New European Commentary

 

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Deeper Commentary

CHAPTER 1

1:1 Paul, an apostle- Paul begins by saying he has been called to be a sent out one, and then a few verses later backs it up by repeating that he was appointed to be an apostle (2:7). The same pattern is to be seen in 2 Timothy; the opening verse speaks likewise of how he is an apostle (2 Tim. 1:1), and then 2 Tim. 1:11 says he was indeed appointed as an apostle. Perhaps Timothy was beginning to doubt Paul's credentials, and this was a factor in Timothy's lack of full devotion to his ministry? Or perhaps Paul is urging Timothy to follow his own example of commitment to the calling he had received. For the letters to Timothy suggest that Timothy needed to be stirred up to continue responding to the calling received.

Of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Saviour, and Christ Jesus our hope- The most essential error, practically or doctrinally, is to “lose connection to the head [Jesus], from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together... grows” (Col. 2:19). The Lord Himself taught what Paul called 'growing up into Him who is the head'; He commented that the end goal for His disciples was that "every one [i.e. disciple, in the context] when he is perfected shall be as his master", i.e. Himself (Lk. 6:40). This was why Paul can speak of "Jesus who is our hope" (1 Tim. 1:1), all we hope to ever become. The hope of glory is to have Christ in us fully (Col. 1:27), which explains why the presence of the spirit of Christ in us now is a foretaste and guarantee of our eternal salvation.

1:2 To Timothy, my true child in faith- Timothy had not been converted to Christ by Paul's preaching directly. But his spiritual formation was largely thanks to Paul's influence. We can have children in the faith as a result of pastoral work with them, even if we ourselves were not responsible for their conversion or baptism. "True child" might suggest that our real children are our spiritual children. For our efforts with them will last eternally. We might even infer from this that Paul had other, unbelieving children of his own.

Grace, mercy and peace to you- They are nearly always mentioned in this order. God's grace is the basis for His mercy and this leads to peace with God. The standard wishing of peace to a person [Shalom / salaam] was thereby invested with so much more meaning when used between Christian believers. It was a real wish that 'May the things we believe really be true for you'.

From God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord- The clear separation between Father and Son here and in :1 [and so often in Paul's letters] ought to be proof enough that Trinitarian understandings are wrong.

1:3 Stay at Ephesus- From what we figure of Timothy later in the correspondence, the implication would be that Timothy wanted to give up in his work with the believers there because he was tired of the inter-personal tensions involved in confronting people and leading people to a better way.

Just as I urged you to do- The Greek can stand the translation 'begged'. Timothy clearly needed to be persuaded and was weak from the start.

When I was going into Macedonia- It seems this refers to the time of Acts 20:1: "Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them he said farewell [to Ephesus] and departed for Macedonia". But soon afterwards we read that Timothy rejoined Paul (Acts 20:4); we could conclude that Timothy couldn't stick it for long. And now Paul is urging him again.

So that you might instruct certain men not to teach a different doctrine- “Instruct” is to charge. This word is repeated three more times to Timothy; he was to charge others as to how to behave (1 Tim. 4:11; 5:7; 6:17). For a young, insecure man to charge others regarding their behaviour was of course very difficult. All teaching is difficult because the message we have is not acceptable to our audience, for the most part. This is why true teaching of God's word is not an easy work- if we do it properly. It is not entertainment; reasoning with folks about how to use their money (1 Tim. 6:17) is bound to be difficult and not something we naturally would prefer to do. The difficulty was worse because the Ephesian church had originally been formed out of the synagogue, and the false teaching in view in this verse was probably by Jews. And Timothy was born uncircumcised and probably not fluent in Hebrew. Yet he was to charge the Judaists with authority that they must not teach their false teaching further.

1:4 Nor give heed- The same word used about not giving heed to the teaching of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6,12) and the scribes (Lk. 20:34). The specific nature of the false teaching was Jewish, because the Ephesus ecclesia had begun in the synagogue. And further, the Judaizers had a conscious program of seeking to infiltrate Christian groups with their teachings. The same words are found in Tit. 1:14, warning Titus not to give heed to Jewish fables. Later in 1 Timothy the word is used about not giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (4:1). These terms might appear to be more relevant to paganic ideas; but a great theme of Paul is that Judaism was in fact another form of paganism. This needs to be given its full weight by those Christians who seem attracted to Jewish legalism to this day.

To fables- The Jewish myths which were considered by them to be inspired on an equal level to the Old Testament scriptures.

And endless genealogies- Literally, unfinished genealogies. The idea may be that the only genealogies worth studying are those which finished in Christ, as recorded in Matthew and Luke. The temple records were destroyed by the Babylonians, and so Judaism was in crisis- as the priests could not conclusively prove their descent from Levi and Aaron. All they had was incomplete genealogies which they used to justify their positions.

Which cause disputes- The problem with much academic Bible study is that it can only minister questions and not building up. This is not helpful in any pastoral context. By saying this, I am not appealing for a simplistic approach. But rather a way of interpreting the Bible which builds up, using building blocks of interpretation and connection which are not speculative and are therefore not open to any question.

Rather than Godly edification which is in faith- The Hebrew and Greek idea is of trust. Edifying, building up, involves trust. And nothing more can be said. We do not arrive at such trust / faith by considering endless questions which have no definitive answer. So much that passes for apologetics is in my view misplaced. It is childlike trust which enables God's word to build us up, not endless debate or "disputes". They do not forge a path towards upbuilding.


1:5 The intended result of this instruction is love
out of a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith- The purpose of keeping our understanding of the basic principles clear is that this will lead to true love and faith (1 Tim. 1:3-5). Timothy was to "charge" some that they didn't teach false doctrine, and the "end" of this charge [s.w. :5] was "charity out of a pure heart… a good conscience… love unfeigned". This is what the true Gospel enables, and this is why it should be defended. This is where it all leads. All commandments are "briefly comprehended" in that of love (Rom. 13:9). This is the end result of everything, it is the singular fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), the bond of maturity (Col. 3:14). 

1:6 From which things some having strayed have turned aside to idle talking- If the development of love and faith is not the end point in our motivation, all discussion of Biblical interpretation ends up straying and going wrong, degenerating into academic difference of opinion for its own sake. All the profound disputes end up therefore as "idle talking", literally, 'babble'. For all their apparent erudition, they are just that- babble. Our motivation is so very important before getting involved in any doctrinal teaching or dispute.

1:7 Desiring to be teachers of the law- Clearly the nature of the problem in Ephesus was rooted in Jewish thinking. These people aspired to be small time rabbis. And Paul the rabbi had quit all that; he was in the best position of all to warn against this tendency. The term 'teacher of the law' was applied to Gamaliel, Paul's tutor (Acts 5:34). These men pretended to Gamaliel; and Paul had once done the same.

Though they neither understand what they say, nor what they confidently affirm- The word is only used again in urging Titus to confidently affirm the need for true spirituality in the face of Judaist false teaching (Tit. 3:8). Spare a thought for timid Timothy, up against men with every air of self-assurance, who confidently affirmed the teachings which he was asked to stand up against. We wonder why someone of Timothy's nature and timidity would be used by the Lord for such a ministry. Our callings in ministry are very often right against the grain of what we would consider ourselves naturally suited to. This is the nature of carrying the Lord's cross. Thus Paul was sent to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews, when naturally they were both best suited for the opposite role.

1:8 But we know that the law is good- Paul is always at pains to point out that the Law is holy, just and good. The problem was with how it was used (Rom. 7:14).

If a man use it lawfully-
Galatians 3 explains that the law was given in order to convict sinners of the hopelessness before God, and to prepare sincere sinners to throw themselves upon salvation by grace in Christ. The intended usage of the Law was therefore for sinners; but the Jews considered it was intended for the righteous.

1:9 Since we know that the law is not made for a righteous man-  See on 1:8 If a man use it lawfully. This was the very opposite of the Jewish understanding of the Law as intended for the righteous.

But for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers- Why this particular list of crimes in :9 and :10? The first four commandments of the ten commandments are all broken by the "Lawless and unruly... ungodly and sinners... unholy and profane". Murderers of parents break the fifth commandment; manslayers break the sixth commandment.

1:10 For fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers- As noted on :9, the list of sins chosen here is not random, but each of them refer to various commandments within the Decalogue [the ten commandments]. Significantly, Paul doesn't allude to the command about Sabbath keeping; that is the one command in the Decalogue he considers as not morally binding.

And if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine- Whilst Paul is arguing against legalistic obedience to the Law, he is not saying that the Law is somehow 'not good' (:8). Indeed, he sees sound Christian teaching ["doctrine"] as being in line with the spirit of the ten commandments, excluding the Sabbath law. Hence 1:11 continues: "In accordance with the Gospel...". Breaking the spirit of the Decalogue was breaking the spirit of the Christian Gospel.


1:11 In accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God- The language recalls in Jewish terms the glory of God revealed at the giving of the ten commandments. The previous three verses have laboured the point that the Gospel precludes the same things as were forbidden by the ten commandments. The giving of the Gospel is as glorious, in fact far moreso, than the giving of the Law. The would-be Rabbis whom Timothy had to struggle against (:7) were claiming that God's revelation had come to them, and therefore they had authority. Paul's point is that the Gospel in all its glory has been revealed to each one who has faith in it ["committed to my trust" is literally 'en-faithed'], making each believer no less authoritative than the Rabbis.

Which was committed to my trust- Paul uses a strong and emphatic Greek construction here. The Greek means ‘to me, myself, I, personally’. Those raised ‘knowing the truth’ should pause and reflect whether the wonder of the fact they have been given the Gospel is registering with them as it might. God believes in us; this is why He has graciously called us to know His Truth. Thus when Paul writes in :14 about his own conversion: “The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus”, he perhaps means that it was the love and faith of Christ in him, Paul, that was the basis of his being converted by the Lord Jesus.
Every time Paul speaks of having been entrusted with the Gospel, he uses the common Greek word for ‘to have faith in’; and within the next verses, we find him using the same Greek word again, in the context of our belief in Christ (1 Tim. 1:11,12,16; Gal. 2:7,16). We had faith in the Lord, and He had faith in us, He en-faithed us, with the preaching of the Gospel we have believed in. Here we see the awesome mutuality between a man and his Lord. We have been entrusted with the preaching of the Gospel; the Lord believes in us to do His work.

1:12 I thank him that enabled me, Christ Jesus our Lord- Literally, en-strengthened me, put His dunamis in me. I take this as a reference to the internal strengthening within a believer made possible by the gift of the Lord's Spirit. Such a gift is received after baptism. And Paul is the parade example; after his baptism, he "increased the more in strength" and preached boldly (Acts 9:22 s.w. "enabled"). He refers to this strengthening later: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). Those "all things" in that context refer to the internal, mental, psychological ability to cope with various life circumstances. He wishes Timothy to make use of the same strengthening: "Be strong in the grace [Gk. 'the gift'] that is in [that comes from being in] Christ" (2 Tim. 2:1). And at the end of his days, Paul could reflect that the Lord Jesus stood with him at his final trial and strengthened him (2 Tim. 4:17). The same word is used of how weak believers like us were strengthened out of their weakness to be strong in faith- again a reference to psychological strengthening (Heb. 11:34), just as Abraham's weak faith was strengthened (Rom. 4:20 s.w.). The same power strengthens believers [s.w.]  unto internal characteristics such as endurance, patience and joy (Col. 1:11), the "power" in view being the spirit of Christ. This same power / dunamis is referred to in Rom. 15:13 as the source of these same internal, mental attributes: God fills us with "all joy and peace... that you may abound in hope, through the power / dunamis of the Holy Spirit". To deny the operation of this power is not simply a matter of missing out on so much; it is a denial of the essence of the transforming Gospel. A related word is found in Eph. 3:16- we are "strengthened with might [dunamis] by His spirit in the inner man". This is where the gift of the Spirit operates; the reference is to "the inner man" and not the public display of the Spirit in special miracles etc. Paul's whole ministry, like ours, is a result of "the operation of His power / dunamis" (Eph. 1:19,21; 3:7). On this basis, Paul urges timid Timothy to allow the spirit / dunamis of love and a sound mind to work in him [again, internal attributes, not referring to any ability to perform miracles]; and this would drive out his "spirit of fear" (2 Tim. 1:7). It was this dunamis which would enable Timothy to endure "the afflictions of the Gospel" which were clearly making Timothy balk (2 Tim. 1:8). Paul notes that the opposition to Timothy within the church had a "form of Godliness [possibly referring to their upholding some kind of statement of faith] but [were] denying the power [dunamis]" of that form of Godliness, i.e. the doctrines of the Gospel (2 Tim. 3:5). Paul has spoken of the "form of sound words" as referring to some kind of corpus of Gospel teaching in 2 Tim. 1:13. This has unpleasant similarities with those of our day who loudly profess their Biblicism, their holding of some "form of Godliness" in the Gospel; but who deny the operation of the power / dunamis which is associated with it, in that those who accept the Gospel shall be given the Spirit. And this element within the church of today deny this, insisting that the Spirit is not given in response to belief of the Gospel, and that the days of Spirit operation ceased in the first century. It is this dunamis, this power from the Lord, which provides us with all things required for spiritual life and Godliness, and keeps us unto salvation (1 Pet. 1:5; 2 Pet. 1:3). See on :14 And the grace...

For that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service- Very much the language of Romans, about how we who are sinners are judged and yet found innocent because of our status in Christ. We are counted as faithful; it would be rather arrogant surely to assume we are given a ministry because of our righteousness. But that is surely not what Paul intends to say, especially as he now goes right on to speak of his terrible past. He who was such a sinner, was judged / counted faithful. That is Paul's point. The ministries we are given are therefore given as an outworking of God's undeserved, unmerited grace to us; and not as a function of any human adequacy for the tasks.


1:13
Though I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor and abusive- Orthodox Judaism was and is highly sensitive to the possibility of blasphemy. Paul so often casts Judaism in the language of paganism; and he saw himself as such. He had compelled others to blaspheme (see on Acts 26:11); and he sees himself as the blasphemer. He took responsibility for what he had forced others to do. 

Paul saw himself, his own life and experiences, in the light of the words of the Gospels. He saw himself as having been like those Roman soldiers who nailed Christ to the tree trunk (Lk. 23:34 = 1 Tim. 1:13). He saw himself as "chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), and therefore one of those referred to by Christ in Mt. 9:13.

However, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief- Ignorance is not an excuse for crime. The Lord had prayed on the cross for forgiveness of those who persecuted and crucified Him, because of their "ignorance" (Lk. 23:34). The Jews however were not totally ignorant, just relatively so. And Paul likewise was not totally ignorant; he had been pushing against the goads of conscience. And as one brought up in Jerusalem, he presumably would have heard the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. Paul knew full well from Mosaic precedent that ignorance did not remove guilt; for there were guilt offerings prescribed for sins of ignorance. Remember that Paul is about to hold himself up as an example and pattern of ultimate grace. He is saying that he "obtained mercy" on the basis of the Lord's prayer of Lk. 23:34 as it were covering him too; his torture and murder of those in Christ had been done to Christ personally, for they were His body. And He Himself had pointed this out to Paul in saying that "I am Jesus, whom you persecute" (Acts 9:5). Paul knew that ignorance was no basis for innocence before God; and he is not to be read here as preaching that. He is saying that even though ignorance is not an excuse, yet the utter, extreme grace of Jesus in His prayer for His personal tormentors was applied by Jesus to those who likewise tormented those in His body. And so the same extreme grace was shown by Him to Paul. And he urges us to realize that this happened in order to set him up as a pattern for everyman who should afterward believe. Nobody should ever therefore feel that they are somehow beyond the scope of God's grace- because of the parade example shown to us all in Paul.

1:14 And the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus- See on :13 I obtained mercy. God's grace to him was indeed outstanding. But the sense seems to be as in the GNB: "Our Lord poured out his abundant grace on me and gave me the faith and love which are ours in union with Christ Jesus". "Grace", charis, carries the idea of 'gift', and there is here a reference to the Lord's gift of the Holy Spirit to Paul after his baptism, the point of our "union with Christ"; see on :12 Him that enabled me. The gift of the Holy Spirit was fundamentally a gift of a new spirit, a mind / psychology. And it included such internal spiritual, mental attributes as faith and love. That a sinner like Paul should be given such a transforming gift was grace / gift indeed. And in this, he is the pattern to all who subsequently believe- we too receive that same gift. See on :16 Believe in Him.

1:15 Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptance- This could refer to inspired prophetic sayings being judged by other inspired prophets to be "worthy of acceptance", and coming to form a corpus of Holy Spirit inspired material which was accepted as authoritative in the early church. Perhaps this corpus of material is referred to as the "form of sound words" or "form of Godliness" (2 Tim. 1:13; 3:5). The idea that Paul was the parade example of the Lord's operations and grace to all believers was therefore accepted and distributed in the early community.

That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief- Clearly perception of sinfulness grew in Paul after his conversion. He considered himself blameless in keeping the law (Phil. 3:6); and yet chief of sinners. He realized that sin is to do with attitudes rather than committed or omitted actions. I'd paraphrase Paul's personal reminiscence in Rom. 7:7-10 like this: "As a youngster, I had no real idea of sin. I did what I wanted, thought whatever I liked. But then in my early teens, the concept of God's commandments hit me. The command not to covet really came home to me. I struggled through my teens and twenties with a mad desire for women forbidden to me (AV, conveniently archaic, has "all manner of concupiscence"). And slowly I found in an ongoing sense (Gk.), I grew to see, that the laws I had to keep were killing me, they would be my death in the end". Paul’s progressive realization of the nature of sin is reflected in Romans 7:18,21,23. He speaks there of how he came to know that nothing good was in him; he found a law of sinful tendency at work in him; he came to see another law apart from God’s law at work in his life. This process of knowing, finding and seeing his own sinfulness continued throughout his life. His way of escape from this moral and intellectual dilemma was through accepting the grace of the Lord Jesus at his conversion. In one of his earliest letters, Paul stresses that he felt like the least of the apostles, he honestly felt they were all better than he was (1 Cor. 15:9). However, he reminisces that in his earlier self-assurance, he had once considered himself as not inferior to "the very chiefest apostles" (2 Cor. 11:5). Some years later, he wrote to the Ephesians that he felt "less than the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8). This was no Uriah Heep, fawning humility. He really felt that he was the worst, the weakest, of all the thousands of believers scattered around the shores of the Mediterranean at that time. As he now faced his death, he wrote to Timothy here that he was "chief of sinners", the worst sinner in the world, and that Christ's grace to him should therefore serve as an inspiration to every other believer, in that none had sinned as grievously as he had done. It could well be that this is one of Paul’s many allusions back to the Gospels- for surely he had in mid the way the publican smote upon his breast, asking God to be merciful “to me the sinner” (Lk. 18:13 RVmg.). Note that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" is rooted in the Lord's words that He came to call sinners and to seek and save the lost (Mt. 9:13; 18:11).


1:16
However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as the chief sinner might Jesus Christ- Peter uses the same term in saying that all God's people have obtained mercy (1 Pet. 2:10). He took his friend Paul at his word, seeing in Paul a pattern of everyman's conversion.

Show all his patience- The Lord had spoken of how Paul had kicked against the goads. His patience with Paul was amazing, even allowing him, as it were, to torture and murder Christians until Paul finally surrendered to conversion. This is a template for His patience with us all.

As a pattern- He saw in his conversion a pattern or template for all those who would afterwards believe (see on :15 Faithful is the saying). Having said that he was "chief" of the tribe of sinners, Paul goes straight on to say that this "was so that in me as chief might Jesus Christ shew forth all his longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should later believe on him" (1 Tim. 1:15,16 RV). This sounds as if Paul realized that he was being set up as the chief, supreme example to us; a template for each of us, of forgiveness and zealous response to that forgiveness. His conversion and subsequent spiritual growth are recorded as they are because they are a pattern for every subsequent believer- not just for those involved in preaching and pastoral work. It's because of this, it seems to me, that we have so much information about the man Paul; we really are enabled to enter into his spirit and personality. His physical appearance is stressed (Gal. 4:13,14; 1 Cor. 2:3,4; 2 Cor. 10:10; 12:5,7,9; Phil. 3:21; and especially his hands: Acts 21:11; 27:19; 1 Cor. 4:12). We imagine him as having a dark complexion, seeing he was confused with an Egyptian (Acts 21:38).

To those that would later believe in him to gain eternal life- According to John's Gospel, the eternal life begins now, in that through the work of the Spirit we begin to live the kind of life which we shall eternally live. The Greek literally reads "Believe on Him in[to] eternal life". Faith in Christ, demonstrated by baptism into Him, results in the Spirit empowering us to live the life eternal, the kind of life we shall eternally live. Paul has touched on this idea in :14.

1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen- The whole style of this suggests that :15-17 are all part of the "Faithful saying" which Paul is quoting. Note especially the "Amen" at the end, followed by a resumption of the argument in the next verse and continuing on with the rest of the letter. It could be that the "Saying" about Paul being our pattern of grace was part of a liturgy, said or sung in prayer or hymn. Yet the first person pronoun, "I", might suggest that it was said or sung about each believer and not just about Paul; everyman should see in himself a pattern of amazing grace for others. This would explain why such a "Saying" was used in hymn or prayer- as a witness to the unbelievers listening.


1:18 This charge I commit to you, my child Timothy- The charge of remaining in Ephesus and resisting the false teachers (:3); a charge which had been supported by inspired prophecy.

In accordance with the prophecies which were made about you, that by them- There were prophecies about Timothy which had gone before, or “led the way to thee” (1 Tim. 1:18 RVmg.). But Paul had to encourage Timothy to fulfil them, to make them come real and true for him. Likewise the fearful and timid Jeremiah was told “I have made thee this day a defenced city… be not dismayed” (Jer. 1:17,18). He had to live out the potential personality which God had enabled him to have.

You may war- But Paul had to warn Timothy that whoever goes to war cannot entangle himself in the things of this world (s.w. 2 Tim. 2:4). It seems that Timothy had the potential to pull down great strongholds in his warfare; but he was distracted by the things of the world. Not living up to potential is a tragic feature of so much spiritual life.   

The good warfare- The word is only used elsewhere in 2 Cor. 10:4: "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds". The warfare was too much for timid Timothy; but he had access to great spiritual strength to cast down the strongholds of false teaching.

1:19 Holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some having thrust from them, made shipwreck of their faith- The lead examples were Hymenaeus and Alexander (:20). 2 Tim. 2:17 informs us that these two men had lost their faith in the resurrection, and taught this, resulting in the faith of others being overthrown. Those who lose their own faith so often seek to overthrow ["shipwreck"] the faith of others. Their teaching that the resurrection was past already was therefore rooted in their lack of faith. False teaching so often has a root in a lack of faith or other moral deficiency. Human nature seeks to bring others down to our own level; whereas the call of the Gospel is to seek to raise our own aspirations and to encourage others to aim higher and be elevated to Heavenly things.

1:20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme- The fact they were still causing trouble in 2 Tim. 2:17 means this intention didn't work out; they continued their blasphemy. The mention of blasphemy is in the context of :13, where Paul has admitted to being a blasphemer, who had been converted by the long patience of the Lord Jesus as an example to others (:16). And now Paul seeks to reflect to others the patient, seeking, saving grace which he has experienced. And this was his motive in whatever courses of action were involved in his 'delivering [these men] to satan'.