I. False Teaching and the True Gospel (1 Timothy 1:1-20)


I. False Teaching and the True Gospel (1:1-20)

1:1-2 Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus. This was not because of a letter of recommendation or Paul’s job history. He was an apostle only by the command of God and Christ. God is our Savior because he sent his Son to save us, and Jesus is our hope because he secured our salvation (1:1). The apostle wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith. Paul served as a spiritual mentor to Timothy, who was perhaps converted under his ministry (see “Historical Background”). Paul greets this trusted ministry companion with grace, mercy, and peace (1:2).

1:3-4 Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to continue some much needed, difficult ministry work. Certain people were spreading harmful false doctrine, and Timothy was to put a stop to it (1:3). These false teachers were following myths and genealogies that obscured the truth rather than promoting God’s kingdom plan (1:4).

1:5 The goal of true biblical instruction is love—love for God (to love God is to passionately pursue his glory and submit to his will) and love for neighbor (to love people is the decision to compassionately, righteously, and responsibly seek the well-being of others). The absence of love means that teaching (no matter how accurate) has not fully accomplished its goal. Love arises when the Holy Spirit uses sound doctrine to produce in us a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. When these aspects are rightly trained within a believer, they help keep us on the right path. For example, the conscience is designed to serve as a megaphone directed at our souls to help us understand right from wrong and distinguish authentic Christian faith from false religion.

1:6 Some people—whether teachers or also their followers—had turned aside from sound teaching to lies. This resulted in fruitless talk and behavior that was not beneficial (1:6). This is a reminder that false doctrine never ends in ideas alone. What enters the mind comes out in the actions. Ideas have consequences. Beliefs—whether true or false—determine behavior.

1:7 These heretics wanted to be respected teachers of the law and were perhaps motivated by pride. They were saying and insisting on things that they didn’t understand. When you act like an expert about spiritual and biblical subjects that you know little about, you’re going to confuse and harm those who trust your expertise. Remember: “Where there are many words, sin is unavoidable” (Prov 10:19).

1:8-11 Paul emphasizes that he is not disparaging the law but those who misunderstand it and use it legalistically. The law is good, but it must be understood legitimately (1:8). The law shows us how sinful we are (see Rom 7:7-13). It was meant for the lawless, not for the righteous (1:9). It cannot make anyone good; it only reveals how incapable we are of keeping it. The law was intended to point us to our need for a Savior (see Gal 3:21-26). Believers satisfy the demands of the law as they walk in the Spirit (see Rom 8:1-13; Gal 5:16-18). The law is for those who have not yet become convinced of their sin. The types of sinners Paul names in 1:9-10 point to those who break the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17).

Paul’s measuring stick for sound teaching was the gospel—the good news—of Jesus Christ (1:10-11). Only that which conforms to the gospel message and teaching of Christ is to be taught to and urged upon churches. This good news was entrusted to Paul (1:11). He taught in strict accordance with it and opposed anything that detracted from it.

1:12-14 Talking about “the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God” (1:11) causes Paul to reflect on the grace of God in his own life. Even though Paul was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor of the church, and an arrogant man, he received mercy from Jesus. Not only did Christ extend mercy to Paul in his unbelief, but he went further than that, appointing him to the ministry (1:12-13). Grace—God’s unmerited favor—was not merely sprinkled on Paul. It overflowed into his life (1:14). God’s grace is more than sufficient; it is greater than all your sin. And sufficient for all of life’s needs (see 2 Cor 9:8).

Timothy had no doubt heard Paul’s testimony before, but Paul apparently never tired of telling the story of the power of God’s grace in his life. This is a reminder of two things. First, no one is beyond the reach of Christ. If Saul the persecutor could become Paul the evangelist, anyone else can be similarly transformed. Don’t ever neglect to share the gospel. Second, like Paul, you should never forget the love and grace of God shown to you. No matter where you came from or what you did, if you trust in Jesus as your substitutionary sacrifice, you have a testimony of grace to proclaim.

1:15-16 Paul’s personal testimony leads to a trustworthy declaration: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them (1:15). This statement includes both doctrine (the mission of Christ) and experience (the personal application of the gospel to Paul). He considered himself an example to others, an example of how the worst of sinners could be saved because of the extraordinary patience of Jesus (1:16). The apostle was grateful to serve as a testimony of hope and encouragement so that others might be motivated to believe the gospel as well.

1:17 Mentioning the glorious gospel (1:11) led Paul to talk about the amazing grace of God in his own life (1:12-16), which led to a Christological doxology of honor and glory to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. Jesus Christ is God. He is sovereign above all earthly and spiritual power. He deserves our worship and service because of who he is and what he has done.

1:18 After his digression in 1:12-17, Paul returns to exhorting Timothy. He reminds his son in the faith about the prophecies made concerning him so that he will be motivated to fight the good fight.

1:19-20 Paul opened his letter by reiterating the purpose for which he had left Timothy in Ephesus: to stop the work of false teachers (1:3). To encourage him in that work, Paul reminds Timothy that he’s not telling him to do anything that he was unwilling to do himself. Paul had dealt with two false teachers named Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:20). In his second letter to Timothy, Paul explains that Hymenaeus was teaching that the resurrection had already happened (2 Tim 2:17-18). Such men had shipwrecked their own faith and were harming others (1 Tim 1:19). So Paul delivered them to Satan so that they might be taught not to blaspheme (1:20). By excommunicating them from the church, Paul put the men out from under God’s kingdom covering and delivered them to the realm of Satan—with the hope that they would see the error of their deeds and be led to repentance.