1 TimothyRead Scripture
Many have said that 1 Timothy is a manual for “doing” church. Leaders often turn to the third chapter when exploring the qualifications of elders and deacons (and deaconesses?). Other verses and passages are also well-known for different reasons. Both the pious and facetious like to echo Paul’s proclamation of being the chief of all sinners (1:15). The statement that God “desires all people to be saved” (2:15) seems to contradict the view that God elects only some to salvation. Perhaps equally perplexing is the seemingly passing encouragement not to drink just water but also a little wine (5:23). Finally, in sacred and secular circles alike, some permutation of 6:10 is frequently quoted: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.”
Obviously, there are different ways to handle this letter. In my own study of 1 Timothy, I have found it helpful to interpret it from a rhetorical perspective and emphasize Paul’s aim of persuading Timothy and all the believers with him to reject the false teachers and to uphold orthodoxy in the family of God. That is, rather than being a manual that offers random nuggets for a variety of theological and practical issues, the letter coheres around the rhetorical aim of discrediting the false teachers. Hopefully, this theme will become more evident in the analysis that follows.
The reader might find helpful the following phrase as a summary of the letter’s overarching theme: “Authority and Piety in God’s Family.” From the outset, it is clear that Paul is preoccupied with establishing legitimate authority among the believers. By identifying himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1:1a), he is highlighting the unique authority he possesses in the Church. Paul is not merely an opinionated individual with strong opinions on how a person is saved and how a church should run; rather, he is the empowered and authorized representative of the resurrected and exalted Christ Jesus. Notice also how the apostle qualifies his authority as that which is “according to the command of God” (1:1b, emphasis added). So, as with all human authority, Paul’s authority is derivative, but because his authority is from God, to reject Paul would be tantamount to rejecting the authority of the One who commissioned him and commanded him. We will speak at greater length about this theme as we progress through the letter. For now, the reader would benefit from appreciating how central and pervasive this theme is from the outset.
As we consider the issue of authority, we need to observe its specific nuance in the letter: authority and teaching are two sides of the same coin. In our discussion of the very controversial passage concerning women teaching in the church, it will become more apparent why Paul’s point is so important. For now, we want to underscore that to teach among believers is to have authority, and to have authority is to teach among believers. Hence, when Paul commands Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1:3), he is indicating that such troublemakers lack authority in God’s family.
How does this basic observation on authority lend to a rhetorical reading? At the very least, we can see a movement in the first several chapters that climaxes in the discussion on the qualifications of elders: according to chapter 1, these “certain” persons lack authority and are not to teach; according to chapter 2, the women among the believers are not to be given authority and are prohibited from teaching. The question Timothy and the believers with him would have asked in response would have been, “Who, then, has authority? Who, then, should teach?” The third chapter answers these questions by initiating the discussion of elders and deacons.
However, the apostle is not just concerned with preserving authority/sound doctrine but also with piety. Again, Paul’s rhetorical aim throughout this letter is to discredit the false teachers. He does this through a variety of ways, but perhaps most noteworthy is the way he draws attention to their greed: they imagine “that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5). Surely, a hunger for illegitimate gain would discredit the ministry of these leaders. By underscoring their lack of credentials and their less-than-commendable character, the apostle hopes that the believers will turn from viewing them as reliable guides.
If the concern for piety is implicit in the first chapter, it becomes increasingly explicit with each chapter. Paul urges believers to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (2:2). Elders and deacons, who are called to be worthy examples to emulate, are marked less by their ability and more by their piety (3:1–13). Youth is never an excuse for debauchery but rather a unique opportunity to set “an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (4:12). The bulk of the fifth chapter focuses on true godliness expressed in terms of caring for one’s family. The last chapter summons all who profess faith to steward their money in order “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (6:18).
God’s family, then, is characterized by both proper authority and tangible piety.
Finally—and notably—the image of family plays a critical role in the correct interpretation of 1 Timothy. Paul assumes family in the backdrop with all his exhortations and encouragements. In the opening greeting, he identifies Timothy as his “true child in the faith” (1:2). Two verses later he warns against devotion to myths and genealogies because of the way they hinder “the stewardship from God” (1:4). The Greek term for “stewardship” is oikonomian, a compound term that literally translates to “house-law.” Paul’s instruction for women to “learn quietly” is rooted in the first family of Adam and Eve (2:13–14). Paul explains that he has written all these things so that in the case of his delay believers might “know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (3:15). And perhaps the most explicit reference to family is in 5:1–2: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”
In keeping with the phrase “Authority and Piety in God’s Family,” we provide a summary lens for reading 1 Timothy: The apostle is concerned with preserving legitimate authority and promoting piety in God’s family. In the end, Timothy and the believers with him are presented with a choice: will they embrace Paul’s gospel and submit to his authority, or will they follow the disastrous path of the false teachers who have already become a shipwreck with respect to their faith? Orthodoxy is important, but is insufficient on its own. Given God’s desire for all people—Jew and Gentile alike—to come to a saving knowledge of the gospel, the family of God must live in a way that is attractive to the watching world. Finally, the identity and dynamics established in Eden, before the fall, give us a rich perspective on Paul’s soteriology and ecclesiology. Salvation entails adoption into God’s family, and church order very much mirrors the structure and roles established in the original family.
A Note on Authority and Audience
Unfortunately, it is widely viewed as “common knowledge” that the historical apostle Paul was not the real author of 1–2 Timothy and Titus and that these letters embody pseudepigraphal works. The basis for the arguments against Pauline authorship range from differences in language to a theology (or theological focus) that doesn’t appear in his other writings. Some historical points are put forward to argue that the Church appears too developed at this juncture for the letters to have been written in Paul’s lifetime.
Thankfully, there appears to be a growth in the number of scholars who are embracing Pauline authorship, though the waves of scholarly opinion regularly shift. Recent research on the subject of pseudepigrapha has cast doubt on whether it was as pervasive and acceptable as some have supposed. Moreover, the arguments that center on differences in language and theology become even more tenuous when we recall the basic fact that Paul was writing as a pastor and missionary. Anyone in ministry knows that language and focus will change depending the audience in view. Teaching seminary students, for instance, will look and sound very different than speaking to a youth group. Along these lines, almost every writer can attest to how his or her style and diction have evolved over the years. Should we be surprised that a student thinks and speaks differently post-seminary than he did pre-seminary? In addition, when we consider the scope of the Pauline epistles available to us, the sample set is actually very small, too small in fact to make definitive statements about what was standard for Paul and what was deviant.
Perhaps the best argument for Pauline authorship stems directly from the letters themselves. Take 1 Timothy 2:7, for instance: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (ESV). It is hard to imagine that an amanuensis would include such statements in a letter if his aim was to give the impression that he was writing in Paul’s voice. Similarly, the historical references leave the impression that the historical Paul was in fact the author. How else are we to make sense of statements like, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia . . .” (1Tim 1:3)? Finally, it is helpful to remember that for most of the Church’s history, believers maintained that the apostle Paul was the author of these letters. This belief was in keeping with the traditional view of seeing the Bible as inspired and, therefore, reliable.
Regarding the audience, as I noted above and in my commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (see Bibliography), it is unlikely that any of these letters were “personal” letters written from one individual to another. This point is especially important to our rhetorical interpretation of the letter. For now, we will make some basic observations to support our thesis.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, observation is that all three letters end with the second-person plural “you all”: “Grace be with you all” (1Tim 6:21; 2Tim 4:7; Titus 3:15). This pattern suggests that these letters were read aloud—more specifically, performed—before the gathering of believers just as Scripture is read aloud in many services today. Second, significant portions of the letters do not make sense if they were simply Paul writing to Timothy and Titus, his beloved and well-known co-laborers. Referencing again the verse we cited above (1Tim 2:7), wouldn’t it be odd for Paul to adopt this somewhat defensive tone in asserting his apostleship if he were only writing to Timothy? Why would he have to reiterate to him, “I am telling the truth, I am not lying”? I can imagine how my wife would respond if someday I came home and declared, “I am Paul, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. I am not lying!”
The most helpful way to view the audience is that Timothy and Titus were the primary recipients and the believers with them were the secondary recipients. Recall, for example, an instance when you received an email or letter addressed to you, but the content was written with the knowledge that others would be present. Sometimes when my wife or I travel, we write emails to each other knowing our children will be huddled around listening to it being read aloud. We craft our communications accordingly to evoke a certain response, not just from each other as spouses, but also from our children.
One implication of this note on authorship is that the secondary audience, that is, the believers who were with these men, would have recognized that any teaching or action on Timothy’s or Titus’s part was in direct obedience to Paul. For example, when Timothy sought to silence the false teachers, including Hymenaeus and Alexander, he was doing so in response to the apostle’s command (1:3). When Timothy implemented the criteria for selecting elders and deacons, he was simply reinforcing that which Paul had already prescribed (3:1–13). By listening carefully to the letter as it was being read, the audience would have recognized Timothy’s and Titus’s appointed authority and the implications of looking down on them: if they rejected these men, then they were effectively rejecting Paul and, ultimately, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who commissioned the apostle.
In sum, readers today benefit from viewing 1–2 Timothy and Titus as letters authored by the historical apostle Paul addressed primarily to Timothy and Titus and secondarily to the believers with them. Given that few people were able to read and there were a limited number of manuscripts available to them, these letters were performed before the believers to elicit a particular response from them. What that intended response was we will now see by tracing the flow of the letter.
The apostle conveniently provides us with an explicit statement of his purpose for writing: that believers might know how to conduct themselves in the family of God, which he identifies as “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (3:15). The household of God is the main recipient, guardian, and promotor of the truth of gospel. Also, because it is a family established and designed by God, the Church has a structure and a distinct code of conduct. In this first letter to Timothy, the apostle seeks to restore authority and piety in God’s family by discrediting the false teachers that have unsettled the faith of many.
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
— 1 Timothy 3:14–15 ESV
While different structures are possible, here I propose a simple outline that divides 1 Timothy into two main sections: authority in God’s family (chs. 1–3), and piety in God’s family (chs. 4–6).
I. Authority in God’s Family (1:1–3:16)
A. Letter’s Introduction (1:1–2)
B. Ignorant Teachers Lack Authority (1:3–20)
C. Female Believers Should Not Teach (2:1–15)
D. Elders and Deacons Have Authority (3:1–16)
II. Piety in God’s Family (4:1–6:21)
A. Apostates versus Commendable Servants (4:1–16)
B. Instructions for Various Members in God’s Family (5:1–6:2a)
C. Piety and Money (6:2b–19)
D. Letter’s Conclusion (6:20–21)
Authority in God’s Family (1:1–3:16)
Letter’s Introduction (1:1–2)
As noted in the previous section, the letter’s introduction accomplishes more than just stating its author and recipient(s); it also conveys the theme of authority. Paul has been authorized uniquely to represent Christ according to the “command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1:1). Thus, to disregard anything in this letter is to reject the Father and Son who have sent him.
The identification of Timothy as Paul’s “true child in the faith” (1:2a) is significant. A more effective translation might be “legitimate” or “genuine” child. Bearing in mind this letter was read aloud before the believers, it would have conveyed the sense, “Timothy, among all the professing leaders and teachers, is my authentic representative, even as I am Christ’s ‘true’ apostle.” Implicitly, therefore, the believers in God’s family are to submit to Timothy. To disregard him is to reject the apostle and, in a much greater sense, the Father and the Son.
Paul prays for “grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1:2b). While this prayer is “typical” in one sense, it was meant to convey power, patience, and confidence to Timothy and all who were committed to heeding the exhortations and encouragements provided in this letter—and much will be needed as they combat the false teachers who were unsettling the household of God.
Ignorant Teachers Lack Authority (1:3–20)
Perhaps the best way to interpret this section is to recognize how it coheres around the “charge”: “As I exhorted you to remain in Ephesus . . . that you may charge certain persons not to teach heterodoxy . . .” (1:3). “Now the aim of our charge is love that comes from a purified heart and good conscience and non-hypocritical faith” (1:5). “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child . . .” (1:18). This observation helps us appreciate the tone of this section and reinforces our overall appreciation for the letter. The apostle is not making a suggestion that Timothy and the believers are to consider following; rather, he’s giving Timothy an order because there is order in God’s household. Christ the King commands his people through the apostle to silence all the troublemakers who are impeding the family of God from engaging in the good work of pursuing commendable lives and sharing the gospel.
This section can be broken down further into three units: 1:3–11, 1:12–17, and 1:18–20. Their common purpose is to discredit the false teachers so that the members of God’s family might look to Timothy alone as Paul’s “true child.”
1:3–11 Paul doesn’t wait to disparage the troublemakers, but he does seek to warn the believers there against following them. In verses 3–11 he makes clear his assessment. By referring to them as “certain persons” (1:3), he accomplishes two things: 1) he implies their names are not worth mentioning—they’re nameless to him; and 2) he leaves the audience wondering, “Whom, exactly, does Paul have in mind?” Paul will answer this question towards the end of the letter, but he plants the seed of curiosity early on. In addition, he says that these “certain persons” have swerved from a “purified heart, good conscience, and sincere faith” (1:5), all marks of genuine conversion: a heart that has been cleansed, a conscience that has been awakened, and a faith that is true. In short, they’re (quite literally) bad characters. In addition, they’re ignorant; they desire “to be law-teachers but lack understanding either of what they are saying or about the things which they are asserting” (1:7). In other words, they’re fools who talk a big game but, in the end, display their ignorance through their babble. Whatever else we might say about this opening unit, we dare not miss the obvious rhetorical point: these “certain persons” lack character and knowledge.
Verses 3–4 comprise a complicated sentence, but Paul’s ultimate purpose is clear: Timothy is to rebuke the opponents both for promoting heterodoxy and for shifting attention to “myths and endless genealogies.” These things hurt God’s family because they result in divisive and speculative debates rather than unity and order among believers. Some, particularly in the West, might view Paul’s exhortation as an example of oppression or as an attempt to discourage thoughtful dialogue and differing opinions. However, Paul makes clear, especially later in this letter, that these heretics have anything but good motivations. Moreover, he makes clear his own motivation: “Now the purpose of the charge is love” (1:5). Paul is not concerned here to preserve his own status, as if he were insecure and therefore concerned that other sound teachers were becoming more influential. Instead, he is speaking from a place of love because he knows that the salvation of all and the preservation and promotion of the truth go hand in hand: truth matters! Paul cares deeply for the people of God and the evangelization of the Gentiles. For this reason, he knows that few things are more important than maintaining the church’s status as a united family focused on upholding and preserving the truth of the gospel.
In stark contrast to these aspiring “law-teachers” who “have wandered away into vain discussion” (1:6), Paul and Timothy have a right understanding of the law, especially as it relates to the gospel: “Now we [in contrast to them] know that the law is commendable, if one uses it lawfully” (1:8). Again, the implication could not be clearer: the troublemakers do not possess such knowledge and, therefore, are blind guides. Verse 9 begins a vice list based loosely on the second half of the Decalogue. The controlling principle is that “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for father-killers and mother-killers (see Commandments 5–6), for fornicators, sodomites (see Commandment 7), for kidnappers (see Commandment 8), for liars, perjurers (see Commandment 9), and whatever-else-other lies in opposition to sound doctrine (see Commandment 10), which is defined according to the gospel that reveals the glory of the blessed God, which has been entrusted to me” (1:9–11).
Two comments are in order regarding the long and convoluted vice list. First, an examination of the Greek reveals a (perhaps not-so) subtle attempt by Paul to connect the troublemakers with violations of the Ten Commandments. At the beginning of the contrast, the “just” are compared to the “lawless and rebellious,” that is, to those who disregard authority or view themselves as independent of authority. This aptly describes the opposing party. Moreover, these “certain persons” (tisin) are engaged in teaching heterodoxy (heterodidaskalein; 1:3). The vice list ends with the language “whatever-else-other (ei ti heteron) lies in opposition to sound doctrine” (1:10). At the risk of overstating possible connections, it appears that Paul is reiterating the point that these certain persons engaged in heterodoxy embody the whatever-else-other that stands in opposition to the gospel that reflects the majesty of our saving God.
Second, the seemingly passing mention of the gospel “which has been entrusted to me” is worth amplifying. Paul’s gospel is God’s gospel, and Paul’s entrustment is unique relative to those promoting other-teaching. He stands as an extraordinary person in redemptive-history, comparable to any of the prophets of the Old Testament; thus, his authority and teaching cannot be disregarded lightly. Starkly put, there isn’t any democracy of interpretation in God’s family. Paul stands as God’s unique instrument of revelation both to highlight what Christ has done and to interpret the death and resurrection of Christ, with all its implications, for the people of God. The second half of verse 11, then, is an emphatic and redundant reminder to those with Timothy, warning them against the real and present danger of lightly setting aside that which has been entrusted to Paul.
1:12–17 On the surface, the apostle might appear pompous, but the second unit in this section gives us a more nuanced view. The gospel makes believers simultaneously more humble and more confident. At the heart of the gospel is the “trustworthy saying deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15). He did so solely on account of grace, as demonstrated in Paul’s conversion. Indeed, prior to his experience on the road to Damascus, he was a “blasphemer and persecutor and insolent person” (1:13). He denounced Christ and sought to destroy the Church, hence his accurate self-assessment as “the foremost/worst of all sinners” (1:16). But he was “mercified” (ēleēthēn), that is, he received the mercies of salvation and appointment to service even though he acted ignorantly and abided in a state of “unfaith” (1:13). Paul describes this “grace” further with the verb “overflowed” (1:14): whatever degree of hostility Paul demonstrated, Christ responded by flooding him with mercy, faith, and love. Consequently, the apostle concludes that if he, the chief of sinners, can receive such abundant grace, then surely anyone and everyone who puts his faith in Christ can also receive life eternal. In sum, grace alone makes us a person who is both humble and confident. The light of the gospel shows that we are at the same time far worse than we could have imagined—though we can now perceive, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened—and more cherished than we could have hoped for because we are in Christ.
Here too, while much more could be said, it is worth making two comments. First, this unit climaxes with the following doxology: “Now to the King of the eternities, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for the eternities of eternities, amen” (1:17). God’s glory and the good of his people are tied together. The drudgery, disease, and death of life pale in comparison to the present and future glory God has revealed in the coming and exaltation of Christ. This is exactly why the apostle is so preoccupied with preserving the truth of the gospel by silencing the false teachers. Paul’s driving motivation isn’t to maintain influence or to discourage thoughtful discourse; rather, he is seeking to confront heterodoxy in the church because he knows it inevitably diminishes the glory of God, which is the lifeline and hope of believers. When we appreciate that nothing less than the “honor and glory” of God, not Paul, are at stake, we better appreciate the charge to rebuke these “certain persons.”
Second, the careful reader will notice echoes of Paul’s description of his pre-converted state. Specifically, the identifiers of “blasphemer” and “insolent person” sound eerily like the false teachers. By engaging in heterodoxy, they are guilty of blasphemy; by disregarding Paul and his gospel, they show their arrogance and lack of respect. In other words, these self-proclaimed leaders and teachers look more like Paul prior to his conversion; that is, they look unregenerate. Some in the audience likely would have picked up on these connections and perceived the implicit challenge from the apostle: “Why, then, would you entertain guidance from persons who are likely not even converted?”
1:18–20 The last unit concludes this first section with the declaration, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, according to the prophecies previously made about you” (1:18). Indeed, Timothy is Paul’s “true child in the faith” in the sense that, just as God has entrusted him with the gospel (1:11), so now Timothy has been entrusted with preserving Paul’s gospel. And just as Paul’s entrustment was heavenly in its origin, so too Timothy’s appointment is divine, based on inspired prophecies made prior to Timothy’s service. This focus on transcendence is purposeful, because Paul recognizes that a battle is taking place for the allegiance of those in God’s family. Unsurprisingly, Paul uses “fighting” language in the second half of verse 18: “that you might fight in [the prophecies] the commendable fight.” This reference to the brewing conflict enlightens our understanding of why Paul is laboring to discredit the false teachers: in the end, those gathered together will either go the way of the “certain persons” and thus also become “shipwreck” with respect to their faith (1:19), or they will persevere in life-giving doctrine and attain that which Christ has already won for them.
This unit (1:18–20) and the overall section (1:3–20) end climactically with the identification of some key representatives from these “certain persons”: “among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, that they might be disciplined not to blaspheme” (1:20). Notice the obvious parallel between 1:5–6 and 1:19–20. In both cases, the troublemakers have swerved from a good conscience and sincere faith, except in the second instance Paul names the ringleaders. (Given this letter was performed and the two were likely among, or at least known by, the audience, their identification likely resulted in some awkwardness, if not consternation!) A precise rendering of the Greek yields the following translation: “these certain persons have become a shipwreck regarding the faith, among them are . . .” Paul isn’t saying that they have shipwrecked their faith, though this is true; rather, “regarding faith,” or “from the perspective of the faith/the gospel,” such persons should be viewed as shipwrecks. This understanding suggests that on the surface they may have appeared intact, if not sailing along fine, but from the apostle’s vantage point, spiritually they have sunk.
The mention of Satan fascinates some, although here the interpretation seems simple enough: Paul is placing “Hymenaeus and Alexander” outside the family into the realm of “unfaith” where Paul too once dwelt (1:12). The purpose of all discipline is repentance, not exclusion for the sake of exclusion. The hope is that they will be restored and reintegrated into the family of God. But prior to closing, one important observation is necessary: the use of the verb “blaspheme” certainly would have caught the audience’s attention. Recall again how Paul described himself as a “blasphemer” who lived in the realm of “unfaith.” By specifying their crimes as blasphemy, Paul could not be clearer about his view of them. Thus, he makes explicit what was previously implicit: these “certain persons,” paragoned in Hymenaeus and Alexander, either are unbelievers or are acting as if they lacked faith. Thus, the faithful, those who belong to God’s family, have no business listening to their teaching and thereby submitting to their authority. Timothy, the ambassador of Christ’s ambassador, is the reliable path to healthy doctrine and godly living.
Authority in Government and in the Church (2:1–15)
Having expunged the family of the troublemakers—although they will remain in Paul’s mind throughout the letter—the apostle now addresses the household of faith in broad strokes. As noted in the Introduction, he will provide more detailed instructions later. Here he first addresses the collective (2:1–7) and then the men and women respectively (2:8–15). As we will see, even at this juncture in the letter, the apostle is still primarily concerned with reiterating proper authority and structure in God’s household.
2:1–7 The first half of this section consists of an exhortation (2:1–2) and its theological basis (2:3–7). The exhortation is straightforward: believers are to make petitions, prayers, supplications, and thanksgiving for all people but particularly “for kings and all who are in high positions” (2:2a). Again, we can’t help but notice the re-emphasis on the theme of authority. Believers are to pray for these leaders “in order that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (2:2b).
2:1–2 At first, the motivation here seems almost self-preserving: pray for the government so that believers can go about living their comfortable Hobbit lives. Howevr, God’s missional desire, as expressed in the second half of this unit, debunks this interpretation. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with believers praying that those in power might make good decisions so that their nation might enjoy peace and prosperity. But Paul likely has in view a more evangelistic aim: the family of God should be interceding for all people and pursue commendable lives that are characterized by a proper respect for those in authority. Moreover, their lives should be qualitatively distinct on account of the simple fact that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That is, Christ’s first epiphany and grace to even the worst of all sinners should reorient the perspective of believers such that they aspire to be model citizens in hope that all might come to a saving knowledge of the truth. Piety, then, for God’s family always has a missional bent.
The relationship between godliness and Christ’s first (and second) epiphany are worth amplifying, although this connection is made even more explicitly in Paul’s Letter to Titus. Christ’s entrance in this world and promise of life eternal for all who are united to him by faith should lead to radically different lives. Whatever previously motivated believers, whether it was their country’s honor, the aggregation of wealth, or suburban happiness, now—like Paul—their main purpose is to preserve and promote the gospel through word and deed. “Godliness” entails pursuing a life infused with purpose because Christ has come and will come again. Until then, believers live so that all—Jew and Gentile alike—might be saved through the presence and ministry of Christ’s family, the Church.
2:3–6 Peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified lives are “commendable and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (2:3). Again, this suggests the soteriological motivation for intercession and piety. Paul then elaborates: “God, who desires all people to be saved and come to an embrace of the truth” (2:4). This statement on God’s desire has led to some theological reflection concerning distinctions in God’s will. Paul may have this notion in view, but the context offers a more basic and probable interpretation. A few verses prior (1:16), the apostle underscored that he received mercy so that, as the chief of sinners, he might become a prototype for all who would put their faith in Christ for life eternal. If the foremost of sinners could be saved by faith, then all can, whether the person is of the “dirty” Gentiles or of elect Israel. This reading is supported by the general teaching of Paul’s letters. Thus, the likely interpretation of verse 4 is that God desires all types of people, Jews and Gentiles, “good” people and “bad” people alike, to be saved through faith in Christ.
Verse 4 also helps us to understand Paul’s zeal to protect the gospel from the troublemakers. The kai (“and”) is probably epexegetical: “God desires all types of people to be saved, that is, to come to an embrace of the truth.” Salvation is impossible apart from hearing and believing in the truth of the gospel. It’s not the case that passion alone is what matters; rather, little faith in the truth is greater than a lot of faith in falsehood.
And what is this truth? Verses 5–6, likely borrowing from a well-known hymn, rehearse, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator of God and humans, the human Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the appointed times.” Rhetorically, we do well to note the obvious dissonance. From 2:1–6, the Greek term “all/every” (pas) has occurred seven times (2:1 [2x], 2 [2x], 4, 5, 6). Given this background, the double occurrence of “one” (heis) in verses 5 and 6 must have been jarring: “First of all . . . prayers be made for all humans . . . for all in high positions . . . that we might live . . . in all godliness . . . God desires all humans to be saved . . . For there is one God, and one mediator of God and humans, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all . . .” What would have been the rhetorical impact of this play on words? Christianity is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. Because salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ Jesus, all are invited and all can be saved. But because salvation is found in Christ alone, the one mediator of God and humans for reconciliation with the one true God, all will not be saved, but only those who have believed in the gospel. This is why God’s family will always be difficult to pin down: in one sense, they are so inclusive, overlooking differences in race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and so forth; in another sense, they are so exclusive, unabashedly asserting that there is only one true God who has provided the way of salvation through the one mediator who offered himself as a ransom. All can be saved only if they trust that Christ died in their place.
2:7 Before moving to the second unit, we want to note the seemingly random inclusion of Paul’s self-identification as a “herald and apostle and teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (2:7). Notable is the polemical tone that is incomprehensible if 1 Timothy is solely a letter from Paul the apostle to his true and beloved son in the faith. Why would the apostle emphasize his calling (“for this witness I myself was appointed”) and assert that he is being honest (“I am speaking the truth, I am not lying”) to his co-laborer for the gospel? Such assertions make sense only if we assume the letter was being read aloud and that Paul was responding to some insinuation that cast doubt on his apostolic calling and authority. Here too we benefit from recalling the main objective of the letter: to discredit the false teachers in order that believers might renew their commitment to Paul and his gospel.
2:8–15 The second unit in this chapter is not merely instructions to men and women in some generic sense but specifically to the household of faith when they gather together for worship. Verse 8 supports this. In what other setting do we have men from different backgrounds gathering to pray and making every effort to live “without anger and arguing”? In addition, from the perspective of the letter as a whole, this unit has a specific rhetorical purpose, namely that women of faith lack teaching authority in the family of God. Coupled with Paul’s dismissal of the heretics, this pronouncement prepares the audience for the third chapter, where the apostle finally answers in the positive who should have authority and who should teach.
2:8 Verse 8 is written to the men: “I desire, then, that in every place men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” That Paul expresses a desire should not diminish the authoritative tone. It is not very different from a king expressing his wish for a cold drink. Paul is speaking as an apostle and thus conveying that this is how men should behave when the household of faith gathers for worship.
The mention of prayer should be interpreted against the opening verses of the chapter where Paul called all believers to pray for all people. It would seem here that Paul is suggesting that men should take the lead in doing that which he has commanded all believers to do. The specification of “lifting holy hands” is not a prescription of the only way believers are to pray. In other places in the Bible, for example, we have instances of people bowing down or standing in silence. The detail of “lifting holy hands” may be a reference to Isaiah 1:15, where God declares, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” The Isaiah passage goes on with a call to repentance marked by doing good and pursuing justice. Perhaps with this OT background in mind, the apostle is suggesting what he has already implied: the men are to lead believers in ensuring that any show of godliness is motivated by a genuine faith (1:5, 19). Finally, the inclusion of “without anger or quarreling” recalls Paul’s preoccupation with protecting the family of God from divisive speculations stemming from the influence of the heretics (1:4). In view of what Paul has stated in 2:1–7, we can better appreciate the difficulty of what Paul commands. Everyone wants diversity until it happens. While it is certainly the case that the gospel draws in people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, few things are more difficult than maintain a loving, patient, and united family when this kind of integration actually happens. As many diverse churches can attest, diversity can create difficulties that tempt many to associate and worship only with “their people.” To help prevent this kind of division, Paul is calling the men among the believers to play a vital role in maintaining the unity of the body. They should not be passive but rather leaders in making peace and initiating reconciliation.
2:9–10 The apostle does seem to have a lot more to say to female believers at this point, although we can take the majority of the third chapter as directed particularly to men. These exhortations to the women are divided into two parts. The first is concerned with their adornment: “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (2:9–10). The thorny question inevitably arises regarding the specific time and place in which Paul wrote and if/when Paul’s commands are still applicable today. Over the course of pastoral ministry, more than a few women have approached me and asked whether it goes against Scripture to braid their hair or wear jewelry or a fancy gown to a special event. Some scholars suggest that Paul is describing a style that was particular to a woman of the city, a promiscuous individual who allured men through her attractive presentation. This is certainly possible, as some research suggests there was what we might consider a “feminist movement” during this time that was encouraging women towards freedom and self-empowerment. Even if this were the case, though, another interpretation is possible: Paul is simply exhorting women to dress sensibly when believers gather together and to care more about doing good than looking attractive. In other words, dress in a way that is fitting, doing anything and everything possible to minimize distraction (because men in every age are easily distracted). To some degree, occasions like a wedding allow for an exception to the command toward “modesty and self-control”; it is fitting in that context to do one’s hair, wear glimmering accessories, and put on a fancy dress. But when the family of God gathers to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ and to encourage one another to endurance, “modesty and self-control” seem sensible. Hopefully, it is evident why noting the liturgical context matters.
2:11–12 Now we get to the passage that has suffered no shortage of scholastic ink and public fury. Somewhat abruptly Paul transitions to the second main instruction concerning women: “A woman must learn in quietness, in all submission. Now I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but rather she is to be in quietness” (2:11–12).
First, for many this passage is difficult to accept (but this holds true for so many parts of the Bible; recall how Paul unambiguously condemned homosexuality in the prior passage). We should not allow the challenges in accepting this passage lead us to obscure the fact that Paul clearly intended to prohibit a particular practice in this verse.
Second, it is helpful to keep in mind the broader contours of Paul’s command. As we highlighted at the outset, Paul compares the church to a family, a household. He reinforces this imagery by rooting this exhortation in the creation family (prior to the fall): “For Adam was created first, then Eve” (2:13). Is Paul simply rehearsing a trivial fact concerning sequence, or is he saying something about the dynamics of the first family? The Greek term “first” (protos) is the same modifier for Paul’s self-identification as the “first” (or “foremost, chief”) of sinners (1:15). Paul, then, isn’t merely rehearsing the fact that Adam was created first; rather, he likely means that Adam had authority over Eve, even though both were of equal value and dignity. The Genesis account supports this reality in at least two ways: Adam names Eve, and God addresses Adam first when they fall into sin. Perhaps particularly in our age, we need to remember that equality in value isn’t the same thing as equality in function and order.
These are pertinent comments because it helps us to see that Paul is thinking in a way very different from the way many have approached this text. “Does Paul suppose men are smarter than women, or that women lack the ability to teach well? Does Paul think women are inferior to men and therefore must never have authority over a man?” Such questions would have been alien to Paul and his aim in penning these words. As we have seen throughout this letter, his preoccupation is maintaining order and structure in God’s household. An integral aspect of this is establishing and reiterating legitimate authority—not on the basis of ability (as we’ll see in the next section) but according to God’s creation design: just as husbands and fathers are called to lead their households with wisdom, gentleness, and humility, so too men are called to lead when the family of God convenes.
Another broader point that we have already raised is the meaning of “teaching” in 1 Timothy. Many think of teaching simply in terms of ability: who can convey information most effectively? However, 1 Timothy conceives of teaching in terms of authority. Thus, when Paul rejected the false teachers, he was communicating that they did not have authority among the believers. In a similar vein, by prohibiting women from teaching in a liturgical context, he is saying that they lack teaching authority when the family of God convenes because God has called men to lead.
Third, the emphasis on the liturgical context is helpful because it clarifies the meaning of the verb “teach.” Paul is not suggesting that women should never teach. Even in Acts, we have an instance of women correcting Apollos privately. What the apostle has in mind is not teaching in general but the teaching that takes place when believers gather, i.e., preaching. In sum, verses 11–12 mean that women should not preach during corporate worship. Women can teach in a variety of settings, and thanks be to God for the many gifted female teachers we have in our churches, including Karen Jobes, Rosaria Butterfield, and Nancy Guthrie, among others. However, the apostle seems clear on whether women—regardless of gifting—should preach in liturgical contexts. The repetition of staying quiet echoes what Paul said earlier of all believers pursuing peaceful and “quiet” lives: women should seek to honor God-given authority and avoid being disruptive and subversive.
2:13–14 Perhaps more cryptic and controversial than verses 11–12 are the last verses: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor; but she will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control” (2:13–14). Again, to some it appears that Paul was a misogynist; however, if we bear in mind everything he has stated so far, especially about authority, verse 11 reads differently. It is not the case that the apostle is suggesting women are more easily duped than men and therefore are incapable of teaching. Instead, verse 11 seems to convey this: Adam was appointed by God to lead his wife—he had authority. In addition, he was not deceived by Satan, but Eve was. This makes Adam’s sin all the more heinous because he abdicated his call to protect his wife and slay the serpent and instead adopted a passive stance and allowed his wife to fall into transgression. In short, Adam, the archetypal man, failed to uphold the structure and design God had established in the first family.
What, then, does Paul mean by women achieving salvation through childbearing? What are single women or women who are unable to conceive to do with this verse? Here it is helpful to observe that childbearing is a unique capacity and role that only women can carry out. This reiterates the important assumption of this passage and the letter: God, the Creator, has designed the family so that all, though they are equal in inherent worth, have uniquely different functions, and the family prospers when each is faithful in completing the tasks uniquely designed for him or her. Paul isn’t suggesting that salvation comes through conceiving children; instead, salvation (which for Paul meant more than just justification by faith but also sanctification and glorification) leads to growing in submission to our Lord and Savior, hence the operative verb, “continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control.”
In sum, chapter 2 introduces the significance of piety but maintains its focus on reestablishing authority in God’s family. Having clarified that neither false teachers nor women of faith should preach and exert authority in the family of God, the apostle now discusses the offices of elders and deacons.
Elders and Deacons Have Authority (3:1–16)
The third chapter in this impressive rhetorical letter divides neatly into three sections. The first outlines the qualifications of elders (3:1–7), the second of deacons (3:8–13), and the third summarizes Paul’s purpose in writing and the very gospel he has called Timothy and the believers to preserve (3:14–16).
3:1–7 Many standards have already done the work of explaining the various qualifications in more detail. I offer here a few comments on issues that are sometimes neglected in these more detailed studies and some reflections for aspiring pastors.
While there is some debate about whether to take the trustworthy saying (3:1) with what comes before and after, for now we will follow the decision taken by most translations and include it in Paul’s discussion on elders. In all instances of the trustworthy saying (“Faithful is the word”), there is some connection to salvation (e.g., 1:15). By including it in the following section, the apostle is suggesting the profound significance of populating the family of God with good elders and deacons. For more Western, individualistic forms of Christianity, this kind of assertion sounds extreme. But even those in the United States can attest to how their faith has been deepened or weakened by their experience with pastors, elders, and deacons. As this letter has already conveyed, your leaders really matter, so much so that they have a profound impact on your salvation. Given this, both those that aspire to the office and those under their leadership do well to approach the election of leaders with care.
It is worth noting that the qualification list begins with verse 2. Verse 1 is simply stating a fact: “If one aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” This speaks more to the office than the individual’s desire. Paul is simply saying that the work of an overseer is inherently good; for this reason, it’s a good thing if a person aspires to it. At the same time, he’s not saying that aspiration itself is a requisite.
Almost all commentators have noted that the qualifications gravitate around character versus ability. Even the quality didaktikon, which is translated as “able to teach,” can mean “teachable.” The nuance we want to underscore is that Paul’s discussion of these virtues seems centered on whether they are exhibited first and foremost in the home. Notice how the primary virtues in verse 2–4 are bracketed by familial qualifications: “the husband of one wife” and “managing his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” Paul adds the important note: “Now, if one does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” It would seem, then, that we are not to take all the virtues—“sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, teachable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money”—as abstract virtues but rather as qualities that the aspiring individual practices at home. In short, if the wife and children of the candidate were asked whether the husband/father is sober-minded and self-controlled, what would they say? As many know all too well, these virtues are far easier to practice in public than within the walls of one’s own home.
In reflecting on these qualities, we must recall the specter of the false teachers. The use of tis (“one, anyone”) may have brought to mind Paul’s mention of the tisin (“certain persons”) highlighted in the opening chapter (1:3). In this regard, the elder embodies the anti-false teacher, especially in his teachability (or ability to teach) and his commitment to peace. The mention of “lover of money” is especially relevant because the apostle concludes the letter by accusing the heretics of this very vice. Also, the double mention of the devil in verses 6 and 7 recalls the public discipline of Hymenaeus and Alexander, who have been handed over to Satan. It is possible that both were recent converts who were now mired in the pits of conceit (3:6) or were individuals looking for power and status after having been rejected by outsiders (3:7). Regardless, the reader of these qualifications might benefit from understanding the list as a summary contrast with the vices of the troublemakers.
In addition, at the risk of redundancy, it is important to reiterate the family motif. Paul is conveying that, at the end of the day, the elder is a family man. This emphasis underlines the logic that if he cannot manage his own household, how can we expect him to perform any better with God’s household? All this reiterates the basic point that the culture and dynamics of any church should be far closer to a family than a corporation.
Having stated this, however, we do well to avoid the simplistic statement and related assumptions that “churches are not businesses and pastors are not CEOs.” No one will protest that, but these types of assertions tend to limit the function of overseers in ways that are foreign to actual husbands and fathers and are ultimately detrimental to churches. Twice in verses 4 and 5 Paul uses the verb proistēmi, which can translate to “lead, rule over, manage.” Good husbands and fathers play some role in ensuring the financial health of their households. So too good elders play a critical role in overseeing all the operations of a church. It is worth pondering that perhaps just as many churches fall apart as a result of poor management, especially financial management, as do because of heresy. Churches are not corporations, and sessions are not boards of directors. Nevertheless, they provide oversight not just to the spiritual well-being of their members—although this is of foremost importance—but also to the overall health and prosperity of the family.
3:8–13 The second unit on deacons is very similar to the first unit, at least in its emphasis on character. These similarities give weight to the argument that, at least in theory, many deacons can eventually serve as elders, even though the two offices are clearly distinct in function and authority. Some contend that verse 11 refers to deaconesses. While this is possible, it is unlikely. Among other reasons, it would be odd for Paul to begin by discussing male deacons (3:8–10), then shift to female deacons (3:11), and finally return to male deacons with his emphasis on their being commendable husbands and faithers (3:12). The more natural reading seems to be that, because of the public nature of the diaconate ministry, wives of deacons must be especially careful with controlling their tongues, exhibiting good judgment, and proving faithful in all matters.
Scholars debate the precise meaning of verse 13: “For those who serve commendably as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” The straightforward reading seems to be that deacons and their wives gain status in the family through their service. But this proposal seems improbable given its emphasis on human recognition and accolade. I suspect that what Paul means is that by serving faithfully, they gain greater standing from a Kingdom perspective. After all, the first shall be last, and the last first, and the greatest in the Kingdom is the servant of all (cf. Matt 20:16; Mark 9:35). Moreover, the “great confidence” they attain stems from the actual experience of ministry that exposes them in a greater way to the depravities of this world, to the weaknesses of those to whom they minister, and to the failings of their own heart. Surely, anyone who has ever served knows all too well the hopeful resignation, “In Jesus alone we hope for salvation in this life and the life to come.”
3:14–16 The third chapter concludes with a summary of Paul’s purpose in writing and a rehearsal of the gospel. The statement “I hope to come to you soon” feels historical/actual, thus supporting our thesis that Paul the apostle was in fact the author. While he hopes to rejoin Timothy and the believers with him, the possibility of delay has spurred him to write this letter so that they might know how “to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (3:15 ESV). Here again we see the primary theme Paul has emphasized throughout the letter: authority and piety in God’s family. Notice as well the particular angle Paul highlights: the family of God is called to be a pillar and buttress of the truth. This means they are to silence any who teach otherwise and pursue godly conduct that accords with the truth they confess.
Paul describes the gospel in the following manner: “Undeniably great is the mystery of godliness” (3:16a). That is, the gospel that underlies godliness, the message that was previously hidden but has now been revealed to the apostle at the appointed time, is profoundly awesome. To convey this, Paul recites what was likely a known hymn that exhibits loose parallelisms: “He was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit; seen by angels, preached among the nations; believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (3:16b) For brevity, we will reflect only on the first strophe.
The contrast between “flesh” and “Spirit” has nothing to do with Christ’s dual nature (though earlier Paul asserted that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man by nature of his being the God-man; 2:5). Instead, Paul is contrasting two eons of existence, the first marked by the “flesh,” the second by the “Spirit.” When Jesus “manifested,” he entered the world of the “flesh” and lived in the midst of all its darkness, disease, and death. But by Jesus’s resurrection, which was his justification/vindication, the Spirit has inaugurated a new age, one of light, light, and love. The contrast thus conveys that a new age has begun through the person and work of Christ and that believers are made participants of this new age by faith. Meditating on this reality alone helps us understand why Paul’s concluded that “Undeniably great is the mystery of godliness.” It is this glorious truth that the family of God is called to preserve and that leads to a life marked by purpose, sobriety, and joy.
Piety in God’s Family (4:1–6:21)
Apostates versus Commendable Servants (4:1–16)
The tone of the letter changes a bit in the second half. Having answered the question of who should have authority and teach, the apostle shifts his attention to more specific issues. Prior to addressing different parties in God’s family, Paul focuses on Timothy, who might be considered by today’s standards the “lead pastor.” The basic summons to Timothy, as the archetypal deacon, is to become the main source for “good” spreading throughout the church, to be the leader that leads other leaders, to be the trailblazer for setting culture.
This next section divides into two main units, arguably three.
4:1–5 The first unit raises explicitly the concern implied in the first several chapters: the inevitability and reality of apostasy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times certain persons (tines) will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (4:1 ESV). The echoes of chapter 1 could not be more obvious: Timothy is to charge “certain persons” (tisin) not to teach heterodoxy nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. It appears that at this point in the letter Paul is making clearer his assessment of the troublemakers: they have, as he has suggested already, departed from the faith. Yet there is some ambiguity in 4:1: Is Paul referring to these “certain persons” or those who are or will be influenced by them? Either way, Paul’s motivation for silencing the false teachers and promoting proper authority is the very real threat of apostasy.
Verses 2–3 not only further Paul’s assessment of the false teachers but also provide some insight into their teaching. The imagery of “seared consciences” is vivid. These stand in stark contrast to “good consciences” that have been renewed by the Spirit (1:5). Their lies and devotion to falsehood have desensitized them. As far as the content of their heresy, they “forbid marriage and require abstinence from food,” both of which are created by God and are therefore good things to be received with thanksgiving (4:3). While it is unclear why they forbade such common graces, 1 Timothy 1 suggests that they did not yet fully grasp that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. It is likely that in some shape or form, they promoted the belief that marriage and certain foods taint a person, a silly notion rejected by “those who believe and know the truth [of the gospel].” The apostle’s correction in verse 4 also echoes his assertion in 1:8: “Now we [in contrast to the ‘certain persons’] know that the law is good . . .” Once again, Paul proves to be a reliable theological guide for the family of God.
4:6–16 The second half summons Timothy to stand in contrast to the “liars whose consciences are seared” by presenting “these things to the brothers” (4:6). While scholars disagree how far back “these things” go, this much is clear: Timothy will be a “commendable deacon of Christ Jesus” if he is faithful in presenting “the words of the faith and of the commendable doctrine that you have followed.” That is, he will be a model servant if he is committed to orthodoxy versus heterodoxy. Continuing the contrast between the troublemakers and Timothy, he summons his “true son” to do the exact opposite of what they do. Instead of giving a moment to “irreverent, silly myths,” Timothy is to devote himself to growing in godliness by integrating the truth of the gospel into every facet of life. In short, he is to train himself for godliness, knowing that godliness has value for this life and the life to come (4:7–8). “Faithful is [this] word and deserving of all acceptance” (4:9). Believing this, Timothy and the believers are to “toil and strive” in every good work (4:10).
The last unit suggests that the false teachers might have asserted that Timothy was too young to wield any authority and that he, rather than them, should be silenced. Recalling this letter was performed before all the believers, we do well to hear Paul’s “personal” encouragement as an implicit rebuke to all: “Command and teach these things. No one should look down on you for your youth, but rather be an example for all in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (4:11–12). Timothy was to give no regard to his naysayers; rather, as Paul stated already in 1:18, Timothy is to recall his “ordination” (4:14) and persist in the works of reading Scripture publicly, exhorting, and teaching. Again, in contrast to the “certain persons” who have wandered aimlessly to empty talk, Timothy is to live a disciplined life, not neglecting his gifts, but honing them by keeping a close watch on what he pays attention to (4:14–16a). In doing so, the promise holds of “saving both yourself and your hearers” (4:16b).
In sum, apostasy is inevitable; some already have departed from the family of God by devoting themselves to demonic teaching and promoting meaningless ascetism. Such persons have become ground zero for the plague of heresy. In response to this threat, Timothy is to present himself as the model deacon, a commendable servant of Christ Jesus, rooted in and devoted to the doctrines taught by Paul. Unlike the troublemakers who waste their lives, Timothy is to train himself in godliness and nurture his gifts. By doing so, he can spread the “good infection” of salvation and edification to the family of God.
Instructions for Various Members in God’s Family (5:1–6:2a)
5:1–2 This section includes instructions to various persons and situations in God’s household. Paul begins with broad instructions that reiterate the church’s identity as family: “An older man do not rebuke, but rather encourage him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (5:1–2). Paul could not be clearer: the church is a family.
5:3–16 The next unit is extensive—and fascinating. In a sense, it contains a case study in mercy ministry and how a church should attend to those in need given its limited resources. While much could be said here, we will limit our comments to several key observations. Paul’s guidelines have a twofold related goal: to “honor widows who are truly widows” (5:3) and to alleviate the church “so that it may care for those who are truly widows” (5:16).
First, if a widow has family that can attend to her (5:4, 8, 16), then she isn’t “truly” a widow in the sense of not having any aid. True piety among those who profess godliness should be demonstrated first in the home by making some material/financial return to parents. This principle recalls Paul’s emphasis that elders should first attend to their own households before they try to manage God’s family (3:4–5). Paul uses rather strong language to condemn any professing Christian who fails to provide for the members of his own household: “he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (5:8 ESV). In other words, failure to care for a widow in the family is a sure sign that a person is not converted. Hence, the controlling principle: “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them” (5:16a ESV).
Second, priority should be given to widows who have expressed true piety by prayer (5:5) and good works (5:10). In contrast, “she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (5:6 ESV). Some might find this principle uncomfortable, but given finite resources, in the apostle’s estimation it was just and fitting to prioritize those widows with a good “track record.”
Third, age matters: “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband” (5:9 ESV). In other words, if she is comparably young, then she doesn’t make the cut. One reason for this standard is that younger widows would likely want to remarry; another is that they might become idle gossips if the church began to support them (5:11–13). Instead of including them in the church’s list of “true widows,” they should be encouraged to “marry, bear children, and manage their households” (5:14). These instructions recall Paul’s earlier instructions to women to fulfill their distinct roles in building up both their individual families and the family of God (2:9–15).
5:17–25 The third unit in this section concerns the ruling and teaching elders in God’s family. Here again much could be said, but we limit ourselves to just four comments.
First, the members of God’s family are called to care for those who care for them (5:17–18). As was the case between widows and their children, the honor due to elders, “especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (5:17 ESV), is material/financial. To avoid any misunderstanding, Paul adds: “for the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” This particular instruction is worth pondering in Christian circles that maintain the odd belief that pastors and missionaries should pursue a vow of poverty. In response to this notion, Paul declares that these leaders are “considered worthy of double honor” (5:17).
Second, given the paternal role they play in the family of God, a charge against an elder is to be admitted only “on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (5:19). However, lest any—including an elder—suppose that they are “above the law,” unrepentant elders are to be rebuked before everyone to keep the bad infection from spreading (5:20). Timothy and the believers are to keep these complementary commands without partiality (5:21).
Third, given the critical role of elders, Timothy and the believers are “not to be hasty in the laying on of hands” (5:22a). This is already implied by the qualifications themselves. Rather, careful examination of all candidates should be conducted. Even if others are tempted to rush, Timothy should not “take part in the sins of others” (5:22b); rather, they ought to wait patiently until the Lord has provided men who adequately meet the qualifications of elders and deacons.
Finally, Paul encourages the believers with a realistic qualification that is perhaps reflective of their current situation. Despite their best efforts, they may not get it right. Anyone in ministry knows that even with the best processes, there is no guarantee that the right men will be put in place. In some cases, the wrong men rise to power and the right men are ostracized. The apostle concludes his teaching on the elders with these words: “The sins of some people are conspicuous . . . but the sins of others appear later. So also the good works [of some] are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (5:24–25 ESV). We do our best but know there are no guarantees. Our great comfort is that, in the end, God knows, and God will judge.
6:1–2a The last group Paul addresses is slaves. Some wonder why Paul never outright condemned slavery. Should his silence be taken as an implicit endorsement of the institution? A more plausible explanation is that Paul knew that at this particular stage in redemptive history, the priority was the proclamation of the gospel. Yet, from his other writings, and even here, we know that he did not support it and believed that eventually Christians would do away with it as they understood the gospel with all its implications (see, e.g., Paul’s Letter to Philemon). But even here the language “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants” expresses some sympathy on the apostle’s part toward slaves and his belief that slavery was yet another example of the brokenness of the world.
Two types of slaves are exhorted. Both are believers, but the first has unbelieving masters (6:1), and the second has believing masters (6:2a). Paul exhorts the first group to “regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled” (6:1 ESV). Here we have reiterations of Paul’s missional/evangelistic concerns: all believers were to live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way, in hope that all people might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. By highlighting their missional calling, Paul was elevating the identity and status of slaves to representatives of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
For the second group with believing masters, the apostle warns them against being “disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers” (6:2a). Instead, precisely because they are brothers in the faith, the believing slaves should be motivated to serve all the better. Notice again the paradigm out of which Paul gives this exhortation: the believing masters are family, so these slaves were to love them as they would their own family. In passing, we might note that it is quite possible that believing masters might have been convicted upon hearing this passage. If believing slaves should serve their believing masters all the better because of their common membership in God’s family, then masters too should treat believing slaves all the better because they “are believers and beloved.”
What is perhaps noteworthy in his instructions to both types of bondservants is that nowhere does he suggest that their salvation and freedom in Christ should make them subversive people indifferent to structure and order. Again, we do not suppose that Paul is endorsing the institution of slavery. Nevertheless, in all his exhortations in this section he assumes some observance of authority and honor: children are to remember their widowed mothers, churches are to provide for and protect their elders, and slaves are to revere their masters. In short, the preeminence of authority in this letter and the Christian life is hard to overlook.
Despite addressing different groups and different situations, one common denominator runs throughout: “Undeniably great is the mystery of godliness.” That is, Christ’s coming into the world to save sinners through his death and resurrection has inaugurated a new life marked by the Spirit. The different exhortations and the cases Paul addresses illustrate the manifold implications of this glorious gospel. Ineffectual orthodoxy is alien to the gospel of salvation by faith alone.
Piety and Money (6:2b–19)
This penultimate section brings together the themes of authority and piety by addressing the troublemakers and the subject of money.
6:2b After urging Timothy to “teach and urge these things” (6:2b) to the various constituents of God’s family, he returns explicitly to the “certain person” that “teaches heterodoxy and does not adhere to the healthy words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (6:3). As we have stated repeatedly, the specter of the false teachers and their influence runs throughout this letter, and here the apostle returns more explicitly to them with the intention of discrediting them further by associating them with greed.
6:3–19 This section has two units. The first is an outright summary denunciation of the troublemakers (6:3–5). The second comprises several sub-units (6:6–10, 11–16, 17–19), all of which are threaded together by the theme of money and good works. Paul is not adding some sort of random appendix on how God’s people are to approach money; rather, he is underscoring how the family of God relates to money differently from the false teachers.
6:3–5 Most of what the apostle has to say here about the dissenters has been stated already in the letter: they teach heterodoxy instead of the gospel (6:3; cf. 1:3); they are “puffed up,” which recalls the description of unqualified aspiring elders (6:4a; cf. 3:6); they understanding nothing (6:4b; cf. 1:7); they fixate on contentious and divisive matters, which hurts the unity and effectiveness of God’s family (6:4c; cf. 1:4); they are not just ignorant but also seared in their conscience and promote nonsense (6:5; cf. 4:2–3). All this should be more than sufficient reason for dismissing them as illegitimate teachers in the family of God. But the apostle climaxes this section by focusing on one final attribution: they pretend to be pious, “imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5b).
Perhaps for Timothy and the audience this last denouncement would have recalled the earlier statement regarding aspiring elders that they must not be “lovers of money” (3:3). But Paul is accomplishing far more than drawing detail to a single vice that would disqualify them from wielding any authority among believers. What is particularly heinous is that these would-be-teachers see God, the gospel, and the family of God as “a means of gain.” Can it really get any worse than this? The implication is obvious: They don’t really care about the glory of God, the advance of the gospel, and the health of the family. Any interest they claim to have in these things is a mere pretense for their self-aggrandizement. Does Paul have to explain further why they are useless guides?
6:6–10 How is the family of God—in contrast to those who are presumably outside the family—supposed to view money? According to this first sub-unit, they are to be both content with what they have and wary about the alluring power of money. Echoing Job’s famous cry, Paul reminds Timothy and the audience, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (6:7 ESV; cf. Job 1:21). Paul is not merely stating a fact but underscoring our inherent weakness and “vaporness” as human beings. There is no need to be obsessed with accumulating wealth. “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (6:8)—and “godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6).
Paul then offers a warning that reflects, in part, what has happened to the false teachers. It is neither riches nor money that is the problem but the way people exalt them. Notice the precise language: “Those who desire to be rich” (6:9a) and “For the love of money” (6:10a). Wealth and money are not inherently evil; in fact, they can be tools for much good. Rather, it is our idolatrous attraction to them—our belief that they offer some solace to our nakedness and weakness—that leads to the downfall of many, “into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires” (6:9b). The second half of verse 10 would have undoubtedly reminded the audience of Paul’s indictment of the false teachers: “It is through this craving that certain persons (tines) have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The rhetorical impact is clear: the false teachers are sick from their love of money and have therefore deviated from the one true gospel. Consider this and do otherwise!
6:11–16 Given that Paul “returns” to the subject of money in the third sub-unit (6:17–19), it seems appropriate to view this middle sub-unit (6:11–16) as a continuation of this same theme. Typical of Paul’s exhortations, he warns against one thing and encourages another. Timothy, the “man of God” and the model servant of Christ Jesus among the believers, is to “flee these things” and instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love steadfastness, gentleness” (6:11). That this will be a difficult task is reflected in the battle imagery Paul once again takes up: “Fight the good fight of the faith” (6:12a ESV). The specific charge to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” brings to mind the truth that God finds our desires not too big but far too small: “We are far too easily pleased” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory). In other words, the key to fighting the temptations of money and wealth is to want something greater—life eternal, which Christ has already won on behalf of his family.
Exactly which commandment Paul has in view in verse 14 is unclear, but in view of the immediate context, the gist of verses 13–14 suggests a warning against allowing the desire to be rich and the love of money to taint any aspect of Timothy’s call to uphold the truth of the gospel. In stark contrast to the false teachers who exhibit no fear of God by “imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (6:5), Timothy and the believers are to live “in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus . . . until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:13–14 ESV). There is no better way to accomplish this than by beholding God as bigger and greater—“he . . . is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (6:15b–16a ESV). That is, to the insecurity and vulnerability we inevitably experience as humans comes the offer to know and be known by the one who alone holds all “honor and eternal dominion” (16:16b).
6:17–19 More positively, in the last sub-unit, Paul instructs believers on how they are to steward money. Verse 17 speaks to our tendency to view money as the anchor of all our hopes for deliverance from earthly trouble. Paul reminds us that “the uncertainty of riches” pales in comparison to God—whom he has just described majestically—because God alone “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (6:17b). By being humble and setting their hopes on the certainty of God’s provisions, the family of God “are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (6:18–19 ESV). Having been saved by grace, they are to abound in good works. The overflow of their philanthropy should have the same flavor of God’s love that he lavished on them in Christ Jesus (1:14). Their giving should not be stingy or reactionary but bountiful and the fruit of purposeful planning. The power for such commendable piety stems not just from looking back at what Christ has done but also from looking forward to the promise of Christ’s return and his remittance for every good work done in faith.
In sum, the “certain persons” suppose godliness is a means of gain, but God’s family believes godliness, expressed in radical philanthropy, with contentment is true gain. The troublemakers desire to be rich, but Timothy and the believers should aspire to be rich in good works. Those in the opposition party love money, but the people of God are to trust in the one true God to supply them with all they need (cf. Phil 4:19). Hence, they are to flee the things that have led to the apostasy of some and, instead, take hold of eternal treasure and life everlasting.
Letter’s Conclusion (6:20–21)
Had 1 Timothy closed with the typical note, “Grace be with you” (6:21b), we could end our reflections here; yet the apostle includes what some might count a gratuitous warning given everything he has already stated. Addressing primarily Timothy but also all who were listening to the letter’s performance, the apostle gives one final warning: “Guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (6:20–21a ESV).
The repeated use of warfare language (phulakson) reiterates not just the present struggle but also the polarizing effect of the gospel’s call: The audience will either align themselves with Paul, the apostle of Christ Jesus and of God, and his gospel, or with the “certain persons” who seek to assert themselves in the family of God. The command to “avoid the irreverent babble” makes clear Paul’s assessment of the heterodoxy and the proper response of all who profess membership in God’s family. Finally, the tone of this closing exhortation and warning reveals the depth of the apostle’s concern. The impression we gather is that more than a few among the audience were doing the opposite of what Paul commands here. Instead of avoiding, they were listening and immersing themselves in the empty talk. Instead of feeding off the sound words revealed by Christ in his apostle, they were ingesting this “knowledge.” Thus, they were edging closer to the fate of the false teachers who had already become shipwreck with respect to the faith. Sadly, as we’ll see in 2 Timothy, the apostle’s concerns were well-founded.
Jeon, Paul S. 1 Timothy: A Charge to God’s Missional Household. Vols. 1-3. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017.
Knight, III, George W. The Pastoral Epistles. NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.
Marshall, I. Howard. The Pastoral Epistles. ICC. London: T&T Clark, 2004.
Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 46. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000.
Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
Yarbrough, Robert. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018.
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1 Timothy 1
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Warning Against False Teachers
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship1 from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,2 liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound3 doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
Christ Jesus Came to Save Sinners
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.4 Amen.
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.