Paul’s letter must have been a real source of encouragement to Timothy. Like every Bible passage we look at, there are so many levels to 1 Timothy 1 and so many messages to take from it, but I was particularly struck by Paul’s mentoring style in this personal letter to his protégé.
The background is that it seems Timothy had expressed a desire to leave Ephesus, where he was surrounded by false teaching, and Paul wrote this letter to affirm him and urge him to stay put, in order to ensure the true gospel was being taught.
Paul begins his strategy of building Timothy up in a very practical way. He states his own credentials on the letter, so that Timothy could use this private correspondence as an authoritative tool in public meetings. The people Timothy is dealing with would have known Paul and his reputation as a passionate servant of God. So, when Paul proclaims Timothy as his ‘true child in the faith’, it is a public, as well as personal, acknowledgement of their close relationship and the esteem in which he holds him.
Next, Paul encourages Timothy to ‘charge’ (an army term meaning ‘command’) ‘persons not to teach any different doctrine’. He is reminding him to be bold in standing up to the false preachers and to call them out on doctrinal inaccuracies and salvation on the basis of anything other than faith. Paul wants the main thing to be the main thing! Devotion to God through faith alone. Sometimes when we get into discussions with people about Jesus, they present all sorts of confused arguments and we can end up going down a rabbit warren. The best thing to do is to get back to the main point as quickly as possible! This is Paul’s advice to Timothy.
He then outlines afresh the reason that the gospel must be pure. The Message translates verses 5-7 like this ‘The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love — love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence’. If the gospel isn’t presented purely, the result will not be love but mayhem and confusion!
In verses 8-11, Paul sums up this opening couple of paragraphs by reinforcing to Timothy the role of the law in bringing conviction of sin to the unrighteous. He itemises the sins prevalent in society which correlate with the Ten Commandments, drawing him back to Scripture (https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-3-proper-use-law-1-timothy-18-11):
|1 Timothy 1:9-10||Ten Commandments|
|Lawless and rebellious||1. No other gods|
|Ungodly and sinners||2. No idols|
|Unholy and profane||3. Not take Lord’s name in vain, and|
|4. Keep Sabbath|
|Kill fathers and mothers||5. Honour parents|
|Murderers||6. No murder|
|Immoral men, homosexuals||7. No adultery|
|Kidnappers/slave stealers||8. No stealing|
|Liars and perjurers||9. No false witness|
|Whatever else is contrary||10. No coveting|
The false teachers wanted to teach law in addition to the gospel, but Timothy is to bring them back to the truth that salvation is only through belief in Jesus. No more, no less.
Moving towards the conclusion of this first section of the letter, Paul recalls his own testimony in order to inspire Timothy to continue the hard work in which he is engaged, with the reminder that ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners’. If Paul, who was the ‘foremost’ of sinners was saved to exemplify God’s patience, the implication is surely that God has patience with all sinners and therefore anyone can be saved.
Finally, Paul reassures Timothy of his trust in him to do a good job, calling attention to the prophecies over his life and counselling him to hold faith and have a good conscience, unlike Hymenaus and Alexander who fell by the wayside and were put out of the church.
As Paul shepherds Timothy, it is clear that, as a spiritual parent, he has a real heart for the younger man. We all have the capacity to be spiritual mums and dads and 1 Timothy 1 gives examples of great mentoring techniques to help us in this role:
- Practical help
- Sound doctrine
- Explaining why
- Simplicity of message/sticking to the main point
- Honesty – the Christian life is not easy, but God always has a purpose
- Personal testimony
We needn’t use all of these in one go, or we may use these and more besides, but this letter is a real encouragement to support those who are coming up behind us in the faith and spur them on to the next level. I love the idea of nurturing people so that they go further than me, that my ceiling may be a platform for those who follow on.