This sermon was preached at Niddrie Community Church on January 28, 2018.
You can listen to it here (19 min.), or read the manuscript below.
Now, I ain’t from around these parts. Since moving to Niddrie, I have been to Ibrox to watch the most successful team in football. But I’ve not yet been up in the highlands. Let’s say once the summer comes around, John fires up his Toyota and a few of us go on a highlands road trip. On the way back, we get out to enjoy the view of the night sky. But instead of letting me back in the car, I’m told to find my own way back to Edinburgh. I’ve never been in those mountains before. I don’t know the important landmarks. I’m useless with stars and so have no idea how to find north. What’s going to happen? I’m probably going to be overwhelmed and get myself nice and turned around, like a kilt in a hurricane.
If we’re new to the Bible, studying 1 Timothy can feel a whole lot like getting dropped off in the highlands and told to figure it out. The key to walking correctly in our study of this letter is to pause and get ourselves oriented, to find some of the basic landmarks around us before pressing on in the hike.
In order to do that tonight, we’re going to read the first seven verses of 1 Timothy and look for the answers to three questions:
1. Who wrote this letter?
2. Who is this letter written to?
3. Why was this letter written?
In answering these questions, the goal tonight is to get our bearings, so that we can continue on well in the weeks ahead.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
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, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
Verse 1 tells us who the letter is from.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope”
Paul wrote 1 Timothy. Who is this guy?
Literally “in a past life”, when he was called Saul, he tells us in 1 Timothy 1:13 that he was formerly “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of Jesus Christ and his followers.
As an elite Jewish religious leader, Saul made it his business to travel around arresting Christians and seeking to have them renounce their faith and executed. He was like an agent working on behalf of the North Korean government, hunting Christians from village to village.
Paul wrote this letter as a former hunter of Christians. And he wrote it as a present apostle of Christ Jesus.
What does it mean that Paul was an apostle?
Understanding what an apostle is begins with understanding who Jesus is. Jesus is the Highest Emperor, the Ruler of All, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He owns everyone and everything; and nothing happens outside his control.
An apostle of Jesus, the High King, is one of his chief ambassadors. An apostle is a man who was an eyewitness of the physical resurrection of Jesus. And he is a man who’d been commanded to the office by Jesus himself. That’s why Paul says he is an apostle “by command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus our hope”.
When Jesus ascended to heaven to rule the world from his heavenly throne, until the chosen day of his return, his chief ambassadors remained to do a job. Their special job was to give to God’s people “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness”.
This means that the apostles were to announce that the King had come to earth——died on the cross——risen from the grave——and ascended to the heavenly throne——and was to return again to finally cast all evil into hell.
And the apostles were to explain exactly what that meant men ought to believe and do.
Jesus promised his apostles that God would both remind them perfectly what Jesus did and teach them exactly what that meant for us. When the apostles wrote the New Testament, they did so guided by God, such that every word they wrote is God’s word. This means that when we read 1 Timothy, or any other book in the New Testament, we are hearing God speak to us.
If what we believe is to be true, we must believe every word God has given us through these chief ambassadors, these apostles. If what we do in life is to be good, it must be done according to the word of Christ, which has come to us in the writing of these apostles.
Our first question is answered, our first landmark identified.
Who wrote 1 Timothy? Paul the apostle.
Now, to our second question, our second landmark. To whom did Paul write?
We find the answer in verse 2.
“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
1 Timothy is written by Paul to Timothy, Paul’s “true child in the faith”. Timothy was likely converted to Christianity under Paul’s preaching, and then travelled with Paul as he went about preaching the gospel and starting local churches.
Timothy was day in and day out with Paul, learning from him, watching him, listening to him, and getting trained by him. Their relationship was like that of a good father to an eager son. And like a father who gives work to his son, Paul has given Timothy the job of teaching others what Paul taught him, “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
To get a letter like this from your father in the faith is a gift of the highest order, giving iron to a son’s resolve to continue holding to what Paul had taught and to press on in teaching it in the church.
You know, if you’re a dad or a mom here, pay attention to this. There really is nothing better you can give your child than an understanding of the words of Christ and what it means to walk in godliness.
For all of us, we should use our days well, for they are short. Imitate Paul in this. What has been entrusted to you, the message of Christ’s saving work and commands for his people, pass on to younger men and women.
So, 1 Timothy was written by Paul, the apostle of Christ, and written to Timothy, his true child in the faith.
Now, having answered our first two questions, who the letter is from and who it’s to, let’s find our third landmark as we orient ourselves in 1 Timothy, and answer, “Why was it written?”
Look with me at verses 3-7.
“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, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
He writes this specific letter to Timothy because he both hates false teaching and loves the Ephesian church. Paul’s aim is that this letter would help Timothy be like Nehemiah. Like Nehemiah, Timothy is to use one hand to fight off the enemies of what is true and good with the sword. And like Nehemiah, he is to use the other hand to build up a godly life in the church with the shovel.
Paul writes because he hates false teaching; and there are false teachers in Ephesus. They’re teaching things that don’t line up with the “sound teaching that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God” which had been given to Paul, and which Paul had given to Timothy.
These false teachers were ignorant men who butchered the Word of God. They wrongly taught the instructions that God gave his Old Testament people through Moses. In their wrong understanding, they’ve left Paul’s teaching, the true word of Christ, and are promoting what Paul calls “myths and endless genealogies”.
Paul lays into them throughout the letter. He’s says some of these guys “have made shipwreck of their faith”, that some have departed from the faith “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars”, that they’re “puffed up with conceit and understand nothing”, that they’re “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.” At the end of the letter, Paul says that these guys have swerved from the true faith and speak nonsensical babble that is “knowledge” in name only.
For the good of the church, Timothy needs to cut these men off at the knees, commanding them to repent of their false teaching or leave. False teaching is a disease to the body, only making it weak and sickly. At its worst, false teaching is gangrene. If not cut out and removed, the body will die.
Timothy has a major battle in front of him, and with this letter, Paul, the General, is giving him exact instructions for the fight. He is making it clearer than Scotland’s annual sunny day that to oppose Timothy, Paul’s true child in the faith——>is to oppose Paul, Christ’s apostle——>is to oppose King Jesus himself, the Lord of lords and Almighty God.
Paul writes because he hates false teaching and because he loves the Ephesian church. In fact, hatred is required if love is genuine.
When members of a local church understand that they are sinners against a holy God…
When they understand that they’ve been saved apart from any worth found in them…
When they understand that they’ve been saved only by God’s mercy and grace found in Jesus Christ——the King who died in their place for their sin and victoriously rose again…
When they recognize that God has given them what they could not produce in themselves…
When they recognize that God’s given them new, pure hearts, and good consciences before him, and sincere faith in Jesus…
When love for Jesus and one another is produced like fruit at harvest time, as they respond to the gospel by giving themselves to wisdom and godliness…
Then Paul’s Master, King Jesus, is glorified.
And that was reason enough for Paul to write this letter to Timothy.
It’s reason enough for us to study it hard in the weeks to come.
If you’re here tonight and you’re not a Christian, then notice how these verses help all of us.
First, they teach us that anything we believe that doesn’t line up with what is taught in the Bible is false.
False beliefs are as useful to us as false parachutes while skydiving.
If you’re a Christian, and you force your own thoughts and feelings onto the meaning of the Bible, you will get false beliefs that do you and others harm.
If you’re not a Christian, you may be pretty comfortable with the lies you believe. But death is coming for us all, as fast as the ground comes for the skydiver. If you’re not trusting and obeying Jesus, then death will perfectly expose the lies you’ve lived by as it escorts you into eternal judgement.
Second, they teach us that confidence in what we believe doesn’t make it true.
Folks today will tell you that truth is subjective. They’ll use phrases like, “my truth” and “your truth”. But notice that the confidence of the false teachers did absolutely nothing to make their beliefs any truer. Truth is like the parachute. You have it or you don’t, and your feelings on the matter have nothing to do with it.
Third, they teach us that we are not in charge of our own lives.
“You do you, man”…that’s wrong. Jesus is King. He is in charge of you and me and everyone and everything. Every moment we live not trusting him and loving him and obeying him, we live in rebellion. To live that way is treason. To live that way deserves damnation.
Fourth, there is salvation for those who repent and believe.
If you’re not a Christian, you sin continually and deserve to face the wrath of God forever. But you will not perish, but enjoy eternal life, if you turn away from your sin and turn in faith, in desperate dependence, to Jesus for salvation.
Jesus died and rose again; and so God is my Savior. Jesus is my hope. He will be your Savior and your Hope if you believe in him. I beg you, believe in Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, and receive “grace, mercy, and peace” from God.
Hopefully, at this point, we all have our bearings, we’ve all figured out the big landmarks and are ready to plough ahead in 1 Timothy.
Moving forward, remember: Paul the apostle wrote the letter. He wrote it to Timothy, his true child in the faith. And he wrote it because he hates false teaching and loves this local church.