1. God's Grace and Calling
(1 Timothy 1:1-20)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (39:38)

Detail of Rembrandt, 'Paul at his Writing-Desk' (1629-30), Oil on wood, 47 x 39.
Detail of Rembrandt, 'Paul at his Writing-Desk' (1629-30), Oil on wood, 47 x 39, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Full image.

We begin a letter from an aging apostle to his son in the faith. Paul has been released from prison in Rome and is busy again with his mission enterprise. Timothy is in Ephesus where, a decade previous, Paul had planted a congregation. Now the church is in trouble and Paul is needed elsewhere. So he writes his young protégé Timothy to help him as Paul seeks to correct problems in the Ephesian church.

1.1 Salutation (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

1 Timothy is a warm letter, one filled with both encouragements as well as exhortations. Paul begins, as is typical with letters from this century and the other Pastoral Epistles, with a salutation constructed in three parts:

  1. Author,
  2. Recipient, and
  3. Greetings.

"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." (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

1. Author (1 Timothy 1:1)

While in our day we would start the letter, "Dear Timothy," the style of those days was to state first the author of the letter.

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope." (1 Timothy 1:1)

Paul, of course, is his Roman name, deriving from the Latin paulus, "small." Here he calls himself "an apostle of Christ Jesus." The word apostolos (from the verb apostellō, "to send") is used in ancient Greek to designate "persons who are dispatched for a specific purpose." The context determines the status or function expressed in such English terms as "ambassador, delegate, messenger." In the New Testament it carries the idea of "messengers with extraordinary status, especially of God's messenger, envoy."21

If this were merely a personal letter to a trusted associate, Paul might not have felt the need to boldly assert the fact of his apostleship. But since he knows this letter will be read by a church that is afflicted with false teachers, he emphasizes both his own divine authority and that of Timothy.22 And so Paul states his apostolic authority in rather formal terms. He explains that he was appointed an apostle by the direct command23 of both God the Father and the Messiah (Christ) Jesus. He describes God as "our Savior" and Christ Jesus as "our hope," since he is looking forward to Christ's return and the resurrection of the dead (2 Timothy 2:18).

2. Recipient (1 Timothy 1:2a)

Now Paul addresses the recipient: "To Timothy my true son in [the] faith24" (1:2). The word "true" (NIV, NASB, ESV), "loyal" (NRSV), "own" (KJV) is gnēsios, "one who is considered a valid member of a family, legitimate, true."25 Paul says this not only as an affectionate greeting to one he loves, but also to indicate to all readers that Timothy's authority and teaching is based solidly on Paul's own, that Timothy represents Paul's apostolic authority in the church and must be obeyed. We'll see that he greets Titus with a similar phrase (Titus 1:1). Paul greets Timothy as his "dear son" in 2 Timothy 1:2.

Timotheos is formed from two Greek words timē, "honor, value, price" + theos, "God," and means, "one who honors God" or "dear to God."

3. Greeting (1 Timothy 1:2b)

Now comes the third part of the salutation, the greeting:

"Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." (1 Timothy 1:2b)

The normal greeting in Greek circles was "Grace!" ("Favor!") in the sense: "May the gods show favor to you." In Jewish circles the typical greeting was (and is) "Shalom!" in the sense: "May God's blessing of wholeness, prosperity, and peace be yours."

Paul characteristically combines the Greek and Jewish greetings: "grace and peace" (1 Thessalonians 1:1; Romans 1:7; etc.). But in 1 and 2 Timothy he adds a third greeting, "mercy."26 Later in this chapter he recalls his own blasphemy and God's great mercy to him personally.

1.2 Sound Doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3-10)

Command False Teachers to Stop (1 Timothy 1:3a)

Relation of Ephesus to Macedonia.
Relation of Ephesus to Macedonia. Larger image.

It doesn't take Paul long to get to the purpose of this letter:

"3 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 4 nor to devote27 themselves to myths28 and endless genealogies...." (1 Timothy 1:3-4a)

In verse 3 we learn a good deal about the current problem:

  • Paul has left Ephesus for Macedonia, probably because of some pressing need in the churches there.
  • Timothy has been asked to remain in Ephesus to deal with the problems there.
  • The church in Ephesus is troubled by teachers of false doctrines.

The phrase "teach false doctrines" (NIV), "teach no other doctrine" (KJV), "teach any different doctrine" (NRSV, ESV) is actually a single Greek verb, heterodidaskaleō, "to teach contrary to standard instruction, give divergent, that is, divisive, instruction."29

Timothy's role is to act in an authoritative manner. The verb "command" (NIV), "instruct" (NRSV, NASB), "charge" (ESV, KJV) is parangellō, "to make an announcement about something that must be done, give orders, command, instruct, direct, of all kinds of persons in authority."30 As we will see, this doesn't mean to speak in a superior or overbearing manner. Timothy is relatively young, so he must be careful about how he approaches this (1 Timothy 4:12). But he must speak; he cannot and must not keep silent, just because that is the easiest thing to do.

The Effect of False Doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

In the Introduction, I've tried to outline the nature of these false teachings. Here, Paul mentions Jewish myths and "endless genealogies," another Jewish exercise tracing one's descent from the patriarchs or from Levi.

There seem to be several effects of these false teachings:

  • Leadership crisis among the elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-20), some of whom are false teachers (Acts 20:30).
  • Desire for wealth -- greed (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
  • Divisive asceticism from the Judaizers.
  • Destruction of the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:18).
  • Confusion and controversy that is disturbing the peace and unity of the church.

Each of these is a serious consequence. We'll consider each of them in due course.

However, I want to look at the last effect of these false teachings here -- confusion and dissension. The word translated "controversies" (NIV), "speculations" (NRSV, ESV, NASB), "questions" (KJV) is the rare noun ekzētēsis, from ekzētēō, "seek out, search for."31 Here ekzētēsis probably means, "useless speculation,"32 with an emphasis on the controversy generated. Controversy was a problem in the churches both in Ephesus and Crete. In several places the word appears alongside the Greek word machē, "fighting, quarrels, strife, disputes."33

These references in the Pastoral Epistles point to a recurring problem -- a problem we sometimes see in our churches today.

"These promote controversies (ekzētēsis) rather than God's work -- which is by faith." (1 Timothy 1:4a)

"[The false teacher] is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies (zētēsis) and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions...." (1 Timothy 6:4)

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments (zētēsis), because you know they produce quarrels." (2 Timothy 2:23)

"But avoid foolish controversies (zētēsis) and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless." (Titus 3:9)

The false doctrine was in large part fluff and nonsense that had replaced the clear teaching of the gospel of God's grace. The result was strife and controversy. Rather than a place of peace, the church had become a place of rancor and dispute.

When the focus of our teaching and Bible studies wanders to the minutiae, the unimportant things, the speculative things, the political -- when we get off on a tangent -- then we stop talking about the things that are truly important. Our focus is distracted and, as a result, the whole direction of the church is diverted and its evangelistic mission compromised.

The Purpose of Good Doctrine (1 Timothy 1:4b-5)

Controversy and strife are too often the result of false teaching. Good doctrine, on the other hand, is recognized by its peaceful fruit:

"... God's work34 -- which is by faith. The goal35 of this command36 is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:4b-5)

The purpose of Paul's command to Timothy to stop the false teachers is that faith should spring up. God's work goes forward by means of37 faith (pistis), a "state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence, faith." And how does faith come about? In Romans 10, Paul teaches:

"Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

That is, when the words of Christ are taught, faith is built up in the hearers. And when faith comes (rather than controversy and strive) the fruit is, according to verse 5:

Love (agapē), selfless love which flows from and imitates the love of God himself.

Pure heart. The word "pure" is katharos, "pertaining to being clean or free of adulterating matter, clean, pure." Here it has the connotation, "pertaining to being free from moral guilt, pure, free."38

Good conscience. "Conscience" is suneidēsis, "the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong, moral consciousness, conscience."39 A "good conscience," also mentioned in verse 19, is a sound inward sense of right and wrong. In contrast, a "seared" conscience (1 Timothy 4:2) is one that has been compromised by inner deceit, and no longer guides one accurately to righteousness.

Sincere faith. "Sincere" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "unfeigned" (KJV) is anupokritos, literally, "non-hypocritical," that is, "pertaining to being without pretense, genuine, sincere," literally, "without play-acting."40 A sincere faith is one that isn't just talking the talk, but inwardly is living consistently according to the truth one knows. Too many Christians -- both inside and outside of church -- have a faith that is less than sincere. Does that fit you? Does it fit me?

In Defense of the Word "Doctrine"

I need to pause here to defend the word doctrine. I hear all too often the ignorant statement:

"I don't believe in doctrine. I believe in the Bible."

How naïve! Our understanding of the Bible is molded by those who have nurtured us in the faith -- our pastors, our Sunday school teachers, our small group leaders, the role models in churches during our formative years. We say that we just believe in the Bible, but actually, we believe in the Bible using the same kind of interpretation as those who taught us. If they were ignorant, we are ignorant. If they were off-base, we end up off-base.

The English word "doctrine" means simply, "teaching, something that is taught." The Greek words used in our text (didachē and didaskalia) mean the same thing.41 The related noun is "teacher" (didaskalos). The word "doctrine" appears a number of times in 1 Timothy:

"... Command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer." (1:3)

"The law is made ... for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine." (1:10)

"... Brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching ("doctrine," KJV) that you have followed." (4:6)

"Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching ("doctrine," KJV)." (4:13)

"Watch your life and doctrine closely." (4:16)

"The elders ... whose work is preaching and teaching ("doctrine," KJV)." (5:17)

"... So that God's name and our teaching ("doctrine," KJV) may not be slandered." (6:1)

"... The sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching ("doctrine," KJV)." (6:3)

Elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles the word "doctrine" occurs at 2 Timothy 3:10, 16; 4:2-3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 7, 10. The term occurs more often in the Pastoral Epistles than in any other place in the Bible, with the exception of the Gospels.

Bad doctrine, false doctrine results in controversy and warped, immature Christians. Good, sound doctrine or teaching results in Christians who mature in Christ and begin to exhibit his life flowing through their lives. Don't ever apologize for doctrine -- just make sure that your doctrine derives directly from Scripture.

Wandering Away from Sound Doctrine (1 Timothy 1:6-10)

"Some have wandered away42 from these and turned43 to meaningless talk." (1:6)

Unfortunately, the false teachers at Ephesus had strayed from sound doctrine to "meaningless talk" (NIV, NRSV), "fruitless discussion" (NASB), "vain discussion" (ESV) or "vain jangling" (KJV) -- mataiologia, "empty, fruitless talk."44 Rather than carrying on the apostles' teaching, their discourse had become just talk.

"7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts,45 for slave traders46 and liars and perjurers47 -- and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me." (1 Timothy 1:7-10)

The false teachers at Ephesus styled themselves as "teachers of the law," Jewish Christians, no doubt, whose understanding of the law and its purpose was twisted. Paul affirms that the Mosaic law is good (Romans 7:12). Among other things, the law is intended to deter sinners from their sin and create in them an awareness of their guilt (Romans 7:13). The false teachers sounded confident, but they really didn't know what they were talking about. Rather than being "teachers of the law," they were actually teaching a mixture of Jewish legends and myths along with various types of ascetic practices and legalisms.

Health-Producing Doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10b)

At the end of this paragraph, Paul refers to the wonder of the Gospel, and particularly the wonder of God's forgiveness to him personally.

"... the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me." (1 Timothy 1:10b-11)

At the end of verse 10 we see a word that explains the kind of doctrine we' re looking for: "sound doctrine." The word is hygiainō (from which we get the English word "hygiene") means, "to be in good physical health, be healthy," then, as applied to spiritual things, "to be sound or free from error, be correct."48 This phrase "sound doctrine" occurs several times throughout the Pastoral Epistles.49

Healthy doctrine is teaching that produces healthy Christ-followers, that nurtures people so they grow up straight and true. The problem with the false teachers' doctrine is that it produces twisted, distorted Christians, if you can call them that. Such Christians at Ephesus displayed problems with pride, hypocrisy, and questionable ethics. Jesus said that you will know false teachers by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20) -- exactly Paul's point here.

Q1. (1 Timothy 1:3-7) What were some of the results of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus? How does doctrinal controversy hurt the spirit of a church? How does it prevent growth? How does it keep the church from its mission?

1.3 Grace to Sinners (1 Timothy 1:11-17)

Christ's Grace to Paul (1 Timothy 1:11-16)

Detail of Michelangelo, 'Conversion of Saint Paul' (1542-1545), Fresco, Pauline Chapel, Vatican
Detail of Michelangelo, 'Conversion of Saint Paul' (1542-1545), Fresco, Pauline Chapel, Vatican.

The focus of this first part of the letter is to identify false teaching and contrast it with sound doctrine. As an example of the core of sound Christian teaching, Paul shares his own testimony:

"... The sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. 12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:11-16)

It is quite possible, you know, for us to become so "mature" that we become bored with the basics of the "glorious Gospel." When we were young in the Lord it was exciting. But now we' re looking for deeper truths. Be careful. In my experience, the so-called "deeper truths" are often speculative and divisive. I've been around long enough to see the "deeper truths" of end-time prophecy, of temple types and shadows, and the like -- and the fruits they produce. They tickle the fascination with something new, but they don't produce good, solid fruit like the "glorious Gospel" of grace, mercy, and peace.

Q2. (1 Timothy 1:12-14) Why does Paul comment on his own life after a paragraph on the law (1:8-11)? Why does he share this with Timothy and the church that will read the letter? How might sharing this help get the church back on center?

Appointed as a Minister (1 Timothy 1:12b)

Consider the phrase, "... appointing me to his service" (1 Timothy 1:12b). The word "service" (NIV, NRSV) or "ministry" (KJV) here is diakonia, "functioning in the interest of a larger public, service, office,"50 from diakoneō, "to serve, act as an agent." Our word "deacon" derives from this Greek word.

America has a President and various secretaries who head departments. But many countries title their chief officer the "Prime Minister," and might have an "Interior Minister," for example. This sense of the English word "minister" is defined as, "a high officer of state entrusted with the management of a division of governmental activities" or "a diplomatic representative." What a privilege it is to be appointed51 to be a "minister" or trusted servant in Christ's service. Others may not understand what God has appointed you to be and do. Many didn't accept Jesus' or Paul's ministry either. But it is God's commissioning and sending that is paramount.

Humility and Praise (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Decades after his conversion, Paul is still in awe and full of gratitude to God for saving him. Notice the utter humility with which Paul explains his salvation and calling. He attributes it all to God's mercy and grace. You can read the story of Paul's former life in Acts 8-9. The centerpiece of our passage is found in verses 15-16:

"15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Christ's Core Purpose: To Save Sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)

The saying is "trustworthy" (NIV, NASB, ESV), "sure" (NRSV), "faithful" (KJV), that is -- in contrast to speculative, false teaching -- it is "pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith."52 Paul uses this formula several other times in the Pastoral Epistles -- and only in these epistles -- to highlight main points and draw attention to them.53 This saying merits "full acceptance" or "approval."54 Don't pass over this lightly!

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15a)

This is the bottom line for our "sound doctrine." If Messiah Jesus came into the world to save sinners, then several things follow: (1) he is merciful -- so we must be merciful also, and (2) he is focused on the people-saving business, and so that must be the business of the church, as well.

I've been in churches that are so focused on themselves and their own needs that they've become unsound and selfish. Their doctrine is: We need to get our needs met first. Then we can go save some sinners. Yes, we must become grounded in the Lord and in his Word. But then we must be active in his service, rather than constantly focused on stuffing ourselves.

Of Whom I Am the Worst (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

"Chief" (KJV), "worst" (NIV), "foremost" (NRSV, NASB, ESV) is prōtos, "pertaining to prominence, first, foremost, most important, most prominent."55 Twice more in his letters, Paul expresses the depths to which he had fallen as a persecutor and killer of Christians:

"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9)

"Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Ephesians 3:8)

Amazing Grace

John Newton (1725-1807)
John Newton (1725-1807)

I can't help but recall the first lines of "Amazing Grace" (1779) by John Newton, a former slave master and slave-ship captain, who was redeemed to be one of the most influential preachers in London:

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see."

It may well have been inspired by Paul's words in our passage:

"Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly...." (1 Timothy 1:13-14a)

Grace was Paul's theme ever after -- amazing grace, outrageous grace, mercy-where-we-deserve-the-opposite grace. This grace is our inheritance in Christ and our message to a sin-sick world!

Doxology (1 Timothy 1:17)

Paul has shifted the discussion in the letter from the false teachers and their controversies and peripheral diversions to the central core of our Christian hope -- salvation through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now he springs forth in a spontaneous doxology or word of praise (doxa, "glory" + logos, "word"):

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1:17)

"King" seems to refer to God the Father. Now come four descriptors:

"Eternal" (NIV, KJV), "of the ages" (NRSV, ESV, NASB margin) is aiōn, "of time to come which, if it has no end, is also known as eternity."56

"Immortal" is aphthartos, "pertaining to imperviousness to corruption and death, imperishable, incorruptible, immortal."57 This adjective also describes God in Romans 1:23 and 1 Timothy 6:16.

"Invisible" is aoratos, "pertaining to not being subject to being seen, unseen, invisible."58 Also used of God in Romans 1:18-2:20; Colossians 1:15; and Hebrews 11:27.

"The only God" (NIV, NRSV), "the only wise59 God" (KJV) representing a firm Jewish-Christian monotheism. Monos is an adjective "pertaining to being the only entity in a class, only, alone."60 Monotheism was first clearly stated in the ancient Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). It is found throughout the Old Testament and echoed in the New.61

Now that Paul has described God in his unique attributes, he ascribes to him the glory due his name:

"... be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."

"Honor" is timē, "manifestation of esteem, honor, reverence."62 "Glory" is doxa, "honor as enhancement or recognition of status or performance, fame, recognition, renown, honor, prestige."63 "Amen" (amēn) is transliterated from a Hebrew word meaning "truth." It is used as a strong affirmation of what is stated as an expression of faith: "let it be so, truly, amen." It is a liturgical formula used at the end of the liturgy, spoken by the congregation.64

This is one of several doxologies that appear in New Testament letter.65 As you seek to enrich your own praise and spiritual devotions, I recommend that you commit several of these doxologies to memory and say them out loud to God. You'll be blessed and so will He.

Q3. (1 Timothy 1:17) What do we learn about God from this doxology? What do we learn about praise? Have you ever tried speaking out a doxology in your personal prayer or praise time? What effect does a doxology have on the speaker?

1.4 Spiritual Warfare (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

Fight the Good Fight (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

Paul has given Timothy quite a responsibility in Ephesus, to stop the false teachers from ruining the church. Now he exhorts Timothy and reminds him of God's call on his life:

"18 Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight,
19 holding on to faith and a good conscience." (1 Timothy 1:18-19a)

The reference to "the prophecies once made about you" is spelled out further in chapter 4:

"Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you." (1 Timothy 4:14)66

Paul is reminding Timothy that when he was commissioned, God's Spirit had spoken through a person with the gift of prophecy concerning the spiritual gifts that Timothy had been given. Now, instead of being overwhelmed by the task, Timothy is to be aware that God's power and strength are with him, that God has fitted him to this task.

Perhaps this gift is evangelism, or declaring the message of Jesus to the lost.

"As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:5)

Evangelist is one of the five ministry gifts Paul lists in Ephesians 4:11. Philip who famously preached the gospel in Samaria, to the Ethiopian eunuch, and in the coastal cities of Palestine (Acts 8), is known in Scripture as "Philip the Evangelist" (Acts 21:8).

Paul encourages Timothy to "fight the good fight," a phrase we see also at 1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7. "Fight" in this verse is a Greek military term,67 an active word. In one church I pastored, I had a dear member who was a thorough-going passivist. He actively resisted when I taught on spiritual warfare, which, by its very definition, involves engagement, resistance, fighting, activity.

Sometimes we are tempted to give up, to stop standing against the wrong, to become passive and quiet in the face of evil. Don't do this! Paul commands Timothy. Continue faithfully in your ministry!

Then he specifies the manner of this fight: "holding on to68 faith and a good conscience"69 (1 Timothy 1:19a) -- the very things that the false teachers had deserted. Why does Paul repeat this? Because it is so important for Timothy to "keep his eye on the ball," to be focused about both his task and the purity of his own heart as he carries out his mission.

Q4. (1 Timothy 1:18-19) Why does Paul need to remind Timothy about the prophecies spoken over him? In practical terms, what does "fight the good fight" really mean? Why does Paul tell Timothy to "hold on to faith and a good conscience"? What temptation is Paul trying to counter in his protégé?

Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19b-20)

Finally, Paul warns of the consequences of deserting a sound faith and a good conscience:

"19Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme." (1:19b-20)

The phrase "shipwrecked their faith" is an extremely strong term, especially evocative in a culture that transported goods across the sometimes-treacherous Mediterranean. It means to come to a complete ruin on the rocks, to lose the ship and its cargo entirely, and perhaps even one's life.

Examples of people in the Ephesian church that have fallen away this completely are Hymenaeus and Alexander. Hymenaeus (whose name refers to the Greek god of weddings) is also mentioned in 2 Timothy:

"Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." (2 Timothy 2:17-18)

The Alexander mentioned in 1:20 could possibly be "Alexander the metalworker [who] did me a great deal of harm" (2 Timothy 4:14).

We shouldn't underestimate the damage that can be done when teachers and elders stray from the truth and begin teaching their own doctrines. Because of their willful lack of repentance, Paul has "handed [them] over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme." Paul is referring to a kind of excommunication intended to bring about repentance. We see it outlined a bit more fully in 1 Corinthians:

"When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

The exact nature of this is debated. However, it probably means to "put back out into Satan's sphere," that is, outside the church and the fellowship of God's people, based on Paul's apostolic authority.70 Some kind of physical harm is likely. The purpose of this is not final damnation, but being "taught71 not to blaspheme," as in Corinth, where the purpose was that the man's spirit would be saved.

The chapter ends with the strong verb "to blaspheme" (blasphēmeō), in relation to transcendent or associated entities, "slander, revile, defame, speak irreverently / impiously / disrespectfully of or about."72

We live in a tolerant time and in a tolerant society. We do need to show tolerance for different opinions or We'll be forever fighting. But we must not be tolerant of elders and teachers whose teaching is leading people away from their faith in Christ and "destroying the faith of some" (2 Timothy 2:18b).

1&2 Timothy and Titus: Leadership and Discipleship Lessons from the Pastoral Epistles, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.

Sometimes we need the kind of back-straightening exhortation that Paul gives Timothy here: "to fight the good fight." Just how we are to stand against false teaching is spelled out further as the letter progresses.


Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithfulness in leading us to sound, healthy doctrine so that we might grow straight and true in Christ. Give us discernment in our day to detect those divergent teachings that are hurting your body. Thank you most of all for your great salvation that has rescued us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"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 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Timothy 1:17, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[21] Apostolos, BDAG 122, 2c.

[22] On the other hand, Paul emphasizes his apostleship in all his Pastoral Epistles. For example, in 2 Timothy: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus...." To Titus: "Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth...." In a strictly personal letter to Philemon he begins: "Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus."

[23] Epitagē, "authoritative directive, command, order, injunction" (BDAG 383, 1).

[24] "Faith" (pistis) refers not to the act of believing, but to "that which is believed, body of faith/belief/teaching" (BDAG 820, 3). However, Fee argues that without the definite article in Greek, the phrase should be translated "in faith" or "because of his faith" (Fee, pp. 36-37).

[25] Gnēsios, BDAG 202, 1.

[26] Eleos, "kindness or concern expressed for someone in need, mercy, compassion, pity, clemency" (BDAG 310).

[27] "Devote themselves" (NIV), "occupy themselves" (NRSV), "give heed" (KJV) is prosechō, "to pay close attention to something, pay attention to, give heed to, follow" (BDAG 880, 2b). This word occurs in 1 Timothy at 4:1; 6:3 (variant reading); Titus 1:14. It occurs in this sense at 1 Timothy 3:8 ("be addicted to much wine") and 4:13 ("devote yourself to the public reading of scripture"). From echō, "to have, hold."

[28] "Myths" (NIV, NRSV) or "fables" (KJV) is mythos, "fictional narrative (as opposed to logos the truth of history) such as tale, story, legend, myth" (BDAG 660).

[29] Heterodidaskaleō, BDAG 399. The word is also used in 1 Timothy 6:3.

[30] Parangellō, BDAG 760.

[31] In classical Greek, the root word zētēsis in the plural refers to judicial "suits, controversies" (Liddell-Scott, 4).

[32] Ekzētēsis, BDAG 303.

[33] Machē, BDAG 622.

[34] "God's work" (NIV), "divine training" (NRSV), "godly edifying" (KJV), "the administration of God" (NASB), is oikonomia, "program of instruction, training (in the way of salvation)" (BDAG 698, 3).

[35] "Goal" (NIV), "aim" (NRSV), "end" (KJV) is telos, "the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome" (BDAG 999, 3).

[36] "Command" (NIV, KJV), "instruction" (NRSV) is parangelia, "an announcement respecting something that must be done, order, command, precept, advice, exhortation" (BDAG 760).

[37] The preposition en is used here as a "marker introducing means or instrument, "with" (BDAG 328, 5).

[38] Katharos, BDAG 489, 3b.

[39] Suneidēsis, BDAG 967, 2.

[40] Anupokritos, BDAG 91.

[41] Didachē, "the content of teaching, teaching" (BDAG 243, 2) or didaskalia, "that which is taught, teaching, instruction" (BDAG 240, 2). Both words are formed from the root didaskō, "tell, instruct" and have essentially the same meaning.

[42] "Wandered away" (NIV), "deviated" (NRSV), "straying" (NASB), "swerved" (KJV) is astocheō, originally "miss the mark," then of the inner life, "to go astray by departing from moral or spiritual standards, miss, fail, deviate, depart from something" (BDAG 146).

[43] "Turned" (NIV, NRSV), "turned aside" (KJV, NASB) is ektrepō, "turn, turn away" (BDAG 311, 1).

[44] Mataiologia, BDAG 621.

[45] "Perverts" (NIV), "sodomites" (NRSV), "homosexuals" (NASB), "men who practice homosexuality" (ESV), "them that defile themselves with mankind" (KJV) is arsenokoitēs, "a male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex, pederast," from arsēn, "male" + koitē, "bed" (BDAG 135). The word also occurs in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:27.

[46] "Slave traders" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "menstealers" (KJV) is andrapodistēs, "one who acquires persons for use by others, 'slave dealer, kidnapper,' here perhaps with the meaning 'procurer' " (BDAG 76).

[47] "Perjurers" is epiopkos, "pertaining to falseness in oath-taking, perjurer" (BDAG 376).

[48] Hygiainō, BDAG 102, 2.

[49] 1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:1-2.

[50] Diakonia, BDAG 230, 3.

[51] Tithēmi, "to assign to some task or function, appoint, assign" (BDAG 100, 3a).

[52] Pistos, BDAG 823, 1b.

[53] (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8

[54] "Acceptance" (NIV, NRSV), "acceptation" (KJV) is apodoxē, "acceptance, approval." Also used in 1 Timothy 4:9 (BDAG 11).

[55] Prōtos, BDAG 983, 2aβ.

[56] Aiōn, BDAG 32, 1b.

[57] Aphthartos, BDAG 155.

[58] Aoratos, BDAG 94.

[59] The KJV reading, "only wise God," isn't found in the earliest manuscripts, and probably comes from the doxology in Romans 16:27.

[60] Monos, BDAG 658, 1aδ.

[61] Romans 16:27; 3:29-30; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:5-6; 1 Timothy 2:5.

[62] Timē, BDAG 100, 2b.

[63] Doxa, BDAG 258, 3.

[64] Amēn, BDAG 53, 1a.

[65] Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 Peter 5:10-11; Jude 24-25; Revelation 7:12.

[66] Paul has a similar exhortation for Titus: "I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6).

[67] The word "fight" (NIV, NRSV), "wage warfare" (ESV, cf. KJV) is military term, strateuō, "serve in the army, then figuratively, "to engage in a conflict, wage battle, fight" (BDAG 947, 2). In 1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul uses a word from the realm of an athletic contest, agōnizomai, "to engage in a contest," then, generally, "to fight, struggle" (BDAG 17, 2b).

[68] "Holding (on to)" (ESV,KJV, NIV), "having" (NRSV) is the common verb echo, to possess, have, own," here it might have the sense of "to have at hand, have at some's disposal" (BDAG 420, 1c).

[69] "Conscience" is suneidēsis, "the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong, moral consciousness, conscience" (BDAG 967, 2). A "good conscience" indicates acting with integrity.

[70] Fee, p. 59.

[71] "Be taught" (NIV, NASB), "learn" (KJV, NRSV) is paideuō, "to assist in the development of a person's ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline," here, "with punishment" (BDAG 749, 2bα).

[72] Blasphēmeō, BDAG 178, bβ.


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