Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

1 Timothy 1

Verses 1-20

IN HIS OPENING verse Paul presents his apostleship as proceeding from God our Saviour—not from Jesus our Saviour, as we might have put it. He is going to bring before us the living GOD as both Saviour and Preserver (1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:10) and so he commences on this note, and presents the Lord Jesus to us as our hope. When declension sets in it is well for us to know a living God as our Preserver, and to have our hopes centred not in churches, bishops, deacons, nor in a man of any kind, but in the Lord Himself.

Having saluted Timothy in verse 1 Timothy 1:2, Paul at once reminds him of the responsibility resting upon him as left at Ephesus during his absence. Already some were beginning to teach things which differed from the truth as already laid down. These strange doctrines were of two kinds, “fables” (or “myths”) and “genealogies.” By the former term Paul indicated ideas imported from the heathen world, even though they were the refined speculations of Grecian schools; by the latter, ideas imported from the Jewish world in which genealogy had played so large a part. Timothy however was to abide in what he had learned of God and exhort others to do likewise, since the end of what was enjoined was love springing out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and unfeigned faith. This was that which God desired to see in His people.

The certain result of turning aside to fables or genealogies is questionings (verse 1 Timothy 1:4) and vain jangling (verse 1 Timothy 1:6). Christendom has largely turned aside to the teaching of fabulous assertions in the name of science on the one hand, and on the other to genealogies connected with religious succession, apostolic and otherwise, with all the ritualism based thereupon, consequently the religious arena is filled with questioners and resounds with the uproar of vain jangling. What God aims at producing, and does produce where the truth holds sway, is love, and what is ministered is “God’s dispensation which is in faith.” The A. V. reads “edifying” but evidently the correct reading is “dispensation” or “house-law”—the alteration of one letter in the Greek word makes the difference. Love furthers all those things that God has ordered as the rule of His house.

The “commandment” of verse 1 Timothy 1:5 has nothing to do with the law of Moses. The word is virtually the same as the one translated “charge” in verse 1 Timothy 1:3. Verse 1 Timothy 1:5 states the object Timothy was to have in view in the charge which he observed himself and enjoined upon others.

There were those at Ephesus who were enamoured of the law and desired to be teachers of it, and this leads the Apostle to indicate the place that the law was designed to fill, of which these would-be law-teachers were entirely ignorant. The law was not enacted for the righteous but for sinners. Hence to strenuously enforce it upon those who were righteous, because justified by God Himself, was not a lawful use of it. Paul does not pause in this passage to state that which the law of Moses was designed to effect. It was given to bring in conviction of sin, as is stated in Romans 3:19; Romans 5:20; and Galatians 3:19.

The law itself is “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12) whatever men may do with it. Verse 1 Timothy 1:8 of our passage states that if lawfully used it is good in its practical effects. If wrongly used, as by these law-teachers, it works mischief, though perfectly good in itself.

Let us all be very careful to use the law lawfully. It is a most potent instrument of conviction for sinners. It deals unsparingly with the terrible list of sins given in verses 1 Timothy 1:9-10, but besides all these there were other things which the law did not specifically mention but which were contrary to all sound teaching, and the Apostle alludes to these at the close of verse 10. Only notice that he does not say, “contrary to sound doctrine according to the holy standard established by the law” but, “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” for the gospel sets before us a standard of conduct more lofty than the law.

The law did not set forth the maximum, the utmost possible that God could expect from man, but rather the minimum of His demands, if man is to live on the earth; so that to fall below the standard set, in one item on one occasion, was to incur the death penalty. Now however the gospel has been introduced and Paul was entrusted with it. He speaks of it as the “glorious gospel,” or more literally, “gospel of the glory” of the blessed God.

There is for the present moment but one gospel, though spoken of in various passages as the gospel “of God,” “of Christ,” “of the grace of God,” “of the glory of Christ,” and as in this verse. So also the one and the same Holy Spirit is variously characterized in different passages. This is in order to teach us the depth and wonder residing in both, the many-sided characters that they wear. How striking then is the character in which the gospel is presented to us here, and how suitable to the subjects in hand!

What could exceed the moral filth and degradation of those who had come short not only of the law, but of “the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)? Their portrait appears in verses 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Then in verse 1 Timothy 1:11 comes “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” followed in succeeding verses by the dark picture Paul gives of himself as an unconverted man. Look before and look after and we see nothing but the shame of cursed and unhappy man. Into the midst comes the glad tidings of the glory of the blessed, or happy, God. A contrast indeed!

The Old Testament has told us that, “it is the glory of God to conceal a thing” (Proverbs 25:2) so that busy and inquisitive men are baffled in their researches again and again. Our New Testament passage tells us that it is also the glory of God to reveal Himself in the magnificence of His mercy to rebellious sinners, and the latter glory is greater than the former. If any ask, what is glory? We may answer, it is excellence in display. The Divine excellence may be displayed in such a way as to be visible to the eye, but on the other hand it may not; yet the glory of a moral and spiritual sort which reaches the heart by other channels than the eye is no less wonderful. When Saul of Tarsus was converted a glory smote him to the earth, blinding his eyes, but the glory of that exceeding abundant grace of our Lord “with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (verse 1 Timothy 1:14) opened the eyes of his heart without dazzling the eyes of his head, and that is the glory spoken of here.

The sin of Saul of Tarsus abounded, since full of ignorant unbelief he aimed in his injurious antagonism directly at Christ Himself, by blasphemy and the persecution of His people. Hence he was, and he felt himself to be, the chief of sinners. The abundance of his sin was met however by the super-abundant grace of God. Did ever the glory of divine grace more brightly shine than when the rebel Saul encountered the risen Saviour? We think not. Yet we all owe our salvation to the same glad tidings of the glory of the blessed God. We all have reason to sing,

Oh! the glory of the grace

Shining in the Saviour’s face,

Telling sinners from above,

God is light, and God is love.

By the time this Epistle was written not a few crisp statements of truth had passed into sayings. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” was one of these. It is endorsed as faithful and worthy of all acceptation— hall-marked as it were—by the Apostle’s own experience as the chief of sinners. No sinner is beyond the grace and power of a Saviour, who could deliver such an insolent, persecuting blasphemer as he.

How all this shows up the folly of such as were desiring to be law-teachers, and landing their votaries in vain jangling. How weak and beggarly is all that beside this!

Now the astonishing mercy extended to Paul was not shown him for his sake alone but that there might be set forth the extent of divine longsuffering. His was a pattern case showing the full extent of the Lord’s dealings in mercy, lifting him from the depths of verse 1 Timothy 1:13 to the heights of verse 12.

Think for one moment of his conversion as recorded in Acts. Jesus had just been made Lord and Christ in resurrection. The early apostolic witness was rejected in the martyrdom of Stephen. Saul played a directing part in that outrage and proceeded forthwith on a career of violent persecution. From His lofty seat in heaven, clothed with irresistible might, the Lord looked down upon this outrageous little worm of the dust and instead of crushing him in judgment converted him in mercy. Thereby He gave a most striking delineation of His gracious ways and of the extent to which His long-suffering would go.

Henceforth Paul becomes a pattern man. Not only a pattern of mercy but a pattern to believers. He exemplifies and shows forth the truth in its practical workings in the hearts and lives of the people of God. It is because of this that again and again in his epistles he calls upon his converts to be followers of himself.

The recalling and recital of these wonders of mercy greatly moved the heart of the Apostle and led him momentarily to break the thread of his subject and to pen the doxology of verse 17. We find the same kind of thing elsewhere, as for instance, Romans 11:33-36, where the Apostle utters his doxology moved by the consideration of the wisdom of God; or Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21, where he is moved by the love of Christ. In our passage he is moved thereto by the mercy of God.

The more majestic the Person who shows the mercy the greater the depth of the mercy displayed. Hence the Apostle views God in the height of His majesty and not in the intimacy of relationship. True, God is our Father as revealed to us in Christ. We do stand in this tender relationship as His children: still He is, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God” and this enhances the wonder of the mercy which He showed to the Apostle and to us. In response to such mercy Paul ascribes to Him honour and glory to the ages of ages.

Surely we too feel impelled to join in the doxology and add to it our hearty “Amen!”

In verse 1 Timothy 1:18 the Apostle returns to the main theme of the epistle. In verse 1 Timothy 1:3 he had referred to Timothy’s position at Ephesus: he had been left there to charge some against turning aside from the truth. In verse five he had shown what is the end or object of all the charges which God commits to His people. Now he comes to the charge which is the burden of the present epistle from the beginning of 1 Timothy 2:1-15 to the end of 1 Timothy 6:1-21.

Before starting his charge to Timothy he reminds him of three things that might well emphasize in his mind the weight and importance of what he was going to say. First, that he had been marked out beforehand by prophetic utterance for the important service that he had to fulfil. Timothy was indeed a very distinguished servant of God, and we might at once feel inclined to excuse ourselves on the ground that we are not at all what he was. That is true. But while this fact may possibly preclude us from doing much in the way of enforcing God’s charge upon other Christians it in no way exempts us from the obligation to read, understand and obey the charge ourselves.

Second, that only by holding faith and a good conscience could the faith of God be preserved in its integrity, and with the preservation of that faith the charge was concerned. Have we all digested this fact? We all recognize the doctrine of “justification by faith” but do we equally recognize the doctrine of “faith-preservation by faith”? Our little barque is launched upon the ocean of truth by faith, but do we now successfully navigate that ocean by intellect, by reason, by scientific deductions? Not so, but rather by faith and the maintenance of a good conscience. The Scriptures are the chart by which we navigate but the discerning and understanding eye which alone reads the chart aright is not intellect nor reason but FAITH, though when faith has done its work the chart discloses to us things which satisfy and overpower the highest intellects. Conscience is our compass, but a conscience that has been dulled and tampered with is as useless as a compass which has been demagnetized.

How do we maintain a good conscience? By honestly obeying that which we see to be the will of God as revealed in His Word. Disobedience will immediately give us a bad conscience. If we let go faith which enables to discern the truth, and a good conscience which keeps us in practical conformity to it, we soon make shipwreck of the faith.

In the third place Timothy was reminded of two men whose history was like a warning beacon. They had let go faith and a good conscience and had gone to such lengths in error that Paul brands them as blasphemers and in his capacity as an apostle had delivered them to Satan. This was something beyond excommunication, which is an act of the church, as may be seen in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. This delivering unto Satan was an apostolic act, and carried with it terrible consequences, as may be seen in the case of Job in the Old Testament.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.