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An introduction to 1 Timothy - shipwrecking your faith and false teaching

An Introduction

Introductory Story

Consider this: You have a brand new car. Think of whatever takes your fancy – it could be the newest Commodore, or a Lexus or Honda or just a plain old Camry – but new. What a delight a new car is! You all jump into it and take it for a drive on the very first day. There is much excitement about this new vehicle – it will get you from home to work without breaking down; it will allow you tow that caravan or trailer or fit in the extra person. You drive with absolute care, polishing it, waxing it and keeping the service manual up to date. It serves its purpose well. But life can get a bit blasè. One day you drive along a familiar road. It began bitumen but then turned to gravel. You approach a corner – you are familiar with this road – and know it well. However, today you approach at twice the speed you have ever done so before. Others have told you they do Craigmore to this town in 90 minutes and you take 2 hours, sometimes more. How dare they say you are not a good driver – too timid, not manly enough to drive fast! As you enter the corner – the back wheels break away from the surface – friction no longer equals force holding you down (I had been reading Johanna’s physics exam when I wrote this). You correct and although a bit wobbly you get around. The next corner you try the same, but as the back wheels break loose, you go into a skid you hit a pile of gravel, raised by the endless stream of cars that use the road. The pile gives one side of the car some vertical lift – you desperately overcorrect, and as the airborne wheels hit the road a pronounced rotational force is applied to the car and it quickly – indeed extremely quickly – rolls over and over. You have just crashed your new car!

A Challenging Book – 1 Timothy

We about to examine a challenging book, one that suggests that Christians can crash their life, just like the illustration given here, however, poorly. Can we turn to 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 18.[1]

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 1 Timothy 1:18,19 (NKJV)

Here Paul, the author of the letter is writing to a young man and speaks of some that have "suffered shipwreck". I know my illustration concerning a car is poor, but the paraphrase has the same connotation – Christians can crash their life. What does this mean? How do I know that I am headed for a crash? What can I do in order that I don’t crash? And if I have crashed, how do I recover? Does this apply to me or a church or both? If the church, how can we ensure resilience to the temptations that led to the crash – note that the crash is your fault, not some else’s!

The passage we have read and the book we are about to study form a group called the Pastoral Epistles. This reference is probably somewhat misplaced as it suggests it is being written to pastors of churches, when in fact it is being written to Timothy in order that he deals with the elders and their congregation (with apostolic authority, conferred by the Apostle Paul). Furthermore, in the past many have focused on ‘eldership’ (and indeed there are two chapters in the three books forming the Pastoral Epistles on this matter). But these miss the main point of the three books. Others have certainly expanded on this and saw the epistles to Timothy as a treatise on how one aught to conduct themselves in the household of God. Men such as Hamilton Smith[2] certainly take this line, which is highly edifying and certainly profitable. Indeed, those that wish to understand the church as the "household" of God can begin in no better place than the Pastorals, and in particular the first letter to Timothy. However, in the last two decades or so with the extreme declension of our churches, a new look at Timothy has revealed that it, when interpreted literally, speaks of how to deal with false doctrine. Let’s read the first few verses of chapter 1:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Saviour and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope,

To Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.

The Purpose of Paul Writing to Timothy

The book is clearly written by Paul to Timothy – nothing can be plainer, and any silly nonsense otherwise must be dismissed even if it comes from institutions in our own city. Timothy is a young man who, like Titus, has the job of trouble-shooting churches – Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. In some ways I see him as the Mr Wren’s of the world or the Mr Reid’s etc. Timothy is unique as is Titus and this must be borne in mind when the model of authority is attempted to be applied to the local congregation. Timothy is being given ‘apostolic’ authority to fix the church. Timothy is not an apostle, nor is he an elder – missed by some, but has been given apostolic authority by Paul and works as an apostolic delegate. The letter to both Timothy and Titus gives these two men ‘apostolic’ authority to right the wrongs of the church – and this allows two things:

(1) Clearly the churches at Ephesus, being the church of concern here and the church at Crete where Titus was send were to be smartly pulled into line, but also;

(2) We as a congregation, and certainly as individuals, can see what causes a church or individual to shipwreck their life and how to go about fixing it. Indeed the three letters of the Pastorals are a model of how to root out evil doctrine from a church and how to put it right.

I draw your attention to a useful book on Timothy. For the serious reader of the Bible Gordon D Fee’s book on 1 and 2 Timothy & Titus published by Hendriskson is an excellent exegesis of the Pastoral Epistles. Note however Fee has been duped in terms of the role of females before God and I do not take all that he says seriously on this matter – his arguments are poorly developed here. However, his book "How to read the bible book by book" is excellent, giving tips on each book in the Bible and what one should be getting out of them. Hamilton Smith’s the First Epistle to Timothy; an Expository Outline (Bible Truth Publishers – outlets in Sydney or from STEM publishing available line[3]) is a short but comprehensive examination of this letter.

The Issue at Ephesus

So we see that Timothy is left in Ephesus in order that the church is put right. Indeed the church at Ephesus had done exactly what Paul and predicted it would do – lose sight of its first love. Let’s firstly turn to Revelation chapter 2:

"To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,

‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. Revelation 2:1- 5 (NKJV)

Note the very strong accusation about this otherwise great congregation – they had left their first love. Paul tells Timothy seven times about love[4] – five times of what needs to be loved and twice as to what must not be loved – the latter being money. Back to Ephesus – the church was headed for shipwreck when Paul visited it, or at least had all the hallmarks of a congregation that had the potential to be shipwrecked. The implication of what this really means is borne out in verse five of the passage from Revelation (chapter 2); "remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent". The sorry state of this church was so far removed from their first position it was like toppling off a cliff – "look how far you have fallen". It was not some miserly bump or small step but a large cliff – the Holy Spirit is saying "you are now shipwrecked". And the remedy – REPENT. Paul goes further then this because the entire underlying structure of each individual’s faith needed to be re-examined and put right. If a church the entire structure of the church needed to be re-built. Indeed Paul uses the word faith 19 times in the 113 verses in this epistle. Now let’s turn to Acts 20:25-31. One should read this entire chapter but let is this morning look at a few verses beginning at verse 25:

"And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.Acts 20:25- 31 (NKJV)

The problem at Ephesus was savage wolves that had come in who did not spare the flock, and here he is speaking of false doctrine. Paul is writing to Timothy to encourage him to stay in Ephesus in order that he was strengthen by the encouraging words of Paul so that he would effectively to deal with false doctrine. This is no easy task. The biggest headache in management is managing people who are wrecking havoc in the organisation – junior or senior managers who think they know best and drive the entire team off the road. The issue was within the church, not without. The issue today is within the church not without (Satan controls the without and Christ has defeated him). This letter is written to Christians for Christians. The issue concerns those that come into the church, that is, those saved but who do not leave OUTSIDE that which made them filthy. And this happened in Ephesus. So how serious was this. Read versus 18-20 again:

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 (NKJV)

The Seriousness of the Charge

How serious was the charge to Timothy? So serious that the names of two men will forever appear in Scriptures, irrespective of whether they now sit with Christ in heaven or not, as having been men that helped shipwreck a congregation. Their false doctrine rendered the entire congregation at Ephesus useless in the economy of the Church of God and totally unfruitful. What is our purpose in life? To bear much fruit.[5] For whose purpose? For God’s purpose! The trouble today it that we have too many who come to church to eat fruit and few come bearing fruit.

It is interesting that God has no compunction to naming and shaming people – Hymenaeus and Alexander were named and shamed. Of importance here is that an Epistle or Letter was both a public document and a private document – so the naming of these two false teachers was not just for Timothy’s eyes only. This Epistle, that the Holy Spirit carefully persevered and entered into the Canon, was for the entire congregation – and us! This is important to understand, as it was the instrument that gave Timothy legitimacy as an apostolic delegate to root out the evil in the church, going as far as discharging the eldership and appointing men with the appropriate qualifications. In 2 Timothy 1:16 we also see two names of men that have become ashamed of the gospel: Phygellus and Hermogenes.

The Main Purpose of the Letter – To Encourage Timothy to Stop False Teaching

Timothy is written to by Paul to put a stop to false teaching, especially the teaching of false doctrine which was destroying the power of the gospel; to stop the congregation misusing the law and minimising grace, and to rebuke false teaches and remove those that did not come into line. The letter sets out the main areas where havoc has been wrecked so that we can see what may have happened, and what could happen in our own lives and congregation – in order that we do not shipwreck our own lives. Therefore this letter is highly relevant to all of us today and is applicable to this church.

Of importance is that fact Paul sets out the gospel. Let look at chapter 2 verses 5 and 6:

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Timothy 2:5,6 (NKJV)

In these verses we can observe at least three things.

(1) There is only one God – and I don’t need to dwell on this here, however, there are some in this congregation who displace God with other things – idolatry is any activity that displaces God – and in this western nation, men use sport to displace God. Where does sport fit into your life? Do you know more about your team than the ten disciples? Have you spent more time watching, listening, studying, researching, thinking about your football team this week than Jesus Christ? Is more space in your life given over to your football team than to the work of God? If so, you are, to put it bluntly, on the road to shipwreck!

(2) There is only one mediator between God and men – and as Epistle to the Hebrews points out, this mediator is superbly superior to Aaron. Shipwrecks will scar and leave marks, but can be remedied through Jesus Christ – that is at the cross of Jesus in earnest prayer:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)

(3) It was Jesus Christ that was sacrificed for our sin. There is no other means by which this can be accomplished. The law cannot save (and Paul points this out to Timothy), nor can works – only by Jesus Christ himself can one be saved. No other religion can save – all lead to death. Only Christ leads to eternal life.

Paul Defines the Gospel

The Gospel is also expanded upon in chapter 3:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV)

I give two observations here:

(1) Satan acknowledges Jesus, but deceives the world into believing he is not God. Jesus Christ is God, and he was manifest in the flesh – a stumbling block to Jews and certainly a poignant reminder to Muslims as to the fruitlessness of their religion for they have absolutely no certainty of salvation – only Jesus Christ can give that.

(2) Godliness has everything do with believing – without faith it is impossible to please God[6] – note the imperative "impossible". The gospel is faith in Jesus Christ – who is the power unto salvation:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. Romans 1:16 (NKJV)

In chapter 4 again we see Paul reminding Timothy of what the gospel is:

For to this end we [Paul and Timothy] both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10 (NKJV)

Again we can observe two things:

(1) God is the saviour of all men – in the chapter 2 we see the gospel is for all men and now we are reminded that the Saviour is for all men – there is no other way to salvation. Jesus came into the word to save all men – he indeed desires all men and women to be saved (see verse 4 of chapter 2). However, most will lose their salvation. Note I say lose – it is possible, indeed most will, lose their salvation – salvation is a gift, which one accepts or one rejects. It is possible to loose a gift by not accepting it – and the same applies to the gift of salvation - have you accepted Jesus? The false doctrine that only the "really wicked" will go to hell is utterly false. All are destined for hell, unless you accept that Jesus as your saviour.

(2) We note two words "trust" and "believe" – the fundamental doctrine of salvation. Paul mentions faith, as I said 19 times, faithful 5 times and trust or trusts 5 times.

False Doctrine

This is the real issue that Paul needs Timothy to deal with – false doctrine. We read this first in verse 3 of chapter 1. Part of shipwrecking our faith is seeking other doctrines. Paul tells Timothy that there are no other doctrines – NO OTHER! In verse 10 of the same chapter Paul tell Timothy that the problem with the church is the fact that what was being taught was contrary to sound doctrine. Sound doctrine ensures the true gospel is preached. This is a continuous theme in this letter – we MUST always return to check that we are teaching and living the true gospel. In 4:1 we see that some will depart from the truth and follow doctrines of devils. 4:6 the church is to teach good doctrine – indeed nourishment is good doctrine; 4:13 we are to give attention to reading, to exhortation and to doctrine – it is not something for theologians (who mostly espouse false doctrine) – we ourselves need to seek the good and perfect doctrine of God; 4:16 We need to take heed to the doctrine as taught by Paul; 5:17 Elders must labour in doctrine – an active part of any elders duty; 6:1 We are to protect the doctrine of God in order that God’s name and His doctrine are not blasphemed – very weighty words. We must walk the talk – do as we preach, and we must be ready always to give a defence of what we believe, what ever the cost; and lastly in 6:3 Paul indicates the characteristics of those that do not heed the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ – doctrine must accord with godliness. Pay attention – Paul uses Jesus’ full name and title in order to show that the doctrine is of God, not man.

The Issue of Women

Paul also sets out how one needs to deal with bitter divisiveness of those that deviate from the true gospel and in particular, the issue of women teaching in the Church – which had become a vehicle for false teachers to get into homes, behind the backs of the men in order to influence the entire congregation. How do you influence the congregation? You start with the home – the family. How do you influence the home? – start with the women. Which is the largest target audience for advertisements? – women; influence the women and you get the men. Influence the men and you have got the congregation – Satan understands social marketing very well.

The Issue of Leadership

In order that a congregation stands firm, there must be strong leadership – the remedy here was to remove, rebuke and rebuild that which existed. No congregation should be afraid to remove, rebuke and rebuild its leadership – we pray the Father, that our leaders earnestly seek the Father’s protection from the wiles of Satan who seeks to destroy all congregations. Further, Paul seeks that Timothy deals with the financial troubles in the congregation. The church had developed a number of greedy, money-loving false teachers who where derailing the church. The individual is told in chapter 6:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:10, 11 (NKJV)

The need for purity

Purity is an essence that is being sought by Paul – shipwrecks filthy everything – purity is the antithesis. In 1:5 we see love out of a pure heart. Without love we are doomed for shipwreck and this needs to come from a pure heart – love out of any other motivation leads to a poverty of spirit – fruitless, proud, knowing nothing, obsessed with disputes and arguments over words (6:4). In 4:9 the conscience needs to be pure – without which can be of any value to Our Lord, and in 5:22 we need to keep ourselves pure – do not share in other people’s sins – a poignant reminder that TV funnels into the home other people’s sins – we must have no part of this.

Summary

The first letter to Timothy sets out the importance of good leadership that includes our own homes, and contrasts the false with the genuine man and woman of Christ. Every verse in this letter relates to false teachers, their teaching and their conduct in this world – this warning is perhaps more important today than 2000 years ago. Fight the good fight of faith, don’t shipwreck your life or any one else’s!

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:12-16 (NKJV)

Endnotes

[1] 1 Timothy is the 15th book in the New Testament so is somewhat towards the back – and if you can remember the 5 T’s – Big T, Big T, Little T, Little T and Tiny T, you will easily find it – 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, and of course 2 Timothy which is followed by Titus.

[2] Smith, H (1862-1943) The First Epistle to Timothy, An Expository Outline: Stem Publishing at http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/smith/1TIMOTHY.html (accessed 2 July 2013). STEM has many of works of Hamilton Smiths and other writers or repute.

[4] The King James Version uses charity in some cases.

[5] Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. Romans 7:4 (NKJV)

[6] Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (NJKV)

Bible Verses (from the NKJV)

1:5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart

3:9 holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.

4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons

4:6 If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.

4:13] Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

4:16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

5:2 Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure.

5:17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

6:1 Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.

6:3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness,

6:4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions

David L Simon (August 16 2009 CCC)
Edited, re-written in parts - 2 July 2013
\Pastoral Epistles\1 Timothy - an introduction