Directions in Difficulty - Timothy Studies [series]

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Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

1. Danger of False Teaching

Passage: 1 Timothy 1: 1 - 20


Background: Paul, for his part, saw Ephesus as a great place to preach the gospel. He began with preaching to his fellow Jews on his second missionary journey. On his third journey, he invested two solid years evangelising and developing Christian leaders. Christian faith became so popular that the magic trade and temple business fell sharply.

Paul's farewell message (Acts 20), however, shows that he was bracing for a spiritual counterattack on the Christian community. He predicted even some of his converts would set themselves up as Christian “gurus” and carve out followings around their own blend of Scripture, the gospel and mystical teachings. The issue Paul saw as crucial was spiritual authority: When should we accept spiritual teachings? When should we reject them? How do we know if Christian teachers are trustworthy? This, in fact, was just the situation when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy.

Paul had turned over the leadership of the church in Ephesus, the most strategic in Asia Minor, to Timothy, a bright, sensitive associate. Timothy was about forty years old at that time, which was considered young for such leadership. False teaching was coming from people within the church. Since some of these were leaders (see Acts 20:20), Paul could not write to the church at Ephesus directly, but instead went through Timothy in whom he had confidence. Timothy's mission was to deal with false teaching, and it seems he was a capable teacher.

From references in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Acts, and the letters to Timothy, we know Timothy was a committed, but very human, person with some insecurities. Hebrews 13:23 shows that he spent some time in prison for his faith. We don't know what finally happened to Timothy, but we do know that John became the leader of the church not too long after these letters were written.

In these letters we can see Paul coaching the younger leader. In the process he raises issues which bear on us all—leaders or not.

1. Warning [3-11] :

Notice there is no customary thanksgiving. Paul goes straight into the warning [cf Galatians]. The false teaching is coming, not from outside the Church, but from inside - which is always more dangerous! Timothy has been left as Paul’s substitute to stem the tide of error. The reference to myths and genealogies would appear to indicate some kind of Jewish teaching rather than gnosticism - although it had also some Greek overlays as well.

 The outcome of such teaching is that it promotes “controversies rather than God’s work - which is by faith” [4].  Notice verse 5 - “pure heart”, good conscience” and “sincere faith”. The alternative is “meaningless talk”. Their ambition is to be teachers/leaders but do not really understand what the Law/OT was about.

            The next paragraph [8-11] is a little digression about the nature of Law. It is primarily for the ungodly rather than for the righteous. See how the catalogue has a remarkable coincidence with the Ten Commandments [5 to 9], often giving more grotesque expressions of these. All this is in marked contrast to “sound doctrine” which explains and sets forth “the glorious gospel of the blessed God”.


2. Testimony [12-17]:

See how Paul is overwhelmed with thankfulness at God’s goodness to him in Christ. He is truly amazed that Christ would consider him, of all people, worthy of this trust and task. See how he describes himself in verse 13. He was shown mercy because he had acted in ignorance and unbelief - whereas the false teachers within the church have turned from the truth about God to a lie. See the alliance of God’s grace and the outcomes of the gospel in faith and love - “visible expressions of a living relationship with the Saviour” [Kelly]. All of this is in contrast to the erring elders, who have turned away from faith and love, who blaspheme [20],   are engaged in strife [6:4] and who have thus abandoned the gospel of grace. 

Now comes the faithful saying - a summary of  the gospel in which both incarnation and redemption feature. Sinners is a universalising term. we are all sinners. “Of whom I am the worst” - Paul is not exaggerating. It is the result of his overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness and utter helplessness before God and the fact of God’s grace lavished freely on him and God’s unconditionally accepting him despite his sin.  The outcome is belief and eternal life.  Notice the concluding benediction - act of praise [17].

3. Instruction [18-20]:

Here Paul returns to the opening theme. Almost verse 18 might read on from verse 7! In fact “instruction” here is the same word as “command” [3]. The giving mentioned here is like entrusting something to someone else’s care [cf. 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12; and 14; 2:2]. See the reference to fight the good fight and also to faith and a good conscience.

            Notice the dread alternative; rejecting the truth leads to the shipwreck of faith - like the erring elders and Paul cites two of them, Hymenaeus and Alexander. They are excommunicated “to be taught not to blaspheme”. Is their blasphemy not the direct outcome of their “sickly appetite for controversy [cf 6:4]?




Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

2. Instructions about Prayer

Passage: 1 Timothy 2: 1 - 15

* Introduction: You will recall that the current sphere of Timothy’s ministry on behalf of Paul was the city of Ephesus and the series of house-churches there. The particular problem and difficulty at the time was the false teaching gaining ground in the believing community, probably due the fact it was being presented by those who were leaders and elders within the church. The error was coming from the inside, rather than the outside. It was Timothy’s prime task to put a halt to this advance of deviant teaching, by taking a strong stand against it. Incidentally, in terms of what we are currently going through in the PCANZ, and the role of the Commission on Diversity, how would you test whether some particular teaching or point of view was within the parameters of acceptable diversity or fell beyond it?  Discuss. In any case Paul continues in this letter to give a series of particular instructions.

            Frequently, because there is no reference to the false teachers in chapters 2 and 3, it is suggested that what we have in these two chapters is a early church manual, of the kind needed to set a congregation in order - even if a variation on that theme is that the reason for such a church manual would be to serve as an appropriate antidote to heresy and error. However, by and large, the “church manual” view really sees very little relationship between chapters 2 and 3 and the charge to Timothy in chapter 1. The new section begins with the conjunction “therefore” [NIV “then”], implying a result or inference from what has proceeded, it seems, rather, much more likely that all of this material which follows is a direct consequence of what was said in chapter 1. Thus, these instructions are best understood as responses to the presence of the wayward elders, who were disrupting the church by their errors and controversies. Nowhere does Paul suggest Timothy is to set the church in order - for the first time so to speak. The appropriate activities seem to be already present. Rather, we may understand abuses of various kinds should be corrected. For instance, it may be assumed that men pray, and do so with raised hands [8]. The instruction here is that they do so with “holy” hands, not hands “soiled” by argument or anger. 

* 1. Proper Objects of Prayer [1-7]:

It would appear that the false teaching propounded by the erring elders had some connections to Judaism on the one hand and to elitism [through some early form of Gnosticism [?] on the other. Note the use of the phrase “all people” [Gk=pantas] at the three key places in this paragraph [1,4,6].   

Although the sentence begins something new, the “therefore” ties it back to the charge in 1:3 but by way of 1:18-20. The verse is not so much a categorization of various types of prayer which is perhaps sometimes stretched farther than the context warrants. Nor does it stress the importance or urgency [“first of all”] of prayer generally. Rather what is being urged is prayer for “all people” or “everyone”.  See how such prayer ought to include rulers and those in authority - somewhat surprising [?] when you consider how often the church would be persecuted by civil authority in coming years, indeed Nero was emperor at this time. The reason given is “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. Some scholars regard such a reason as almost self-concern. Gordon Fee suggests the request reflects on the activities of the false teachers who are not only disrupting and disquieting the church but apparently also bringing the church into disrepute on the outside [see 3:7; 5:14;6:1]. The concern is not that Christians should have lives free from trouble or distress [cf 2 Tim 1:8; 3:12] but that they should live in such a way that “no one will speak evil of the name of God and of our teaching [6:1]. This compares with 1 Thess 4:11-12; 2 Thess 3:11 and 1 Tim 5:13. The reference to “godliness and holiness” does not in the original use words normally associated with Paul [dikaiosyne and hagiosyne] in terms of one’s relationship with God. Here - and elsewhere in the Pastorals - he uses eusebia=piety and semnotes=proper conduct. In fact eusebia in popular parlance roughly equates with “religious” in popular English. A strange word for Paul to use. Is Paul using a word of the false teachers to counteract them [cf his use of the word wisdom in 1 Cor 1-3]? Note verse 2 is in keeping with Romans 13:1-5.

            Verses 3-4 are important. Such a way of life is good, even beautiful or excellent. It pleases “God our Saviour”. God is the initiator of salvation. What God desires is not merely our salvation, or even that of a select few, but that “all people “ should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. The gospel, as Paul now declares, is universal in its scope. Paul states the theological basis for the Gospel. “There is one God” - classic Judaism and Christianity - as opposed to many gods, and therefore the one God over all peoples. “There is one mediator between God and men - the man Christ Jesus” - underlying such a need is the universal sinfulness of humankind who cannot, of themselves, restore their broken relationship with God. Only God can provide such a bridge. Jesus Christ is the “go-between God”, who reconciles fallen humankind to the one God. “The man Christ Jesus” at once emphasizes his full identification with all people, and his being the one person of whom it can be said, he is the Man. [cf Paul’s familiar Adam-Christ imagery as representative of Old Age/New Age.  Further, Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all people”. Christ’s death on the Cross was for all. Effectively, of course, it ends up being “especially [for] those who believe” [4:10]. The final phrase is difficult - literally, “in its own appointed times”. Christ’s sacrifice for sin took place at God’s appointed hour. A modern translation puts it this way; “This is the fact to which we are to bear our testimony, as opportunities present themselves”. In verse 7 Paul affirms his credentials. Paul describes himself as herald, apostle and teacher - notably “a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles” [ie all people].

* 2. Proper Demeanor in Prayer [8-15]:

The first section focussed on prayers; the second now looks at the pray-ers. Why these concerns? Why an inordinate amount of space devoted to the women rather than the men? Again, the solution must lie in the false teachers. The word to the men  is an obvious response to their controversies and strife. the word to the women may be assumed to respond to this conflict. Does the answer lie in 5:3-16 and 2 Tim 3:5-9. Certainly what is advised here corresponds with what is advised there. Whether any of this  is also related to the predominance of women in the local Artemis cult is open but possible. 




Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

3. Instructions about Leaders

Passage: 1 Timothy 3: 1 - 16

* Introduction: Having already addressed some concerns related to the community at worship and prayer [ch 2] provoked by the erring leaders, Paul now turns to the leaders themselves. The Pastoral Epistles are not primarily a Manual of Church Order; they are too wide of the mark for that to be true. Neither are Timothy and Titus being held up as model pastors. They are essentially itinerant preachers/leaders on special apostolic assignment in Ephesus and Crete respectively, with particular authority to put things right. Verses 1-7 deal with a group called episkopoi [overseers]; while verses 8-13 refer to a group called diakonoi [servants/deacons] with a note about some “women” in verse 11. Gordon Fee suggests that it is likely both groups come under the larger category of presbyteroi [elders]. Evidence suggests that the terms episkopoi and prebyteroi are partially interchangeable - Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5,7. Timothy has not been left in Ephesus to appoint elders, indeed everything in 1 Timothy as well as the evidence from Acts 20 indicates there were already elders in this church. Why, then, this instruction? The evidence points to the character and activities of the erring elders and false teachers. First, many of the items on the list stand in sharp contrast to what is said elsewhere in the letter about the false teachers. Second, the list itself has three notable features: (1) It gives qualifications, not duties; (2) most of the items reflect outward, observable behaviour; and (3) none of the items is distinctively Christian - eg love, faith, purity, endurance; cf 4:12; 6:12 - rather, they reflect the highest ideals of Hellenistic moral philosophy. The whole section moves towards and concludes with verse 7, focusing on the leaders’ [and thus the church’s] reputation with outsiders - suggesting that the false teachers, by their behaviour, were bringing the gospel and the church into disrepute. Thus Paul is concerned not only that the elders have Christian virtues [these are assumed] but that they reflect the highest ideals of the surrounding culture as well.

* 1. Overseers [1-7]:

The section is introduced by another “trustworthy saying” although unlike 1:15 it really has no credal status. Rather Paul is probably trying to emphasize it or draw attention to it. The reference to “setting one’s heart upon” seems to support the view that some people were apparently “running for office”.  Note the “saying” focuses more on the position than on the person. He is not commending the people, rather that the position is a significant thing, a noble task, the kind of task to which people might well aspire. Now, because oversight is such a noble task, it is important that elders should lead exemplary lives. To be “above reproach” might appear to rule out everyone - yet the same word is applied to the widows [5:7] and to Timothy himself [6:14]. It has to do with observable conduct - and appears to be a general, covering term for the ensuing list of eleven virtues [mostly single words in Greek]. The “husband of but one wife” is a truly difficult phrase. Marriage was certainly the expected norm within the culture, yet Paul and probably Timothy also were not. Polygamy was a very rare feature of pagan society. Is remarriage ruled out after the death of a spouse or after divorce? Temperate refers rather to freedom from every form of excess, passion or rashness. Other necessary qualities include gentleness rather than violence, not quarrelsome, able to teach, hospitable, not a lover of money. Manifestly leaders need to be seen to be caring both for their families and for the church. Leaders should not be those who have only recently come into faith. It is vital leaders have a good reputation in the eyes of those who do not belong to the church. 

* 2. Deacons [8-13]:

We are faced with the virtual certainty that these two groups had distinguishable functions in the early church, but we have no way of knowing what they were. Their qualifications for the task are not dissimilar to those for the overseers. they are to be worthy of respect, sincere [not double-tongued, fully trustworthy in what they say], not indulging in much wine [like overseers], not pursuing dishonest gain [ie loving money to the point of questionable integrity].

            Look at verse 9, they are to hold “the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” - cf 1:5-6; 19-20 and the conduct of the false teachers. The word translated “deep truths” in one of Paul’s favourite words to describe the gospel - literally meaning “mystery” cf 1Cor 2:7, 4:1, Eph 3:3-9. For Paul, the “mystery of the faith” was neither something “secret” nor some kind of “deep truth”. Rather, it refers to the essential truth of the gospel [1Cor 2:6-16] especially the saving character of Christ’s death, which was once hidden [in God] but now revealed by the Spirit [hence GNB’s “revealed truth”]. Paul goes on to say that deacons are first to be tested before they serve. Is this a reference to their “track record” in the church, or does it relate to whether they hold fast to the faith. The Weymouth translation refers to their undergoing probation! Probably what Paul desires here is the selection of “approved” men, who have been examined in the sense of 1Cor 16:3 or 2Cor 13:5. Then, “if there is nothing against them” [above reproach?] they should be allowed to serve. Clearly as in the previous section they should not be recent converts.  Verse 11 is something of a puzzle. Are wives being referred to - deacons are being spoken of both before and after 11 - or is it some category of women who serve the church is some category [gyne=wife or woman]. Probably the second, in which case these qualifications stand in marked contrast to the descriptions of the women  in 5:11-15 and 2Tim 3:6-7. Their being mentioned probably reflects the negative influence of the false teachers on the women of the church. Then it is back to the deacons - those who serve well gain a good standing in the eyes of the church as well a great assurance in their own personal faith in Christ. Both commendations are precisely what the false teachers lack. Their diseased teaching [1:19] includes improper behaviour and a soiled reputation has caused them to abandon genuine faith in Christ [1:5].

* 3. Purpose of the Letter [14-16]:

See how Paul first refers to the Church as God’s household, then picks up again the familiar picture of the church as temple - pillar [bulwark] and foundation of truth. The closing hymn refers to Christ’s Incarnation [also pre-existence], his resurrection, seen by angels - ie the glorified Christ is worshipped by them - preached among the nations, believed on in the world - taken up in glory. Gospel and godliness are summarized!




Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

4. Strategies for Ministry

Passage: 1 Timothy 4: 1 - 16

* Introduction: Because of the content of 3:14-16 - the statement of purpose climaxed by the hymn - it is easy to think of chapter 3 as bringing us to some kind of conclusion, or major break, in the middle of the letter. To view 3:14-16 in this way is to miss the very close link between chapter 4 and what has gone before. Paul is about to elaborate in some detail upon the two matters expressed in his charge in ch 1: the nature of the errors of the false teachers [4:1-5; cf 1:3-11, 19-20] and Timothy’s role in Ephesus [4:6-16; cf 1:18-19]. The intervening instructions of chs 2-3, on “what kinds of conduct befits a member of God’s household”, are themselves to be understood against the backdrop of the teachings and activities of the straying leaders.

* 1. Deception [1-5]:

 Paul states that the emergence of the false teachers should have come as no surprise - the Spirit clearly forewarned about them; the true source of their teaching is demonic, and then he gives some specifics of their errors and the reasons why they are errors.

Chapter 4 is linked to the previous section by “and”, or more preferably, “however” [untranslated in NIV]. Previously Paul has declared that the church has been entrusted with the truth - the truth we sing about Christ. However, the Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith/truth. Who are these people? Surely, not so much the false teachers themselves, but rather the “members of God’s household” [3:15] who are being led astray by them, these “hypocritical liars” [2]. The same concern is expressed in 2Timothy 2:16-18; 3:13; and 4:3-4. Whether the Spirit’s speaking refers to the prophetic Spirit’s having spoken in the church [so Barrett] or to the Spirit speaking to Paul as he writes [or earlier, as in Acts 20] cannot be known. However, the present apostasy is something the Spirit has plainly announced beforehand. “Later times” is the present situation since Christian preachers clearly saw the ministry of Jesus or, at latest, the advent of the Spirit as the beginning of the End. Paul also believed that the End would be accompanied by a time of intense evil.

            What has only been hinted at before [2:14; 3:6-7], is now plainly stated. The ultimate source of the false teaching is Satan himself. Thus the deceiving spirits and things taught by demons which some are following , probably refer to the same reality - the demonic nature of teaching which opposes the gospel [cf 2Cor4:4; 11:3, 13f]. Why are they described as “hypocritical liars” - they are speakers of falsehood, that is speaking things about the gospel that are not true, so speaking falsehood rather than truth.  The further accusation that they are hypocrites probably implies that they are outwardly false and that their abstinence in verse 3 is mere pretence or outward show. The reference to their seared conscience may mean that their moral judgements have been cauterised and so deadened, or more probably [so NEB] that their consciences carry Satan’s brand. Teaching in the guise of truth what is actually false, they have been branded by Satan as belonging to him and doing his will. Two examples follow: forbidding to marry, abstaining from certain foods, probably, as in Colossae [2:16-23], due to some kind of asceticism. It possibly also relates to a kind of over-realized eschatology as perhaps present in Corinth where Greek dualism resulted in matter viewed as corrupt, denial of future bodily resurrection, dim view of sex and marriage. The remainder of the section deals only with the foods. The abstinence is a denial of the goodness of God’s creation and of the sanctifying grace of thanksgiving and prayer

* 2. Discipline [6-10]:

Now Paul turns to Timothy directly and personally. The functions in this section are clearly given in context of the false teachers. They have been deceived by Satan and now in their turn are deceiving others. Timothy must guard his own life, and the teaching of the truth with great care. Rather than being caught up in godless myths, he must train himself in true godliness.

Faithfulness in ministry includes keeping on pointing out to the community of faith the truths of Christian belief and behaviour. “Nourished on sound words” [RSV] surely means to be built up in the teaching of Scripture. Training in godliness is the metaphor of the gymnasium, the rigorous training of the athlete. Here is the true spiritual discipline rather than the false discipline of the ascetic.

Another sure saying is 8b “godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come”. There is the commitment to “toil/labour and strive” precisely because rather than “that”, “we have put our hope in the living God”. Our hope is in him, because “he is the Saviour of all people” - such is his desire - but in fact his salvation is especially for “those who [will] believe”.

* 3. Determination [11-16]:

Paul’s personal concern for Timothy is evident in this next section - regarding his life, ministry, and in his relationship to the church. It consists of a string of ten imperatives [commands], whose content is summarised in verse 16. These are the things on which he must be resolved with courage and perseverance.

* Leadership - he has to “command and teach” - ie faith leading to a consistent Christian lifestyle [11].

* Modelling the faith - even in spite of his youthfulness in the eyes of some in the church. “Don’t let anyone underrate you because you are young” cf “look down on”, “disregard or dismiss”, “despise”. This was an especially encouraging word to Timothy. It was also a word of exhortation to the Christian community who would hear the letter read out. Modelling [being an example to the church in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity] is a key concept in Christian leadership as well as a crucial factor in Paul’s teaching [cf 1Thess1:6; 2Thess 3:7,9; 1Cor 4:6; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 2Tim 1:13]. Remember Jeremiah or even Charles H Spurgeon.! [12]

* Public ministry - paying particular attention and giving special diligence to “the reading”,“the preaching”,“the prayers”as the means of counter-acting false teaching [13].

* Giftedness - don’t neglect it. Bestowed by leaders, recognised by the Church. [14]

*Diligence+Devotion=Development/maturity [15] 

*”Take heed” - “watch your life and doctrine closely”-it benefits you and others too! [16]




Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

5. Further Instructions

Passage: 1 Timothy 5:1 - 6:2

* Introduction: This section appears to contain a set of instructions to Timothy regarding some diverse groups within the church in Ephesus. It begins with his own appropriate pastoral relationships, and then proceeds to talk about the widows, the elders and finally the slaves.

* 1. Instructions about Pastoral Relationships [1-2]:

This brief section serves as something of a transition in the content of the letter. On the one hand, it flows naturally out of 4:11-16, with a set of two further imperatives to Timothy, which continue to reflect concern regarding Timothy’s relationship to the church community, with special reference to his own youthfulness. On the other hand, the section serves as an introduction to what immediately follows - the long section dealing with widows, old and young [3-16], a section on elders [17-25], and a concluding, brief word to believing slaves [6:1-2]. In a word, it anticipates in some general guidelines, the specific instructions of the other sections in the chapter.

             It relates back to 4:12 [“Don’t let anyone underrate you because you are young”]. Having established that principle, Paul now counsels him as to how he should relate to various groups - eg “Do not rebuke an older man harshly”. In the original, the word is “presbuteros” usually translated “elder” but the context seems to indicate older men generally rather than merely those serving as an “elder” - although, of course, not excluding them. He is still required to “exhort” or “urge” [the same word as “preach” in 4:13 and 6:2(b)] him “as if he were your father”. In God’s household [note the family theme in each case] there is an appropriate way for the leader to treat people - exactly as one does in one’s own family, especially assuming a cultural ideal of great deference and respect in the home.  It extends to the other categories “younger men as brothers”, “older women as mothers” [cf Rom 16:13], and “younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” [cf 2Tim 3:6-7 and here at 5:11].

* 2. Instructions about the Widows [3-16]:

This section on widows has long been one of the puzzling items in the letter. The problems are intrinsic. It begins and ends with concern about the care of widows [cf Acts 6:1ff]. Yet in verse 9 widows are to “be enrolled” [RSV], and the description that follows in verse 10 has caused many to believe there existed an order of widows who had prescribed duties, and who in return were cared for by the church. However, it soon becomes clear that the greater urgency of the section does not appear to be the enrollment and duties of the older widows at all, but rather the reprehensible activities of some younger ones. Indeed, some might say, the section presents two concerns: how to identify the “real widows” [RSV] so that the church may care for them; and why the younger widows are not to be “enrolled” as real widows but should marry a second time! A close look at the section indicates that the second is the more urgent. There is genuine concern that the “real widows” be cared for - see verses 3-4 and 8 and again in 16. But notice how the descriptions of these “real widows” [5-7; 9-10] stand in sharp contrast to the activities of the younger ones [11-15]. Thus the real widow seems to be set up as an ideal in contrast to the young widows in much the same way that Timothy is in contrast to the false teachers 4:6-16; 6:11-16]. Gordon Fee suggests that the probable reason for the concern about the younger widows lies with their relationship with the false teachers. If they are to be identified with the “weak-willed women” of 2Tim 3:6-7, then the unusual emphases of this section make good sense, not to mention its inordinate length compared with anything else in the letter. Note: the genuine concern for the care of the real widows is shaped by OT tradition [Exodus 22:22; Deut 24:17, 19-21; Job 29:13; Ps 68: 5; Is 1:17 etc] and very early found place in the church as well [Acts 6:1-6; 9:36, 39, 41; James 1:27]. The urgency here, however, is to give guidelines as to who should qualify for such care. Note: cf 5:5 with Luke 2:36-38.      

* 3. Instructions about the Elders [17-25]:

As with the previous section, this section on the elders has long been a puzzling one. Apart from who are the elders, there are problems of context [why is it placed here?] and also of structure [how do 21-25 relate to 17-20?] and what is the point of the personal admonitions to Timothy in 21 and 23? Again, it would appear that the answers lie in the historical situation in the church in Ephesus, namely, the activities of the false teachers. As above with the widows, so here Paul begins with a genuine concern for the care of the elders [17-19], but then moves on to the greater urgency  - the impartial reproof of those who are sinning [20-21]. Replacements for the sinning elders are to be selected with great care [22], because some people’s sins, unfortunately, are not always immediately evident [24]. On the other hand the same is true for good deeds [25]. The puzzle of 23 is a slight digression caused by the statement in the previous verse, but also probably because of the asceticism of the false teachers [4:3] and because of the state of Timothy’s personal health.  

* 4. Instructions about the Slaves [1-2]:

Again, why do these brief verses appear here? The connection is the concern in the previous two sections regarding widows and elders, for honour or respect [5:3, 17]. The considerable difference lies in the fact that with regard to widows and elders the concern was the honouring of real widows and worthy elders as well as the disciplining of the erring ones. Here the words are strictly for the slaves, with no corresponding word either to the church or to the masters.

            Slavery in the Graeco-Roman world was very different from that of, say, American history. It was rarely racially motivated. Most people became slaves through war or economic necessity, although by this time, most slaves were so by birth [ie born of slaves]. Manumission, the freeing of slaves was a common occurrence, although in many cases slavery was preferred to freedom because it offered security - and even sometimes, good positions in a household. Nonetheless slavery was the bottom extreme of the human social condition and was scarcely a desirable status. Were the false teachings putting considerable tension on the Christian master/Christian slave relationship in the church, and thus affecting the church’s witness in the midst of the unbelieving society?





Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

6. Concluding Warnings and Exhortations

Passage: 1 Timothy 6:2[b] - 21

* Introduction: The letter is about to end. One more time Paul exhorts Timothy, “These are the things you are to teach and urge on them” [relating to 5:3-6:2, or going back all the way to 2:1?], and this in turn brings him back to the false teachers and Timothy’s role. He has a final exposure and indictment of the false teachers which in turn leads into concluding advice, even entreaty, for Timothy.

* 1. The Snare of False Teaching [3-5]:

 Much that is said here is, in fact, reminiscent of the language in chapter 1, although much is new as well. Here the picture is filled out in greater detail. The false teachers, who are the reason for everything - Timothy’s presence in Ephesus, this letter, the falling away by some in the church - have come to this point because of conceit, a sick craving for arguments and, ultimately, because of their greed. In the original, this section is one continuous sentence and is in a form that is intended to convey that both parts of the sentence express the way things actually are, as well as indicating the author is quite certain of his premise. He describes what the false teachers are not doing that they should be doing [3], then proceeds to describe the results [4-5].

            The extended metaphor and contrast here is that of health and sickness. The healthy, sound, wholesome and good produces “godliness” - the Kingdom-quality of life, cf “the fruit of the Spirit”. Its opposite produces those who are “puffed up with conceit” [RSV] or “conceited ignoramus” [NEB], or “conceited and understands nothing” [NIV] - which in turn produces a morbid, unhealthy craving for controversies and disputes. Some consider “the sound [healthy] instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ” refers to what is found in a written Gospel and so means the words spoken by Christ. But this misses Paul’s emphasis, namely, that the false teachers have abandoned the truth of the Gospel which comes from our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who is the ultimate origin of the faith  or “godliness” [cf 3:16] Paul proclaimed. Their abandonment of Christ [ie his Gospel] is their grave error. The end result is envy, dissension, slander and suspicion. Notice how “corrupt minds” have been “robbed of truth” to such an extent that they consider “godliness is a means to financial gain” - ie ministry with a wrong motive. Even today this can be achieved by means of an unbiblical authority, manipulating believers, using ministry as a path to power, prestige and prominence - and even profit.

* 2. The Snare of Earthly Possessions [6-10]:

 Having touched on this matter, he now proceeds to enlarge upon it. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” [6]. Here is the true profit. “Autarkeia” was the great virtue of the Greek Stoic and Cynic philosophers for whom it meant “self-sufficiency” in terms of indifference to circumstances or material things, just as the Epicureans taught it in terms of renunciation. It denoted the ability to rely on one’s own inner resources. Paul is not concerned with self-sufficiency, but with Christ-sufficiency [cf Phil 4:11-13].  For Paul the word means contentment, the empowering Christ gives to live above both want and plenty. Life for him is all of grace and dependent on God’s mercies [1:12-17], and his ministry comes from Christ who appointed him and empowered him for it [1:12]. In this way Paul combats the greed of the false teachers and seeks to turn others away from this temptation and trap. Paul gives two reasons: we come into the world with nothing, and we take nothing with us when we leave;  we have food and clothing - cf Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount [Matt 6:25-34].

            Wanting to get rich leads to enticement, being lured to the trap of “many foolish and harmful desires” [not necessarily of a sexual kind] which in turn lead to “ruin and destruction”. Verse 10 is meant to be a proverb-type statement rather than one of theological precision relating greed to all other sins. See how he goes on about “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves [as with a sword] with many griefs”. Is this not precisely what happened to the erring leaders in Ephesus, who had doubtless once been good men and faithful elder, who have sold out the truth of the gospel for different doctrines and have allowed themselves to be ensnared by Satan. They fell prey to new ideas, were deluded by speculative interpretations, wanted to make themselves look good by embracing asceticism and elitist teaching. They came to love money - and it did them in.

* 3. The Snare of Spiritual Compromise [11-16]:

  In view of the history of the erring leaders, Paul is concerned Timothy does not make shipwreck of his ministry. It can happen so easily. “But you, man of God, flee from all of this”. Here is the contrast. We are Kingdom-people who belong to God. Our allegiance is to Christ our Lord and King. Notice the instruction is not just to shun or avoid these things, but to “flee from” them, run away from them. On the other hand we should “aim at”, “strive for”, “pursue” - run towards very different values - “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” -  rather than flirting or even compromising with the world.

            Timothy is urged to keep on fighting “the good fight of the faith” [12] and for the military expression the reference is rather to athletes in the contest of the Games and refers both to his ministry and to his personal faith and discipleship.  He is urged too, presently to take hold of [aorist=once for all] eternal life, both as his present experience and as his future hope in Christ. The occasion of Timothy’s “good confession” was probable his conversion or his baptism rather than his “ordination”. The charge in 13-14 is a solemn call to steadfastness of purpose, life and ministry - until the appearing of Christ in glory. This leads in turn to the marvellous doxology. How it rings with assurance and promise. Ephesus was not only the site of the great temple to Artemis,  but also an early centre for Emperor worship. Thus the doxology means that the God with whom the church has to do in the gospel of Christ is none other than the supreme Ruler of the universe, the Lord over all other lords.

* Concluding words: First to those who were already rich [17-19], possibly in whose homes the church met - that they should maintain a right perspective and lead profitable lives. Then to Timothy [20-21] to “guard what has been entrusted to your care” - resisting the false teachers, keeping his life pure, preaching and teaching the truth faithfully.





Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

7. Commissioned for Ministry

Passage: 2 Timothy 1: 1 - 18

* Introduction: This is Paul’s final letter, written some three or four years after 1 Timothy, during his last imprisonment in Rome. The somewhat free and easy circumstances of the house arrest described in the closing verses of Acts do not obtain in this later incarceration - after a considerable period of freedom, travel and ministry. There are indications of real loneliness and an almost overwhelming sense of isolation. He feels abandoned by other believers and colleagues. The circumstances in this second letter have changed. This is an intensely personal letter - a last letter to one who stands to Paul not only as faithful colleague, but as a beloved son.

            See how Paul introduces himself in the opening greeting - almost formally for so personal a letter. Whether in prison or on the road, he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus” - with all the authority, passion and fidelity that means. He carries this privilege and responsibility “by the will of God”. What others think of him does not matter; their ideas of his success or failure in minister, liked or disliked, imprisonment or freedom cannot affect God’s sovereign purpose and plan for his life. What these larger designs truly might be, are described in the final phrase, “according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” [cf 1Tim 4:8] - truly entered into now, but still to be yet more fully experienced  at the consummation of all things. In this salutation Timothy is described as “my dear son” rather than “my true son in the faith” of the first letter.

* 1. Thanksgiving and Encouragement [3-7]: The common practice in the Hellenistic world was to begin letters with a formalised prayer-wish for the recipient’s general welfare. Like the opening salutation, such forms in Paul’s hands become thoroughly Christianised - some are relatively formal [eg Col 1:9-14, Phil 1:9-11], others are transformed into thanksgiving or benediction [in nine of his previous letters except Galatians - and 1Tim and Titus]. The present thanksgiving is quite in keeping with the more personal nature of the letter; it resembles the earlier thanksgivings, whose contents anticipate much of their respective letters [see 1Cor 1:4-9, Phil 1:3-8]. Paul is about to urge Timothy to loyalty [to himself] and perseverance [in the gospel], especially in the face of hardship. In so doing he will appeal to his own example [eg 1:11f, 2:9f, 3:10f], to their long association [3:10f], and to Timothy’s own spiritual history [1:6f; 13f; 3:10-15]. These are precisely the items which dominate the thanksgiving. Thus, by way of thanksgiving, he reminds Timothy of his past loyalty [4] and faith [5] and of their common “roots” in the faith [3,5]. From these reminders he will launch his initial appeal for steadfastness [8-14].

            What place does thanksgiving for one another hold in our own lives? Paul constantly remembers Timothy in his prayers - ie regularly rather than ceaselessly. Paul is also maintaining, in his reference to his forefathers, that his service to God and his ministry in preaching the gospel is standing in the true succession to the OT faith and religion - unlike the false teachers [cf 1Tim 1:7]. This is a recurring theme in the letter - see 1:9f, 2:8, 19; 3:8, 14-17.  In the original, verses 3-5 form a single sentence, with verse 4 as something of an aside. The reference to Timothy’s tears probably allude to his open distress when previously parting from Paul, while anticipating a joyful reunion. The thanksgiving focuses on God’s work in Timothy’s life - his “sincere faith” and the generational continuity and perseverance of that faith - stemming from his grandmother and mother [cf Acts 16:1] - and expresses confidence in Timothy’s staunchness. “For this reason I remind you” - that is, precisely because of his sincere faith, and notice how the reminding echoes the threefold “remember” of verses 3-5 - “to fan into a living flame” as of rekindling a waning fire. It does not necessarily imply an actual wavering or dying faith on Timothy’s part, but it does urge in very strong language that he keep it burning brightly. The reference is to the ministry-gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit at the time of his call recognized by the laying on of hands [cf 1Tim 4:14 where the concern is to authenticate Timothy before the church] and his close personal ties to Paul as his mentor. The next verse [7] clearly indicators the close tie between the charisma Timothy received and the enabling, empowering Holy Spirit. Rather than timidity, holding back, perhaps even cowardice or terror in the face of difficult situations; the Spirit imparts power, love and self-discipline [possibly implying “a sound mind” or even a wise head.

* 2. Steadfastness and Faithfulness [8-14]: Now Paul is getting into the heart of his personal letter. His appeal is launched using two imperatives: “Do not be ashamed” and “join with me in suffering”  Clearly it is for this reason the Spirit gives courage and fills us with power, and equally clearly the appeal is rooted in the real-life situation of Paul’s being imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. Paul always sees such suffering for the Gospel to be part of the ongoing proclamation of the Gospel [eg 3:12 - cf 1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 3:4; 2Cor 4:7-15; Rom 8:17; Col 1:24; Phil 1:12, 29. In fact in Paul’s understanding such suffering is closely tied to Christ’s own suffering. Thus Paul does not want Timothy to be ashamed either of his association with Christ and his Gospel, or of his association with himself as Christ’s prisoner. Timothy is urged to join Paul and to take his own part in suffering for the Gospel, for which the Spirit will empower him.

            Paul now breaks into a semicreedal statement in support of what he has just said [9-10]. Notice it emphasises how God has saved us, called us all as an act of grace for we don’t deserve it. It is all in Christ with reference to his eternity, his incarnation, death and resurrection with the outcome being eternal life for us through this Good News. Paul both serves and spreads this Good News as a herald, as an apostle and as a teacher. This explains his sufferings and present imprisonment. He is not ashamed [cf Rom 1:16f]. Rather, he expresses his profound trust and confidence in the One he has believed, and is sure God will keep what Paul has entrusted to him for that day - ie the Day of Christ. Two questions: who has entrusted what and to whom? The section concludes with an appeal to Timothy to keep and maintain “the pattern of sound teaching” in faith and love in Christ Jesus. He is to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” [cf 1Tim 6:20]. He is to fulfill this charge by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

* 3. Disloyalty and Loyalty [15-18]: Clearly some abandoned Paul in his need. Were they “ashamed” of him in prison? He mentions two in particular - Phygelus and Hermogenes. Others demonstrated their loyalty and love - especially Onesiphorus [has he since died?]  Some will criticise, others will bless; some repudiate us, but others refresh . 





Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

8. Patterns for Ministry

Passage: 2 Timothy 2: 1 - 13

  Introduction: At the close of the previous section Paul has allowed something of his sense of loneliness and isolation to come out, even although he acknowledges the refreshing he has received from his friend Onesiphorus. However, 1:15-18 has been a bit of a digression. The main thrust of ch 1 has been an appeal to Timothy to remain loyal both to Paul personally and to the gospel. To this theme he again returns here. For most Christians their Kingdom tasks, ministry and service are all part of their leisure time activities. Be that as it may, they must be approached seriously rather than leisurely. We need to be prepared for difficulty and hardship and to persevere in spite of everything. Our ministry - whatever its sphere - is no sinecure. It requires steadiness, stamina and stickability. The key concept is diligence.

*1. Diligence in Teaching [1-2]:

The opening imperative relates back to 1:6-14, and anticipates what follows in 2:2-13, with the connecting “you then” which is at once emphatic and contrasting. He is to be in sharp contrast to the generally defecting Asians [1:15] and much more like Onesiphorus. Having already been urged suffer [1:8] and keep the trust [1:13f], he is now urged to “keep on being strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. Unmerited grace is also the sphere of unlimited strength for the demands of discipleship and ministry - in Christ. Indeed, grace is the sphere in which all of Christian life is lived [cf Rom 5:2]. Thus Paul places the specific imperatives of this appeal [“Don’t be ashamed” (1:8); “Take your share of suffering” (1:8, 2:3); “Guard the deposit” (1:14)] within the context of this more general imperative of allowing God to strengthen him for the task of ministry. Note the similarities with 1:6-7, 8c, and 14.   

            The first task he is to be strengthened for is tied closely to the imperatives of 1:13-14. Just as Timothy is to “keep safe what has been entrusted to him”, so also he is now to “entrust [the verb form of the noun deposit of 1:14] to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. What is in view here is not the spurious notion of apostolic succession but of Gospel continuity. Faithful transmission of the gospel message is not simply a matter of content. It is instruction in faith rather than mere information. It is training in discipleship rather than just teaching. It is essentially a practical training for ministry and service - including the “how to” rather than just the “what”. The reliability of the men refers to the character rather than their status - although doubtless the faithul elders of the church are included in the statement.

* 2. Diligence in Toughness [3-7]:

         These three little cameos all speak of discipline in one form or another. They each represent toughness, hardness, resilience, suffering and privation as a way of life. It is no easy, comfortable conformable life.  The three images are that of the soldier (vv. 3–4), the athlete (v. 5) and the farmer (v. 6).

·       The soldier endures suffering [“hardship” in NIV, but it is the same word as in 1:8], does not get involved (the RSV reads “entangled”) in civilian affairs, and aims to please his commanding officer. Thus this ministry involves hardship and focus (on the gospel and people) at the expense of some otherwise legitimate pursuits, as well as submission to the Lord. Our aim is to be the Lord's pleasure, even as our pleasure (salvation and joy) is ultimately his aim.

·       The athlete trains for months. One scholar [Donald Guthrie] shows evidence that an athlete at this time had to prove that he had trained for at least ten months before he was allowed to compete. The ministry described in 2:2 cannot be done with shortcuts. There are boundaries and demands which must be honored if people are to own the task of passing on the gospel as their own mission.

·       The farmer is hard-working, but is rewarded with the first share of the crops. The fruit of ministry comes with great labor over time. This approach goes straight against the grain of today's emphasis on the efficient, fast and image driven approaches to “ministry.” Paul is not after perfection, but he is after enough personal change that a person can be a teacher of the gospel in some way.

Notice the see several aspects of unity in these pictures: (1) All require hard work and endurance. No shortcuts. (2) All require a strong sense of priority. Smaller interests and other goals which are incompatible must be let go. (3) All require operating under authority—with commander, rules and so on. No leader is above the law, no matter how gifted or effective. (4) All imply a sure reward—the pleased commander, the victor's crown and the crops.

The compounding  of metaphors in 4-6 has led Paul from the specific point of his imperative to Timothy to “take part in suffering” to an equal emphasis on the eschatalogical “prize”. These two emphases now form the basis for the rest of the appeal [8-13]. As he does so, Paul calls on Timothy to “reflect on what I am saying” - ie the point of the three metaphors, but without explanation. The Lord will grant him insight. Thus everything comes from the Lord - both the strengthening to stand in his grace [1] and the ability to understand the need to share in suffering.

* 3. Diligence in Trials [8-13]:

This section provides the theological basis for the appeal to Timothy to remain loyal to Christ, the gospel and to Paul to the extent of suffering. Timothy is urged to remember Jesus Christ himself, whose resurrection and Davidic descent should bring him renewed confidence. This in turn leads on to a reminder of Paul’s imprisonment and the reasons for it [9-10]. He then concludes with a fifth “faithful saying”, possibly from a hymn or a poem which both encourages endurance [line 2], and warns against its lack [line 3], but concludes on the high note of God’s faithfulness [line 4].





Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

9. The Content of Ministry

Passage: 2 Timothy 2: 14 - 26

* Introduction:  The concern for the “salvation” of “God’s chosen people” - as expressed in 2:10 - together with the exhortation to perseverance with its warning against apostasy in 11-13, bring Paul [and Timothy] back to the hard realities of the situation in Ephesus regarding the false teachers. They continue to plague the church. Paul’s dominant concerns are [a] the exposure of the false teachers and their teachings, [b] Timothy’s resistance both of the false teachers and their message, and [c] his concern that the rest of the church not capitulate. Thus Timothy and those who succeed him [Tychicus - cf 4:12?] are to lead the church in resisting these errors. This dual concern both for Timothy and the church, reflected throughout 1 Timothy, has probably led to this long section on the false teachers in an otherwise personal letter. On the one hand, the gospel is still at stake in Ephesus and Paul feels constrained to address the situation again. On the other hand, Timothy, even though he must soon leave Ephesus, must also take responsibility for leading the resistance, even if it costs him suffering and hardship.

* 1. Steadfastness of Purpose [14-19]:

The cogent command to “Keep on reminding them of these things” is totally imperative and relevant in the light of the threat and dire consequences of apostasy. What are “these things”? Is it everything which has preceded in the letter, or does it refer more specifically to the teachings alluded to in 2:2, or perhaps more appropriately to the immediately preceding “trustworthy saying”? Confronted by the spreading ill-effects of the false teachings, Timothy is to keep reminding his people of the need for perseverance and of the awful consequences of rejecting Christ. Such a reminder is to be accompanied by warning “before God” [cf 1Tim 5:2; 2Tim 4:1]; that is, those so warned are to recognise themselves as being called to account by God himself. They are warned “against quarrelling about words” - one of the chief characteristics of the false teachers in Ephesus. Such empty, speculative disputes do no good of any kind, indeed they only serve to ruin “those who listen”. The warning against word-battles is elaborated in 16-18.

            In sharp contrast to the false teachers who seek the approval of human listeners, Timothy is now urged to do his best [so NIV], rather than “study” [KJV] which has only misled English-speaking Christians, “to present yourself to God as one [tested and] approved”. The false teachers will be shamed before God by reason of their errors and sins, while Timothy is to do his best to be “a workman who does not need to be ashamed” - because he has worked well due to the fact that he “correctly handles the word of truth” - literally “to cut straight” whether of wood, stones or furrows. Paul is not so much concerned with Timothy correctly interpreting Scripture, but rather that he truly preach and teach the gospel, “the word of truth”, in contrast to the “word battles” [14] and “godless chatter” [16] of the false teachers. He is to do his best regarding the one, and be concerned to “avoid” the other. The only progress or advance [a slogan of the elitist false teachers?] rising from the word-battles will be in ungodliness [asebia, the antonym of eusebia=godliness, a recurring word in these letters].

            See how Paul describes the effects of the false teaching - spreading like gangrene which invades and destroys healthy tissue. Two individuals are singled out - Hymenaus [cf 1 Tim 1:20] and Philetus. They have wandered away from the truth; specifically they are stating the resurrection has already taken place with the outcome - they are destroying or overturning the faith of some believers. We rest on the firm foundation of God’s plan and purpose, for “the Lord knows those who are his” and “everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness”.

* 2. Sanctification in Practice [20-23]:

 Now comes the somewhat confused metaphor of the vessels in a noble house; some gold  or silver, others wood or earthenware. There are the two kinds of vessels and two kinds of uses - one has noble or public functions, the other has ordinary uses. The point is neither that of 1Cor 12:21-24, ie though of differing kinds and uses, both vessels are useful to the master of the house; nor that of the parable of the wheat and the tares [Matt 13: 24-30,36-43] where the church is pictured as containing the elect and the false, who will be separated at the End. Rather, “if a man cleanses himself” - the language of the ritual cleansing of vessels - “from the latter [ie false teachings] he will be[come] an instrument for noble purposes” - an vessel for honour. It is a reference to sanctification, being made holy and fit for the Master’s use.

            To that end, he should “flee evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” [cf 1Tim 6:4]. Rather than sensual things, Paul has in mind those headstrong youthful passions attracted to novelties or innovations, foolish discussions, and arguments that lead to quarrels. Because he is pursuing peace and integrity, Timothy should “not have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments” because they only lead to quarrels.

* 3. Servanthood as Pattern [24-26]:

    In conclusion Paul returns to the emphasis on modelling the Christian life. The Christian leader must never forget he is “the Lord’s servant”. We are not demagogues or dictators, or even ego-tripping, tantrum-throwing prima donnas, who advocate or insist upon their own personal whims or fancies. They are not to be quarrelsome, but rather “kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful”. Who are the people described as “those who oppose him” [25]? Are they the false teachers themselves? Or are they the victims whom they have duped and deceived? This is not easy to determine, since both are elsewhere seen as entrapped by Satan [cf 1Tim 4:1-2; 3:7; 6:9]. It is probably safe to say that it at least includes the people who have been so ensnared and may also include the false teachers themselves [although 3:6,9,13 do not seem hopeful]. In either case, Paul hopes that by pursuing the path of peace and gentleness, Timothy can be an instrument in God’s hands “in the hope that God will grant them repentance [a change of heart - so NEB] leading them to a knowledge of the truth” - ie returning to the Lord or being saved.

The emphasis is redemptive. Timothy is to model teaching which will not simply refute error and save his hearers, but that will also be used by God to rescue those who have already been entangled in the false teaching and have been captured alive by Satan to do his will.      




Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

10. Insights for Ministry

Passage: 2 Timothy 3: 1 - 17

* Introduction: With this chapter Paul picks up again the topic of eschatology - or the last days - a topic which has never been far from his mind throughout, and which he repeatedly has touched upon .  He ties together the defections of the false teachers with the general increase in evil apparent all around them as evidence that the final evil days are dawning. He also links the activities of the false teachers in subverting “weak women” with Pharaoh’s magicians who opposed Moses, and compares them to the religious frauds and charlatans with which the ancient world abounded. The final section contains an exhortation to Timothy which again picks up some of the themes found earlier in the letter. 

* 1. Signs of the Times [1-5]: the opening sentence follows on somewhat abruptly from what has gone before, but the sense is clear. While the letter is a series of personal appeals to Timothy, the continuing influence of the false teachers and Timothy’s apparent failure to stem the tide have caused Paul to address this issue in some detail [cf 2:14 ff.]. What he is doing here is similar to 1Tim 4:1 is to place their presence into a broader theological perspective - the reality of the End, the coming of the New Age, set in motion by the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. Hence “mark this” [NIV] or “understand this” [RSV] - i.e. the direct link between the approaching End and the rising tide of evil in terrible deeds and attitudes. This was also a motif in Jewish apocalyptic - see Daniel 12:1; and picked up by Jesus - see Mark 13:3-23. The early church saw the increase of evil as evidence that the End had already begun - see 1Cor 7:26; 1John 2:18; 2Peter 3:3; Jude 17-18.  For the term, “the last days”, as referring especially to the beginning of the Christian era, see Acts 2:16-21 and Hebrews 1:2.

            Paul illustrates the present reality [despite the future tense] by resorting to a catalogue of vices - a common practice of his, see 1Tim 1:9-10; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Romans 1:29-31. The list itself contains eighteen items, six of which occur only here in the NT, four others are found only here and in the list in Rom 1, and five are shared vocabulary with Luke-Acts. While only five of the words occur elsewhere in the Pastorals, the catalogue has nonetheless been tailored somewhat to fit this situation. Thus, in a way similar to 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and Romans 1:29-31, the list especially reflects the prevailing evils of pagan society. At the same time, Paul is indicting the false teachers, both by characterising their existence as in keeping with these evils and by implying that they themselves fit many of the items on the list - eg pride, arrogance, greed, lack of love, slander, etc.

            While the list does not seem to have any clear design to it - such as 1Tim 1:9-10 -  some items, though not all, seem to to be in pairs. It begins appropriately with “lovers of themselves” from which every other vice flows, and is closely linked to “lovers of money” - one of the basic vices of the false teachers. “Boastful” and “proud/arrogant” which appear together in Rom 1:30 emphasise boastfulness in words and thought respectively , and reflect what is said elsewhere of the false teachers [1Tim 1:7; 6:4]. “Abusive” reflects the “malicious talk” of 1Tim 6:4, and “disobedient  to their parents” [cf Rom 1:30] may be reminiscent of those not caring for their parents in 1Tim 5:8. The next four words are negative and broaden the perspective  - ungrateful [significantly following the reference to parents], unholy [“offending against the decencies of life” - so Barclay], without love [ie lacking natural affection - cf Rom 1:31], and unforgiving [incapable of being reconciled to others]. The list goes on, including “not lovers of the good” [expected of believers, especially leaders] and concludes with another example of misdirected love - “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”. Such a list is constantly under attack by those of humanistic tendencies, but unfortunately is only too realistic. “Have nothing to do with them” - ie such people - because they pursue such outward manifestations of seeming godliness as ascetic practices and endless debates over religious trivia, but the deny the essential power of true godliness.

* 2. Tactics of the False Teachers [6-9]: Paul accuses the false teachers of being religious charlatans - confidence men, schooled in deception. Remember the references in 1Timothy about the women in the church? There is much evidence that such religious quackery had a fruitful field among women - due certainly in part to their less than satisfying social position in the Greek-Roman world, and their religious hunger, typical of the era, made them an easy prey - cf 1Timothy 2:9-15; 3:11; 4:7; 5:3-16. They are susceptible to the spiritual tricksters - concerned and burdened by past sins, present spiritual aspirations, future hopes of spiritual growth. The women and the teachers feed off one another. They are for ever seeking, but never apparently able to arrive at a true grounding in the truth of God.

            He compares them to the magicians who opposed Moses. False teachers oppose the truth - set themselves and their own ideas up against it. They have “depraved minds” - corrupt rather than renewed, and they are “rejected” rather than approved by God. Ultimately, they will not get very far or make any real progress, for the truth of God will win out in the end and their folly will be exposed for all to see.

* 3. Faithfulness in Ministry [10-17]: In this paragraph, which focuses on its single imperative, “but as for you, continue in what you have learned” [14], Paul renews the appeal with which the letter began. Notice how many of the themes from 3-2:13 are touched on: Timothy’s long relationship with Paul, Paul as a model of loyalty, the call to suffering, the appeal itself [cf 1:6; 13-4], the faith of his forebears and the focus of salvation. Thus the appeal is for Timothy to recall the past [10-13] and to give heed to the Scriptures which leads to salvation and is useful for all the tasks of his ministry [14-17].

            The first part begins with a ringing “you, however” - especially in the light of the exposure and indictment of the false teachers, who not only teach falsehood but live as reprobates. Timothy is now urged to abide faithfully in the truth of the gospel. This was precisely Timothy’s mission on behalf of Paul in Corinth some ten years earlier [cf 1Cor 4:16-17]. Now the reminder is to Timothy himself, who must carry on Paul’s “ways” after his departure. The list is set out in 10. “You know” - both by association, observation and experience. Persecution and suffering feature in 11-12. Timothy is to continue is Scriptural principles, because he knows from he learned them, because of their divine inspiration, and because of their transforming power in effective ministry.




Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy

11. Transition in Ministry

Passage: 2 Timothy 4: 1 - 8

Introduction:  Paul now brings to a conclusion the long appeal making up the larger part of this letter. It began in 1:6 and was picked up again in 3:10 after the interlude on the false teachers [2:14-3:9]; but it now takes the form of a solemn exhortation [1] followed by nine imperatives - five in verse 2 and four in verse 5. The baton of ministry responsibility is about to be passed from Paul to Timothy. In the first section [1-5] Paul is urging Timothy regarding the nature, setting and urgency of his ministry, while in the second [6-8] he is explaining the point things have reached in his imprisonment. Paul knows he is about to die - that is why he is so urgent and passionate in his charge to Timothy. The two sections are dynamically inter-related.

* 1. Paul’s Terms of Reference for Timothy [1-5]: 

            The story is told of the umpire who called a strike on Babe Ruth. The Babe turned around and angrily shouted, “Hey, meathead! Me and 40,000 people here know that pitch was a ball!” The umpire replied, “Yeah, and mine is the only opinion that matters.”  The gospel is not popular. As he gears up for ministry, Timothy needs to know that only God's opinion matters. In this passage, the last written words of Paul we have, Paul instructs Timothy to think of eternity.

            The emphatic opening words of the sentence in the original - “I give you this charge” - turn the preceding appeal into a final, solemn exhortation for Timothy to persevere in his ministry under all circumstances. The language in which it is expressed has affinities with 1Tim 5:21 and 6:13. See the components in verse 1 - God, Christ, the second coming and the eternal Kingdom. In the light of his living in the very presence of God and Christ and the assurance of the Christian hope, Timothy is solemnly charged to fulfil the responsibilities of his God-given ministry. This is underlined, so to speak, in the addition to the reference to Christ, “who will judge the living and the dead”.  Having mentioned the future judgement, Paul elaborates by referring to “his appearing and his kingdom”. In a word, all of them - Paul, Timothy, the false teachers and the people - will have to give a final account to the Lord who is King and Judge when he comes again!

            Note the five imperatives [2]. “Preach the Word” - the word in the Pastorals usually means the gospel message - this is what the whole appeal is about [cf 1Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:14]. It seems a bit unclear what Paul meant by the next, “be prepared in season and out of season”. Probably best translated as “stand by it” or keep at it”, that is, your proclaiming the Word. It refers to whether it is convenient for Timothy to so, or convenient for the hearers to do so. The next three - “correct, rebuke, encourage” - or, more properly, “rebuke [those in error], warn [those who do not heed the correction] and exhort [them all]”. These last he is to do he is to do with great patience [because of what will be said next, not all will heed him] and with careful instruction.

            “For the time will come” [cf 3:1-5, 1Tim 4:1-2] the present reality is so seen as future event, and relates to the notion of the rising tide of evil as the End approaches - which has already began as manifest by events in Ephesus. Here it probably also represents the passing-of-the-baton nature of this final charge. Timothy is to carry on Paul’s ministry in a world in which there is no promise of eager response, even on the part of God’s people. Notice these verses focus on the believers themselves, rather than the false teachers, and it clearly lays the blame at their feet - despite the earlier emphasis on their being deceived [cf 1Tim 4:1-2; 5:15;6:25; 2Tim 3:6-7; 3:13]. First, they “will not put up with sound doctrine”, but rather will gather round them teachers who will spout what “their itching ears want to hear”. Second, they will deliberately turn away from the truth, and turn towards and prefer myths [untruth]. They abandon the truth of God for a lie [cf 1Tim 1:3-7].

            In marked contrast to such behaviour, Timothy is to -

·        “keep your head” - maintain control of himself; be alert so as not to be taken in

·        “endure hardship” - cf 1:8, 2:2, 3:12 in context of proclaiming the gospel

·        “do the work of an evangelist” - ie preach the message

·        “discharge all the duties of your ministry” - a marvellous summary not least in light of the fact that Paul is about to leave the scene, and the mantle of his ministry is going to fall on Timothy.

* 2. Paul’s Testimony about his Ministry [6-8]:

Up to this point everything said in 2Timothy, apart from the themes of Paul’s imprisonment and Timothy’s taking his share of suffering, fits the concerns of 1Timothy - and in some ways looks very much like more of the same. But this section, together with what follows in 9-18, throws everything into a different light.

            Here we learn for the first time that Paul expects his present imprisonment to result in death [6]; he is aware that his own ministry is now over [7] and that the prize awaits him [8]. But as the situation in Ephesus has clearly indicated, it is a bad time for him to be leaving. The time has come when the pure gospel of Christ is being contaminated from within by foreign elements, and people are “itchy” for more [4:3]. Hence the reason for the letter, with its urgent appeals for loyalty. Paul is leaving, and Timothy is urged to carry on, faithful to the gospel that Paul - and he - have preached. This final testimony, with its announcement of his impending death, serves first of all as the primary reason for the foregoing charge [1-5]. At the same time, as before, it serves as one more model for Timothy to follow [cf 1:11-12; 2:9-10; 3:10-11].

            Paul is seeing a big part of what he laboured so hard to build under God's power dissolve. How can he still feel such satisfaction about his life (vv. 6–8)?  Paul had to watch a backlash against his apostleship, the incursion of false teaching and rival leaders into his key churches, and desertion by many former associates. To top it off, the legitimacy he sought from Roman law for Christianity was about to be denied by Caesar. St. Augustine and St. Benedict also lived to see most of their life's work destroyed. Luther lost much of his former following and died as his opposition was moving into high gear. Many Christians go through a similar passage. If satisfaction in life is based on success, we're in trouble. Paul's call was to have faith in his Lord; this he has done. He had no control over the rest of the situation. Neither do we. He grieved, but did not blame himself.

            Notice the two striking metaphors; the drink offering poured out before the Lord [cf Num 28:7] - although not necessarily immediately [see 13, 21]; and the time of departure which has images of  breaking camp or a ship loosening its moorings. There is a further switch to the athletic metaphor - the fight, the race, the crown. Keeping the faith=loyal to one’s trust.


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