Tonight we are starting a new series of sermons on 1 Timothy. John Calvin, the great Reformer, claimed that 1 Timothy along with 2 Timothy were "highly applicable [we would say, 'highly relevant'] to our times", that was the world of the 16th century. As we study 1 Timothy, I trust, we too will find that it is "highly relevant" for the world of the 21st century.
Well, without more ado lets now turn to 1 Timothy chapter one. By way of INTRODUCTION we are just going to be looking at verses 1 and 2.And I simply want to ask three questions. First, WHY STUDY 1 TIMOTHY? [it may be relevant but so are many other writings] and I want to spend a bit of time on that. Then secondly, WHO IS PAUL WRITING TO? And thirdly, WHAT IS THE MESSAGE?
First, WHY STUDY 1 TIMOTHY?
Look at verse 1:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope
So why study 1 Timothy? You say because it is a fine Christian who has written this letter. We ought to study what fine Christians have said in previous generations. But I reply, John Newton wrote great letters in the 18th century and other Christians have written great letters before and since then. But we don't have sermon series on their letters or study them in the same way as we study Paul and his letters. We do not study a letter of Paul just because he was a fine Christian.
Nor do we study him because of his style. For a start, Paul's Greek compares poorly with Classical Greek. His style certainly wasn't special. In fact because of the language used in this letter, some people say we shouldn't read it, or certainly not as an epistle of Paul. You say, "why?" They say, "the language suggests it wasn't written by Paul at all but some other person." They say, "much of the vocabulary in this letter to Timothy and in 2 Timothy and Titus (the three Pastoral letters, as we call them) is not found in the other 10 of Paul's letters. The style is different." What do you say to that?
Well, first, the denial of the Pauline authorship is entirely modern and a feature of destructive liberal theology. Christians in the early centuries, to whom Greek was second nature, had no problems and believed Paul had written this letter. From the first century to the 19th century it is not exaggerating to say that pretty well no one ever denied or doubted that the Pastoral Epistles were written by Paul. It is true that certain heretics in the 2nd century like Marcion rejected them. But he rejected the entire Old Testament, and everything from the New Testament except an expurgated edition of Luke's Gospel and just some of the epistles of Paul. This was not because he doubted they were written by Paul but because he didn't like what Paul had written.
Secondly, you need to note that Galatians also has a lot of unique phraseology and style. It is not just 1 Timothy that is different. And if, as the internal evidence would suggest, these Pastoral letters were separated by several years from the latest of the other letters of Paul, that could well account for stylistic differences. It is amazing how perverse some liberal theologians and scholars can be.
If you study classics, as I did, you are taught that you use differences in style to help you date ancient letters - for example, the letters of the Greek philosopher, Plato. Stylistic differences in his written work are taken as evidence of being early or late. So it seemed perverse to me when I heard for the first time that New Testament scholars were rejecting the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals because of stylistic differences. I haven't time to go into all the other reasons why we can believe that these are Paul's letters - even though he may have used, as he sometimes did, a secretary to help with some drafting. If you want a full discussion, buy John Stott's commentary on 1 Timothy in The Bible Speaks Today series. His introduction will fill you in with the arguments.
So it is not because of Paul's style that we study 1 Timothy. In fact this causes something of a problem! No! We study it, as we read here in the opening words of the letter in verse 1 because Paul is "an apostle of Christ Jesus".
The term "apostle" already had a precise meaning. It was used of a special messenger who had an authority and commission from a person or body higher than himself. And this is the very title that Jesus used for his own special representatives or delegates. You remember how Jesus chose twelve out of a wide bunch of disciples; he named them "apostles" and sent them out to preach - Mark 3.14:
He appointed twelve--designating them apostles --that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach
So the apostles were personally chosen and commissioned by Jesus Christ to speak in his name. They were a unique group. The word "apostle of Jesus Christ" was not a general word that could be applied to any Christian like the words "believer" or "saint" or "brother". It was a special term reserved for the Twelve and for Paul and perhaps one or two others whom the risen Christ personally appointed. An "apostle of Christ" was a unique term and a unique person in the Church because he was uniquely appointed by Jesus Christ himself. And Paul claims to belong to this unique group of leaders and preachers. Also he leaves us in no doubt that his apostleship is not human but divine. It is not due to some ecclesiastical process - even though in accordance with God's will.
Last weekend in America four doctrinally orthodox bishops were consecrated by the Archbishops of Rwanda and South East Asia to work to give oversight and help re-evangelize America. In The Times yesterday there was a picture of Peter Jensen having hands laid on as he was made Archbishop of Sydney. These new bishops have their authority from other bishops with hands laid on as a sign - hopefully in accordance with God's will. Later on in this letter Paul is going to refer to Timothy's ordination. That too involved other human hands being laid on and human prophecy. But Paul, as he told the Galatians, was "an apostle - sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father." He was not appointed by the other Twelve or the church in Jerusalem. No! He had a direct divine commission - as, and after, he met with Christ on the Damascus Road.
Nor was there any choice about it, from Paul's point of view. For it was, as he tells Timothy here, "by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope". And Paul was obedient to that command. He is writing to Timothy "under orders". There is no option. But do you see what follows from all this? Timothy and, as we shall see, we, too, really have no option.
If Paul is Jesus Christ's delegate, speaking in his name and under God's orders, Timothy and we ourselves must listen and respond and obey what is said. Paul is giving us the message Christ himself wants given. Paul is speaking with divine authority. So Paul regularly emphasizes in his letters his apostleship, not because he wants to be a big shot. No! It is because he is under the orders "of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope" and he knows that Jesus Christ wants Timothy (and us) to accept and obey what he is saying.
It is rather like someone from the head office in the Far East of an electronics giant, like say Sanyo, coming to Tyneside with a message from the chairman about the future of the local plant in the North East and possible massive redundancies. People can ignore him, but if they want to try and get good severance terms or a change of policy, they would be utterly foolish to do so. For he has authority and is speaking on behalf of the senior management. Well, it is a bit like that with Paul.
But how do people actually treat Paul? Here is one liberal theologian, a notorious justifier of sex outside marriage and homosexual sex, and a friend of Prince Charles. In fact he took part in the ill-fated wedding of Charles and Diana. Let me read to you what he has written:
"St Paul and St John were men of like passions to ourselves. However great their inspiration ... being human, their inspiration was not even or uniform ... They too had their inner axes to grind of which they were unaware ... We must have the courage to disagree."
That, of course, simply means you pick and chose the bits of the bible you like - exactly like the heretic Marcion. In fact modern theological liberalism is often a modern version of the heresy of Marcionism that the early Christians rightly rejected.
Notice that Paul is not suggesting that to obey God's word of which as an "apostle" he is a messenger is simply a matter of "grin and bear it". No! Obeying God is not obeying a capricious God who just thinks up ways of stopping people enjoying themselves. You see, the source of the command for Paul (and then us) is "God our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope". God wants to "save us". And Christ wants to give us "hope" both now and for eternity.
But perhaps there is someone here tonight and you are asking very basic questions; and you say,
"all this is OK if you believe there is a God and that Jesus is the Christ - the special one who fulfils all of God's plan for history; you will then listen to his Apostles. But the Muslims claim that Mohammed was special. The Buddhists claim the Buddha was special. And the Marxists used to claim that Marx and Lenin were special - and we know what has happened to Marx and Lenin."
What would Paul say to that? He might refer you to the opening of another of his letters - the letter to the Romans - chapter 1.1-4 where he says that he is ...
... a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
He would point you to the Resurrection. The bones of Mohammed are in Medina. The bones of the Buddha are in India. The bones of Lenin are (or used to be) in Lenin's Tomb in Moscow. But in Jerusalem is an empty tomb. It all hinges on the Resurrection. "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor 15.14). "But [the good news is] Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" (1 Cor 15.20)
Why study 1 Timothy? Not because Paul is a fine Christian or because of his style; but because "[he is] an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope."
Secondly, WHO IS PAUL WRITING TO?
Timothy is, of course, one answer - verse 2:
Timothy my true son in the faith.
Who was Timothy? What do we know about him? First, he was from Lystra in Asia Minor. He had a Greek father and a Jewish grandmother (Lois) and mother (Eunice). But he and his mother became believers. For a number of years after his conversion Timothy became Paul's companion as he travelled and evangelized around the Mediterranean world.
Secondly, we know that he was young. In chapter 4 verse 12 of 1 Timothy Paul writes:
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young.
He also was shy and seems to have been lacking in confidence. In the second letter to Timothy, Paul has to remind him that:
God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Tim 1.7).
Nor was he physically robust. He had "frequent illnesses". So in chapter 5 verse 23 of this letter, Paul writes:
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
Timothy is very human. He is not a world figure like Paul, or Luther, or Billy Graham. He is very ordinary. That is encouraging for most of us who also are very ordinary. We can identify with Timothy.
But, thirdly, note what Paul says about his spiritual life. He describes Timothy as "my true son in the faith." The word translated "true" means "legitimate" as distinct from being "illegitimate". Paul is saying that spiritually Timothy is not illegitimate but legitimate. He is not false but true, spiritually speaking. You see, it is possible to be "false" spiritually. For many years Paul thought he was spiritually OK. But he was totally disobeying God until he met with Christ on the Damascus Road.
And you, too, can come to church and think you are religious but you don't trust in Jesus Christ. You can't say that God is your Saviour and Christ Jesus is your hope. If that is you, why not say "yes" to Jesus Christ tonight. You know you are going your own way and not Christ's, even though you have a veneer of religion. Well, admit you are wrong. Ask for Christ's forgiveness - that is what he died on the Cross to secure. And pray for his Holy Spirit to give you knew life.
So Paul is writing to Timothy his "true son in the faith". But he is also writing to the church at large. This is a second answer to our question. You see, this letter is really a manual on how to manage the church and the issues that crop up in the church. And Paul certainly wanted the congregation at Ephesus (where Timothy is the leader) to hear what he wrote. Calvin even said that he reckoned the letter was "written more for the sake of others than for the sake of Timothy". He argued that Timothy needed some ammunition in dealing with some very stroppy people in the church at Ephesus. Whether that is right or not, we do know that at the end of the letter Paul signs off with the words (1 Timothy 6.21),
"Grace be with you."
And that "you" is not singular but plural. The "you", therefore, doesn't just refer to Timothy but to all the people reading the letter. That must mean the congregation in Ephesus, but it will also mean all those millions of Christians who have read the letter down the ages, including us here in JPC in July 2001!
Thirdly, WHAT IS THE MESSAGE?
Well, look at the second part of verse 2:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here you have Paul's formula of greeting. But with Paul it is more than a mere formula. You and I begin letters with .. "Dear So and So," even if we are going to be writing a letter of complaint that makes it clear that "So and So" is anything but "dear"! But with Paul his formulas are always meant. Here he adds "mercy" to the usual formula of "Grace and peace". In doing so he spells out the fundamental message of the gospel. And it is this message that under girds all that he is going to say. Grace covers all God's free gifts to us, including the supreme gift or the "grace" of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mercy is God's forgiveness of our sin through the Cross of Christ - God not dealing with us as we deserve. And peace is the result of our sin being forgiven. We then have "peace with God".
You can spend a lifetime studying God's plan of "grace, mercy and peace" and how God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord are the source of "grace, mercy and peace" (as Paul says here), and how God the Holy Spirit makes "grace, mercy and peace" effective in human existence. But all that needs to be earthed in daily life - both the daily life of the church and in the world outside the church. And this is what we will be learning as together we go through this letter.
I must conclude.
Why study this letter? Because Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope. Who are the real recipients? Both Timothy and the church at large (including us). What is the message? - well, we will have to wait and see; but behind all the detailed teaching of this letter there is always, the grace, mercy and peace that comes from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.