1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus comprise the three “Pastoral Epistles” of the Apostle Paul. Some modern scholars have raised questions about whether Paul actually wrote these letters, but significant evidence supports his authorship of 1 Timothy—and the other two letters—between A.D. 62–67, after the events recounted in Acts 28.
1 Timothy is an intimate letter between close friends: Paul, the great teacher and mentor; and Timothy, his disciple and “true child in the faith” (1:2). A native of Lystra and the child of a Greek father and a Jewish Christian mother, Timothy traveled extensively with Paul after being led to faith in Christ (probably by Paul himself). As he saw churches established throughout Asia Minor, Timothy learned about Paul’s burden for strong churches. During Paul’s fourth missionary journey to Macedonia, he asked Timothy to watch over the Ephesian church. In this first letter to Timothy, he urged the younger man to counter false teachings and guide the expanding Ephesian flock.
In the first two chapters of 1 Timothy, Paul stresses the need to remain faithful to the gospel. All church activity should teach and display the gospel so that every church member grows in expressions of love—for both God and for others. Sometimes, learning about the Bible or God results in arguments and unending speculations. Paul called these “useless discussions” (1:4).
But, according to Paul, increased knowledge about God should help purify our hearts, cleanse our consciences, and remove hypocrisy. 1 Timothy 3 addresses the character of those who lead and serve the church: overseers (elders) and deacons. They should serve in an orderly fashion and should exemplify living that is shaped by the gospel.
1 Timothy 4 warns of enemies inside and outside the church who will work hard to lead believers away from following Jesus. Deception and falsehood are real possibilities that carry eternally grave consequences. Paul already had addressed false teaching that fails to yield tangible fruit. In this chapter, he discusses false teaching that emphasizes outward displays of religion, yet fails to flow from a sincere heart of worship and reverence. We shouldn’t waste our energy with speculations about religion and fruitless discussions. Instead, we should help protect believers around us against the dangerous and inevitable onslaught of doctrinal deception. One of the best ways we can do that is by being a godly example.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul shows how the gospel shapes the way churches should relate to both widows—because God cares for the needy—and elders—because God has placed them in authority over the church for her good. As a result, churches should care for the needy, yet do so in a way that adorns the gospel. Similarly, churches should generously honor their leaders, especially if they work productively in the ministry of the Word.
Paul closes the letter in by warning again about “morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words” (6:4), abusive arguments, and the love of money. The true servant of God flees these and pursues “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (6:11). Goodness and good works will flow from the pursuit of God, who richly supplies all our needs. Paul exhorts Timothy—and the Ephesian church—to teach and observe these things, and avoid “worldly and empty chatter” (6:20) that only leads believers astray.
This short letter contains the “last words” of Paul, the great apostle, to his beloved co-worker Timothy. Writing from a Roman military prison around A.D. 67, Paul is alone and senses the end is near. Indeed, his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans would soon follow. But he wants to deliver one last set of challenges to Timothy and all the believers: Be strong. Do not fear. Hold to sound doctrine. Suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Preach the gospel. Fight the good fight.
He begins by thanking God for Timothy and for the uncommon blessing of Timothy’s spiritual heritage, experiences, and gifts. “Fan those gifts into flame!” Paul urges, for the Spirit that God has given us is powerful for boldness, love, and self-discipline. Knowing this, Paul tells Timothy to be ready to suffer disgrace for the sake of the gospel. But he challenges his young friend not to be ashamed. Paul knows that a prison cell was not an honorable setting from which to write a letter, yet he isn’t ashamed of the gospel or being imprisoned for it.
One measure of faithfulness is how we handle God’s Word. We shouldn’t approach God’s Word to engage in fruitless debates; instead, we should recognize it as an explanation of how to walk rightly before Him and abstain from wickedness. By fleeing selfish desires, God’s people can position themselves to be useful to Him. At the close of 2 Timothy 2, Paul tells Timothy to patiently and gently persuade his opponents to submit to God’s Word, even though difficult times were coming in these last days as men and women love what they shouldn’t—themselves, money, pleasure, etc.—and fail to love what they should, namely, God and His wisdom.
In addition to the power of the indwelling Spirit, Timothy had two additional advantages to guide him: the conduct of Paul that was worth imitating, and Scriptures he could believe. Paul promised that as Timothy followed Jesus, he would suffer persecution because suffering is normal for Christians. Yet, as evil people go from bad to worse, believers in Christ are to be transformed by the Word of God and equipped for every good work.
Paul closes his last letter with passionate urgency, charging Timothy in the presence of God and Christ Jesus to preach the Word. He exhorted him to be ready in season and out of season—to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction (4:3). Paul told Timothy that he (Paul) had fought the good fight and kept the faith. Finally, he passed the baton on to Timothy and gave him an important charge: hold firm to the faithful preaching of the Word.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
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