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The apostle Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy near the end of his life after his brief release from the Roman imprisonment described in Acts. Timothy served as pastor of the church in Ephesus. 1 Timothy 3:15 expresses the purpose of Paul writing: “I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household” (HCSB). The contents of the letter reveal that the proper way to behave in God’s household include the following themes: the Gospel of God the Savior, the holiness produced by the Gospel, proper behavior in the church, the holiness of church leaders, the importance of honor in church relationships, and the importance of opposing false doctrine.
1 Timothy begins and ends with a discussion of the importance of the spiritual leader exalting the Gospel and opposing false doctrine. What principles does this chapter affirm?
First, the pastor has a divine charge to protect the flock from false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3). Rather than merely “instructing” some individuals to not teach, the Greek verb is a strong command. Command certain teachers to stop teaching a different doctrine than the Gospel of God the Savior (1:11). In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul used a health analogy for doctrine. He characterized correct doctrine as “sound or healthy doctrine” and false doctrine as “gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:17). False doctrine destroys the health and maybe even the very life of a church.
Second, the pastor needs to know the nature of false teaching threatening the flock (1 Tim. 1:4-11). Paul opposed a false teaching associated with a Jewish-Christian falsehood. The basic problem of this false teaching was a misuse of the law of God (v. 7). The false teachers characterized themselves as “teachers of the law”—a phrase in the Gospels referring to Pharisees. The apostle insisted that the role of the law was to reveal our need for a Savior (Gal. 3:24); therefore, the God gave His good law to the “unrighteous, lawless, and rebellious.” The message of the false teachers countered the Gospel (v. 11).
Third, the pastor recognizes the disastrous impact of false doctrine (1:4-6). False doctrine does not advance the Gospel (v. 4), produces fruitless discussion (v. 6), creates ignorance (v. 7), and causes strife in the church (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
Fourth, the pastor magnifies the grace of God to counter false teaching (1:12-17). Paul magnified the grace of God by sharing his personal testimony. Grace produces praise. Paul thanks Jesus (v. 12) and honors God (v. 17). The grace of God produces blessings: grace strengthens a believer for the task, makes worthy one formerly unworthy, and sets a believer aside for the ministry. Further, grace possesses overcoming power. The grace of God overcame Paul’s misuse of the law as an arrogant blasphemer and persecutor (v. 13).
Finally, grace is abundant. The apostle compared God’s grace to a mighty river overflowing the banks (v. 14).
Fifth, the pastor proclaims the one graceful Gospel (1:15-16). Paul detailed five characteristics of God’s Gospel. First, rather than being speculative, the Gospel is trustworthy in the sense of reliable, dependable, sure. Second, the Gospel is worthy of universal commendation and acceptance. Third, the center of the Gospel is the person of Christ and His saving mission. Fourth, the Gospel is personal—“I received mercy.” Fifth, God exhibits His glorious grace in the salvation of horrific sinners like Paul, me, and you.
Sixth, the pastor fights for the Gospel (1:18-20). Paul used a military analogy—“to engage in battle”—to describe the nature of the fight against two false teachers, one of whom denied the literal resurrection of Jesus (2 Tim. 2:17-18). The purpose of the decisive action was redemptive—to help them realize their error.
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