The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.7
The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He founded it by His life, death, and resurrection, and since Pentecost He has continued to build it by His Spirit (Acts 2). Therefore, what matters most in the life of the church is not the church's website or the latest statistics on what visitors are looking for in a worship experience. What matters most is what the Lord of the church has said.
The opening words of 1 Timothy demand our attention: "Paul, an apostle." We tend to skim through the greetings of the New Testament as if these were throwaway verses. However, these greetings are so much more than a "Dear Joe" kind of formality. Paul, the author of this letter, was giving us his credentials as an apostle, which means we had better listen to what he said. We're reminded that 1 Timothy is authoritative.
According to Acts 1:21-22, in order to be one of the original 12 apostles, an individual had to be present during the earthly ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John to his resurrection and ascension. Jesus sent these men, these eyewitnesses of His ministry, to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth, and several of them were even used to pen the Scriptures. In fact, every book of the New Testament is written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle. So instead of treating the opening of this or any other New Testament letter as trivial, our reaction should be just the opposite. We should pay close attention, for these are words given to us by a special representative of the King of the universe.
Unlike the other apostles Paul did not accompany Jesus during His earthly ministry, nor did he see the resurrected Lord before the ascension. But Paul did have a personal encounter with Jesus, an amazing account of God's sovereign grace recorded in Acts 9. This former persecutor of the church was appointed to the ministry by Jesus Himself (1 Tim 1:12) as the last of the apostles (1 Cor 15:8). Paul would become the greatest missionary in the history of the church and the author of a significant portion of the New Testament. So the first thing that grabs our attention as we start reading through 1 Timothy is that it was written by an apostle.
Paul emphatically made his point about being an apostle when he said in verse 1 that his apostleship is "by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope." Paul wasn't elected by men. He was divinely appointed to be an authoritative representative of the risen and ruling Lord. We should not fail to mention that Paul ascribed this command of apostleship to both the Father and the Son. It is clear, then,8 that Paul assumed the deity of Jesus Christ, for we would be shocked to hear that a command came from God and the apostle John! This exalted view of the Son of God is also evident in verse 2, where we read that "grace, mercy, and peace" are given by "God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."3
Now to be clear, not everything an apostle said or wrote is authoritative. We only need to think of Paul having to confront Peter's hypocrisy in Galatians 2 to make this point (Gal 2:11-14). Authority does not ultimately rest in a group of men, no matter how privileged their position may be. Rather, Scripture carries this authority, for as Paul told Timothy elsewhere, "All Scripture is inspired by God" (2 Tim 3:16). Peter put it this way: "Men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet 1:21). Men are not inerrant; God's Word is. The apostles were fallible men whom God used to pen these inspired words. Therefore, the fundamental reason Timothy, the church at Ephesus, and everyone else since then needs to submit to this letter is because it was breathed out by God.
The fact that God's Word is inspired and inerrant is not only a doctrine to be affirmed;4 it's a firm foundation to stand on in a culture and a world that suppress and oppose the truth of God. When everything around us seems to be caving in, we need to hear God's Word and submit to it, knowing that what God has said is true and good and right. We can imagine that Timothy may have been a little shaken by the issues he was facing in the church at Ephesus. Along with the daily pressures of pastoral ministry, he had to deal with false teachers who were undermining God's Word. In this sense 1 Timothy is timely in that it was essential for Timothy because it dealt with issues he was facing.
Paul called Timothy "my true son in the faith" (1 Tim 1:2). Elsewhere Paul said something similar, demonstrating his affection for Timothy: "But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father" (Phil 2:22). Timothy traveled with Paul often as a fellow worker in the ministry, so the apostle knew him well. We have, then, a personal letter here from Paul to a younger brother in Christ.9
It is also essential to see that Paul's instructions here are meant for a wider audience than Timothy. As we saw in verse 1, Paul spoke as an apostle, and his words as recorded in Scripture bear the authority of God. Therefore, it's not a stretch to say that it is essential for every pastor to hear these instructions. The issues that arise in Ephesus are not confined to one time and place, for sin has continued to rear its ugly head ever since the fall in Genesis 3. In fact, we can go even further and say that 1 Timothy is essential for every follower of Christ. All of us need to know what God has said about how we relate to Him and to one another in the church. The fact that God chose to include this letter in the Bible means it is relevant for every child of God. First Timothy is God's Word to all of us.
We shouldn't bypass this opening greeting without recognizing that 1 Timothy is filled with hope. Yes, this inspired letter is authoritative and timely as it deals with a number of difficult issues in the church, but it's also full of gospel hope. This is apparent right from the start in verse 1 when Paul referred to "God our Savior." Paul was not sent by some nameless deity. He reminded Timothy and all who hear this letter that the God he serves is the saving God of the Scriptures. So we are reminded at the outset of the letter that God is our Savior.
In the next phrase we see more good news. Paul was sent not only by "God our Savior" but by "Christ Jesus our hope." What an encouraging reminder at the beginning of a letter that deals with so many difficult and thorny issues. Christ Jesus is our hope! Surely Paul intended for us to think on the hope that is ours based on Christ's death and resurrection. He is, as Paul said later, the "one mediator between God and humanity" (2:5). Paul also talked about the "mystery of godliness" as it relates to Jesus Christ:
While 1 Timothy contains a number of exhortations and commands, we can't forget that Paul gave his instructions in the context of the gospel. This precious gospel should come to mind when we read the close of Paul's greeting: "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the10 Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (1:2). Again, this is one of those portions of the greeting we tend to pass over lightly, but consider what is being said here. God's dealings with His people are full of grace, mercy, and peace. That's good news for those who are still battling sin, which is all of us.
Neither Timothy nor the church at Ephesus was being called to "clean up their act" in order to gain God's favor. For that matter, neither are we as followers of Christ today called to appease a perfectly just and holy God through our obedience. God Himself has decisively dealt with sin in the cross of His dear Son (Rom 8:3), thus securing for us an eternal and unshakable hope. On this basis God addresses us. Conducting ourselves rightly in God's household is made possible only by God's grace. Yes, it is imperative that we obey God's Word and conform to His will, for saving faith always produces spiritual fruit. But true, God-honoring obedience is always rendered in the context of a loving relationship made possible by the gospel. The close of Paul's greeting in verse 2 reminds us that grace, mercy, and peace are gifts. In the remainder of chapter 1 Paul will continue to reflect on the mercy he has been shown, a mercy that serves as a demonstration of Christ's "extraordinary patience" (1:16; see 1:13).5