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First Timothy

Neat, Plausible and Wrong

1 Timothy 1:1-11


Lesson Audio

From the earliest days of the church there have been those for whom the mysteries of the faith are not nearly as attractive as the fancies of their own minds. Paul, in this letter, helps Timothy face just such a situation.

Paul and Timothy

We shall begin by looking at the relationship between Paul and Timothy, summed up neatly in the introduction to this letter:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1Ti 1:1-2 NASB)

Paul, the Apostle

There is one immediate point: Paul is an Apostle by the commandment of God. No one chooses to be an Apostle; they were all drafted into the job. Paul phrases his call as being from God and from Christ – thus showing their innate equality – but he calls Christ Jesus his hope. A necessary thing, too: the life of an Apostle was a tough one. All but John were martyred, and his life was no picnic either. No wonder God selects them; who would volunteer?

Note also (as we will explore next week) that God’s selection of his messengers tends strongly to the “least likely to succeed” category. For example:

Moses – so tongue-tied that he was sure God wanted his brother Aaron instead.

David – so well thought of by his father that David was the one left with the sheep when the other seven boys were put before Samuel as choices for the kingship.

Elijah – a man who called down fire from heaven – ran when the queen threatened him.

Paul – the apostle to the Gentiles – was a devout Pharisee. Of all people least likely to talk to a Gentile, this is the man.

Why? So that no one will boast that God really needed them for the job. God needs no one – which is why he so often chooses a nobody. It’s a tough life, made all the more so in that it is so important. But through all this Paul clings to one thing: Jesus Christ, our hope. He lived in the power of the Resurrection.


As best we know, Timothy would have been in his early twenties at this point. That’s not particularly an advantage at this time; his elders would have been likely to have told him to sit down and shut up. Paul knows this, and he encourages him:

He calls him his true son – thus reassuring him that Paul has every confidence in his knowledge and abilities.

More than that, he is his true son – one who is carrying on the same work that Paul did. Whatever power and grace there was for Paul’s ministry, it is there for Timothy too.

He is his son in the faith. The use of the phrase “the faith” has declined greatly in our time. But this makes clear to Timothy that he is on the right track – he is defending “the” faith.

Grace, mercy, peace

What do you wish for a man in such a position? As we shall see, Timothy has his work cut out for him. Paul calls for three things:

Grace – the very gift of God – so that all good things in him might abound.

Mercy – for all of us need it, but even more so that Timothy will know the God he serves – the merciful God.

Peace – Timothy must deal with false teaching. He must deal with it while keeping harmony in the church. For this, he will need the peace of God.

False Teachers

To that point, let us see how Paul tells him to deal with the problem:

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. (1Ti 1:3-7 NASB)

The nature of false teachers

It would be exceedingly convenient if false teachers wore a sign to that effect. They don’t. Indeed, it is difficult (at first) to discover them. Why? See their characteristics:

They are completely confident. Sure of themselves, sure of their teaching, they seem to be those who could not be wrong – or at least are seldom in doubt. The true teacher knows that there is much he does not know.

They engage in “fruitless discussions.” By their fruits – or lack – you will know them.

They want to teach. Why? Being a teacher brings honor and respect, not to mention a great deal of self-satisfaction. If this is your motive, watch out!


Note what Timothy is told to do: “instruct” them. This is a bit more difficult than it seems:

The false teacher is perfectly willing to “discuss” or “debate” – we both have good theories about this, let us enlighten each other. But false and true are not equals, and we should not use them that way.

He is not to hesitate in doing so. The fact that he is much younger than they should not be a barrier. Politeness should never blockade truth.

In one thing we may have confidence: there is a right answer. From it, we can identify the wrong ones.


Teachers in the classroom are required to have a lesson plan – several, in fact, many days ahead of need. Even this poor teacher needs his notes! One key to that lesson planning is simply this: just what is it that you want your teaching to accomplish? A great lesson in multiplying fractions is of no use in geography class. The key to this is simple: just what is the objective of the lesson? What is it that we’re trying to teach here? This is the outline Paul gives Timothy:

His teaching must result in love from a pure heart. The devotion to God expected of a Christian should not be oriented towards monetary gain or release from service – rather, it should come from pure hearted love of God. Such love will soon spill over into love for God’s children as well.

It also results in a good conscience – one that is informed about right and wrong. Such a conscience is strengthened in prayer so that sin troubles the conscience greatly – and is therefore not committed.

All this must be done in sincere faith – God is not at all found of the hypocrite. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

Discourse on the Law

Paul now brings up a sore subject to us: the uses and misuses of the Law.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

(1Ti 1:8-11 NASB)

Right and wrong use of the Law

I submit to you that you already agree with Paul’s point. Let me rephrase it in terms of the law of our time:

Our civil law should correct the misdeeds of those who break their contractual agreements – but should not be used to harass someone with frivolous lawsuits.

Our criminal law should be used to render justice – punishing the malefactor, even reforming him. It should not be used to let a rich athlete get away with murder.

There is a similar distinction in the use of God’s law. It is not to be a rigid rulebook, particularly used to put everyone else in line. No, it is to be a guide to life – an encouragement to righteousness.

Law for the unrighteous

We understand this in a way. When you are going about your business and a police officer catches you in some minor violation of the vehicle code, you might feel that this is unjust; shouldn’t he be out catching real criminals? The cop will simply say, “tell it to the judge.” But underneath there is a real point: the law has a purpose:

It is to protect us from the wicked. Lock the thief up and he’ll have no chance to steal from me.

It is to correct (reform) them if possible. Prison can be a great place to consider the errors of your ways.

It is also to be used as a deterrent to others. Most of us would never dream of robbing someone – if for no other reason that the fact that we’d be the ones who got caught at it.


If there is an educational objective, there must be a test to see if it is met. Here are the tests of a false teacher. Look carefully!

They are lawless – they may impose a strict code on others (no drinking, dancing or smiling on Sundays) but they live the lawless life. It’s usually no drinking for you – but anger for me.

They are rebellious – no one can tell me what to do. (Which is absurd; we pay the preacher to do just that).

They are, in a curious way, ungodly. They give him lip service, but when a tough decision is to be made, God matters not at all.

They are unholy – there is no sense that they are dedicated to God, and they certainly don’t want to be seen by the world as “different.”

It is not easy dealing with the false teacher, for it must be done in gentle love, wrapped around the truth of God.

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