We’re shifting gears a bit in our Survey as we transition from Paul’s letters to Churches to his 4 letters to individuals. Those are the two letters to Timothy, the one to Titus and one to Philemon of the Church in Colossae. Together, they are known in Theological Circles as the ‘Pastoral Epistles’. That’s because here, Paul is writing as an older Pastor to his younger protégés.
From a 60k foot level the books, especially those to Timothy and Titus deal with how to lead a ministry and how to develop future leaders.
If you could sneak a peek at your Pastor’s mail or e-mail, would you? In a sense, that’s what these ‘Pastoral Epistles’ are. They are very personal glimpses into the lives and ministries of Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Paul. And they are quite insightful.
Frankly, they can be a bit difficult for 21st century minds because there are several topics that run counter to modern cultural understanding and can frustrate those who are new believers or aren’t yet deeply committed to the authority of scripture. For that reason, I don’t recommend Timothy and Titus as letters to read early in your plan. In fact, in future editions of my reading plan, I think I’m going to move Timothy and Titus to right before Romans, Jude and Revelation. That’s not because there is anything wrong with or in those letters, but they are written specifically to mature leaders and contain some material that requires extra discernment.
I hope that makes sense, but if not, email me your questions, or use the comments section of the show notes and I’ll be glad to try and clear things up for you.
The letters to Timothy and Titus are among the last that Paul wrote before his execution at the hands of Nero. It looks like the precise order of these letters may be Philemon, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2nd Timothy. They are grouped roughly according to length in the New Testament.
So, let’s move from an overview of this section and look a little closer at First Timothy.
From as early as I can remember, Timothy was my New Testament hero. Sure, I loved Peter, John and Paul, but Timothy was the guy I most related to. Primarily, that was because of his youth. I would guess young pastors everywhere have a special soft spot for Timothy.
Timothy is from the Galatian City of Lystra. His mother is a Jew, his Dad is a gentile. His mother and grandmother are believers, but Dad does not appear to be. Sound familiar?
We read about Timothy joining Paul and Silas in chapter 16 of Acts. Timothy stands in stark contrast to Mark, who went with Paul and Barnabas on their travels, but got homesick and went back. Timothy, however, stays the course and becomes one of Paul’s greatest understudies.
Don’t let the obvious contrast between Timothy and Mark lead you to hasty conclusions, as we’ll see next week, both stories have happy endings. One merely got off to a better start than the other.
Every Timothy needs a Paul. Someone older and experienced to help keep him grounded and focused. It’s easy to chafe against it, because we want to run off and slay dragons, but we are wise if we follow Timothy’s example and find a mentor.
I was no exception. I am, by nature, extremely independent and strong willed. It’s a wonderful trait and a dangerous one. I was fortunate to have a number of Paul’s in my young days as a Pastor in ministry.
Dad taught me how to be a man, Wayne Smith taught me how to love preaching and live with integrity, Woody Phillips taught me how to be a missionary rather than an American abroad, Alex Barr taught me how to be a Pastor rather than a clergyman, Dale McCann taught me how to preach with the end in mind rather than merely being an orator and how to love the Church in hard times as well as good. There were others, but, like Timothy and Paul and Silas, there is wisdom in multiplying teachers.
Now that I am older, I am eager to be Paul and Silas to young Timothies, but we’ll talk more about that next week.
Back to the letter. The first chapter of first Timothy is dedicated to Paul encouraging Timothy to remain strong doctrinally and morally in the face of widespread hypocrisy and false teaching. Our standing, like our salvation, is not based on our talent or training, but by grace.
Paul begins Chapter 2 by reminding Timothy to be a man of prayer, regardless of political views. This is a hard and mission critical teaching. It’s well worth an episode all its own, and one day we’ll do that, but for now let’s just remember that God doesn’t take sides in Political debate. God looks on the heart.
From there, he gives some instructions on gender behavior and gender roles. This is one of those places that grates on a 21st century view of gender distinctions. When we are able to spend a few weeks studying this letter we’ll dive more deeply, for now, it’s important to note that Paul does not hate women and he does not downplay the role of women in the Church. In fact, there are many places he commends brave, strong women for their efforts in the kingdom. He does, however, say that just like all humans carry a burden from the fall of Adam and Eve, women have a specific role and secondary leadership place in the church, but a primary one in the home via ‘childbirth’.
Chapter 3 details what are called the qualifications for Elders and deacons. These guidelines are primarily a reminder that we shouldn’t advance or promote just any one into leadership, because leadership in a local Church is a serious responsibility. This again, deserves at least one episode of its very own because it is misinterpreted by many congregations on many levels. For now, let’s leave it with the fact that leaders need to take their walk with Christ and their relationships within and without the Church seriously. The world is watching and our behavior is our witness.
Chapter 4 is interesting because Paul zeroes in on what happens if we don’t choose our leaders wisely. We will have all kinds of false teachers. Some will be crazy legalistic, while others will be extremely immoral, while others will just make up doctrines. Timothy is advised to stay strong morally and doctrinally despite the fact that some will reject him because of his youth.
In Chapter 5, Paul gives Timothy some exceptional advice on how to deal with other people, both men and women. The easy part is treating younger men as brothers. When it comes to younger women, Paul not only tells Timothy to treat them as sisters, but adds, with all purity.
He also gives some specifics on older men and widows. It’s really interesting and again, deserves it’s own episode. The widow part is particularly insightful. There is no hint that the state should look after the elderly. It is first the responsibility of the family, then the responsibility of the Church. I am convinced that this, and other scriptures show the error of modern teachings on Social Justice. I want to stay here a while, but we can’t. Let me just say that here in 1 Timothy, Paul teaches personal responsibility and gracious mercy.
Paul finishes this first letter with wise counsel regarding ministry and money. How many Pastors, heck, how many people, have allowed the desire for money to get in the way of effective living and ministry.
Interestingly, the Bible has more to say about money than almost any other topic, including heaven and hell. Hmmm…
He warns about the pitfalls of great wealth as well as the temptation of craving great wealth. The key verse in all this is ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’
We often hear criticism of certain famous preachers and their riches. Sometimes those are well deserved, while they are often exaggerated. Most preachers are NOT overpaid and often struggle to make ends meet. Especially young ones. The temptation to crumble under the weight of that pressure is intense. Paul offers very sound advice to Timothy…and to us.
The letter ends rather abruptly at this point, which suggests to me that Paul always intended to write another one. We’ll look at that one next time.
For now, that’s all I got.
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