THE EPISTLES TO TIMOTHY AND TITUS
The two Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus are called the Pastoral Epistles, because they were written by Paul to Timothy and to Titus, not as friends simply, nor as individual Christians simply, but as pastors of the church of God. They were written for the purpose of instructing these ministers in the proper methods of pastoral work.
The three Epistles have a common character. The subjects of all are very much the same. They were written in the years 64 and 65, after Paul's release from his first Roman imprisonment, and not long before his martyrdom. As the Epistles to the Thessalonians were the first that Paul wrote, so these Pastoral Epistles were the last of his writing. They are written under the shadow of approaching death. They are written by "Paul, the aged "; by one not more than sixty years of age, yet old before his time because of the shipwrecks and the scourgings he has suffered for Christ. As he nears his end, he writes with pathetic earnestness, and in a style somewhat different from that of his earlier writings; and these things give to the Pastoral Epistles a peculiar interest. Let me say a word or two, first of all, with regard to the persons to whom they were addressed: Timothy, on the one hand; Titus, on the other.
Timothy was a native of Lystra, in Asia Minor, a city where there was no Jewish synagogue. A place that had no Jewish synagogue was a place where there were very few Jews; for, so soon as there were ten heads of families who were Jews, it was the custom to establish a synagogue. We conclude that in Lystra the number of those who professed faith in the true God must have been very small.
At Lystra, Paul, in his first missionary journey, preached to the people, and some were converted to Christ. It is not until the second missionary journey, some six years later, that we read of Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and of a Greek father. His Greek father must have been living, one would think, at the time when Timothy came under the influence of Paul; for, at that time, he was still uncircumcised. Timothy had been instructed in the Scriptures by his mother and by his grandmother; and that early knowledge of the Scriptures seems to have drawn Paul to him, and to have qualified Timothy for his work of preaching the gospel. It was certainly much to the credit of Timothy's mother and grandmother that, in a town where there were no privileges of public worship, he should have been so faithfully instructed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. There was something in his mixed descent which qualified Timothy for the work to which the apostle Paul called him. Being partly Jew and partly Gentile, he had a peculiar fitness for the work of preaching the gospel in a community composed partly of Jews and partly of Gentiles.
After six years Paul came back to Lystra, and found Timothy well known and highly esteemed in the church; found, moreover, that Timothy had natural gifts, in addition to his training in the Scriptures,
which qualified him to be Paul's companion. Timothy seems to have been a young man of extreme and almost effeminate sensitiveness of organization. This made him sympathetic, and gave him access to many classes of persons. His sensitive and conscientious nature tended toward a sort of asceticism, against which Paul warns him. And yet there were many qualities that drew him to Paul; and he enjoyed, during the seventeen years in which he was Paul's companion, the constant instruction and affection of the apostle.
Titus was a person of very different mental makeup from Timothy. He was a man of sterner stuff. Strange to say, Titus is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. It is only in Paul's Epistles that we learn anything about him. But the various allusions to Titus, and the various missions upon which he was sent, seem to indicate that he was a person of stalwart mind and character. Titus was probably a native of Antioch. It is from Antioch that he goes to Jerusalem, with Paul and Barnabas. Perhaps he goes as a representative of the Gentile Christians; and in that Apostolic Council, to which he was a delegate, he secures the liberty of the Gentiles. They are not to be put under the restrictions of circumcision. Throughout his whole life, Titus is a living protest against the doctrine that men, in order to become Christians, must first become Jews.
The second time when we meet with Titus is in connection with the letter which the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth, commanding them to excommunicate the incestuous person. Titus' second mission seems to have had for its object to insure the obedience of the Corinthian church to the directions of Paul—a mission which could hardly have been entrusted to any but a man of great discretion and decision.
Again, we find that Titus is left behind in the Island of Crete, to complete the apostle's work and to organize the churches, after Paul and he had preached the gospel there. When we remember what the Cretans were, it is very easy to see that this was a task of no small difficulty, and one which needed something more than a person of kind disposition and gentle conduct.
Last of all, Titus goes to Dalmatia. Tradition says that Titus was the apostle of Dalmatia. Dalmatia was by no means a civilized region at that time; this seems like a mission to outside barbarians; it required not only zeal, but organizing ability.
These are all the intimations we have with regard to Titus, and the work that Titus did, although we have occasional allusions to him in Paul's Epistles, the meaning of which I think we shall see a little farther on, when we consider the large amount of instruction which this Epistle contains.
Here, then, were two persons of very different training and influence. On the one hand, a person of kindly sympathy, of almost feminine mind and character; and, on the other hand, a man of strong will and vigorous intellect. Yet both have their gifts of leadership, and we can see that they are wisely chosen as the two persons to whom Paul addresses his Pastoral Epistles. It is as if he selected two of the most opposite types of character, in order that in them he might find the
representatives of the whole ministry of Christ that was to arise and preach and work to the end of time.
The dates of these Epistles to Timothy and Titus are difficult to determine with exactness. I can justify the dates which I have assigned—during the years 64 and 65—only by telling something of Paul's story.
For many years it was thought that we must fix the date of these Epistles some time before the close of Paul's imprisonment as it is narrated in the Acts; but there are very great difficulties connected with this method of explaining their authorship. There seems to be no place in Paul's history, up to the time of the close of that imprisonment, where we can put the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.
The First Epistle to Timothy, for example, seems to be written while Timothy remains in Ephesus during a journey of Paul into Macedonia. But there is no one of the journeys of Paul narrated in the Acts which the authorship of these Epistles will fit; for, in one of these journeys, Paul took Timothy with him, and there are insuperable difficulties connected with the other journeys. Our conclusion must be that these Epistles to Timothy and Titus were not written during the period that preceded the end of Paul's first imprisonment at Rome, but must have been written after the close of that imprisonment.
We have no information with regard to the close of that imprisonment, unless we get it from these Epistles themselves. It would appear that Paul was successful in his first appeal to Caesar; that, at the close of the stay in Rome, which is narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, he was released; and that, after his release, he executed a purpose which he had intimated a long time before, in his Epistle to the Romans, to go into Spain and preach the gospel there. In the year 61 this first imprisonment of Paul's probably ended; and we may most reasonably conclude that the two following years, the year 62 and the year 63, were spent at what Clement, the church Father, calls the ends of the earth, or in Spain; that Paul preached the gospel there in comparative seclusion, since we have no Epistle dated from that time of the apostle's life. After his imprisonment it was possibly the most salutary thing for him to remain in comparative quiet, far away from Rome and from the notice of the Roman authorities. After those two years in Spain we may believe that the apostle went with Titus to Crete, and there, for a year perhaps, engaged in missionary work, founding and instructing churches; that from Crete he took his departure with Timothy, leaving Titus upon the ground to finish the work he had done; and that he then accomplished what had been his purpose for a long time (as we find by his early Epistles), visited the church at Colosse, left Trophimus sick at Miletus, stayed for some time in Ephesus with Timothy, left him behind to be his representative, and went northward through Troas to Philippi, having promised the Philippian church to visit them. From Philippi, three years perhaps after his first imprisonment at Rome terminated, Paul wrote the First Epistle to Timothy, while Timothy was pastor of the church at Ephesus. Leaving Philippi, he goes southward to Corinth, and at Corinth he leaves Erastus. Then he goes into Macedonia to Nicopolis; and from Nicopolis he writes the Epistle to Titus, who is still in Crete, giving directions in regard to the conduct of his pastoral work there, and the organization of the Cretan churches.
At Nicopolis, according to tradition, Paul was again arrested upon the charge that he was the leader of the Christians throughout the world. The attitude of the Roman authorities toward the Christian faith had become more rigorous. Paul was taken to Rome, and at Rome he suffered, not the very tolerable confinement which characterized his first captivity, but a much more painful imprisonment.
In his first appearance before Caesar he appears to have been successful, although no one stayed by him. It required courage as well as Christian principle to stand by the apostle, when standing by him might involve a sharing in his martyrdom. In his second letter to Timothy he says that only Luke was left with him. The friends that were about him in his first captivity were absent now.
The Second Epistle to Timothy, written during this second Roman imprisonment, has an entirely different air from the First Epistle, which was written to Timothy from Philippi, and from the Epistle to the Philippians, in which he anticipates release. He seems now to anticipate a speedy departure from the world; and in that Roman prison, in a very pathetic and it seems to me a very affecting way, he writes to Timothy, as he had previously written to Titus at Nicopolis, to bring to him certain things he was in need of. The cold of the prison demanded a greater amount of clothing than he had, "Bring the cloak I left at Troas." He also had need of the books, and especially the parchments, Old Testament Scriptures, or possibly blank parchments upon which he might write something still to the churches he was soon to leave behind, and for whose welfare he was solicitous.
Here are evidences that the apostle was brought to a state of real need, and that little text about bringing the cloak, which has seemed to some so trivial as almost to constitute an objection to the inspiration of the writing, seems to me to have in it a great deal of suggestion. It is worthy to be a text of a whole sermon. It indicates that the apostle Paul was brought into great straits; and in the urgent request that Timothy will come to him quickly, we seem to see the impression that the end was drawing near. He wished to give Timothy his last instructions and to send his dying wishes to the churches.
And so the Second Epistle to Timothy, the last Epistle we have from the hand of the apostle, was written from a Roman dungeon; and only a little after, a file of Roman soldiers marched out with Paul upon the Ostian way, dug there a grave, severed his head from his body, and buried him on the spot.
The object of these Epistles, as I remarked at the beginning, is common to them all. Since the mission of the churches is the same, and the needs of the churches the same, Paul writes in very much the same strain to them all.
Two things the churches were especially in danger of, and Paul did all he could do to counteract these dangers. First, there was the danger arising from false doctrine. Paul had been absent from these churches for several years; he had not been able to give them continuous instruction; he had been compelled to commit his work to others. During that time, Judaizing teachers had crept in; they were propounding their endless genealogies; and the germs which afterward developed into Gnosticism were all felt in each one of these churches of Christ.
In the book of Revelation the Epistle to the angel of the church at Ephesus describes the same errors and dangers against which Paul warns Timothy. The apostle John, only a little later, finds full grown the errors and dangers which previously caused sorrow to the apostle Paul. Timothy was pastor at Ephesus, and Paul addressed him. There were Hymenseus and Philetus who concerning the truth had erred, saying that the resurrection was past already. They spiritualized the resurrection, declaring that at death the soul enters at once into its loftier state; that that loftier state is ethereal; and that the body does not rise at all. These errors the apostle had first of all to meet, not, as in the Epistles written during his first captivity at Rome to the Colossians and Ephesians and Philippians, by an elaborate expounding of any single Christian doctrine, but as an old and tired man would meet them, by referring once more to the first principles of the gospel of Christ.
It is as much as to say that all we need to counteract this heresy is to return to Jesus, the Saviour, and to learn once more the A, B, C of the Christian faith. It is the old man who, in a more broken way than in his first Epistles, with nothing like the sustained eloquence which we find in the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, gives his final instructions to those who have under their care the church of Christ.
There was a second difficulty among these churches to which the apostle was writing, through their representatives, and that was a difficulty with regard to church organization. Now church organization was a matter of development. There was not so much church organization at the beginning as there was in later days. That was ordained by God. One thing after another was provided as the need of it arose. Before we get to the end of the apostle's teaching we find a complete outline of church organization; and in these Epistles we find more in regard to church offices and church government than we find anywhere else. Here are depicted the qualifications for the Christian ministry. We have here the qualifications for the deaconship. We have directions with regard to discipline of those who are heretics and of those who are sensual. These instructions which Paul sent to his representatives in the ministry have been of great importance in the determination of church polity, during all these later times.
The style of these Epistles is different in some respects from the style of Paul's earlier writings. It has been a puzzle, to those who have examined the Epistles from a literary point of view, to know how the same person could have written, for example, both the Epistles to the Thessalonians and the Epistles to Timothy and Titus. But you are familiar with the fact that a man's style changes as he advances in years. When George William Curtis wrote his Potiphar papers, many years ago, there was a lingering sweetness long drawn out, of which Curtis afterward became incapable. If one should read the Potiphar papers now, and should mark the infinite delicacy and the excess of sentiment which characterizes them, he would think it almost impossible that the same man could have written the calm and statesmanlike articles of "Harper's Weekly." And yet it is the same man. And so Paul, from the early part of his life to the latter part of his life, must have undergone a very great change in this matter of style. He had had experience of the world, he had mingled with all sorts of men, he had passed through all sorts of suffering; and now, toward the close of his life, there is a terseness and incisiveness in his writing, and an advanced and enlarged Christian experience, such as we do not find in the earlier Epistles. His style changed with his subject and his circumstances, as the style of every practical writer does.
Paul had an exceedingly mobile, an exceedingly impressible, and an exceedingly fertile mind. Paul was one who could take in as well as give out. To the end of his life he was always learning; and as he writes these private letters, for these you must notice, unlike the earlier Epistles of which we have spoken, are letters to individuals, he very naturally writes in a different style from that which characterized the letters written to the churches. A private letter is very different from an official communication; and a letter of direction to individuals is very different from a doctrinal treatise, such as we find in the Epistles to the Romans and to the Ephesians. These considerations are sufficient to account for whatever difference of
style we find between Paul's early Epistles and his later ones.
How much we should lack if these Epistles to Timothy and Titus were taken from us! They are the natural, and one might almost say the necessary, supplement to our other knowledge of Paul's life. If all that we knew with regard to the apostle's teaching ended with the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians, there would be a very large part of Paul's life and heart which would be still unknown to us. There are personal experiences here of which we should have no record if these Epistles were taken from us. How did Paul feel as the shadows of approaching death began to creep upon him? How did Paul look forward to the end of all things earthly? It is a delightful thing to me to have related here, in Paul's own words, an experience something like that of Christian in the " Pilgrim's Progress," when he is just about to step down into the cold river which separates him from the City of God on the other side. "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." Here the apostle, after all his sufferings and trials, and in the very face of approaching death, is uttering these calm, confident words. This is a blessing to the whole church of Christ; it is a blessing to every one of us, because it gives us warrant for taking these same words upon our lips when we come to die.
There is instruction with regard to the conduct of affairs in the church of Christ, which we should lack if these Epistles were taken from us. Paul had great anxiety with regard to the future. He wanted to put into other hands the work of preaching the gospel and of sustaining the church; and that he does in these Epistles. He charges Timothy to commit this same gospel which he preached to faithful men who should be able to teach others also. Paul was a whole theological seminary by himself. He desired to raise up and instruct those who should afterward teach the word of God. There is no indication that Paul felt depressed with regard to the past or future. When Luther came to this point in his life, where death began to draw nigh, great man as he was and great work as he had done, he felt as if his life had been spent in vain, and as if everything he had accomplished was about to be swept away. Great discouragement came upon him. In such a state of mind as that, his life ended. In the case of Paul we have a better illustration of faith in Christ than is given by Luther. Paul in his Roman prison, with the certainty that he was soon to be taken away, and with no one in all the world to take his place, still feels hopeful with regard to the church of God. His only anxiety is to commend to others the work he is so soon to lay down.
There is something very interesting in Paul's gravitating again toward Rome after his first imprisonment there. It seems as if there was a tremendous magnet in that capital of the world that drew him there. If the tradition be true that Peter also suffered martyrdom there, then both the apostles—Peter and Paul— felt as if the great thing to do was to conquer the Eternal City for Christ. Although Paul has been imprisoned there, and has been in danger of martyrdom there, he still cannot rest until he gets back to Rome; he will dash himself during his last hours against that stone wall of Imperial Rome, with the assurance that Christ is able to strike that wall until it falls; and so in Rome he writes his last letter, the Second Epistle to Timothy.
Paul tells us in this Epistle that what we have ourselves received we must commit to faithful men, that they may be able to teach others also. In other words, every one of us has a responsibility for the extension and continuance of the preaching of Christ's truth after we are dead. It is our business to see that the gospel is preached and published to the generations that are yet to come.