1 Timothy 1
Warning Against False Teachers (1:1-11)
1 Paul says here that he is an APOSTLE of Christ by the command of God and Christ. Paul was not an apostle by his own choice or desire, or by any other man’s desire. Rather, God Himself had commanded Paul to be a servant of Christ Jesus (Romans 1:1). Paul was Christ’s soldier; he was under His authority.
Paul here calls God our Savior. Usually in the New Testament it is Christ who is called the Savior. But it is also correct to call God “our Savior,” because God and Christ are one (see John 10:30 and comment; General Article: Jesus Christ).
2 Timothy was Paul’s true son in the faith. Timothy had already become a Christian by the time Paul first met him (Acts 16:1). But Paul had nurtured and strengthened Timothy in the faith; he had loved and cared for Timothy like a father would love and care for his own natural son (see 1 Corinthians 4:17). Now Timothy had become a mature man, and was ready to stand in Paul’s place as a leader in the church.
Paul prays that Timothy might experience GRACE, mercy and PEACE from God (see Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:2 and comments). Here and in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul adds the word mercy to his usual prayer for grace and peace. Mercy is one part of God’s grace. Because of God’s mercy, we have received forgiveness for our sins. Without God’s mercy and forgiveness, we cannot obtain God’s peace.
3 Paul had founded the church at Ephesus about ten years before this letter was written (see Acts 19:1-10). But even within that short time, some men had begun to teach false doctrines—false teachings that were different from the truth that Paul had taught. Here Paul gives Timothy, as leader of the Ephesian church, complete authority to stop men from teaching such false doctrines in the church.
4 In addition to teaching false doctrines, these men were also teaching Jewish myths and endless genealogies. For the Jews, genealogies were very important; it was important for a Jew to be able to trace his genealogy right back to the first Jew, Abraham. The Jews believed that, because they were the natural descendants of Abraham, they would thereby obtain salvation. But Paul says that it is useless to put any reliance upon genealogies or upon who one’s ancestors were. Genealogies do not promote good works; they do not lead to salvation. God’s work—that is, God’s work of saving men—depends on FAITH, not on who our ancestors were. Instead, things like myths and genealogies lead only to controversies, and such controversies profit no one.
People are always eager to hear new and interesting things. But we must always compare any new teaching we hear with what is written in the Bible. If a new teaching does not agree with what is written in the Bible, then we must reject that teaching; we must not listen to it.
Some people are always seeking the truth, but never finding it. They ask questions but receive no answers, because they do not accept the truth written in the Bible. Such people not only fall into error themselves, but they lead others into error as well. Thus Paul forcefully instructs Timothy to eliminate such false teaching from the church, so that the believers might not fall into error but hold fast to the truth and grow in faith and in works of love.
5 The goal of this command is love. Here this command is the command to stop teaching false doctrines in the church. The goal of the command is that believers might grow in love. True doctrines lead men into a life filled with love (see Galatians 5:6). For God’s love to fill our lives, three things are necessary: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Our faith must be in Christ and in His truth, not in false doctrines. Through faith in Christ our hearts are made pure (see John 15:3; Acts 15:9). Together with a pure heart, we must have a good conscience—that is, we must keep a clear conscience (Acts 24:16); otherwise, the Holy Spirit will not be able to work in our lives and our love will dry up.
6 Without a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, men will “wander” from the truth and lose the way. They will turn instead to meaningless talk, such as the false doctrines and controversies mentioned in verses 3-4 (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5).
7 Most false teachers are smooth and skillful talkers. They seek positions of importance. They desire to be teachers of the LAW. But, in fact, they do not know the truth. Such teachers do great harm in the church. They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
8 Having just condemned false teachers who seek to be teachers of the law, Paul now reassures Timothy that the law itself is good. But the law must be used properly. The proper use of the law is to restrain men from doing evil.
9-11 Rules and laws are not given for those who are obedient; rather, they are given to correct those who are disobedient.
Paul here gives examples of different kinds of evildoers. Then, at the end of the list, Paul writes: … and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (verse 10). Everything—no matter how small—that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible is evil. But sound doctrine conforms to the glorious GOSPEL of God, that is, to the teaching of Christ and His apostles.
The Lord’s Grace to Paul (1:12-20)
12-13 Paul can never forget how he once persecuted the church of Christ (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13). Nevertheless, because he had acted in ignorance, God had shown him mercy. God not only forgave Paul’s sins; He also considered him faithful (verse 12). God considered Paul so “faithful” that He appointed him to be an apostle. If God could make such a great change in a hardened enemy of Christ like Paul, then surely He can change any man!
But we must remember that God does not show mercy to those who knowingly continue to sin against Him. According to the teaching of the Old Testament, there was no sacrifice that would take away sins committed knowingly (see Hebrews 10:26-29 and comment). Because Paul had persecuted the church in ignorance and unbelief (verse 13), he had obtained mercy and forgiveness from God.1
14 Paul never failed to be amazed at the grace which God had so abundantly poured out into his life, and he never stopped thanking God for it. Because of that grace, Paul’s life was filled with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here Paul gives a one-sentence summary of the Gospel of Christ: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (see Mark 2:17). All men are sinners (Romans 3:9-10). Therefore, all men need a Savior. Jesus came to save every man and woman of every nation and tribe on earth. All who believe in Him will be saved (John 3:16).
16 Paul serves as an example for all those who seek God and who believe in Christ. If Christ showed such great patience toward Paul, the worst of sinners, He will certainly show patience toward us.
Paul was a devout and righteous apostle of Christ. Nevertheless, he calls himself here the worst of sinners. This is not false humility. The more holy a Christian becomes, the more unholy he will consider himself. The reason is that the nearer we come to God, the clearer we see our own unholiness. In the light of God’s holiness, our own lives appear unholy and unrighteous—as indeed they are. Whoever says, “I am not a sinner; I am holy,” is far away from God.
17 As Paul thinks about the mercy and grace which God has showered upon him, he cannot keep from praising such an amazing and wonderful God—the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God! To Him be honor and glory for ever and ever!
18 Paul had previously received PROPHECIES concerning Timothy, and because of these prophecies Paul knew with certainty that Timothy had been selected by God to be a leader in the church. Now Paul reminds Timothy of these prophecies, so that Timothy might be encouraged. Paul knew that Timothy, being a young pastor, would have to face many battles. But if Timothy remembers that God Himself has appointed him to leadership, he will be strengthened to fight the good fight.
19-20 By remembering the prophecies concerning himself, Timothy will not only be better able to fight, but he will also be better able to hold fast to his faith and to keep a good conscience (verse 19). Faith and a clear conscience always go together. If our faith is not genuine, we will be led into sin and we will lose our clear conscience. At the same time, if we sin and do not repent, we will be turned away from true faith toward false doctrines. Our faith and our behavior must always agree.
Paul here mentions two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had shipwrecked their faith—that is, they had turned from the true faith. These two men had lost their good conscience and had begun to blaspheme against God. Paul had expelled them from the church and had handed (them) over to S ATAN (see 1 Corinthians 5:5 and comment). Paul expected that Satan would afflict them with some illness or other trouble (see Acts 13:9-11). Paul’s hope was that, as a result of this punishment, they would then be led to repentance.
Nothing else is known about these two men. Two other Alexanders are mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 19:33; 2 Timothy 4:14), but many scholars believe they are different from the Alexander mentioned here.
A good conscience (or clear conscience) is essential for every Christian. Why do our spiritual lives so quickly become dry? Why do we lose our zeal for the Lord? Why does our love so easily grow cold? The reason is always the same: namely, our conscience has become unclean because of some sin. If we have sinned and not repented, we will lose the desire and the power to love and serve the Lord.