What we know historically about the apostle Paul after the end of Acts is limited, but through reading Paul’s letters from prison and later, it is possible to piece together a couple of possible post-Acts scenarios of his life. It is widely thought that he was released from his first Roman imprisonment, and that this is the implied meaning in Acts when we’re told he was in Rome two years — there was a limit to how long someone might be kept to see Caesar. Upon release, Paul probably would have sent Timothy to Philippi with the news (Php. 2:19-23). Paul, then, probably traveled from Rome to the province of Asia by way of Crete, where he probably dropped off Titus to teach and organize the churches there (possibly Pentecost disciples). Paul, next, probably arrived at Ephesus and traveled to Colossae, as he had promised, and then returned to Ephesus. He was possibly then joined by Timothy in Ephesus, who reported on the church in Philippi. Paul apparently then left for Macedonia, perhaps Philippi, and left Timothy as an opponent of the false teaching there. This, then, is the possible setting for Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
It is full of very practical ministry instruction for ordering and organizing a local congregation and how one ought to conduct oneself as a Christian leader. I personally think it should be required reading of at least once a week for a year for every young minister.
Correct strange doctrines — 1 Tim. 1:3
One of the repeating charges in both letters to Timothy is that of holding to sound doctrine and correction of false ones. This wasn’t because Paul suspected Timothy of being unsound, but because Paul knew how prevalent, persuasive, and dangerous false teachings were both Timothy and the churches he had planted — he had argued his share of debates with synagogue rabbis, Judaizing teachers, Stoic philosophers, Greek pagans, and eastern philosophers. Even with Paul’s and Timothy’s teaching in the Asian churches, the book of Revelation in its letters to the seven churches of Asia shows that some had indeed been seriously infected with false teachings and that Paul was quite corrrect to stress sound doctrine.
And doctrine is important. Doctrine informs our faith (tells us what we should believe, because it is true) and our faith motivates our actions. Some, Paul tells us later, suffered “shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19), which appears to have included the acceptance of a false teaching, which had led to rejecting “a good conscience” (good moral behavior).
Foremost of sinners — 1 Tim. 1:12-17
I run into people from time to time who listen to the Good News, and profess a desire to be saved, obey the Lord, enjoy the hope of Heaven — but their just not sure about something. It’s not that they doubt the Lord’s word or His power to save; it’s that they doubt that the Lord would want to save someone like them, who had done the things that they’d done. I also run into Christians from time to time who have indeed placed their faith in Jesus, repented of their sins, confessed Jesus as Lord, obeyed Jesus in baptism, and are doing their best to live a disciple’s life, but who are still not certain of their salvation for the same reason. Maybe Paul had run into a few of these folks, too, and wanted Timothy to have a great answer, when they offered their objection. The answer: “If Paul could be saved, surely you could be saved!” For the person who is really mourning their sins, really poor in spirit (Matthew 5), this question of whether God would even want to save us is a common one. It’s probably why tears still well up in our eyes, when we sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.”
Praying for leaders — 1 Tim. 2:1ff
Good leadership is hard. There’s always plenty of folks who want to persuade you to do their thing, regardless of anyone else, regardless of justice, regardless of right. And then there’s the temptations of power itself to do and get whatever I want personally. And sometimes leaders need to repent — the hardest of all things for them to do. That’s why leaders need prayers and why God is pleased when we pray for our leaders. But there’s one more reason that Paul throws in here — because God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Good political situations make the Good News easier to spread across and within borders. Let’s not just pray for our own leaders, so that our economy gets fixed; but let’s pray with God’s larger mission in mind, for the leaders of the world who make spreading the Gospel hard or easy.
Women and the exercise of authority — 1 Tim. 2:12
This passage is a key one in the discussion about women and leadership. Some have accused Paul of being a woman-hater, or a slave to the culture of the day. Both of those accusations are false:
- The New Testament’s teachings (including Paul’s) have done more to liberate women than any single thing in history
- Hellenistic and Roman culture routinely used women as priestesses in their pagan temples; so, when Paul teaches against women in leadership in the church, he is actually being counter-cultural — on the basis of God’s word.
And by the way, women can be leaders, among themselves; the command is against women exercising authority over men in the church.
Elders and deacons — 1 Tim. 3:1-13
In the fully organized church there are both elders and deacons. The elders (also known as shepherds, pastors, overseer, or even presbyters) are given charge over spiritual matters in the church. And the deacons (the word in Greek meant table servant) were given charge over practical material needs of the church (see Acts 6). But not just anyone may do these things; they must be men of high quality as Paul describes for us. Sometimes men are appointed to leadership on the wings of their own popularity, charisma, business success, or political connections. But God’s leaders must be qualified and will be held strictly accountable for what they do or don’t do (see Acts 20).
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.