“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” - 1 Timothy 1:1-2 NASB
I have only just finished preaching through the book of James and after much prayer and contemplation I’ve decided to take the people whom God has entrusted to my care through a study of First Timothy.
I find that transitioning from one book to the next can be startling. When preaching through an epistle we find the climax at the end. It is here where preaching and implications from the text become very pointed. James did not disappoint in this way. But then the epistle concludes and the preacher is left to introduce the next book. Coming off of a climax of specific imperatives, it can be difficult to transition into an introduction. At first glance, there’s nothing here that is very exciting, we’re not learning any doctrine or theology, and we’re certainly not given any commands to obey. Can’t we just skip over the first few verses and get to “the good stuff?” I’ll answer that question as plainly as I can: No, we can’t.
We must pay attention to introductions for two main reasons. The first, I hope, is obvious: We pay attention to introductions because introductions are part of God’s Holy Word. It’s one thing to pay lip service to 2 Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”), but do you actually believe it? The second should also be obvious: We pay attention to introductions because they introduce the argument of the entire book.
Introductions are important. The preamble of the United States Constitution sets a standard upon which the rest of the document is built. The first line of the Gettysburg address sets the tone for the remainder of the speech. The first verse of the Bible answers the question of the world’s origin and is the genesis (pun completely intended) of all orthodox theology. These introductory verses contain a foundation from which we will build upon in the coming weeks and months. In them we are introduced to the author and his audience. From there we will take a sneak peak at the author’s aim.
The Author (v. 1)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope”
This is a typical way of beginning a letter in the Greco-Roman world of the 1st century A.D. Unlike today, people began a letter with their own name. I’ve never understood why we sign our names at the end of a letter. You have to read the whole thing just to know for certain who it’s from. The ancients were much more straightforward: This is from me – I’m writing to you – Here’s what I have to say. But Paul doesn’t only sign his name to this letter. He adds some serious credentials.
An apostle of Christ Jesus
What’s an apostle? The term literally means “a sent one.” The idea is of a messenger that is sent out to proclaim a message. But with that comes the nuance that the messenger carries with him the authority of the one from which the message came. An apostle from the king would carry the king’s own authority when proclaiming his message. Not pertaining to everything, but in reference to the message.
Yet Paul is not claiming to be just any apostle, but an apostle of Christ Jesus. He has been selected and sent out as a messenger of Christ Jesus. The New Testament uses this word a few times to speak of “sent out ones” in a general sense. But every time the word is attached to Christ as the sender, we have a very select group in mind that includes the twelve disciples/apostles plus Paul. These are men you have been personally selected by Christ, personally gifted by Christ, personally witnessed a resurrected Christ, and personally used by Christ to found and establish His church. This is a significant title. It carries the idea of selection, authority, and official business. This is not a personal letter but an official letter.
According to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope.
Paul is a master of what one of my mentors calls “emphasis, not exclusion.” What I mean is that by stating he is an apostle of Christ Jesus emphasizes Christ but does not in any way exclude God the Father. That is made evident by this last phrase. There are three significant observations from this phrase.
First, Christ Jesus appointed Paul as His apostle as the result of a joint command from God and Christ. Both God the Father and God the Son are seen as working in concert with each other. Thus an appointment from Christ is the same as an appointed from God Almighty.
Second, both God and Christ Jesus come with modifiers. God is described as “our savior” while Christ Jesus is referred to as “our hope.” Let’s take these one at a time.
God our Savior
Some commentators are quite confused at this reference to God the Father as “our savior” when it is Christ who is normally the subject of this term. Yet when we remember that the Word of God begins in Genesis and not in Matthew this “problem” quickly dissipates. God is called “savior” many times throughout the Old Testament; in a corporate sense (Deut. 32:15) and in a personal sense (Ps. 18:46). We cannot forget that Paul, as well as every NT writer, was a biblical scholar (i.e. an Old Testament scholar). Referring to God as savior is a simple Old Testament truth as obvious as referring to God as creator. There could be some additional underlying reasons for this reference, but it is mainly to connect salvation to the God of the Old Testament.
Christ Jesus our hope
Hope is not a wistful wish or desire. The Bible never uses the word in that sort of context. Hope is anticipation with baited breath knowing that something is about to happen. There is no doubt about the reality of a coming event, only uncertainty of the timing. In this sense, no person on earth has any hope whatsoever outside of Jesus Christ.
Only the Christian has assurance of salvation from sin, bodily resurrection, and eternal communion with God. That is the content of our hope. But the catalyst for our hope is the person and work of Jesus. His sinless life, atoning death, victorious resurrection, and future righteous reign are what has and will make our hope a reality.
Third, Paul speaks of both God the Father and God the Son as individual persons and yet as a unified being. This is significant. Much of First Timothy is a call to fight false teaching or heresy. Most heresies have one thing in common: a denial of the trinity (Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Liberal Protestantism, etc., etc.). From the onset Paul presents God and Christ as equal yet distinct. As I’ve already said, Paul is a master of “emphasis, not exclusion.”
“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Maybe we should begin our study without making some ridiculously large assumptions. For instance, do we know who this Timothy guy is?
We first meet Timothy on the pages of Scripture in Acts 16. Setting out on his second missionary journey (consult the map) Paul begins by visiting the churches that he had already planted. In Lystra he runs into a young man who God had converted during Paul’s first preaching tour through that area. His name was Timothy. It is from the point onward that we see Timothy almost constantly at Paul’s side.
Coming with Paul and his team into Europe, it was Timothy and Silas who were left in Berea to continue the work (and under heavy fire) began by Paul while Paul retreated to Athens, and then Corinth (Acts 17:4-15; 1 Thessalonians 3:2).
Timothy is at Paul’s elbow during the compilation of several epistles (1&2 Thessalonians; Romans, 1&2 Corinthians).
Timothy apparently accompanied Paul to Rome, when he was imprisoned the first time. While he was there, Timothy co-authored several epistles with Paul (Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon).
It is this Timothy, this genuine child of God the father by faith, who was sent to Ephesus after Paul’s release in order to combat heresy.
It’s important to understand that this letter is not written to Timothy alone. Two things make this obvious: The way the letter begins and the way the letter ends.
If this were a personal letter for Timothy’s eyes only, why on earth would Paul present himself in such an official manner? That would almost be insulting to a dear friend and brother who has served under and alongside Paul for all these years. Yet, if this letter is for the eyes of Timothy as well as the eyes of the Ephesian elders he is directing and training, this official introduction carries weight. Timothy is seen as a direct representative of the apostle Paul (thus by extension a representative of Christ Jesus our hope and God our savior).
This might seem like a stretch, but given the context and the content (does it read like a personal letter?) I assure you that it is not. But if you are not yet convinced, there’s always the manner in which Paul signs off. How does the last verse in First Timothy read?
“which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:21 NASB.
In many ways English is a devolving language. There is nothing in modern language to distinguish between 2nd person plurals (you) and singulars (you), unless you happen to be from Alabama (y’all). It’s that last phrase that draws my attention – Grace be with you – Our Southern brethren might translate that as “Grace be with y’all” because that’s a plural you. Why would Paul address a letter only to Timothy and end it like this? The answer: because he didn’t. Paul wrote this letter with the intention of both Timothy his representative and the Ephesian elders reading and implementing its contents. Why? Because there’s heresy circulating around Ephesus.
A heresy that misrepresents Christ, and thus dashes Christian hope.
A heresy that misrepresents God, and thus destroys Christian salvation.
A heresy that undermines the church, and thus undermines the way of correction.
This pastoral epistle contains commands for the church. Commands that, if obeyed, will ensure that even a church under spiritual siege will indeed stand.
That is why Paul wrote it.
And that is why I am so eager to begin preaching it. Soli Deo Gloria!