron bars that make a tiger’s cage. The bars are there to keep the tiger in. Thus Paul said, “law is made” for “lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful,” and went on to list their terrible crimes. You need a cage for people like this. The cage is there to protect others from the harm the loose tiger would do. But what if the tiger has been transformed into a puppy dog? You don’t need a cage for a friendly puppy. A friendly puppy barks and wags his tail in welcome, and leaps up to lick your face. No one puts a puppy behind iron bars, because the puppy will do them no harm. This was Paul’s point. The non-Christian needs the Law: it provides some restraint against harmful behavior. But why would Christians need Law? The Christian has been made good by Christ: our tiger has been tamed! What you do with a Christian is throw the cage away, and let him or her love you! It may sound religious, holy, and dedicated to speak up for the Law. But the Law, which says, “Thou shalt not,” is irrelevant for Christians, who “will not” anyway! “The glorious Gospel of God” 1 Tim. 1:10b-11. How glorious the Gospel of God is! God has given us a truth that transforms human nature itself. “Holding on to faith and a good conscience” 1 Tim. 1:18–20. Paul had discussed, and illustrated (see DEVOTIONAL) the revolutionizing power of the Gospel. Now he urged Timothy, and us, to “fight the good fight” for God’s transforming truth. Two things are necessary if we are to serve God effectively. We must “hold on to faith,” that sound doctrine Paul affirmed. And we must hold to “a good conscience.” Simply put, we must hold sound doctrine—and let it get a hold on us. Being doctrinally correct has no value to us or to others unless we are also doctrinally corrected: unless the lives we lead are as pure as the truth we embrace.
Was . . . and Am(1 Tim. 1:12–16)
I love those diet ads on TV and in the newspapers that feature “before” and “after” pictures. Sometimes they are obviously staged. The fatter “before” person slouches and thrusts out the tummy. The leaner, meaner “after” shows a side view, with his chest stuck out, his tummy tucked in. In other diet ads the young woman featured (it’s almost always young, very attractive women), looks like she never had a “before.” She’s like our 98-pound friend, Carol, who’s always moaning she’s 2 pounds overweight, and claiming with a straight face that 2 pounds on her tiny frame are as bad as 60 extra on my six foot two. The Gospel makes “before” and “after” claims too. And here Paul presented himself as an example. Before he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” After, having met Christ and experienced the overflow of His grace, Paul became a different man. This is what is unique about the truth of the Gospel. It isn’t just a collection of true facts, or a compilation of doctrinal data. The truth of the Gospel is vital, transforming, dynamic. It is the living, active Word of God that when welcomed into our hearts works an inner alchemy. Violence is transmuted into compassion. Blasphemy is altered to praise. Persecution is commuted into brotherly love. Paul said, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” You and I may not be able to pose with Paul for the “before” picture. But let’s make sure we’re right there with him for the “after.”
What you were isn’t as important to God or others as what you are.
“He that gives good admonition and bad example builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.”—Francis Bacon