In reading or preaching through a Book of the Bible, we should always ask a few basic questions:
-Who wrote the letter?
-Who was the letter written to?
-What was God saying then, and what is He saying to us now?
The History and Culture
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to his young coworker Timothy, who was serving the church in Ephesus. It was during Paul’s 2nd missionary journey that he arrived in Ephesus, preaching and teaching there for 3 years. That’s the longest recorded stay in all of Paul’s journeys.
Ephesus was the major city in the part of Asia known as Turkey today. As part of the Roman Empire, Ephesus had a huge population, some estimate as high as 300,000 people. And most of them were from pagan religions, in a culture much like our own – tolerant of every other religion except Christianity.
Paul continued to faithfully preach the gospel and perform miracles and cast out demons, the name of Jesus was becoming known far and wide in Ephesus.
But we know anywhere the gospel is going forth, the devil will fight even harder to try and stop it. He couldn’t really use the witches and sorcerers anymore – they were all getting saved and following Jesus. So the enemy used the religious – false teachers claiming to know God’s word, those claiming to hold to the law, but instead were twisting the law, contaminating the gospel, and confusing the church.
Paul needed someone he could trust to go back to the church in Ephesus and confront these false teachers, and to help the congregation get back on firm biblical footing and sound doctrine. So Paul sent Timothy.
Concerning his character, we know that Timothy was faithful and trustworthy beyond his years. This is seen in how much trust Paul puts in Timothy to stay at some churches or be sent to others in order to help teach and carry out Paul’s instructions in the gospel. And he sent Timothy with a specific mission: Confront these false teachers. Teach and rebuke and exhort with the word of God and bring the church back to health with sound doctrine and the power of the gospel.
The Greeting: Grace, mercy and peace from God (v. 1-2)
– Paul, is the author of the letter. And from the beginning, he identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, and does the same in 9 of his 13 letters. He is a representative, an ambassador of One greater.
– God our Savior, Christ Jesus our hope. In just these two identities, we can see the completion of God’s redemption, which He planned before the foundation of the world. God already planned and decided to save a people for Himself. And He enacted His plan by sending His Son Jesus.
– Timothy, who Paul calls my true child in the faith. Since Timothy’s biological father was Greek and his mother was a Jew, the Jewish community would have seen Timothy as “illegitimate”. So it seems that Paul is assuring Timothy – you’re no mistake. You’re not less-than. You are a legitimate son – my son in the faith
The Charge: Allow no different doctrine (v. 3-5)
False teachers were promoting something other than the true gospel. And the result of these teachings were majoring in the minors, following spiritual rabbit trails of wives-tales and myths and genealogies – who is related to whom, this blood line connects to that blood line, making this person more important than that person. Contrary to the charge Paul gives Timothy concerning love and faith (v. 5), the false teachers were missing both faith and love. Faith was misplaced in men, and selfish ambition took the place of love. They were deceiving, and being deceived.
Paul is reminding Timothy (and reminding us) that even in combating false teachers, we must do so out of love for God and others – not out of hatred, not out of a desire to destroy another, but out of a pure heart that wants to preserve the gospel, protect the church, and to see those who are deceived to come to know the truth.
The Correction: The right use of the law (v. 6-11)
There were different false teachers, each bringing their own flavor and variation. One of the first kinds of false teachings that Paul addresses here is the misuse of the Law of Moses. These false teachers were apparently pointing to the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments, for example) as the source and means of salvation. If you follow those, you’re saved. But that is not the gospel. While the 10 commandments are still right and good and are an accurate reflection of the nature of God and an example of right living, following the Law does not save anyone. If it did, Jesus would never have died.
The Law is good to show us the perfect nature of God. The Law is good to show us what moral perfection looks like. The Law is good to show us just how far from perfect we really are. But the Law cannot change a single soul, nor save a single sinner.
The only one who takes away sin is Jesus. The only way that Jesus’ blood applies to your sin and my sin is if we repent (which means to turn from our sin), turn to Christ, – not trusting in my goodness or my ability to follow the rules, but to trust in Jesus fully, placing my faith in Him and what He has done on my behalf.
That’s the gospel, and that’s worth fighting for. That’s worth living and dying for. That’s worth giving up everything I have and everything I am – to ensure that that message does not get lost, does not get contaminated, does not get drowned out from the noise of the world, the temptations of my sinful heart, or the empty wisdom of man.