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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
1 Timothy 1



Other Authors
Verses 1-20

Chapter 1

THE ROYAL COMMAND (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the royal command of God, our Saviour, and of Jesus Christ, our Hope, writes this letter to Timothy, his true child in the faith. Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Never a man magnified his office as Paul did. He did not magnify it in pride; he magnified it in wonder that God had chosen him for a task like that. Twice in the opening words of this letter he lays down the greatness of his privilege.

(i) First, he calls himself an apostle of Christ Jesus. Apostle is the Greek word apostolos (Greek #652), from the verb apostellein (Greek #649) which means to send out; an apostolos (Greek #652) was one who was sent out. As far back as Herodotus it means an envoy, an ambassador, one who is sent out to represent his country and his king. Paul always regarded himself as the envoy and ambassador of Christ. And, in truth, that is the office of every Christian. It is the first duty of every ambassador to form a liaison between the country to which he is sent and the country from which he has come. He is the connecting link. And the first duty of every Christian is to be a connecting link between his fellow-men and Jesus Christ.

(ii) Secondly, he says that he is an apostle by the royal command of God. The word he uses is epitage (Greek #2003). This is the word Greek uses for the injunctions which some inviolable law lays on a man; for the royal command which comes to a man from the king; and above all for the instructions which come to a man either directly or by some oracle from God. For instance, a man in an inscription dedicates an altar to the goddess Cybele, kat' (Greek #2596) epitagen (Greek #2003), in accordance with the command of the goddess, which, he tells us, had come to him in a dream. Paul thought of himself as a man holding the king's commission.

If any man can arrive at this consciousness of being despatched by God, a new splendour enters into life. However humble his part may be in it, he is on royal service.

"Life can never be dull again

When once we've thrown our windows open wide

And seen the mighty world that lies outside,

And whispered to ourselves this wondrous thing,

'We're wanted for the business of the King!'"

It is always a privilege to do even the most menial things for someone whom we love and respect and admire. All his life the Christian is on the business of the King.

Paul goes on to give to God and to Jesus two great titles.

He speaks of God, our Saviour. This is a new way of speaking. We do not find this title for God in any of Paul's earlier letters. There are two backgrounds from which it comes.

(a) It comes from an Old Testament background. It is Moses' charge against Israel that Jeshurun "forsook God who made him, and scoffed at the Rock of his Salvation" (Deuteronomy 32:15). The Psalmist sings of how the good man will receive righteousness from the God of his salvation (Psalms 24:5). It is Mary's song, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:46-47). When Paul called God Saviour, he was going back to an idea which had always been dear to Israel.

(b) There is a pagan background. It so happened that just at this time the title soter (Greek #4990), Saviour, was much in use. Men had always used it. In the old days the Romans had called Scipio, their great general, "our hope and our salvation." But at this very time it was the title which the Greeks gave to Aesculapius, the god of healing. And it was one of the titles which Nero, the Roman Emperor, had taken to himself. So in this opening sentence Paul is taking the title which was much on the lips of a seeking and a wistful world and giving it to the only person to whom it belonged by right.

We must never forget that Paul called God Saviour. It is possible to take a quite wrong idea of the Atonement. Sometimes people speak of it in a way which indicates that something Jesus did pacified the anger of God. The idea they give is that God was bent on our destruction and that somehow his wrath was turned to love by Jesus. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any support for that. It was because God so loved the world that he sent Jesus into the world (John 3:16). God is Saviour. We must never think or preach or teach of a God who had to be pacified and persuaded into loving us, for everything begins from his love.

THE HOPE OF THE WORLD (1 Timothy 1:1-2 continued)

Paul uses a title which was to become one of the great titles of Jesus--"Christ Jesus, our hope." Long ago the Psalmist had demanded of himself: "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" And he had answered: "Hope in God" (Psalms 43:5). Paul himself speaks of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). John speaks of the dazzling prospect which confronted the Christian, the prospect of being like Christ; and goes on to say: "Every one who thus hopes purifies himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).

In the early Church this was to become one of the most precious titles of Christ. Ignatius of Antioch, when on his way to execution in Rome, writes to the Church in Ephesus: "Be of good cheer in God the Father and in Jesus Christ our common hope" (Ignatius: To the Ephesians 21:2). Polycarp writes: "Let us therefore persevere in our hope and the earnest of our righteousness, who is Jesus Christ" (Epistle of Polycarp 8).

(i) Men found in Christ the hope of moral victory and of self-conquest. The ancient world knew its sin. Epictetus had spoken wistfully of "our weakness in necessary things." Seneca had said that "we hate our vices and love them at the same time." He said, "We have not stood bravely enough by our good resolutions; despite our will and resistance we have lost our innocence. Nor is it only that we have acted amiss; we shall do so to the end." Persius, the Roman poet, wrote poignantly: "Let the guilty see virtue, and pine that they have lost her for ever." Persius talks of "filthy Natta benumbed by vice." The ancient world knew its moral helplessness only too well; and Christ came, not only telling men what was right, but giving them the power to do it. Christ gave to men who had lost it the hope of moral victory instead of defeat.

(ii) Men found in Christ the hope of victory over circumstances. Christianity came into the world in an age of the most terrible personal insecurity. When Tacitus, the Roman historian, came to write the history of that very age in which the Christian Church came into being, he began by saying, "I am entering upon the history of a period rich in disaster, gloomy with wars, rent with seditions; nay, savage in its very hours of peace. Four emperors perished by the sword; there were three civil wars; there were more with foreigners, and some had the character of both at once ... Rome wasted by fires; its oldest temples burned; the very capitol set in flames by Roman hands; the defilement of sacred rites; adultery in high places; the sea crowded with exiles; island rocks drenched with murder; yet wilder was the frenzy in Rome; nobility, wealth, the refusal of office, its acceptance, everything was a crime, and virtue was the surest way to ruin. Nor were the rewards of the informers less odious than their deeds. One found his spoils in a priesthood or a consulate; another in a provincial governorship, another behind the throne. All was one delirium of hate and terror; slaves were bribed to betray their masters, freedmen their patrons; and he who had no foe was betrayed by his friend." (Tacitus: Histories 1, 2). As Gilbert Murray said, the whole age was suffering from "the failure of nerve." Men were longing for some ring-wall of defence against "the advancing chaos of the world." It was Christ who in such times gave men the strength to live, and the courage, if need be, to die. In the certainty that nothing on earth could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus, men found victory over the terrors of the age.

(iii) Men found in Christ the hope of victory over death. They found in him, at one and the same time, strength for mortal things and the immortal hope. Christ, our hope, was--and still should be--the battle-cry of the Church.

TIMOTHY, MY SON (1 Timothy 1:1-2 continued)

It is to Timothy that this letter is sent, and Paul was never able to speak of him without affection in his voice.

Timothy was a native of Lystra in the province of Galatia. It was a Roman colony; it called itself "the most brilliant colony of Lystra," but in reality it was a little place at the ends of the civilized earth. Its importance was that there was a Roman garrison quartered there to keep control of the wild tribes of the Isaurian mountains which lay beyond. It was on the first missionary journey that Paul and Barnabas arrived there (Acts 14:8-21). At that time there is no mention of Timothy; but it has been suggested that, when Paul was in Lystra, he found a lodging in Timothy's home, in view of the fact that he knew well the faith and devotion of Timothy's mother Eunice and of his grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5).

On that first visit Timothy must have been very young, but the Christian faith laid hold upon him, and Paul became his hero. It was at Paul's visit to Lystra on the second missionary journey that life began for Timothy (Acts 16:1-3). Young as he was, he had become one of the ornaments of the Christian Church in Lystra. There was such a charm and enthusiasm in the lad that all men spoke well of him. To Paul, he seemed the very man to be his assistant. Maybe even then he had dreams that this lad was the very person to train to take up his work when his day was over.

Timothy was the child of a mixed marriage; his mother was a Jewess, and his father a Greek (Acts 16:1). Paul circumcised him. It was not that Paul was a slave of the law, or that he saw in circumcision any special virtue; but he knew well that if Timothy was to work amongst the Jews, there would be an initial prejudice against him if he was uncircumcised, and so he took this step as a practical measure to increase Timothy's usefulness as an evangelist.

From that time forward Timothy was Paul's constant companion. He was left behind at Beroea with Silas when Paul escaped to Athens, and later joined him there (Acts 17:14-15, Acts 18:5). He was sent as Paul's emissary to Macedonia (Acts 19:22). He was there when the collection from the Churches was being taken to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He was with Paul in Corinth when Paul wrote his letter to Rome (Romans 16:21). He was Paul's emissary to Corinth when there was trouble in that unruly Church (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10). He was with Paul when he wrote 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:19). It was Timothy whom Paul sent to see how things were going in Thessalonica and he was with Paul when he wrote his letter to that Church (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:6). He was with Paul in prison when he wrote to Philippi, and Paul was planning to send him to Philippi as his representative (Philippians 1:1; Philippians 2:19). He was with Paul when he wrote to the Church at Colossae and to Philemon (Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1 ). Constantly Timothy was by Paul's side, and when Paul had a difficult job to do Timothy was the man sent to do it.

Over and over again Paul's voice vibrates with affection when he speaks of Timothy. When he is sending him to that sadly divided Church at Corinth, he writes: "I have sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:17). When he is planning to send him to Philippi, he writes: "I have no one like him.... As a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel" (Philippians 2:20; Philippians 2:22). Here he calls him "his true son." The word that he uses for "true" is gnesios (Greek #1103). It has two meanings. It was the normal word for a legitimate child in contradistinction to illegitimate. It was the word for genuine, as opposed to counterfeit.

Timothy was the man whom Paul could trust and could send anywhere, knowing that he would go. Happy indeed is the leader who possesses a lieutenant like that. Timothy is our example of how we should serve in the faith. Christ and his Church need servants like that.

GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE (1 Timothy 1:1-2 continued)

Paul always began his letters with a blessing (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:3 ). In all these other letters only Grace and Peace occur. It is only in the letters to Timothy that Mercy is used (2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). Let us look at these three great words.

(i) In Grace there are always three dominant ideas.

(a) In classical Greek the word means outward grace or favour, beauty, winsomeness, sweetness. Usually, although not always, it is applied to persons. The English word charm comes near to expressing its meaning. Grace is characteristically a lovely and a winsome thing.

(b) In the New Testament there is always the idea of sheer generosity. Grace is something unearned and undeserved. It is opposed to that which is a debt. Paul says that if it is a case of earning things, the reward is not a matter of grace, but of debt (Romans 4:4). It is opposed to works. Paul says that God's election of his chosen people is not the consequence of works, but of grace (Romans 11:6).

(c) In the New Testament there is always the idea of sheer universality. Again and again Paul uses the word grace in connection with the reception of the Gentiles into the family of God. He thanks God for the grace given to the Corinthians in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4). He talks of the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1). He talks of the Galatians being called into the grace of Christ (Galatians 1:6). The hope which came to the Thessalonians came through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16). It was God's grace which made Paul an apostle to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 15:10). It was by the grace of God that he moved amongst the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:12). It was by grace that God called him and separated him from his mother's womb (Galatians 1:15). It is the grace given to him by God which enables him to write boldly to the Church at Rome (Romans 15:15). To Paul the great demonstration of the grace of God was the reception of the Gentiles into the Church and his apostleship to them.

Grace is a lovely thing; it is a free thing; and it is a universal thing. As F. J. Hort wrote so beautifully: "Grace is a comprehensive word, gathering up all that may be supposed to be expressed in the smile of a heavenly king, looking down upon his people."

(ii) Peace was the normal Jewish word of greeting, and, in Hebrew thought, it expresses, not simply the negative absence of trouble, but "the most comprehensive form of well-being." It is everything which makes for a man's highest good. It is the state a man is in when he is within the love of God. F. J. Hort writes: "Peace is the antithesis to every kind of conflict and war and molestation, to enmity without and distraction within."

"Bowed down beneath a load of sin,

By Satan sorely pressed,

By war without and fears within,

I come to thee for rest."

(iii) Mercy is the new word in the apostolic blessing. In Greek the word is eleos (Greek #1656), and in Hebrew chesed (Hebrew #2617). Now chesedh is the word which is often in the Old Testament translated loving-kindness; and when Paul prayed for mercy on Timothy, he is saying, to put it very simply, "Timothy, may God be good to you." But there is more to it than that. Chesed (Hebrew #2617) is used in the Psalms no fewer than one hundred and twenty-seven times. And time and time again it has the meaning of help in time of need. It denotes, as Parry puts it, "God's active intervention to help." As Hort puts it, "It is the coming down of the Most High to help the helpless." In Psalms 40:11 the Psalmist rejoices, "Thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness ever preserve me." In Psalms 57:3 he says, "He will send from heaven and save me... God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness." In Psalms 86:14-16 he thinks of the forces of the evil men which are arrayed against him, and comforts himself with the thought that God is "abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." It is by God's abundant mercy that he has given us the living hope of the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). The Gentiles should glorify God for that mercy which has rescued them from sin and hopelessness (Romans 15:9). God's mercy is God active to save. It may well be that Paul added Mercy to his two usual words, Grace and Peace, because Timothy was up against it and he wanted in one word to tell him that the Most High was the help of the helpless.

ERROR AND HERESY (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

1:3-7 I am writing to you now to reinforce the plea that I already made to you, when I urged you to stay in Ephesus while I went to Macedonia, that you might pass on the order to some of the people there, not to teach erroneous novelties, nor to give their attention to idle tales and endless genealogies, which only succeed in producing empty speculations rather than the effective administration of God's people, which should be based on faith. The instruction which I gave you is designed to produce love which issues from a pure heart, a good conscience and an undissembling faith. But some of these people of whom I am talking have never even tried to find the right road, and have turned aside out of it to empty and useless discussions, in their claim to become teachers of the law, although they do not know what they are talking about, nor do they realize the real meaning of the things about which they dogmatize.

It is clear that at the back of the Pastoral Epistles there is some heresy which is endangering the Church. Right at the beginning it will be well to try to see what this heresy is. We will therefore collect the facts about it now.

This very passage brings us face to face with two of its great characteristics. It dealt in idle tales and endless genealogies. These two things were not peculiar to this heresy but were deeply engrained in the thought of the ancient world.

First, the idle tales. One of the characteristics of the ancient world was that the poets and even the historians loved to work out romantic and fictitious tales about the foundation of cities and of families. They would tell how some god came to earth and founded the city or took in marriage some mortal maid and founded a family. The ancient world was full of stories like that.

Second, the endless genealogies. The ancient world had a passion for genealogies. We can see that even in the Old Testament with its chapters of names and in the New Testament with the genealogies of Jesus with which Matthew and Luke begin their gospels. A man like Alexander the Great had a completely artificial pedigree constructed in which he traced his lineage back on the one side to Achilles and Andromache and on the other to Perseus and Hercules.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for Christianity to get lost in endless and fabulous stories about origins and in elaborate and imaginary genealogies. That was a danger which was inherent in the situation in which Christian thought was developing.

It was peculiarly threatening from two directions.

It was threatening from the Jewish direction. To the Jews there was no book in the world like the Old Testament. Their scholars spent a lifetime studying it and expounding it. In the Old Testament many chapters and many sections are long genealogies; and one of the favourite occupations of the Jewish scholars was to construct an imaginary and edifying biography for every name in the list! A man could go on for ever doing that; and it may be that that was what was partly in Paul's mind. He may be saying, "When you ought to be working at the Christian life, you are working out imaginary biographies and genealogies. You are wasting your time on elegant fripperies, when you should be getting down to life and living." This may be a warning to us never to allow Christian thinking to get lost in speculations which do not matter.

THE SPECULATIONS OF THE GREEKS (1 Timothy 1:3-7 continued)

But this danger came with an even greater threat from the Greek side. At this time in history there was developing a Greek line of thought which came to be known as Gnosticism. We find it specially in the background of the Pastoral Epistles, the Letter to the Colossians and the Fourth Gospel.

Gnosticism was entirely speculative. It began with the problem of the origin of sin and of suffering. If God is altogether good, he could not have created them. How then did they get into the world? The Gnostic answer was that creation was not creation out of nothing; before time began matter existed. They believed that this matter was essentially imperfect, an evil thing; and out of this essentially evil matter the world was created.

No sooner had they got this length than they ran into another difficulty. If matter is essentially evil and God is essentially good, God could not himself have touched this matter. So they began another set of speculations. They said that God put out an emanation, and that this emanation put out another emanation, and the second emanation put out a third emanation and so on and on until there came into being an emanation so distant from God that he could handle matter; and that it was not God but this emanation who created the world.

They went further. They held that each successive emanation knew less about God so that there came a stage in the series of emanations when the emanations were completely ignorant of him and, more, there was a final stage when the emanations were not only ignorant of God but actively hostile to him. So they arrived at the thought that the god who created the world was quite ignorant of and hostile to the true God. Later on they went even further and identified the God of the Old Testament with this creating god, and the God of the New Testament with the true God.

They further provided each one of the emanations with a complete biography. And so they built up an elaborate mythology of gods and emanations, each with his story and his biography and his genealogy. There is no doubt that the ancient world was riddled with that kind of thinking; and that it even entered the Church itself. It made Jesus merely the greatest of the emanations, the one closest to God. It classed him as the highest link in the endless chain between God and man.

This Gnostic line of thought had certain characteristics which appear all through the Pastoral Epistles as the characteristics of those whose heresies were threatening the Church and the purity of the faith.

(i) Gnosticism was obviously highly speculative, and it was therefore intensely intellectually snobbish. It believed that all this intellectual speculation was quite beyond the mental grasp of ordinary people and was for a chosen few, the elite of the Church. So Timothy is warned against "godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge" (1 Timothy 6:20). He is warned against a religion of speculative questions instead of humble faith (1 Timothy 1:4). He is warned against the man who is proud of his intellect but really knows nothing and dotes about questions and strifes of words (1 Timothy 6:4). He is told to shun "godless chatter," for they can produce only ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). He is told to avoid "stupid, senseless controversies" which in the end can only engender strife (2 Timothy 2:23). Further, the Pastoral Epistles go out of their way to stress the fact that this idea of an intellectual aristocracy is quite wrong, for God's love is universal. God wants all men to be saved and all men to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). God is the Saviour of all men, especially those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). The Christian Church would have nothing to do with any kind of faith which was founded on intellectual speculation and set up an arrogant intellectual aristocracy.

(ii) Gnosticism was concerned with this long series of emanations. It gave to each of them a biography and a pedigree and an importance in the chain between God and men. These gnostics were concerned with "endless genealogies" (1 Timothy 1:4). They went in for "godless and silly myths" about them (1 Timothy 4:7). They turned their ears away from the truth to myths (2 Timothy 4:4). They dealt in fables like the Jewish myths (Titus 1:14). Worst of all, they thought in terms of two gods and of Jesus as one of a whole series of mediators between God and man; whereas "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). There is only one King of ages, immortal, invisible, there is only one God (1 Timothy 1:17). Christianity had to repudiate a religion which took their unique place from God and from Jesus Christ.

THE ETHICS OF HERESY (1 Timothy 1:3-7 continued)

The danger of Gnosticism was not only intellectual. It had serious moral and ethical consequences. We must remember that its basic belief was that matter was essentially evil and spirit alone was good. That issued in two opposite results.

(i) If matter is evil, the body is evil; and the body must be despised and held down. Therefore Gnosticism could and did issue in a rigid asceticism. It forbade men to marry, for the instincts of the body were to be suppressed. It laid down strict food laws, for the needs of the body must as far as possible be eliminated. So the Pastorals speak of those who forbid to marry and who command to abstain from meats (1 Timothy 4:3). The answer to these people is that everything which God has created is good and is to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). The Gnostic looked on creation as an evil thing, the work of an evil god; the Christian looks on creation as a noble thing, the gift of a good God. The Christian lives in a world where all things are pure; the Gnostic lived in a world where all things were defiled (Titus 1:15).

(ii) But Gnosticism could issue in precisely the opposite ethical belief. If the body is evil, it does not matter what a man does with it. Therefore, let him sate his appetites. These things are of no importance, therefore a man can use his body in the most licentious way and it makes no difference. So the Pastorals speak of those who lead away weak women until they are laden with sin and the victims of all kinds of lusts (2 Timothy 3:6). Such men profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds (Titus 1:16). They used their religious beliefs as an excuse for immorality.

(iii) Gnosticism had still another consequence. The Christian believes in the resurrection of the body. That is not to say that he ever believed that we are resurrected with this mortal, human body; but he always believed that after resurrection from the dead a man would have a spiritual body, provided by God. Paul discusses this whole question in 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 . The Gnostic held that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the body (2 Timothy 2:18). After death a man would be a kind of disembodied spirit. The basic difference is that the Gnostic believed in the body's destruction; the Christian believes in its redemption. The Gnostic believed in what he would call soul salvation; the Christian believes in whole salvation.

So behind the Pastoral Epistles there are these dangerous heretics, who gave their lives to intellectual speculations, who saw this as an evil world and the creating god as evil, who put between the world and God an endless series of emanations and lesser gods and spent their time equipping each of them with endless fables and genealogies, who reduced Jesus to the position of a link in a chain and took away his uniqueness, who lived either in a rigorous asceticism or an unbridled licentiousness, who denied the resurrection of the body. It was their heretical beliefs that the Pastorals were written to combat.

THE MIND OF THE HERETIC (1 Timothy 1:3-7 continued)

In this passage there is a clear picture of the mind of the dangerous heretic. There is a kind of heresy in which a man differs from orthodox belief because he has honestly thought things out and cannot agree with it. He does not take any pride in being different; he is different simply because he has to be. Such a heresy does not spoil a man's character; it may in fact enhance his character, because he has really thought out his faith and is not living on a second-hand orthodoxy. But that is not the heretic whose picture is drawn here. Here are distinguished five characteristics of the dangerous heretic.

(i) He is driven by the desire for novelty. He is like someone who must be in the latest fashion and must undergo the latest craze. He despises old things for no better reason than that they are old, and desires new things for no better reason than that they are new. Christianity has always the problem of presenting old truth in a new way. The truth does not change, but every age must find its own way of presenting it. Every teacher and preacher must talk to men in language which they understand. The old truth and the new presentation go ever hand in hand.

(ii) He exalts the mind at the expense of the heart. His conception of religion is speculation and not experience. Christianity has never demanded that a man should stop thinking for himself, but it does demand that his thinking should be dominated by a personal experience of Jesus Christ.

(iii) He deals in argument instead of action. He is more interested in abstruse discussion than in the effective administration of the household of the faith. He forgets that the truth is not only something which a man accepts with his mind, but is also something which he translates into action. Long ago the distinction between the Greek and the Jew was drawn. The Greek loved argument for the sake of argument; there was nothing that he liked better than to sit with a group of friends and indulge in a series of mental acrobatics and enjoy "the stimulus of a mental hike." But he was not specially interested in reaching conclusions, and in evolving a principle of action. The Jew, too, liked argument; but he wished every argument to end in a decision which demanded action. There is always a danger of heresy when we fall in love with words and forget deeds, for deeds are the acid test by which every argument must be tested.

(iv) He is moved by arrogance rather than by humility. He looks down with a certain contempt on simple-minded people who cannot follow his flights of intellectual speculation. He regards those who do not reach his own conclusions as ignorant fools. The Christian has somehow to combine an immovable certainty with a gentle humility.

(v) He is guilty of dogmatism without knowledge. He does not really know what he is talking about nor really understand the significance of the things about which he dogmatizes. The strange thing about religious argument is that everyone thinks that he has a right to express a dogmatic opinion. In all other fields we demand that a person should have a certain knowledge before he lays down the law. But there are those who dogmatize about the Bible and its teaching although they have never even tried to find out what the experts in language and history have said. It may well be that the Christian cause has suffered more from ignorant dogmatism than from anything else.

When we think of the characteristics of those who were troubling the Church at Ephesus we can see that their descendants are still with us.

THE MIND OF THE CHRISTIAN THINKER (1 Timothy 1:3-7 continued)

As this passage draws the picture of the thinker who disturbs the Church, it also draws the picture of the really Christian thinker. He, too, has five characteristics.

(i) His thinking is based on faith. Faith means taking God at his word; it means believing that he is as Jesus proclaimed him to be. That is to say, the Christian thinker begins from the principle that Jesus Christ has given the full revelation of God.

(ii) His thinking is motivated by love. Paul's whole purpose is to produce love. To think in love will always save us from certain things. It will save us from arrogant thinking. It will save us from contemptuous thinking. It will save us from condemning either that with which we do not agree, or that which we do not understand. It will save us from expressing our views in such a way that we hurt other people. Love saves us from destructive thinking and destructive speaking. To think in love is always to think in sympathy. The man who argues in love argues not to defeat his opponent, but to win him.

(iii) His thinking comes from a pure heart. Here the word used is very significant. It is katharos (Greek #2513), which originally simply meant clean as opposed to soiled or dirty. Later it came to have certain most suggestive uses. It was used of corn that has been winnowed and cleansed of all chaff. It was used of an army which had been purified of all cowardly and undisciplined soldiers until there was nothing left but first-class fighting men. It was used of something which was without any debasing admixture. So, then, a pure heart is a heart whose motives are absolutely pure and absolutely unmixed. In the heart of the Christian thinker there is no desire to show how clever he is, no desire to win a purely debating victory, no desire to show up the ignorance of his opponent. His only desire is to help and to illumine and to lead nearer to God. The Christian thinker is moved only by love of truth and love for men.

(iv) His thinking comes from a good conscience. The Greek word for conscience is suneidesis (Greek #4893). It literally means a knowing with. The real meaning of conscience is a knowing with oneself. To have a good conscience is to be able to look in the face the knowledge which one shares with no one but oneself and not be ashamed. Emerson remarked of Seneca that he said the loveliest things, if only he had the right to say them. The Christian thinker is the man whose thoughts and whose deeds give him the right to say what he does--and that is the most acid test of all.

(v) The Christian thinker is the man of undissembling faith. The phrase literally means the faith in which there is no hypocrisy. That simply means that the great characteristic of the Christian thinker is sincerity. He is sincere both in his desire to find the truth--and in his desire to communicate it.

THOSE WHO NEED NO LAW (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

1:8-11 We know that the law is good, if a man uses it legitimately, in the awareness that the law was not instituted to deal with good men, but with the lawless and the undisciplined, the irreverent and the sinners, the impious and the polluted, those who have sunk so low that they strike their fathers and their mothers, murderers, fornicators, homosexuals, slave-dealers and kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and all those who are guilty of anything which is the reverse of sound teaching, that teaching which is in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God, that gospel which has been entrusted to me.

This passage begins with what was a favourite thought in the ancient world. The place of the law is to deal with evil-doers. The good man does not need any law to control his actions or to threaten him with punishments; and in a world of good men there would be no need for laws at all.

Antiphanes, the Greek, had it: "He who does no wrong needs no law." It was the claim of Aristotle that "philosophy enables a man to do without external control that which others do because of fear of the laws." Ambrose, the great Christian bishop, wrote: "The just man has the law of his own mind, of his own equity and of his own justice as his standard; and therefore he is not recalled from fault by terror of punishment, but by the rule of honour." Pagan and Christian alike regarded true goodness as something which had its source in a man's heart; as something which was not dependent on the rewards and punishments of the law.

But in one thing the pagan and the Christian differed. The pagan looked back to an ancient golden time when all things were good and no law was needed. Ovid, the Roman poet, drew one of the most famous pictures of that ancient golden time (Metamorphoses 1: 90-112). "Golden was that first age, which with no one to compel, without a law, of its own will, kept faith and did the right. There was no fear of punishment, no threatening words were to be read on brazen tablets; no suppliant throng gazed fearfully upon the judge's face; but without judges men lived secure. Not yet had the pine tree, felled on its native mountains, descended thence into the watery plain to visit other lands; men knew no shores except their own. Nor, yet were cities begirt with steep moats; there were no trumpets of straight, no horns of curving brass, no swords or helmets. There was no need at all of armed men, for nations, secure from war's alarms, passed the years in gentle peace." Tacitus, the Roman historian, had the same picture (Annals 3: 26). "In the earliest times, when men had as yet no evil passions, they led blameless, guiltless lives, without either punishment or restraint. Led by their own nature to pursue none but virtuous ends, they required no rewards; and as they desired nothing contrary to the right, there was no need for pains and penalties." The ancient world looked back and longed for the days that were gone. But the Christian faith does not look back to a lost golden age; it looks forward to the day when the only law will be the love of Christ within a man's heart, for it is certain that the day of law cannot end until the day of love dawns.

There should be only one controlling factor in the lives of every one of us. Our goodness should come, not from fear of the law, not even from fear of judgment, but from fear of disappointing the love of Christ and of grieving the fatherly heart of God. The Christian's dynamic comes from the fact that he knows sin is not only breaking God's law but also breaking his heart. It is not the law of God but the love of God which constrains us.

THOSE WHOM THE LAW CONDEMNS (1 Timothy 1:8-11 continued)

In an ideal state, when the Kingdom comes, there will be no necessity for any law other than the love of God within a man's heart; but as things are, the case is very different. And here Paul sets out a catalogue of sins which the law must control and condemn. The interest of the passage is that it shows us the background against which Christianity grew up. This list of sins is in fact a description of the world in which the early Christians lived and moved and had their being. Nothing shows us so well how the Christian Church was a little island of purity in a vicious world. We talk about it being hard to be a Christian in modern civilization; we have only to read a passage like this to see how infinitely harder it must have been in the circumstances in which the Church first began. Let us take this terrible list and look at the items on it.

There are the lawless (anomoi, Greek #459). They are those who know the laws of right and wrong and break them open-eyed. No one can blame a man for breaking a law he does not know exists; but the lawless are those who deliberately violate the laws in order to satisfy their own ambitions and desires.

There are the undisciplined (anupotaktoi, Greek #506). They are the unruly and the insubordinate, those who refuse to obey any authority. They are like soldiers who mutinously disobey the word of command. They are either too proud or too unbridled to accept any control.

There are the irreverent (asebeis, Greek #765). Asebeis is a terrible word. It describes not indifference nor the lapse into sin. It describes "positive and active irreligion," the spirit which defiantly withholds from God that which is his right. It describes human nature "in battle array against God."

There are the sinners (hamartoloi, Greek #268). In its commonest usage this word describes character. It can be used, for instance, of a slave who is of lax and useless character. It describes the person who has no moral standards left.

There are the impious (anosioi, Greek #462). Hosios (Greek #3741) is a noble word; it describes, as Trench puts it, "the everlasting ordinances of right, which no law or custom of man has constituted, for they are anterior to all law and custom." The things which are hosios (Greek #3741) are part of the very constitution of the universe, the everlasting sanctities. The Greek, for instance, shudderingly declared that the Egyptian custom where brother could marry sister and the Persian custom where son could marry mother, were anosia, unholy. The man who is anosios (Greek #462) is worse than a mere lawbreaker. He is the man who violates the ultimate decencies of life.

There are the polluted (bebeloi, Greek #952). Bebelos is an ugly word with a strange history. It originally meant simply that which can be trodden upon, in contradistinction to that which is sacred to some god and therefore inviolable. It then came to mean profane in opposition to sacred, then the man who profanes the sacred things, who desecrates God's day, disobeys his laws and belittles his worship. The man who is bebelos (Greek #952) soils everything he touches.

There are those who strike or even kill their parents (patraloai, Greek #3964, and metraloai, Greek #3389). Under Roman law a son who struck his parents was liable to death. The words describe sons or daughters who are lost to gratitude, lost to respect and lost to shame. And it must ever be remembered that this most cruel of blows can be one, not upon the body, but upon the heart.

There are the murderers (androphonoi, Greek #409), literally man-slayers. Paul is thinking of the Ten Commandments and of how breach after breach of them characterizes the heathen world. We must not think that this at least has nothing to do with us, for Jesus widened the commandment to include not only the act of murder, but also the feeling of anger against a brother.

There are the fornicators and the homosexuals (pornoi, Greek #4205, and arsenokoitai, Greek #733). It is difficult for us to realize the state of the ancient world in matters of sexual morality. It was riddled with unnatural vice. One of the extraordinary things was the actual connection of immorality and religion. The Temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, at Corinth had attached to it a thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes and who at evening came down to the city streets and plied their trade. It is said that Solon was the first law-maker in Athens to legalize prostitution and that with the profits of the public brothels he instituted a new temple was built to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

E. F. Brown was a missionary in India, and in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles he quotes an extraordinary section from the Penal Code of India. A section of that code forbade obscene representations and then went on to say: "This section does not extend to any representation or sculpture, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in any temple, or any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose." It is an extraordinary thing that in the non-Christian religions time and time again immorality and obscenity flourish under the very protection of religion. It has often been said and said truly that chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought into this world. It was no easy thing in the early days to endeavour to live according to the Christian ethic in a world like that.

There are the andrapodistai (Greek #405). The word may either mean slave-dealers or slave-kidnappers. Possibly both meanings are involved here. It is true that slavery was an integral part of the ancient world. It is true that Aristotle declared that civilization was founded on slavery, that certain men and women existed only to perform the menial tasks of life for the convenience of the cultured classes. But even in the ancient world voices were raised against slavery. Philo spoke of slave-dealers as those "who despoil men of their most precious possession, their freedom."

But this more probably refers to kidnappers of slaves. Slaves were valuable property. An ordinary slave with no special gifts fetched from 16 to 20 British pounds. A specially accomplished slave would fetch three or four times as much. Beautiful youths were in special demand as pages and cupbearers and would fetch as much as 800 or 900 British pounds. Marcus Antonius is said to have paid 2,000 British pounds for two well-matched youths who were wrongly represented to be twins. In the days when Rome was specially eager to learn the arts of Greece and slaves who were skilled in Greek literature and music and art were specially valuable, a certain Lutatius Daphnis was sold for 3,500 British pounds. The result was that frequently valuable slaves were either seduced from their masters or kidnapped. The kidnapping of specially beautiful or specially accomplished slaves was a common feature of ancient life.

Finally, there are liars (pseustai, Greek #5583) and perjurers (epiorkoi, Greek #1965), men who did not hesitate to twist the truth to gain dishonourable ends.

Here is a vivid picture of the atmosphere in which the ancient Church grew up. It was against an infection like that that the writer of the Pastorals sought to protect the Christians in his charge.

THE CLEANSING WORD (1 Timothy 1:8-11 continued)

Into this world came the Christian message, and this passage tells us four things about it.

(i) It is sound teaching. The word used for sound (hugiainein, Greek #5198) literally means health-giving. Christianity is an ethical religion. It demands from a man not only the keeping of certain ritual laws, but the living of a good life. E. F. Brown draws a comparison between it and Islam; a Mohammedan may be regarded as a very holy man if he observes certain ceremonial rituals, even though his moral life is quite unclean. He quotes a writer on Morocco: "The great blot on the creed of Islam is that precept and practice are not expected to go together, except as regards the ritual, so that a man may be notoriously wicked yet esteemed religious, having his blessing sought as that of one who has power with God, without the slightest sense of incongruity. The position of things was very well put to me one day by a Moor in Fez, who remarked: 'Do you want to know what our religion is? We purify ourselves with water while we contemplate adultery; we go to the mosque to pray and as we do so we think how best to cheat our neighbours; we give alms at the door and go back to our shop to rob; we read our Korans and go out to commit unmentionable sins; we fast and go on pilgrimage and yet we lie and kill.'" It must always be remembered that Christianity does not mean observing a ritual, even if that ritual consists of bible-reading and church-going; it means living a good life. Christianity, if it is real, is health-giving; it is the moral antiseptic which alone can cleanse life.

(ii) It is a glorious gospel; that is to say, it is glorious good news. It is good news of forgiveness for past sins and of power to conquer sin in the days to come, good news of God's mercy, God's cleansing and God's grace.

(iii) It is good news which comes from God. The Christian gospel is not a discovery made by man; it is something revealed by God. It does not offer only the help of man; it offers the power of God.

(iv) That good news comes through men. It was entrusted to Paul to bring it to others. God makes his offer and he needs his messengers. The real Christian is the person who has himself closed with the offer of God and has realized that he cannot keep such good news to himself but must share it with others who have not yet found it.

SAVED TO SERVE (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

1:12-17 I give thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, who has filled me with his power, that he showed that he believed that he could trust me, by appointing me to his service, although I was formerly an insulter, a persecutor and a man of insolent and brutal violence. But I received mercy from him, because it was in ignorance that I acted thus, in the days when I did not believe. But the grace of our Lord rose higher than my sin, and I found it in the faith and love of those whose lives are lived in Jesus Christ. This is a saying on which we can rely, and which we are completely bound to accept, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am chief. This was why I received mercy--so that in me Jesus Christ might display all that patience of his, so that I might be the first outline sketch of those who would one day come to believe in him, that they might find eternal life. To the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, to the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This passage begins with a very paean of thanksgiving. There were four tremendous things for which Paul wished to thank Jesus Christ.

(i) He thanked him because he chose him. Paul never had the feeling that he had chosen Christ, but always that Christ had chosen him. It was as if, when he was heading straight for destruction, Jesus Christ had laid his hand upon his shoulder and arrested him in the way. It was as if, when he was busy throwing away his life, Jesus Christ had suddenly brought him to his senses. In the days of the war I knew a Polish airman. He had crowded more thrilling hairbreadth escapes from death and from worse into a few years than the vast majority of men do into a lifetime. Sometimes he would tell the story of escape from occupied Europe, of parachute descents from the air, of rescue from the sea, and at the end of this amazing odyssey, he would always say, with a look of wonder in his eyes: "And now I am God's man." That is how Paul felt; he was Christ's man for Christ had chosen him.

(ii) He thanked him because he trusted him. It was to Paul an amazing thing, that he, the arch-persecutor, had been chosen as the missionary of Christ. It was not only that Jesus Christ had forgiven him; it was that Christ trusted him. Sometimes we forgive a man who has committed some mistake or been guilty of some sin, but we make it very clear that his past makes it impossible for us to trust him again with any responsibility. But Christ had not only forgiven Paul; he entrusted him with work to do. The man who had been Christ's persecutor had been made his ambassador.

(iii) He thanked him because he had appointed him. We must be very careful to note that to which Paul felt himself appointed. He was appointed to service. Paul never thought of himself as appointed to honour, or to leadership within the Church. He was saved to serve. Plutarch tells that when a Spartan won a victory in the games, his reward was that he might stand beside his king in battle. A Spartan wrestler at the Olympic games was offered a very considerable bribe to abandon the struggle; but he refused. Finally, after a terrific effort, he won his victory. Someone said to him: "Well, Spartan, what have you got out of this costly victory you have won?" He answered: "I have won the privilege of standing in front of my king in battle." His reward was to serve and, if need be, to die for his king. It was for service, not honour, that Paul knew himself to be chosen.

(iv) He thanked him because he had empowered him. Paul had long since discovered that Jesus Christ never gives a man a task to do without also giving him the power to do it. Paul would never have said, "See what I have done," but always, "See what Jesus Christ has enabled me to do." No man is good enough, or strong enough, or pure enough, or wise enough to be the servant of Christ. But if he will give himself to Christ, he will go, not in his own strength, but in the strength of his Lord.

THE MEANS OF CONVERSION (1 Timothy 1:12-17 continued)

There are two further interesting things in this passage.

Paul's Jewish background comes out. He says that Jesus Christ had mercy on him because he committed his sins against Christ and his Church in the days of his ignorance. We often think that the Jewish viewpoint was that sacrifice atoned for sin; a man sinned, his sin broke his relationship with God, then sacrifice was made and God's anger was appeased and the relationship restored.

It may well have been that that was in fact the popular, debased view of sacrifice. But the highest Jewish thought insisted on two things. First, it insisted that sacrifice could never atone for deliberate sin, but only for the sins a man committed in ignorance or when swept away in a moment of passion. Second, the highest Jewish thought insisted that no sacrifice could atone for any sin unless there was contrition in the heart of the man who brought it. Here Paul is speaking out of his Jewish background. His heart had been broken by the mercy of Christ; his sins had been committed in the days before he knew Christ and his love. And for these reasons he felt that there was mercy for him.

There is a still more interesting matter, which is pointed out by E. F. Brown. 1 Timothy 1:14 is difficult. In the Revised Standard Version it runs: "The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." The first part is not difficult; it simply means that the grace of God rose higher than Paul's sin. But what exactly is the meaning of the phrase "with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus"? E. F. Brown suggests that it is that the work of the grace of Christ in Paul's heart was helped by the faith and the love he found in the members of the Christian Church, things like the sympathy and the understanding and the kindness he received from men like Ananias, who opened his eyes and called him brother (Acts 9:10-19), and Barnabas, who stood by him when the rest of the Church regarded him with bleak suspicion (Acts 9:26-28). That is a very lovely idea. And if it be correct, we can see that there are three factors which cooperate in the conversion of any man.

(i) First, there is God. It was the prayer of Jeremiah: "Restore us to thyself, O Lord" (Lamentations 5:21). As Augustine had it, we would never even have begun to seek for God unless he had already found us. The prime mover is God; at the back of a man's first desire for goodness there is his seeking love.

(ii) There is a man's own self. The King James Version renders Matthew 18:3 entirely passively: "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." The Revised Standard Version gives a much more active rendering: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." There must be human response to divine appeal. God gave men free will and they can use it either to accept or to refuse his offer.

(iii) There is the agency of some Christian person. It is Paul's conviction that he is sent "to open the eyes of the Gentiles, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 26:18). It is James' belief that any man who converts the sinner from the error of his way "will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). So then there is a double duty laid upon us. It has been said that a saint is someone who makes it easier to believe in God, and that a saint is someone in whom Christ lives again. We must give thanks for those who showed us Christ, whose words and example brought us to him; and we must strive to be the influence which brings others to him.

In this matter of conversion the initiative of God, the response of man, and the influence of the Christian all combine.


The thing which stands out in this passage is Paul's insistence upon remembering his own sin. He heaps up a very climax of words to show what he did to Christ and the Church. He was an insulter of the Church; he had flung hot and angry words at the Christians, accusing them of crimes against God. He was a persecutor; he had taken every means open to him under the Jewish law to annihilate the Christian Church. Then comes a terrible word; he had been a man of insolent and brutal violence. The word in Greek is hubristes (Greek #5197). It indicates a kind of arrogant sadism; it describes the man who is out to inflict pain for the sheer joy of inflicting it. The corresponding abstract noun is hubris (Greek #5196) which Aristotle defines: "Hubris (Greek #5196) means to hurt and to grieve people, in such a way that shame comes to the man who is hurt and grieved, and that not that the person who inflicts the hurt and injury may gain anything else in addition to what he already possesses, but simply that he may find delight in his own cruelty and in the suffering of the other person."

That is what Paul was once like in regard to the Christian Church. Not content with words of insult, he went to the limit of legal persecution. Not content with legal persecution, he went to the limit of sadistic brutality in his attempt to stamp out the Christian faith. He remembered that; and to the end of the day he regarded himself as the chief of sinners. It is not that he was the chief of sinners; he still is. True, he could never forget that he was a forgiven sinner; but neither could he ever forget that he was a sinner. Why should he remember his sin with such vividness?

(i) The memory of his sin was the surest way to keep him from pride. There could be no such thing as spiritual pride for a man who had done the things that he had done. John Newton was one of the great preachers and the supreme hymn-writers of the Church; but he had sunk to the lowest depths to which a man can sink, in the days when he sailed the seas in a slave-trader's ship. So when he became a converted man and a preacher of the gospel, he wrote a text in great letters, and fastened it above the mantlepiece of his study where he could not fail to see it: "Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt and the Lord thy God redeemed thee." He also composed his own epitaph: "John Newton, Clerk, once an Infidel and Libertine, a Servant of Slaves in Africa, was by the Mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Preserved, Restored, Pardoned, and Appointed to Preach the Faith he had so long laboured to destroy." John Newton never forgot that he was a forgiven sinner; neither did Paul. Neither must we. It does a man good to remember his sins; it saves him from spiritual pride.

(ii) The memory of his sin was the surest way to keep his gratitude aflame. To remember what we have been forgiven is the surest way to keep awake our love to Jesus Christ. F. W. Boreham tells of a letter which the old Puritan, Thomas Goodwin, wrote to his son. "When I was threatening to become cold in my ministry, and when I felt Sabbath morning coming and my heart not filled with amazement at the grace of God, or when I was making ready to dispense the Lord's Supper, do you know what I used to do? I used to take a turn up and down among the sins of my past life, and I always came down again with a broken and a contrite heart, ready to preach, as it was preached in the beginning, the forgiveness of sins." "I do not think," he said, "I ever went up the pulpit stair that I did not stop for a moment at the foot of it and take a turn up and down among the sins of my past years. I do not think that I ever planned a sermon that I did not take a turn round my study table and look back at the sins of my youth and of all my life down to the present; and many a Sabbath morning, when my soul had been cold and dry, for the lack of prayer during the week, a turn up and down in my past life before I went into the pulpit always broke my hard heart and made me close with the gospel for my own soul before I began to preach." When we remember how we have hurt God and hurt those who love us and hurt our fellow-men and when we remember how God and men have forgiven us, that memory must awake the flame of gratitude within our hearts.

(iii) The memory of his sin was the constant urge to greater effort. It is quite true that a man can never earn the approval of God, or deserve his love; but it is also true that he can never stop trying to do something to show how much he appreciates the love and the mercy which have made him what he is. Whenever we love anyone we cannot help trying always to demonstrate our love. When we remember how much God loves us and how little we deserve it, when we remember that it was for us that Jesus Christ hung and suffered on Calvary, it must compel us to effort that will tell God we realize what he has done for us and will show Jesus Christ that his sacrifice was not in vain..

(iv) The memory of his sin was bound to be a constant encouragement to others. Paul uses a vivid picture. He says that what happened to him was a kind of outline-sketch of what was going to happen to those who would accept Christ in the days to come. The word he uses is hupotuposis (Greek #5296) which means an outline, a sketch-plan, a first draft, a preliminary model. It is as if Paul were saying, "Look what Christ has done for me! If someone like me can be saved, there is hope for everyone." Suppose a man was seriously ill and had to go through a dangerous operation, it would be the greatest encouragement to him if he met and talked with someone who had undergone the same operation and had emerged completely cured. Paul did not shrinkingly conceal his record; he blazoned it abroad, that others might take courage and be filled with hope that the grace which had changed him could change them too.

Greatheart said to Christian's boys: "You must know that Forgetful Green is the most dangerous place in all these parts." Paul's sin was something which he refused to forget, for every time he remembered the greatness of his sin, he remembered the still greater greatness of Jesus Christ. It was not that he brooded unhealthily over his sin; it was that he remembered it to rejoice in the wonder of the grace of Jesus Christ.


1:18-20 I entrust this charge to you, Timothy lad, because it is the natural consequence of the messages which came to the prophets from God, and which marked you out as the very man for this work, so that, in obedience to these messages, you may wage a fine campaign, maintaining your faith and a good conscience all the time; and there are some who, in matters of the faith, have repelled the guidance of conscience, and have come to shipwreck. Amongst them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, that they may be disciplined out of their insults to God and his Church.

The first section of this passage is highly compressed. What lies behind it is this. There must have been a meeting of the prophets of the Church. They were men known to be within the confidence and the counsels of God. "Surely the Lord does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). This meeting thought about the situation which was threatening the Church and came to the conclusion that Timothy was the man to deal with it. We can see the prophets acting in exactly the same way in Acts 13:1-3. The Church was faced with the great decision whether or not to take the gospel out to the Gentiles; and it was to the prophets that there came the message of the Holy Spirit, saying: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). That was what had happened to Timothy. He had been marked out by the prophets as the man to deal with the situation in the Church. It may well have been that he shrank from the greatness of the task which faced him, and here Paul encourages him with certain considerations.

(i) Paul says to him: "You are a man who has been chosen and you cannot refuse your task." Something like that happened to John Knox. He had been teaching in St. Andrews. His teaching was supposed to be private but many came to it, for he was obviously a man with a message. So the people urged him "that he would take the preaching place upon him. But he utterly refused, alleging that he would not run where God had not called him.... Whereupon they Privily among themselves advising, having with them in council Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, they concluded that they would give a charge to the said John, and that publicly by the mouth of their preacher."

So Sunday came and Knox was in Church and John Rough was preaching. "The said John Rough, preacher, directed his words to the said John Knox, saying: 'Brother, ye shall not be offended, albeit that I speak unto you that which I have in charge, even from all those that are here present, which is this: In the name of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, and in the name of these that presently call you by my mouth, I charge you that you refuse not this holy vocation, but...that you take upon you the public office and charge of preaching, even as you look to avoid God's heavy displeasure, and desire that he shall multiply his graces with you.' And in the end he said to those that were present: 'Was not this your charge to me? And do ye not approve this vocation?' They answered: 'It was: and we approve it.' Whereat the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behaviour, from that day till the day that he was compelled to present himself to the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart; for no man saw any sign of mirth in him, neither yet had he pleasure to accompany any man, many days together."

John Knox was chosen; he did not want to answer the call; but he had to, for the choice had been made by God. Years afterwards the Regent Morton uttered his famous epitaph by Knox's graveside: "In respect that he bore God's message, to whom he must make account for the same, he (albeit he was weak and an unworthy creature, and a fearful man) feared not the faces of men." The consciousness of being chosen gave him courage.

So Paul says to Timothy: "You have been chosen; you cannot let down God and man." To every one of us there comes God's choosing; and when we are summoned to some work for him, we dare not refuse it.

(ii) It may be that Paul was saying to Timothy: "Be true to your name." Timothy--its full form is Timotheos (Greek #5095)--is composed of two Greek words, time (Greek #5092) which means "honour," and theos (Greek #2316) which means "God," and so means "honour to God." If we are called by the name Christian, one of Christ's folk, to that name we must be true.

(iii) Finally, Paul says to Timothy: "I entrust this charge to you". The word which he uses for to entrust is paratithesthai (Greek #3908), which is the word used of entrusting something valuable to someone's safe keeping. It is used, for instance, of making a deposit in a bank, or of entrusting someone to another's care. It always implies that a trust has been reposed in someone for which he will be called to account. So Paul says: "Timothy, into your hands I am placing a sacred trust. See that you do not fail." God reposes his trust in us; into our hands he puts his honour and his Church. We too must see to it that we do not fail.

DESPATCHED ON GOD'S CAMPAIGN (1 Timothy 1:18-20 continued)

What then is entrusted to Timothy? He is despatched to fight a good campaign. The picture of life as a campaign is one which has always fascinated men's thoughts. Maximus of Tyre said: "God is the general; life is the campaign; man is the soldier." Seneca said: "For me to live, my dear Lucilius, is to be a soldier." When a man became a follower of the goddess Isis and was initiated into the Mysteries connected with the goddess' name, the summons to him was: "Enrol yourself in the sacred soldiery of Isis."

There are three things to be noted.

(i) It is not to a battle that we are summoned; it is to a campaign. Life is one long campaign, a service from which there is no release, not a short, sharp struggle after which a man can lay aside his arms and rest in peace. To change the metaphor, life is not a sprint; it is a marathon race. It is there that the danger enters in. It is necessary to be for ever on the watch. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." The temptations of life never cease their search for a chink in the armour of the Christian. It is one of the commonest dangers in life to proceed in a series of spasms. We must remember that we are summoned to a campaign which goes on as long as life does.

(ii) It is to a fine campaign that Timothy is summoned. Here again we have the word kalos (Greek #2570) of which the Pastorals are so fond. It does not mean only something which is good and strong; it means something which is also winsome and lovely. The soldier of Christ is not a conscript who serves grimly and grudgingly; he is a volunteer who serves with a certain knightly chivalry. He is not the slave of duty, but the servant of joy.

(iii) Timothy is commanded to take with him two weapons of equipment. (a) He is to take faith. Even when things are at their darkest, he must have faith in the essential rightness of his cause and in the ultimate triumph of God. It was faith which kept up John Knox when he was in despair. Once when he was a slave on the galleys, the ship came in sight of St. Andrews. He was so weak that he had to be lifted up bodily in order to see. They showed him the church steeple and asked if he knew it. "Yes," he said, "I know it well: and I am fully persuaded, how weak that ever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life till that my tongue shall glorify his godly name in the same place." He describes his feelings in 1554 when he had to flee the country to escape the vengeance of Mary Tudor. "Not only the ungodly, but even my faithful brethren, yea, and my own self, that is, all natural understanding, judged my cause to be irremediable. The frail flesh, oppressed with fear and pain, desireth deliverance, ever abhorring and drawing back from obedience giving. O Christian brethren, I write by experience.... I know the grudging and murmuring complaints of the flesh; I know the anger, wrath, and indignation which it conceiveth against God, calling all his promises in doubt, and being ready every hour utterly to fall from God. Against which remains only faith." The Christian soldier needs in the darkest hour the faith that will not shrink. (b) He is to take the defence of a good conscience. That is to say, the Christian soldier must at least try to live in accordance with his own doctrine. The virtue is gone out of a man's message when his conscience condemns him as he speaks.

A STERN REBUKE (1 Timothy 1:18-20 continued)

The passage closes with a stern rebuke to two members of the Church who have injured the Church, grieved Paul, and made shipwreck of their own lives. Hymenaeus is mentioned again in 2 Timothy 2:17; and Alexander may well be the Alexander who is referred to in 2 Timothy 4:14. Paul has three complaints against them.

(i) They had rejected the guidance of conscience. They had allowed their own desires to speak with more persuasiveness than the voice of God.

(ii) They had relapsed into evil practices. Once they had abandoned God, life had become soiled and debased. When God went from life, beauty went along with him.

(iii) They had taken to false teaching. Again it was almost inevitable. When a man takes the wrong way, his first instinct is to find excuses for himself. He takes the Christian teaching and twists it to suit himself. Out of the right he finds perverted arguments to justify the wrong. He finds arguments in the words of Christ to justify the ways of the devil. The moment a man disobeys the voice of conscience, his conduct becomes debased and his thinking twisted.

So Paul goes on to say that he has "handed them over to Satan." What is the meaning of this terrible phrase? There are three possibilities.

(i) He may be thinking of the Jewish practice of excommunication. According to synagogue practice, if a man was an evil-doer he was first publicly rebuked. If that was ineffective, he was banished from the synagogue for a period of thirty days. If he was still stubbornly unrepentant, he was put under the ban, which made him a person accursed, debarred from the society of men and the fellowship of God. In such a case a man might well be said to be handed over to Satan.

(ii) He may be saying that he has barred them from the Church and turned them loose in the world. In a heathen society it was inevitable that men should draw a hard and fast line between the Church and the world. The Church was God's territory; the world was Satan's; and to be debarred from the Church was to be handed over to that territory which was under the sway of Satan. The phrase may mean that these two troublers of the Church were abandoned to the world.

(iii) The third explanation is the most likely of the three. Satan was held to be responsible for human suffering and pain. A man in the Corinthian Church had been guilty of the terrible sin of incest. Paul's advice was that he should be delivered to Satan "for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5). The idea is that the Church should pray for some physical chastisement to fall on that man so that, by the pain of his body, he might be brought to the senses of his mind. In Job's case it was Satan who brought the physical suffering upon him (Job 2:6-7). In the New Testament itself we have the terrible end of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5; Acts 5:10), and the blindness which fell upon Elymas because of his opposition to the gospel (Acts 13:11). It may well be that it was Paul's prayer that these two men should be subjected to some painful visitation which would be a punishment and a warning.

That is all the more likely because it is Paul's hope that they will be, not obliterated and destroyed, but disciplined out of their evil ways. To him, as it ought to be to us, punishment was never mere vindictive vengeance but always remedial discipline, never meant simply to hurt but always to cure.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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