1 Timothy 01


We’re beginning today a new series of sermons on Paul’s Pastoral Letters. The Pastoral Letters comprise Paul’s first and second letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus. All three letters are fairly short, so we might go through all three of them, one after the other, or I might pause the series and take a break before we get to the end. We’ll just see how we get on.

The Pastoral Letters are different from Paul’s other letters, because whereas his other letters were written to churches — to the church in Rome; to the church in Corinth; to the churches in Galatia; and so on — the pastoral letters were written to single people: to Timothy who was in Ephesus and to Titus who was in Crete. From verse 3 of 1 Timothy 1, you’ll see that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to oversee the work there, while Paul moved on to Macedonia. And from verse 5 of Titus 1, you’ll see that Paul left Titus in Crete to oversee the work on that island. This all happened after the end of the book of Acts. So, the book of Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome. However, he was later released and was able to continue his itinerant ministry, going from place to place to plant new churches and to strengthen churches he had planted previously. It seems that he took Timothy and Titus with him, but left Titus on Crete and Timothy in Ephesus. And now, Paul is writing to Timothy and Titus to instruct them on what they’re to do and what they’re to teach and to encourage them in their work as they minister to God’s people.

In terms of background, you can read about Timothy in Acts 16 where we’re told that he was already a disciple when Paul first met him. His father was a Greek and his Jewish mother was a believer. The other believers who knew him spoke well of him; and so Paul took him along with him on his missionary journeys. And his name appears in most of Paul’s other letters, as one of his co-workers in the ministry. Titus doesn’t appear in the book of Acts, but his name pops up in some of Paul’s letters as one of his co-workers.


As we turn now to the first chapter, you’ll see that it opens in a similar way to Paul’s other letters. First Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope. An apostle was someone who had seen the risen Lord Jesus and who had been appointed by the Lord to be an official eye-witness of the resurrection. And Paul had seen the risen Lord Jesus when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and appointed him to be an apostle.

Paul refers to God the Father as our Saviour, because he saves his people from the coming wrath by his Son. And he refers to the Lord Jesus as our hope, because through faith in Christ we receive the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the presence of God.

And then Paul addresses the recipient of the letter, who is Timothy, ‘my true son in the faith’. This speaks to us of Paul’s affection for Timothy, because he loves Timothy as a father loves his son. However, just as in those days a son was often his father’s apprentice in the family business, so Timothy had been learning from Paul about what it means to be a minister of the gospel.

And then Paul greets Timothy with the words, ‘Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.’ What does Timothy need from the Lord? What do you and I need from the Lord every day? We need grace, mercy and peace. We need his grace, because we’re sinners. We need his mercy, because of our misery and weakness. And because God is gracious and merciful — willing to pardon our sins and to help us every day — then we have peace: that sense that all will be well, because we can trust in God our Father to work all things together for our good.

Verses 3 to 11

And so, we come to the remainder of the chapter. And I think we have to take the rest of the chapter together, because it all belongs together. In verse 3 Paul refers to the time when he was leaving Ephesus to go to Macedonia and he wanted Timothy to remain behind in Ephesus. And he wanted Timothy to remain behind in order to command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which only promote controversies.

Last Sunday evening we finished a series of sermons on 2 Corinthians in which Paul was warning the believers in Corinth about false teachers who were preaching a false gospel. So, in Corinth there was trouble in the church because of false teaching. And here in Ephesus, there was trouble in the church because of false teaching. Ever since the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Devil has tried to confuse God’s people and to lead us astray through false teachers and false doctrine. People sometimes complain that doctrine is dry and boring and it’s hard to understand. But we need to know the true doctrine about God and our salvation, otherwise we’ll be taken in by false teachers and false doctrine.

Now, we don’t really know what the false teachers in Ephesus were teaching, but since Paul refers to myths and genealogies, some commentators think they used myths and legends and made up stories about people whose names appear in the Old Testament genealogies. And when Paul refers to endless genealogies, he might be saying that the false teachers were going on and on and on about these things. But what they’re teaching does not promote the peace and well-being of the church, because their false doctrine only leads to controversy. Do you see that in verse 4? And if you jump down to verse 6 now, you’ll see that Paul refers to ‘meaningless talk’. So, that’s what he thinks of what they’re saying.

And, of course, we still come across this kind of thing, don’t we? Every few years, they’ll be some new book in which the author claims to be an expert in the Bible and the author has discovered some new teaching, some new insight, which no one else has ever discovered before. And now this author wants to reveal it to the world. Or the author will apply the teaching of the Bible in a whole new way. So, I was listening to another preacher who was preaching on this passage, and he referred to The Prayer of Jabez. This is what Amazon says about that book which was published a few years ago:

The life of Jabez, one of the Bible’s most overlooked heroes of the faith, bursts from unbroken pages of genealogies in an audacious, fourpart prayer that brings him an extraordinary measure of divine favor, anointing, and protection.

Isn’t that interesting? It refers to genealogies and to an overlooked, obscure person from the Old Testament. And the author has learned the secret which he wants to teach you. The preacher who mentioned that book also mentioned books about dieting God’s way and books about secret codes in the Bible and that kind of thing. It happens in every generation. And it was happening in Ephesus in the days of Paul and Timothy.

And Paul says in verse 7 that these false teachers wanted to be teachers of the law. So, that was their expertise. That was their area of interest. That’s what they majored on. But look at verse 7. Paul says they don’t know what they’re talking about. They come across as confident, self-assured teachers, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. And Paul goes on to explain that the law is good, if one uses it properly. And, of course, that suggests that the false preachers were not using it properly.

So, how should the law be used? Paul explains that it’s not for the righteous. That is, it’s not for believers. So, who is it for? Paul tells us. It’s for lawbreakers and rebels: those who break God’s law and rebel against his rule over us. And lawbreakers and rebels are further described as: the ungodly and sinful; the unholy and irreligious; those who kill their parents; murderers; adulterers and perverts — the word translated ‘perverts’ should really be translated, ‘men who practice homosexuality’ — slave traders and liars and perjurers and for whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.

I should add that some of the commentators think Paul’s list echoes most of the Ten Commandments. Killing parents is a violation of the fifth commandment. Murder is a violation of the sixth commandment. Adultery and homosexuality are violations of the seventh commandment. Slave traders break the eighth commandment because they’re stealing people. And lying and perjury violate the ninth commandment. And given those connections with the Ten Commandments, then it’s possible that the unholy violate the third commandment by not keeping God’s name holy. And perhaps the irreligious violate the fourth commandment by not keeping the Sabbath Day. So, that’s commandments three to nine.

And what Paul is saying is that the law is for lawbreakers and rebels, because the law is able to convict them of their sin and their need of a Saviour. That’s one of the purposes of the law. God’s law reveal to unbelievers their sin and corruption so that they will repent and believe the good news of salvation.

Now, God’s law is also useful for believers, because it reveals to us the will of God and how to glorify God in our daily lives. And so, for believers — who love the Lord and who want to please him — the law is a useful guide to show us what he wants us to do each day. But when Paul says it’s for lawbreakers and rebels, he means it’s useful for unbelievers because God uses his law to convict them of their sin so that they will repent and believe.

That’s what the law is for. And when it’s used in the right way, it’s good and useful. But when it’s used in the wrong way, it’s harmful to the church. And from what Paul says, the false teachers were using the law in the wrong way. And so, when the Christians in Ephesus gathered in church on Sundays, what did they hear from the false teachers? Did they hear the message of Christ? Did they hear the message of the cross? Did they hear of grace and mercy and peace from God? Did they hear about faith and forgiveness? No. All they heard from the false teachers, these experts in the law, was the law. Law. Law. And more law. Do this. Do this. Don’t do that. Do this. That’s all they heard from these experts in the law.

And you see — as another preacher has put it — the issue was this: do you want a law-based church or a gospel-based church? Do you want a church where the emphasis is on the law and on keeping the law and on the things you have to do for God? Or do you want a church where the emphasis is on the gospel and on what God has done for you by his Son? When you come to church on Sundays, what do you need to hear? The law alone and a list of things you have to do? Or do you want to hear the gospel and to be reminded all over again that your sins have been pardoned. because of Christ who died for you so that, despite your sins and shortcomings, you have peace with God?


Do you know what’s wrong with a law-based church and a law-based ministry? Tim Keller — an American minister — is very good at explaining this. He says it either leads to pride or to despair. A law-based message leads either to pride or to despair.

It leads to pride because we’re pleased with ourselves, because of all that we have done right. Think of the parable of the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. But in his prayer what did he do? He boasted about his righteousness. And we can become proud, because we’re pleased with ourselves, because of all that we have done. And then we despise the people around us, because they’re not as good or righteous as us. And so, as well as becoming proud, we start to criticise the people around us and we find fault with them, because they’re not as good as the rest of us. I’ve kept the law, whereas those other people break the law all the time.

And so, a law-based message leads to pride. Or it can lead to despair. It leads to despair, because — if I believe I have to climb up to God by my own good deeds — then I’m never too sure whether I’ve done enough. And when I sin — as I surely will because I’m a sinner — then that means I must have fallen further away from God. And so, it leads to despair, because I know I’m not good enough and I don’t think I’ve done enough and therefore there’s no hope for me if my salvation depends on me and on my good deeds.

That’s what a law-based church and a law-based message leads to. It leads to pride or it leads to despair. And so, it’s little wonder that Paul urges Timothy to command the false teachers to stop what they’re doing.

Verses 12 to 17

And instead of having a law-based church with a law-based message, we want a gospel-based church and a gospel-based message. And so, Paul goes on to write about the gospel in verses 12 to 17. And his explanation of the gospel begins with thanksgiving. It begins with thanksgiving, because whereas the law is about what I must do for God, the gospel is about what he has done for me; and it’s about the salvation I receive from him by faith. And so, Paul gives thanks to the Lord Jesus who appointed Paul to his service and who has given Paul the strength he needed to serve the Lord. You know the story, don’t you? Paul — who was known as Saul in those days — was on the road to Damascus to arrest the Christians in that city. But on the way, the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus appeared to him and his life was changed, because Saul the great persecutor of the faith became Paul the great preacher of the faith.

And this was such a gracious thing for Christ to do for Paul, because Paul knew now that he was a sinner in those days who deserved nothing but condemnation and wrath. He says in verse 13 that he was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man — or perhaps ‘proud man’ or ‘insolent man’ is a better translation. So, he was once very proud of himself and his own righteousness. And he used to persecute the church of Jesus Christ. And he was a blasphemer, because he once despised the name of the Lord Jesus. That’s what he once was. But he was shown mercy. The Lord was prepared to forgive him for all that he had done wrong when he was ignorant of the truth about Jesus Christ and when he was still an unbeliever. And though he deserved to be condemned and punished for his wickedness, the grace of the Lord Jesus was poured out on him abundantly. He’s conveying to us the sheer abundance, the super-abundance, of Christ’s kindness towards him. What he deserved was for God’s wrath to be poured out upon him; but instead Christ’s kindness was poured out on him. And from Christ the Lord he received faith and love so that he was enabled to trust in Christ the Saviour and he was filled with love for Christ and love for Christ’s people.

And then he gets to the gospel message in verse 15 which is the good news of what God has done for sinners like Paul by his Son Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus came into the world to do what? To teach us the law? And to tell us all the things we have to do in order to climb up to God? No, he came into the world to save sinners. So, the eternal Son of God came into the world as one of us in order to suffer and to die on the cross for sinners, paying for our sins with his life and shedding his blood to cleanse us of our guilt, before rising again to give us eternal life. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst, Paul adds. And notice, of course, that he didn’t say, ‘I was the worst’. He said, ‘I am the worst’. Paul still regarded himself as a sinner, because that’s what we always were and that’s what we always will be until we’re glorified in Christ’s presence in the life to come. But in this life, you’re either a sinner who is under condemnation from God because you haven’t yet believed; or else you’re a sinner who has received mercy from God through faith in his Son.

And to encourage us all to trust in Christ for salvation, Paul presents what happened to him as an example for others. Look at verse 16. I received mercy and Christ was patient with me as an example for those who would believe. Christ puts up with our sin and unbelief to give us time to repent. And whoever repents, turning from their life of sin and unbelief, and whoever turns with faith to Christ, receives mercy from God, the forgiveness of their sins and the hope of eternal life.

And since the gospel is all about God and what he has done for sinners to save us, then God receives all the honour and glory. A law-based message leads to pride, so that we boast in ourselves and not in God. Or a law-based message leads to despair, so that we have nothing to boast about. But a gospel-based message leads to boasting about God. And so, Paul writes in verse 17:

To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.

God is the eternal King, because he is without beginning and without end. And he’s immortal in the sense that he is incorruptible and he does not decay or perish or diminish. He’s invisible because he’s a spirit. And he’s the only God, because whatever other gods are worshipped are only idols who can do nothing. But he’s the only God, who made us and who sustains us and who saves us by his Son. And he deserves the honour and glory because of what he has done for sinners.

And so, when we come to a gospel-based church and when we believe this gospel-based message and trust in Christ to save us from the condemnation we deserve, then we’ll want to give thanks to the Lord.

Verses 18 to 20

And so, says Paul at the end, I’ve given you this instruction, Timothy. I’ve instructed you to command the false teachers to stop teaching their law-based message. And he reminds Timothy that, as a minister of the gospel, he must fight the good fight, which means he must defend the gospel in the face of unbelief and opposition. Fight the good fight by holding on to faith and to a good conscience. So, he’s to watch what he believes and what he does, because if he stops believing, or if he ends up with a guilty conscience because of something he’s done wrong, then he’ll become like these two men mentioned here who were among those who shipwrecked their faith. So, keep believing, Timothy. Keep your clear conscience intact. And defend the gospel.


And so, when you come to church, you’ll hear the gospel. You’ll also hear the law, because those who believe the gospel want to obey the law out of gratitude to God for all that he has done for us. But the law must never take over; and the gospel must always take precedence, because by hearing and believing the gospel you are saved from condemnation and you possess eternal life. And by hearing and believing the gospel, you’ll be kept from pride, because you’ll see that you’re only a sinner saved by grace. And you’ll be kept from despair, because you’ll see that God is able to save even the worst sinner by his Son; and no matter what you have done wrong, your sin is covered over with the blood of Christ. And by hearing and believing the gospel, you’ll be filled with love and praise to God, who sent his Son into the world to save you. To save you. This is not a message for other people. This is a message for you personally, because whoever believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, can say that God sent his Son into the world to save me.