Paul wrote this letter to his disciple Timothy whom he had left in Ephesus to oversee the work there. This book was written sometime after Paul was released from Roman imprisonment in about 63-65AD. He may well have written from Macedonia. During the final phase of Paul’s apostolic career, a serious disruption troubled the long standing church of Ephesus. Some of the church leaders had become false teachers. Paul had warned that this would happen (Acts 20:29-30) and now their impact was threatening the life and well being of the community. A skillful person was needed to restore order to God’s household. Paul gave this daunting task to Timothy. Here are some themes to look for as you read. First of all, sound doctrine. False teachers showed an unhealthy fascination with myths and genealogies and a preoccupation with the law. That had infiltrated the church in Ephesus. They prohibited marriage and the eating of certain foods. They taught that the resurrection had already taken place. In contrast, Timothy was to teach only what was trustworthy, sound, and good. Second is the right living. The false teachers were intent on stirring up controversy. They were prone to speculation, deception, and greed. Paul instructed Timothy to set an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity. Third is evangelism. Paul’s concern for the church’s successful evangelism lay at the heart of his commands. The conduct of Christians is to be above reproach because it has a direct effect on the success of their evangelistic efforts. Fourth, church leaders. Church leaders need to reach for even higher standards than what is expected of persons holding similarly important positions in contemporary society. Warnings against immoral practices and materialism, however, apply to all members.
Timothy was serving in Ephesus as Paul’s disciple. Paul referred to him as his true son in faith but it is possible that Timothy was not one of Paul’s direct converts. Typically when Paul wrote, the first few verses of the letter contained greetings and thanksgivings but 1 Timothy and Titus do not because of theirofficial nature in a authorizing a delegate or representative. Here, Paul’s first concern is to silence the false teachers. Paul had warned about false teachers and I am sure he would have been very happy to be wrong about this. This letter was written to help Timothy deal with these false teachers. Paul spoke of endless discussions and meaningless speculations. Perhaps he is trivializing these teachings or he might be rejecting the fanciful nature of their interpretations and their justification of immoral behavior. Their spiritual pedigrees were the same as their genealogies. In Judaism one’s genealogy established one’s spiritual pedigree. It seems the false teachers were preoccupied with this and they may well have been exploiting Old Testament genealogies. These things didn’t help anyone live a life of faith in God. The Greek here can be translated literally “rather than a stewardship of God in faith”. Stewardship here is household management. It can be used as faithfulness to God’s household management or, faithfulness in managing God’s household. Paul writes so that all believers will be filled with the love that comes from a pure heart. Paul seeks godliness that flows out of sound faith and renewal. In both 1 Timothy and Titus when Paul writes about a clear conscience he is setting that over and against the false teachers dead consciences.
From verse# 6-11 Paul elaborates on the false teachers and he turns their subject matter against them. He referred to the false teachers as “some people”. This is most likely a put down, demoting the false teachers to a general class of opponents of the Good News. They were professing believers who had missedthe whole point of the Good News and had turned away. Their aspirations to be teachers of the law of Moses were ironic. Their handling of the law was deficient in the light of the Good News, and they neither understood nor fulfilled the law. Paul taught that the law was not intended for people who do what is right. As a general principle, the virtuous person needs no law.
For Christians , a righteous life results from faith apart from the law. Paul’s list in verse 10 portrays the ultimate tendencies of the false teachers teachings, their underlying spiritual state, and the superior righteousness of the Good News. Adding the phrase, “anything that contradicts the wholesome or sound teaching”, is both a closing generalization and a powerful assertion. Righteousness is now defined more perfectly by the Good News than the law, but the law still speaks to all that is opposed to the Good News. The false teachers reliance on the law underscores their departure from Paul’s teaching. Paul also gives thanks and gratitude to who has both called him to this work and given him the strength to complete it. When he talks about his own work, Paul directs glory to God and he makes it crystal clear he is doing God’s work. Paul is awed by God’s grace and mercy for him…Paul who persecuted believers in Christ before he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. His trustworthy saying falls on Christ’s entrance into the history for the salvation of sinners, which was probably being marginalized by the false teachers. They emphasized the law, having special knowledge, and teachings about marriage and what foods to eat or avoid. Verses 18-20 are Paul’s charge to Timothy to act. He was to draw on available resources, and remain faithful. The church should expect Paul representative to do these things. The prophetic words spoken earlier most likely came during Timothy’s commissioning. See Acts 13:2-3. Keeping your conscience clear, or good, means ensuring that it is not destroyed. Hymenaeus and Alexander might have been elders in Ephesus but because of their false teaching Paul handed them over to the evil one by removing them from the church which is the realm of the Spirit’s oversight. They had attacked and defamed the true Good News and thus God Himself.
Chapters 2-3 deal with the areas of conduct in God’s household that were affected by false teachers. Community life had been corrupted in worship, gender roles and leadership. Chapter 2 deals with prayer and the deportment of men and women. It ends with the question of women and teaching. First, prayer. This suggests that the false teachers he brought the church into disrepute in the wider society and hampered its mission to the Gentiles. The prayers of the false teachers and their disciples were apparently not consonant with God’s will to save all kinds of people. Those who had the power to persecute or to protect the church were to be prayed for. The same is true today. We are called to pray for our leaders. The point was not for Christians to blend in and be unnoticed, but to display the beauty of the Good News and allow the churches mission to proceed without unnecessary complications. The word godliness carries the beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles that accord with right and reverential knowledge of God, obedience, and authentic worship. Verses 5-6 may be a bit of a creed statement, part of a hymn, or prayers that were known to the church. And the doctrines referenced probably relate to Paul’s trouble with the false teachers. It seems that their teaching undercut the universal appeal of the Good News and the effectiveness of the Gentile mission. The false teachers also had a deficient understanding of Jesus and His salvation.
There is One God and therefore one mission encompassing all people. When Paul uses the phrase one God he is also suggesting a fundamental declaration of Christian faith, similar to the basics of the one faith of the Jews. There is also one mediator of God’s covenant. This is the man Jesus Christ. He is fully human and fully God so that makes Him uniquely qualified to reconcile God and humanity. It seems like genuine prayer had deteriorated among the Ephesians due to the false teachers influence so Paul recommends praying in the ancient posture of prayer, praise, and supplication…with hands uplifted. He asks that there be no more anger or controversy among the church of believers. Paul also asks that women be depressed modestly. It seems that some women were dressing to be noticed by others when they went to worship. But Paul cautions that women should be dressed modestly so as not to call attention to themselves. He maintained that all attention should be focused on the Lord. That Paul mentioned jewelry and expensive clothes suggests that there may have been some significant class struggles in the church as well. The relationship between teaching and authority depends on how both are understood. Women did teach (Titus 2:3-5) but there are no clear examples or endorsements of women teaching men in church meetings. We know it was happening in some of the churches only by way of Paul’s opposing responses. Women did prophesy (Acts 2:17-18) but some types of prophecy might not have been seen as authoritative teachings. The most common understanding of this verse is that Paul believes social roles are attached to the man being created first. Paul’s logic is also tied to the leading role of the firstborn son in the Old Testament. However, there are exceptions to the rule of the firstborn even in scripture. See Genesis 27-28. And while gender retains its distinctions in the New Testament, there is also an element of equality in Christ. It is also possible that the heretics asserted a reversal of gender status in Christ relative to the surrounding culture, giving an objectionable dominance to women. Paul’s allusion would then function to discredit this assertion and reestablish balance. Verse 15 is problematic, particularly for women who have not or cannot bear children. Again, there was no doubt trouble stirred up by the false teachers who taught that the only a way a woman could be saved is if she had borne children. But Paul is most likely referring to the birth of The Child, Jesus Christ, as the way that all of us, women included, will be saved.
Chapter three shifts to church leadership by elders and deacons. Timothy’s role in the appointments is less clear than in Titus, possibly because the church in Ephesus was more mature and thus better able to manage the process. The criteria Paul lists focuses on character, not function. And the criteria is most likely in response to the false teachers and local heretics. Reading this letter in the churches would make the criteria public and demonstrate the unfitness of the heretics for leadership. In the Greco-Roman world an overseer was a religious, civic, or military supervisor. The most general prerequisite is that the leader must be above reproach. They can only have one wife but this does not assume that a overseer or deacon must be married. This mostly addresses purity and faithfulness in the marriage relationship, something that could not be taken for granted in the current culture. It does not prohibit remarriage after the death of a spouse. Hospitality was an important duty and a respected virtue in the ancient world. Any traveling Christian would seek out and probably stay with believers. And, in the first century most believers met in one another’s homes.
The church as a household overlapped with the family household and the overseer’s capacity to manage in one sphere reflected his capability in the other. The Greco-Roman household was united by familial bonds characterized by mutual responsibilities, roles, and stewardship. The household included the blood relatives living together as well as other dependents, such as household servants. Paul expected Christians to live in a way that could be respected by people outside the church. Deacons are commonly
used for service of any kind. And again Paul is more concerned about character than he is about activities. Greed is disreputable and improper, especially in those who lead the church. His reference to wives or women may well mean there were women who acted as deacons.
Paul hopes to visit Ephesus soon but in case that doesn’t work out, he has given Timothy ammunition in his fight against the false teachers and heretics. The earliest churches were house churches that reflected the codes of conduct of the Greco-Roman households. Violating these norms brought disrepute, disgrace, and shame on the entire household and its head. The same is true for the church. Paul spoke of the church as the pillarand foundation of truth. He may have been anticipating the transition from the time of the apostles to the period after their deaths. The church must be active rather than defensive in upholding the truth in the world. Verse 16 is a short hymn or creed and it shows the theological richness of early Christian worship. Jesus Christ is the only source of godliness. Christ’s resurrection answers the apparent weakness of His life and death as a human and affirms His teaching. He has been seen by angels which speaks to His divinity and His sovereign rule in the heavenly realm. Christ’s provision of salvation and sovereign rule must be proclaimed and accepted in the earthly realm as well. The mission to the nations is successful, but that does not guarantee universal acceptance. Christ was taken to heaven and exalted in glory and His saving work is crowned with success in the world and with glory in heaven.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W