Many times, when people are looking for a church they think about what is most important to them - what they are expecting in a church the type of people it attracts, the music, liturgy, teaching, style, etc. In reality, however, when it comes to evaluating a church we should be asking God what is most important to Him, according to His design. Today, we will begin studying what is designated as one of three pastoral epistles, written by the Apostle Paul - the book of 1 Timothy. In 1 Tim 3:14-15 Paul sums up the purpose for why he wrote this book.
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
“conduct” = anastrepho, in verse 15 means “behavior,” “one’s manner of life and character,” or, as one Greek lexicon puts it: [to] “live in the sense of the practice of certain principles.”
The whole letter, given through inspiration by God, provides a blueprint for the church He desires to build and instructs His people concerning how we as God’s household should live. It is in the church, that we discover God’s plan for our lives, what is most important to Him, and how He uses us individually and collectively to accomplish His purposes. He describes what it means to be a Christ-centered church and how it was designed to function.
A blueprint for the church
First Timothy is considered one of the most relevant New Testament letters for providing wisdom and guidance concerning the mission, organization, and life of the local church. It contains more direct, detailed, and systematic teaching on eldership than any other New Testament letter. It also addresses two topics that are closely intertwined with the study of elders, the role of deacons (3:8-13) and of women (2:9-15) in the church.
If we are to fully comprehend the teachings of this letter, however, we must first understand the disruptive circumstances the church at Ephesus was experiencing which prompted Paul to pen these letters. In Acts 20, Luke records how Paul labored for about 3.5 years to establish a sound church in Ephesus (A.D. 53- 56). When he was about to leave Asia Minor, Paul summoned the elders from this church in Ephesus, warning them in Acts 20:27-30.
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Five or six years after this warning to the elders, the church in Ephesus was caught in the deathly grip of false teachers. The letter of 1 Timothy seems to indicate that the heresy had erupted from within the church. Paul’s prophetic words came to fruition: “and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things.” In order to stop these false teachers, Paul took radical action. He actually excommunicated the two leading perpetrators, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19,20). Paul then moved on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy in Ephesus to help the church which was embroiled in battle and particularly to stop the advancement of false teachings. Senseless, divisive doctrines were being taught that disrupted the entire inner life of the church. These teachings were threatening to divide and eventually destroy the church.
Let’s turn to 1 Timothy 1:1-5
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
In verse 1, Paul received direct orders from God our Savior, as an apostle, a sent one, being told by God specifically what to say to this situation. In this present day and age, we are under the authority of the Holy Scriptures, but back then, Paul was commanded as an Apostle to speak God’s very words to the churches. Eph 2:19-20 says that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone - they laid the foundation, moved by God to speak His very Words and these words were written down as His special revelation to mankind. Their teachings were authoritative and considered by all as the Word of the Lord. Since the time the words of the apostles were written down and then officially canonized in the 3rd century AD, this is what we accept as God’s inspired and inerrant Scriptures. Today, the words of people no longer carry the same inspired authority as what we have in the Holy Bible.
Orders from God
Paul was receiving specific orders from God our Savior in verse 1. The same God who had a plan from eternity past to save a people unto Himself through Jesus Christ is the same God who has a specific purpose and plan for the church (Eph 3:10).
In verse 2, We see that in Paul’s greeting to Timothy that he considered Timothy as his “true son in the faith.” Timothy was a trusted disciple of Christ and Paul’s right hand man. Throughout many of his travels with Paul he learned from Paul, learned the Scriptures and matured in his relationship with Christ.
Paul told him in verse 3, “you need to stay in Ephesus.” Paul was pleading with Timothy not to leave but to continue on with them as they are going through a difficult situation: Don’t abandon them. Why was it necessary for him to stay? Paul uses a little greek word “so that” = hina, you can do everything possible to halt the negative influence of the false teachers at Ephesus and set things right in the church.
In verse 4, Paul was referring to a group in the church at Ephesus who were bringing in controversial speculations and teachings and were ascribing these teachings with the same authority as the OT Scriptures which contradicted the gospel and teachings of the Apostles. What was their motive or agenda? Scholars agree that these people wanted to be teachers of the law and have others in the church follow after them instead of advancing God’s work in the church. John MacArthur asserts, “they sought leadership roles for the sake of their own satisfaction” - “to feed their own egos.” So Paul sent Timothy to handle it.
Stewarding the Gospel
Timothy, your purpose in being at the church in Ephesus is to safeguard and proclaim the gospel of Christ and protect the flock from these ravenous wolves. In spite of your fears, feelings of inadequacy, or in spite of the nature of the problems you are facing, God has prepared you to be part of the solution.
That is the challenge, isn’t it? Staying put where God has placed us even during the hard and fruitless times. But God has a purpose in it, for others and for ourselves. Sticking it out, having true grit and persevering in the situation builds genuine, deep character (Rom 5:3-4; James 1:4). God uses situations to accomplish His purpose through us and as a result staying in the process we become more mature in our faith. Honestly, we cannot stay in an adverse situation for long if we are not constantly being nourished by the Word of God and personally encouraged by the Lord (1 Tim 4:6).
Why did Timothy stay? God had a purpose for him, he had to confront these teachers of false doctrines. (Verses 3-4) What false doctrines? We are talking about people who were in the midst of the church, who were teaching things that have no basis in the Scriptures - things that deviated from the whole council of God.
Let’s turn to 1 Timothy 6:3 -5
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
This is why Paul taught them the whole council of God for many years, because he knew that eventually there would be people in the church who would steer others from the very purpose God created them for. Having sound, healthy doctrine was vital because there were so many other “gospels” out there.
There were people within the church that were occupied with myths and endless genealogies, for example, mixing Jewish writings and mythologies with the Scriptures. Even though they maintained an obligation to the Mosaic law, they mixed truth with fables - creating incredible tall tales, possibly legends about their ancestors, the origin and propagation of angels, false dreams and visions. They propounded that they were understanding deeper mysteries and truths which was a form of, but not the full-grown Gnosticism of the post-apostolic age. “Endless” refers to the tedious unprofitableness of their pointless pursuits. Hebrews 13:9 says that those who were occupied with these quarrels and controversies received no benefit from them. In fact, they were so devoted to and distracted by these strange teachings that they were distracting from pursuing and promoting God’s redemptive plan for mankind.
We are responsible, therefore, to exercise discernment and for the leaders, in particular, to protect the flock from those who want to make the church more about themselves than about Jesus Christ. Those that would draw the church to themselves, to their words and not to the Scriptures. It’s great when people come into the church with a particular gifting or passion and want to share their passion with the church. But it is another thing if they don’t get the response they expect and become divisive and try to take people with them. Haven’t we all seen this before? Is there anything new under the sun? We aren’t supposed to be suspicious or closed-minded, but God does call us to be discerning and to be vigilant.
Love is the goal
Let’s look at verse 5. Paul said: The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere (or genuine) faith.
This is the whole reason why God told me to tell you this Timothy, it is because He loves His church and desires to bring them into a deeper relationship with Him. What this shows me is that God saw the situation and wanted to bring life and healing to that church so He sent Timothy. Often we wonder, does God even notice what is happening in my life? Absolutely! His desire is to bring us into a deeper relationship with Him!
This was Paul’s motivation for sharing this message to the church of Ephesus. Paul spoke from
A pure heart - one that was free from selfish pursuits and goals.
A good conscience - which was filled with the Word, sensitive to God, not holding to any impure motives or agendas and therefore free from guilt.
Genuine faith - which speaks of deep confidence in God. Actively believing the promises and principles of Scripture and acting on them.
Paul genuinely desired for the church to know God and to experience His fullness in the body of Christ.
As a church, we need to keep Christ as the center of our lives and ministry. We need to stay focused and not let anyone or anything distract us and get us off track. A Christ-centered church is one that is rooted and grounded in the truth of God’s Word, growing in genuine faith and secure in the love of God. Paul is telling us that is one of the reasons God designed the local church! Slide
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Col 2:7 NLT)
We want to be deeply rooted in the Word and secure in His love, to know God’s voice so that we are not easily moved as Paul said by every doctrine that blows into the church (Eph 4:14).
This is why we are having a women’s retreat in two weeks, why we are holding a spiritual leadership workshop again in May, why Crescent Project is training people to be able to engage people from other cultures and religious beliefs. This is why we have Bible studies and life groups. It is because we want to be prepared and equipped to be spiritual leaders in the home, in the church, in the community and workplace. Each of us in this room has a sphere of influence - whether in the home with our spouse and children, extended family, amongst our peers, at university or work. We all influence the people around us and remember, position, doesn’t necessarily equal influence. Whether or not you have a position in the church, we have to remember that we all have a responsibility, a portion that we fulfill in the body of Christ. And if you do have a leadership role in the church or workplace it is more than simply a responsibility - it is a calling.
As we continue in 1 Timothy we will endeavor to grow in our understanding of the mission, organization, and life that God designed us, as the church, to fulfill.