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Chapter 1 Introduction
1 Timothy 1:1-4
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. (vv. 1-4)
There are three letters of Paul that we generally speak of as Pastoral Epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. They are so-called because they were written to servants of Christ who, in a very special sense, had the care of God’s people in different places. These two young men had been converted through the instrumentality of the apostle Paul and had gone out to preach the Word in association with him. From time to time he left one or the other to help in various newly formed churches in order that the young converts might be established in the truth. Both of these young men had shepherds’ hearts and delighted to care for the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock. In these three letters Paul writes to them regarding certain things which, as pastors, or shepherds of the flock, they needed to keep in mind. Of course, these letters are not only for those who have special gifts along these lines, but they also contain instruction for all God’s people.
The great outstanding theme of the two epistles to Timothy is “the truth according to godliness,” while that of the letter to Titus is “godliness according to truth,” thus giving us the two sides of the subject. In the letters to Timothy, Paul emphasizes the importance of holding fast the faithful Word; in that to Titus he stresses the necessity of godly living in accordance with the Word of truth.
The first letter to Timothy was evidently written after Paul’s release from his first imprisonment; therefore, it is a later letter than the Prison Epistles, such as Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and some others. First Timothy was written after Paul had appeared before Caesar. Because the charges against him were not found sufficient to warrant his execution, Paul was set free. If we can trust the records that have come down from the early days, Paul then went as far west as Spain, preaching the Word. He returned later to the East and ministered throughout Asia Minor, different parts of Greece, and Macedonia. After several years he was rearrested and taken back to Rome, and on this second occasion was condemned to death. First Timothy fits in between his liberation and the second arrest, while the second letter to Timothy was written from Paul’s death cell.
This first letter seems to divide into five parts: chapter 1 is the first division, and the outstanding theme is grace contrasted with law. Chapter 2, the second division, stresses the importance of prayer, both public and private. Chapter 3 is the third division and gives the divine order in the church of God. Chapter 4, the fourth division, is a prophecy of conditions that will prevail in the latter times, and the importance of holding fast to the truth as apostasy rolls on. Chapters 5 and 6 together give the fifth division of the book in which we have various admonitions not only for Timothy but also for all of us.
We notice at this time just the four opening verses of the first chapter. In the first two verses we have the apostolic salutation: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” An apostle is a “sent one.” The meaning is almost the same as that of our word missionary, but the word missionary does not necessarily carry with it a sense of authority. The apostles were appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ, specially commissioned and sent forth to proclaim His gospel throughout the world. We have twelve apostles in the Gospels. Judas forfeited his place by his treachery. In the first chapter of Acts we have Matthias elected to fill the place of Judas, and that makes the Twelve complete.
The apostleship of Paul was of an altogether different order. The Lord Jesus said to the Twelve that in the regeneration, that is, in the coming glorious kingdom, “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Paul could not be included in that list because he did not know the Lord during His life on earth. But Matthias was one who had kept company with the apostles from the days of John the Baptist until the time of his election to fill the place of Judas (Acts 1:21-22). Evidently it was by the Spirit’s guidance that he was elected to fill that place.
God had a special ministry for the apostle Paul: he was to make known the truth of the mystery of the body of Christ, and was commissioned to go unto the Gentiles and proclaim the glorious message of the gospel in all its power and fullness. He had special authority committed unto him as an apostle of Jesus Christ, “By the commandment,” he says, “of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.”
I like that expression: “God our Savior.” Many are inclined to think of God as a Judge rather than as a Savior; but remember, it was God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross did not enable God to love men. It was the expression of the love of God toward men. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And so now we who are saved can look up to Him and say, “God our Savior!” Ordinarily we think of applying this expression to our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course it is more often used in connection with Him than with any other Person of the Godhead, but it is blessedly true that God the Father is our Savior as truly as God the Son. So Paul here links the two together: “God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.” He gives Him His full title.
I wonder if you have ever noticed that when our blessed Lord was here on earth no friend of His is ever said to have addressed Him by His given name, Jesus. That is a lovely name. It is so significant. To many of us it is the sweetest name we have ever heard. It means “Jehovah the Savior.” It was the name given to Him in His humanity. But we never read of anyone going up to Him and saying, “Jesus.” He was always addressed as Lord or Master, and He approved of that, for He said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13). After His death, and inspired by the Spirit of God, the apostles used the simple name “Jesus” very frequently in telling of events that had taken place. But when they wanted to give Him special honor they used His full title-the Lord Jesus Christ. He is Lord because He should have absolute authority over the hearts of men. He is Jesus because He was Jehovah come down to earth, taking our humanity upon Himself in order that He might save us. As to His office, He is Christ, which means the “Anointed,” the “Messiah.” Peter said, “God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
“God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.” Christianity has a message of hope. As we look around over the world today we see so many things that have a tendency to make one utterly hopeless and pessimistic. But when we turn to the Word of God we find what He has revealed concerning the present age and the final blessing of this world, and the heart is filled with hope, joy, and comfort. The apostle Paul delighted in that word hope. I think you will find it forty times in his epistles. Here it is “the Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.” In Titus 2:13 we read of “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 it is “patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father,” and in many other places and ways the apostle uses this word hope. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our hope. We are looking for Him to return. We are looking for Him to transform these bodies of our humiliation and make them like unto His glorious body. Our hope is to see Him as He is and to become like Him. What a blessed hope it is!
Paul addresses himself to Timothy and speaks of him as “my own son.” He really uses the more intimate term in the original, “my own child in the faith.” In what sense was Timothy his child in the faith? Well, you remember that when the apostle Paul went to Lystra, as recorded in the book of Acts (chap. 14), he was first welcomed as a god and then stoned, as the people thought, to death. But as a result of his ministry at Lystra, a young man, half-Jew and half-Gentile (his mother was Jewish, and his father was a Greek), was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ-this young man was Timothy. He had been well-instructed in the Old Testament, and when Paul came to Lystra and preached the gospel Timothy was ready to receive Christ. When Paul went to Lystra the second time some years afterward, the brethren recommended Timothy as one suitable to be set apart for the gospel. Paul had an interview with young Timothy and decided to take him along with him. There were no theological seminaries where people could go for a quick training in spiritual truths and practical work, but the older took the younger with him. Barnabas took Mark with him in early days, and later Mark became the companion of Peter. Paul took different ones with him on various occasions, Timothy, Titus, Silas, and others. In this way the younger men gained experience and confidence until they were able to launch out independently for the Lord.
Paul had a deep affection for Timothy. There is always a close bond between a servant of Christ and those whom he has led to the Lord as their Savior. I cannot tell you what a joy it is to know that one has been used to bring many to know the Lord Jesus Christ. It just thrills one’s heart to think that God has given the privilege of bringing so many with the Spirit’s leading to accept Him as their own Redeemer. Oh, there is no joy like this! If you have never led anyone to Christ, and yet you are a Christian, you have missed something that would do your soul good. Try to win someone else to Christ or tell somebody else about the Lord Jesus, and if you have the joy of hearing that person confess Christ as Savior for the first time, you will count it one of the greatest thrills you can have!
Paul’s love for Timothy is shown in his words, “My own [child] in the faith.” And he wishes him “grace, mercy, and peace.” Notice that when he addresses churches or groups of people as such he speaks of “grace and peace,” but when addressing an individual he puts in another word, “grace, mercy, and peace.” Individuals need mercy. Individuals are conscious of their failures; they are conscious of their need of special divine help. In each instance, when Paul speaks to individuals particularly, he gives them this threefold greeting: “Grace, mercy, and peace.” It is not the grace that saves in the beginning that he has in view, but the grace that keeps, the grace that sustains: “He giveth more grace” as we go along our pilgrim way. It is not the mercy as a result of which our sins are forgiven in the first place, but that mercy which we need from day to day when conscious of failure and shortcoming, when we come to God and confess our sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It is not the peace with God which every believer has-”Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), we should all enjoy that peace from the very beginning-but here it is the peace o/God, that peace which keeps our hearts in confidence and restful quietness in the midst of adverse circumstances.
As we read in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Did you know that was in the Bible? You have heard it quoted often. You have read it often. But do you practice it? When you get into trouble, what do you do? Do you worry, fret, and say, “Dear me! I do not know how I am going to get through this, or how I shall face that?” Or do you say to yourself, “God has told me to be anxious about nothing but to tell Him about it” ? So you go to Him, spread the whole thing before Him, and say, “It is all right. I know He will undertake. I know He will do what is best.”
“Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” God is the Father of all who believe; He is the Creator of all men. But man, who was created in the image and likeness of God, has turned away from Him. Sin came in, and the image was marred and the likeness lost, so men have to be born again. Jesus emphasized that when He said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). When men trust Him as Savior, when they believe the message of the gospel, they receive this new life. They are born again. They have a right to look up to God and say, “Father!” Do you know Him as your Father? He is a loving Father. He is deeply interested in every detail of your life. There are many people who have trusted Christ as Savior who, I fear, have never yet realized His Lordship. Beware of calling Jesus “Lord,” and slighting His command. There is a little ditty that goes something like this:
If He is not Lord of all,
Then He is not Lord at all.
He should have absolute authority over our lives, for we have been bought with a price, even His precious blood. If you have trusted Him as Savior, then recognize His lordship and give Him the right-of-way in your heart and life.
Now it is evident that the apostle, acting with apostolic authority, commended a special ministry to Timothy, and yet he did not put it on the ground of a command. He said, “I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus.” You see, when grace controls the heart, / command becomes / beseech, so Paul says, “I besought”-I pleaded with you. The Christians in Ephesus needed help and special ministry, and Paul urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus and lead the saints on and give them pastoral care while Paul, himself, went on to Macedonia.
He gave a special commission to Timothy, “That thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” It is interesting to trace that little word some through this epistle. You will find it frequently: “Some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling” (1:6); “Some having put away [a good conscience] concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1:19); “Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (4:1); “Some are already turned aside after Satan” (5:15); and so on.
There were those who were teaching things contrary to the truth of God; so Paul says to Timothy, “Stay there if you will and help the saints, and warn those teachers of false things, and charge them that they teach no other doctrine than that which has been delivered unto the saints.” Just what that false doctrine was we are not told here, but as we read on it seems evident that it is a mixture of Jewish legality and Oriental mysticism, probably that which eventually resulted in that esoteric religious system which had a large influence for the next one hundred years. It was called Gnosticism. Do not misunderstand the word, it is not agnosticism but Gnosticism.
“Neither give heed to fables [Oriental fables] and endless genealogies [that refers particularly to certain Jewish genealogies], which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.” Today we still need to beware of systems that do not build up our souls, but instead only serve to get Christians occupied with unprofitable questions. There are some people who delight to argue. John Bunyan has said, “Some love the meat; some love to pick the bones.” And you will find people who delight in picking the bones of vital doctrines but get very little nourishment from the truth of God’s Word, because, instead of being occupied with Christ, they are occupied with various side issues. Now Timothy was to warn the saints to beware of things like that. That which builds up the people of God is heart occupation with Christ. If we are taken up with Him we will become increasingly like Him.
Chapter 2 Law and Grace
1 Timothy 1:5-11
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust, (vv. 5-11)
In these words the apostle Paul brings out very vividly the difference between two great principles: that of grace, which has been manifested in the cross, and results in love for God and love for our fellow men when we trust that grace; and the principle of law, which demands a righteousness that sinful man can never fully render. We have noticed that one of the objects which the apostle had in writing this letter was to put Timothy on his guard, and to charge him to use care concerning certain emissaries of a legal system who were moving about among the early Christian churches, seeking to pervert believers from the simplicity that is in Christ. This system was based partly on the law of Moses and partly on Eastern mystical traditions. It developed in after years into what became known down through the centuries as Gnosticism, the advocates of which claimed they had a superior knowledge not vouchsafed to other Christians. They sought to gain as many proselytes to their system as they possibly could.
Paul stressed the importance of faith in Christ, which involves salvation by grace alone and not by works of righteousness which we have done, or by any fancied merit of our own. He shows that we are saved by grace alone, and when we have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ and are justified by faith, that faith results in the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts. With this comes ready obedience, but not as a matter of legality. It is easy to do the things which please God when we love Him supremely. The heart readily seeks to please those whom we love, and so the apostle says, “Now the end of the commandment [the charge he was giving to Timothy] is charity.” Our old English word charity really means “love.” “[Love] out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and [the manifestation] of faith unfeigned.”
When one’s conscience is aroused and is seized with the terror of the law, when he realizes that he is lost, then he can never find real rest or peace until he finds it in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees that all his sins have been put away by that work, then his conscience is purged, and he is at peace with God. With this is linked the communication of a new life. The believer in Christ is born again, and being born of God, he has a new nature that delights in holiness, purity, and goodness. He is actually a partaker of the divine nature. Therefore he loves God. He loves his fellow Christians. He loves lost men who are still in darkness and living according to the course of this world. This is why genuine Christians are willing to sacrifice in order that they may win others to Christ.
It is this that Paul emphasizes in writing to the younger preacher, Timothy. He stresses the need of preaching the Word, the importance of this gospel of Christ which is the sole remedy for sin. Some had swerved from this and had turned aside unto vain jangling because false teachers had gotten into the church, and some were not strong enough to resist them and so were carried away by their specious theories. They had swerved from the simplicity that is in Christ. It is ever the object of the Devil to obscure the truth and get Christians occupied with something that will hide the glorious face of the Lord Jesus Christ and becloud the truth regarding His finished work.
Such evil teachers were active at Ephesus where Timothy was laboring: “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” These self-appointed teachers had no knowledge of that which they professed to proclaim. They displayed their own ignorance as they sought to add law to grace. This very fact proved that they did not know what they were talking about, because law and grace will no more mix than will water and oil. They are two altogether different principles. The law says, “Be good, and I will bless you”; grace says, “I have blessed you, now be good.” They are opposites. The law says, “Do this, and thou shalt live”; grace says, “Believe this, and thou shalt live.” Law demands; grace freely bestows.
Paul says that we know the law is good. We do not ignore the importance of law; we do not set aside the authority of the Ten Commandments. Preachers of grace are often asked if the Ten Commandments were ever abrogated. No, the law remains with all its stern demands. But the believer has died to the law in the Person of Christ, who is the end of the law to every one that believes. But to the unsaved the law speaks as loudly as ever: “We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane.” By the term righteous here we are to understand those who have been made righteous in Christ. The law is for the lawless and disobedient. It is not designed to show spiritually-minded believers how to behave.
If you are a Christian you do not refrain from taking the name of God in vain because you learn it is contrary to law. You love your heavenly Father, and because you love Him you would not think of using His name carelessly. Every Christian knows the sense of shock, of displeasure, that comes whenever he hears the name of God the Father or of the Lord Jesus Christ used profanely. Why is it that it stirs us when many of us were not concerned about such language as this before we were saved? It is because we have now a new nature, a new love for the Lord Jesus Christ and for God who, in His mercy, has brought us to know Himself. And so, I repeat, it is not the law which teaches us how to behave. If we refrain from stealing it is not because the law says “Thou shalt not steal,” but because we have no desire to steal, even if we were ever addicted to such wickedness as this before we were saved. Now our desire is to be a blessing to others and not to wrong them in any way. Thus we see that the law is not for righteous men and women.
What then is the standard of the righteous? It is Christ Himself. The Word of God reveals Him as our example, and we seek to walk as He walked. The consistent believer seeks to be like Him, to love as He loves, and to behave as He would behave. The righteousness of which the apostle speaks is a righteousness that springs from a renewed mind. We delight to honor the One who redeemed us.
The law still speaks to the ungodly. It convicts the sinner of his lawlessness. In 1 John 3:4 we read, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” But this is not exactly what John meant, as every careful Greek scholar knows. It might be better translated, “sin is lawlessness.” Sin is self-will. It defies the law of God, which insists on righteousness. “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers.” Is not that rather strange? It is not murderers in general who are mentioned, but “murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers,” as though to put it in the very strongest sense. The law says, “Thou shalt not kill.” That forbids all murder.
Let me say this, dear young people, you do not have to stab your mother with a knife or a dagger, or strike your father with a club in order to kill them. You can kill them by your willfulness. Many a dear mother has gone down to an early grave heartbroken because of the evil behavior of a loved son or daughter, and many a father has sunk under the awful blow of a son or daughter who turned away from the path of righteousness. We need to remember that murder does not necessarily mean driving a knife into the heart or mixing a cup of poison, but it may consist of anything that breaks a dear one’s health and results in early death. And so the law is given for the lawless, those who would destroy others.
Note the awful list of sinners mentioned in verse 10: “For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” I have heard people say, “Why does the Bible have those nasty words in it? I do not like to read them, and I do not like to hear them read from the pulpit.” It is not the words that are so bad; it is the vile sins that they represent. The Holy Spirit always uses the right words to describe these shameful sins in order that men might realize their wickedness and corruption when they indulge in such sins as these.
If I dared to believe all that I am told by Christian high school teachers and college professors, I would have to believe that many of the youth of our land today are becoming almost as corrupt as the people before the flood, and conditions are as vile as those in Sodom and Gomorrah when those cities were destroyed with fire from heaven. From what these teachers tell us, many young people of high school and college age, as well as older people, are given to the very sins depicted here. But to everyone comes that stern command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and that covers every kind of sexual evil. If people would only listen to the voice of the law we would never have such terrible crimes against children and others which have become so prevalent in this and other enlightened lands. God’s law is defied, and so sin flaunts itself openly and men glory in their shame.
The law is given for liars. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Men are in the habit of distinguishing between different types of lies. Some lies are called “white lies,” and some are called “black lies.” But my Bible tells me, “All liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8). It does not make any distinction between white, black, and gray lies. So the commandment comes to every untruthful person, condemning falsehood of every description.
“And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” In other words, the law was given to convict men of every sort of sinfulness and wickedness. All such are exposed to the righteous judgment of God. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). The only way one can ever escape that curse is by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He died to redeem us from the curse of the law; He was made a curse for us: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
“If there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” Notice how frequently Paul uses this word sound. Of course I realize he was writing by inspiration; nevertheless, it appealed to his own heart. Sound means “healthy,” and when the apostle speaks of sound doctrine, he means doctrines that are conducive to spiritual health.
If we will turn to some of the other passages in these Pastoral Epistles where he uses this word, it will help us to get the force of it: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome [that is, sound] words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3). “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3). “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound m faith, in charity, in patience” (Titus 2:1-2).
Through all these Pastoral Epistles, Paul emphasizes the importance of teaching the spiritually healthful doctrine. The proclamation of the truth of God’s Word is conducive to health spiritually. False teaching leads to death and decay. Where the teaching in the classroom and from the pulpit is sound, it has an effect for good, and tends to build up believers in holiness of life and Christlike-ness in character. Where it is otherwise, it has the very opposite effect.
Paul concludes this section with the words, “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” Now in order to get the connection we should notice that all that is included from the first word of verse 6 to the last word in verse 10 came in parenthetically. Go back to verse 5, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned”; now verse 11: “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” The glorious gospel is really the gospel of the glory. It is an expression peculiar to the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he says, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
Paul spoke of the gospel as the gospel of the glory because it tells of a glorified Christ, a Christ who once bore our sins when He hung as a bleeding Victim on Calvary that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. He is now the glorified Man seated on the right hand of God in heaven, and Paul was eager to proclaim the message about that Man in the glory, so he calls his message the gospel of the glory. This is the message that has been passed on to us. A glorified Christ at the Father’s right hand tells us that the sin question is settled, and now God can save in righteousness all who come to Him and believe in His Son.
Chapter 3 The Chief of Sinners Saved
1 Timothy 1:12-17
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen, (vv. 12-17)
There is tremendous power in Christian testimony. All who are saved are not called to be preachers; all do not have the gift of teaching. But all who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ ought to have something to say about the great change that comes into the life when Christ is received as Savior and owned as Lord. The apostle Peter tells us we ought to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). We may not know very much about theology. We may not be very familiar with the deeper Christian doctrines. But if we have definitely trusted Christ, we ought to be able to say with the one-time blind man of John 9:0, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). We were blind before we saw the Savior, but when He revealed Himself to us His glory shone through those darkened lids of the eyes of our souls, opened them, and lighted them forever.
I know there are some people who are inclined to discount Christian testimonies. They do not seem to enjoy meetings in which people come together to tell what the Lord has done for them. But it seems to me that the way the Lord uses testimonies in the New Testament ought to be a rebuke to them. Take, for instance, this case of Saul who became the apostle Paul, the writer of this letter to Timothy.
We have the story of his conversion at least six times in the New Testament. In Acts 9:0 we have the historical account of his conversion. In Acts 22:0 we find him telling about it to his Jewish brethren on the steps of the fortress by the temple in Jerusalem. In Acts 26:0 we find him relating his experience again before the Roman governor Festus, King Agrippa, and his consort, Bernice. Then in the epistle to the Galatians, chapters 1 and 2, Paul goes over the wondrous story once more, and he tells how he, the one-time enemy of the cross of Christ, reached the place where God revealed His Son in him. In Philippians 3:0 we have his testimony repeated. He tells us of his religion before he saw the Lord; and how afterward, because of that wondrous vision of Christ in glory, he was able to say: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). Then here in the first epistle to Timothy, in this opening chapter, he says, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”
There are many people who profess to be Christians who do not have any conversion story to tell. Of course I recognize the fact that some came to Christ early in life as mere children, and they have but a hazy recollection, if any remembrance at all, of what took place at the time. We are not to discount their conversions because they cannot give a clear account of them. The Lord Jesus said to adults, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Children are ideal subjects of the kingdom. It is wonderful to win the children to Christ before they come to know anything of the wickedness and corruption of this world. I know some people sneer at child conversion, but it is a great thing to save the children.
An evangelist had spoken on several occasions in a particular church. On one occasion he met some friends after the meeting, and one asked, “Any results from your message tonight?” The evangelist said, “Yes, three and one-half converts.” The friend said, “You mean there were three adults and one child.” “No,” replied the evangelist, “there were three children and one adult.” The three children have their whole lives before them, but the adult has lived half his life and has only a fraction left. That is the reason the evangelist said “three and one-half converts.” That ought to be a word of encouragement to all Sunday school teachers and young people’s workers to sow the seed in the hearts of boys and girls. Remember, it is the incorruptible seed, and you can count on it to spring forth into life.
If people have passed through the years of childhood and come up to youth or maturity without accepting Christ, and then at last are convicted by the Spirit of God of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and they turn to the Lord and trust Him as Savior, they ought to have a very definite story of conversion to tell. They should certainly know this: that they were lost sinners. They were helpless. They were unable to save themselves. Then they heard the voice of Jesus bidding them come to Him, and they came in all their sin and guilt. They trusted Him, and He saved them. They ought to know the reality of the new birth.
The apostle said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me.” Stop there for a moment. “Enabled me!” How many people there are, when you speak to them of the importance of coming to Christ, who will say, “Yes, I would like to become a Christian, but I am afraid I would not be strong enough to live the Christian life. I do not want to make a profession and break down, and thus bring dishonor on the name of the Lord.” If it depended upon us, we certainly would break down. But when we once trust Christ as our Savior and are born of God, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, to be the power of the new life; it is He who enables us to live for God and serve Him as we seek to make His gospel known to others. It was this over which Paul rejoiced.
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” Do not misunderstand the expression “counted me faithful.” Saul of Tarsus had been unfaithful. The word for “faithful” is the same as “believing.” “He counted me to be a believer.” And whenever anyone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, God saves him. And He saves us in order that we may serve Him. Paul says, “He counted me to be a believer, putting me into the ministry.” That is the only way one ever becomes a true minister of Christ. He must be put into the ministry by the Lord Himself.
There are some men who have become ministers simply by solicitation or advice of friends or relatives. Others have “entered the ministry,” as it is called, because of worldly ambition. They think of it as one of the learned professions where there is an opportunity to give one’s self to the study of social problems, religious theories, and other interesting questions. Again, others are moved by a real compassion for the souls of men, and they endeavor to qualify as pastors and leaders in Christian work in order to carry out humanitarian plans for the alleviation of the miseries of underprivileged people. Some of these motives are good and some are not. But it is not in any of these ways that God makes ministers. He takes men up in mercy, saves them by His grace, and puts into their hearts a burning desire to make Christ known to the world. That is what He did for Saul of Tarsus. When God makes a man a minister, His word is as a fire in his soul, and he can say, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
“Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul never could forgive himself for this in after years. He says in one place, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). And again, we read in Acts 22:20, “And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.” Paul looked back with horror upon those years. He was intensely sincere at the time. A man can be very sincere in wrong things. “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:9-10). God in grace saved him, and all that was put away. But Paul never forgave himself to the day of his death for the part he had taken in persecuting the church of God. He says, “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” The poet was right when he wrote:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the church of God. But even then the heart of God was going out toward him until the time when His grace should be revealed to him, and Saul the persecutor should be changed into Paul the Ambassador of Christ. God had mercy on him because he acted in ignorance. He was sure that Christianity was all wrong. He did not understand until the day when he caught sight of the risen Christ in glory. “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” Immediately after his conversion he began preaching Christ. “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?” (Acts 9:20-21).
It was grace that so mightily changed Saul: grace broke him down on the Damascus road; grace brought Ananias to him to give him a special message, showing how gladly the church of God would receive him when he put his trust in the Savior; grace empowered him to go forth and preach the gospel. The man who goes forth to preach Christ must go in faith and love-faith in the One who lives to save, love for the souls of lost men. There are many professional ministers today, but a merely professional preacher is an abomination in the sight of God. The servants of God must be motivated by the love of Christ. That was what characterized Paul.
Now we get that wonderful declaration that has been repeated so often by gospel preachers: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Many have the idea that Christ came to save good people, but He tells us, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). Listen to me, if you can prove that you are not a sinner, then I can prove from this Word that Jesus did not come to save you. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). He is the Great Physician, healing sin-sick souls. If you have never come to Him, will you not come today and prove the reality of His saving power? Do not fear that you are too great a sinner. Read the words again: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” The chief of sinners has been saved already, so you can only trail along behind. He who described himself as the chief is now in the glory. Therefore you need not fear lest you are too bad for Christ.
Listen to the apostle’s confession, “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” “I obtained mercy.” We do not receive salvation because we deserve it, “but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). Paul says, “That in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” I get two things from that last clause: Paul tells us that the Lord saved him as a pattern. He became a pattern to all future believers-he, the chief sinner, was saved by divine grace. Then I think Paul had this also in mind: he was saved by a revelation of Christ from heaven. Someday his own people Israel are going to have a wonderful revelation of Christ from heaven, and then they, as a nation, will turn to Him. So I believe Paul had Israel in mind when he said that he was a pattern “to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
He closes this section with a wonderful doxology. His heart is filled with worship and praise, and he bursts forth in these words, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal [incorruptible], invisible [Deity is invisible to the human eye], the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” This is the grateful expression of worship that rises from the heart of the saved sinner. It tells of a soul exulting in the matchless wonder of redeeming love.
Chapter 4 Maintaining a Good Conscience
1 Timothy 1:18-20
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme, (vv. 18-20)
We come now to consider the very solemn charge which the apostle Paul gave to his son in the faith. We have already seen that Timothy had been left to help the church at Ephesus. There were special responsibilities resting upon him there, and it was important that he should be careful as to his own walk and testimony in order that he might be an example to others. So Paul says, “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare.”
The Christian life is a conflict, particularly the life of a Christian minister. God desires all His servants to be good soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Timothy was therefore called to war a good warfare. It is very evident that at the time he was recommended to the work of the Lord by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium that a prayer meeting was held, and as the elder brethren laid hands upon him and commended him to the work of the gospel, in some special way the Lord gave him a gift which before he did not have. We get some intimation of that from Paul’s words, “According to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare,” and from 4:14 of this letter, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”
Paul stresses or seeks to impress upon this younger preacher the importance of “holding faith and a good conscience.” Notice how these two things go together. It is impossible to hold the faith if one is not careful to maintain a good conscience before God. Here I understand faith to mean not merely confidence in God but also the truth of God, the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. Every little while we hear of someone who, in days gone by, was apparently a preacher of the Word giving up the faith that he once proclaimed. Men, who in early days preached the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His atoning, sacrificial death and physical resurrection, no longer proclaim salvation through His blood or the need of the new birth. They have turned from the truth and accepted what some call the “new liberal theological attitude.” They have become reprobate concerning the faith.
And people wonder why it is that such men have apostatized from the truth of God which at one time they professed to love. If we were able to look into the lives of these men, we would find that somewhere along the line they failed to respond to the call of God and they put away a good conscience. Thus they lost the ability to properly appraise doctrinal principles, and eventually they found it a relief to give up the truth they once proclaimed. Men do not fall suddenly into grave error. Such failure is the result of permitting the conscience to become denied so that it no longer registers as it once did.
We may spend a little time profitably in looking at a number of Scripture verses in connection with conscience. What is conscience? The word thus translated is really a compound and literally means “co-perception.” It is that within us which enables us to distinguish between right and wrong. You remember the little girl who was asked, “Do you know what conscience is?” She replied, “Oh, yes, it is something in me that always tells me when my little brother is doing wrong.” That is the way a lot of people look at conscience-something indefinable within them by which they judge other people. Conscience is that which should tell us when we are right and wrong. It is “knowing with oneself.” Conscience was acquired by the fall in Eden. There was no need of a monitor to warn unfallen Adam about evil, or to tell him the difference between right and wrong, between sin and righteousness, for he knew only that which was good until he partook of the forbidden fruit. Then he knew good and evil.
Conscience needs to be instructed. When the apostle Paul was making his defense in Jerusalem, he said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). When he said that, he was reviewing his whole life before he was converted as well as afterward. Even before he knew Christ he sought to keep a good conscience. In other words, when he persecuted the Christians, he did it with a good conscience; when he tried to destroy the infant church, he acted conscientiously. But his conscience was not properly instructed. He thought it was the right thing to do because he believed that Christianity was an evil system. He believed that Christians were enemies of God and that he was acting in accordance with Scripture which commanded that false prophets be destroyed. He told Agrippa in Acts 26:9-10, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.” So it is not enough for one to say he lives according to his conscience.
On the other hand, we should not go against conscience, for when we do that the conscience becomes defiled. Conscience needs to be instructed by the Word of God. In Romans 2:14-15 we find that thought carried out. We have seen that conscience is that which bears witness to what is believed to be right and wrong: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” “Their conscience also bearing witness”-that is true of even the most wicked people, for their own consciences warn them when they are about to do something which they know to be wrong, and conscience accuses or excuses them, according to the measure of light they have.
In Titus 1:15-16 we read of a defiled conscience: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” These verses tell us of the condition of unconverted people who have turned away from that which they knew to be right morally. They knew how they ought to live, but they did the opposite. Consequently, the conscience became defiled, and a defiled conscience is no longer a safe guide.
In Hebrews 10:22 we read, “Let us [the apostle is speaking to Christians] draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” An evil conscience is the result of persistence in sin. If men continue to defile themselves, the time will come when the conscience becomes thoroughly evil, and sin is no longer dreaded. When we come to Christ our hearts are sprinkled from an evil conscience. If men do not come to Him but insist on sinning against the light, refusing to heed the invitation which God has extended to all men to turn to Him in repentance and be saved, then eventually the conscience ceases to be active. It becomes seared. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their consciences seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
This is most solemn. Sin hardens. The conscience becomes like flesh that has been seared with a hot iron. It no longer responds. It can no longer be depended upon. In this state men may commit the most wicked and abominable things, and apparently there is not the least exercise of conscience. It is because they have gone so far in disobeying that which they knew to be right that they no longer have any concern whatsoever. They are given up to a seared conscience and a reprobate mind, and with that comes utter hardness of heart. But if men are willing to turn to God, if they realize they have an evil conscience and long for a pure and a cleansed conscience, they may obtain it through the work of the cross.
In Hebrews 9:9-10 the apostle is speaking of the various ordinances of the Levitical economy, “Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” That is, the sacrifices offered on Jewish altars could not give a man a perfect conscience. They could not cleanse his defiled conscience, nor free him of an evil conscience. But the Lord Jesus Christ has offered Himself as an all-sufficient sacrifice for sin.
We read in verses 13-14 of the same chapter of Hebrews, “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanc-tifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Knowing that the sin question has been settled to God’s satisfaction the troubled soul can afford to rest in the knowledge of what Christ has done, and so the conscience no longer accuses but is purified by faith, because the blood of Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from every sin all those who come out from the darkness of nature into the light of God’s presence, in which they walk ever afterward. Now as believers we are responsible to walk before God with a good conscience.
Let us turn back to 1 Timothy, and notice a verse which we have considered already in these addresses: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1:5). Then in this same chapter, the verse which we read at the beginning of our present study: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” Both the apostles Paul and Peter stress the importance of maintaining a good and pure conscience. In 1 Peter 3:16 we read, “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”
Let me just add this word while on the subject of conscience. You and I are responsible to be careful not to offend needlessly the conscience of a weaker brother. Some people are very legal. They are exercised about matters with which stronger Christians are not concerned. And so those who perhaps fancy they are stronger are warned to be careful in this matter of conscience. I am my brother’s keeper. I am not to allow myself to indulge in anything that will offend or stumble one who is weak. This is very important, as we may bring grievous injury upon the soul of another if we insist on our liberty in that which to him may seem a very grave offense.
“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” There were those who had turned from the great fundamental principles of Christianity and were living in ways displeasing to God. They had put away a good conscience. They knew what God’s Word required of them but went against their own consciences, and little by little they got to the place where they were no longer very much exercised. The conscience is like a rubber band. You pull it, and it snaps back. You pull it again, and it snaps back. But if you keep on pulling it, by-and-by it loses its elasticity and, finally, does not snap back at all. It is very dangerous to trifle with conscience, for if we act contrary to this inward monitor, we find the reaction becomes less and less, until eventually there is no reaction at all. Then we are likely to make shipwreck of the faith.
It is easy to lose the truth of God if we do not live in obedience to the Word. We do not hold the truth simply in the mind. We learn it through the heart and the conscience, and we hold it by keeping a conscience that is void of offense.
Paul here mentions two men who had turned from the truth and were propagating blasphemous error. They had put away a good conscience and so had turned from the truth of God. Paul says that he delivered them unto Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. They were excommunicated from Christian fellowship and put back into the world that they might learn not to play fast-and-loose with that which God had revealed. John tells us that we-that is, Christians-are of God, and the whole world lies in the wicked one. We are warned, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15). When we profess Christ we step out from the world and come into Christian fellowship. We are separated to the Lord, and we should maintain that separation constantly. These two men had professed to know and love Christ, but they had departed from the truth. The apostle commanded that they be put outside the fellowship of the church of God. In other words, thrown back into the world which at one time they professed to have forsaken. They were delivered unto Satan “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Discipline should always be with a view to restoration. In 1 Corinthians 5:5 we read, “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
So the important lesson for us all is the necessity of maintaining a good conscience before God. We should not become careless as to our behavior in regard to that which pleases the blessed One who loved us enough to shed His precious blood to redeem us from the bondage of our sins.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30