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This introductory course is designed to provide key insights into the book of 1 Timothy by pulling together a number of key resources: overview videos from Fast Facts and The Bible Project, helpful contextual information from The ESV Study Bible, commentary recommendations from The Gospel Coalition, a single sermon that sums up the book from beginning to end by Mark Dever, and much more. By watching, listening to, and reading these resources, you’ll be better prepared to read, study, teach, or preach the book of 1 Timothy.
The general form of 1 Timothy is that of a NT epistle, and 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus have been called more specifically “Pastoral Epistles” because each one is a letter written to someone who has pastoral leadership responsibilities. The letter gives advice on the issues of church life on which the recipient needs guidance and encouragement—though Timothy was not actually one of the pastors of a church but was Paul’s liaison who implemented Paul’s instructions to the churches. The resulting letter is occasional, meaning that the author of the letter addresses the specific situations in the recipient’s church that need attention. The Pastoral Epistles are not theological treatises in which Paul systematically explores topics of his choice. Paul takes up the topics in this letter because they are the topics that have been raised. Finally, near the end of the opening chapter, Paul labels his remarks up to that point as “this charge” that he has committed to Timothy. It is helpful to regard the entire letter as a formal, authoritative charge—a list of duties that Paul is challenging and directing Timothy to perform.
The stance of the author is that of a friend and father in the faith expressing personal concern over the well-being of a younger church leader and the church in which he ministers. The overarching concern of the letter is to combat false teaching and false teachers. Accordingly, there are detailed contrasts between good and bad spiritual leadership in the church.
Additionally, this letter provides the most complete summary in the Bible of a pastor’s ministry and spirituality. There are also lists of spiritual qualifications for officers in the church, as well as advice about caring for people with special needs, such as widows and servants. Three times Paul says that a statement he makes is “trustworthy” (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9).
The theme of 1 Timothy is that the gospel leads to practical, visible change in the lives of those who believe it. It is often thought that the theme is church order, but the discussion of church offices is simply a piece of the larger argument that the true gospel, in contrast to false teaching, will always lead to godliness in its adherents.
Thus, those who profess faith but do not demonstrate any progress in godliness should question their spiritual state.
1 Timothy 1:5; 2:8–15; 3:1–16; 4:6–16; 5:4–6, 8; 6:3–5, 11–14, 18–19
1 Timothy 1:15; 2:1–7; 3:16; 4:10
1 Timothy 2:1–15
1 Timothy 3:1–13; 4:6–16
1 Timothy 5:1–6:2
1 Timothy 4:4–5; 6:17–19
1 Timothy 1:3–7, 18–20; 4:6–16; 6:2b–3, 12, 20–21
Paul wrote 1 Timothy in order to advise his young coworker Timothy concerning issues that were arising at the church in Ephesus. When Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, he had specifically charged him to deal with some false teachers in the church (1 Tim. 1:3). Since Paul was then separated from Timothy and the church, he wrote back to him with further instructions. He hoped to return for a visit but wrote in the meantime to address the way in which Christians should behave (1 Tim. 3:14–15). Throughout the letter Paul grounds Christian behavior in the gospel.
The false teachers are the primary occasion for the letter. The letter as a whole is bracketed by discussion of the false teaching (see Outline), and the positive instruction is crafted in direct contrast to the false teachers. The exact nature of the false teaching is unclear. It apparently involved speculation about the law (1 Tim. 1:7–11) and asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1–5). Paul’s real concern is with the results of the false teaching—for example, promoting speculations (1 Tim. 1:4; 6:4), arrogance (1 Tim. 6:4), and greed (1 Tim. 6:5–10). Paul addresses the content of the false teaching only in passing but focuses on the fact that true Christianity is evidenced by lifestyles shaped by the gospel. Those whose lives are not shaped by the gospel show that they have turned away from the faith (1 Tim. 1:6, 19–20; 4:1; 5:6, 8, 11–12, 15; 6:9–10).
First Timothy is a clear call for the church to live out in tangible ways the ethical implications of the gospel.
God’s plan brings the blessings of Christ’s salvation to people partly by means of the church and its ministries.
Nancy Guthrie interviews Phillip Jensen
The following recommendations are from D. A. Carson, New Testament Commentary Survey. 7th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.