Paul gave practical tips, pointed reminders and loving encouragement to a young minister named Timothy. This Pastoral Epistle can help the whole Church.
After God converted the persecutor Saul into the apostle Paul, his story dominates the book of Acts from chapter 13 onward. His letters also make up a major part of the New Testament. His three Pastoral Epistles, including 1 Timothy, were probably among the last letters he wrote.
How did Paul come to be a mentor to Timothy?
Following the Church council held in Jerusalem about A.D. 49 (Acts 15), Paul and Silas set off to visit the brethren in the regions of Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1). It was there that Paul found Timothy, who would end up being a special person in Paul’s life.
Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2), and Paul saw that this young man had great potential for service to the Church. He asked Timothy to join them in their journey. From this time on, Timothy was a constant companion of Paul, accompanying him on his second and third journeys. He was with him in Rome and was frequently sent as a special emissary from Paul to various congregations.
Over the years of Paul’s traveling and teaching, Timothy became a “true son in the faith” to Paul (1 Timothy 1:2).
Paul probably wrote 1 Timothy around A.D. 63-65 to continue his teaching and encouragement of the young minister. Paul states his purpose for the letter in 1 Timothy 3:15: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Outline of 1 Timothy
Paul’s first letter to Timothy can be outlined this way:
Chapter 1: Introduction and warnings.
Chapter 2: Instructions about prayer and teaching.
Chapter 3: Qualifications for the ministry and for deacons.
Chapter 4: A warning about false teaching.
Chapter 5: Instructions about working with special groups in the Church, such as widows and elders.
Chapter 6: More warnings, instruction on personal responsibility, the use of material things and a final exhortation.
Law and sin
Paul’s first letter to Timothy begins with a very strong charge concerning some things that others were teaching the brethren. False doctrine was creeping into the Church, and arguments were developing over fables. Paul showed that the basis for sound doctrine and the emphasis in teaching should be on good and proper use of the law of God (1 Timothy 1:5-8).
Paul explained that teaching in the Church should be done in the right way and from the right motive. The teacher must have a pure heart and a good conscience, and not be hypocritical or motivated by the desire for power over people. (See 2 Peter 2:1-3 and all of Jude for additional warnings about the huge responsibility that comes with being a teacher in the Church.)
Some of the false teachers were twisting the law, but Paul taught that the law was good. “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8).
In our spiritual lives we have God’s Word as a lighthouse to warn us of the rocks on which we might shipwreck ourselves.These opening statements make it plain that Paul emphasized a proper approach to and use of God’s good and beneficial law. This is foundational for all teachers of God’s Word. Nothing we teach should be opposed to sound biblical doctrine. The law is there to correct and guide us so that we remain faithful stewards.
Avoid being shipwrecked
Chapter 1 ends with a sober warning about those whose faith had been shipwrecked (verses 19-20).
A shipwreck is a powerful metaphor for the disaster that occurs when someone abandons the truth. Consider the horrific wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in 2012, which cost 32 lives and millions of dollars. As with most accidents, it should have been prevented.
In our spiritual lives we have God’s Word as a lighthouse to warn us of the rocks on which we might shipwreck ourselves. Psalm 19:7-14 enlarges on the benefits and protection provided by God’s perfect law.
Christ and salvation
Chapters 1 and 2 also highlight the central role of Jesus Christ and why He came to earth—to pay the price for all sin and make salvation available to all (1 Timothy 1:15). This calling to salvation wouldn’t come to everyone at the same time, but all mankind will eventually be told the truth that can lead to salvation. God’s desire is that all will be saved (2:4). Paul had already written to the Church members in Rome and told them that all humanity (with no exceptions) had sinned and, therefore, all had earned the penalty of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
Jesus was the willing sacrifice and Mediator between man and God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5-6). As an apostle, Paul was appointed to speak the truth about salvation, and this was for all the gentiles, too, not just for the Jews. All human beings are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.
Shepherding God’s flock
Paul emphasized that the Church in which Timothy was ordained to serve was the pillar and foundation of the truth (3:15)—not of fables. So, Paul gave much instruction in this letter that would guide Timothy as a minister in shepherding God’s flock.
In chapter 3 we find specific requirements for those who should be ordained to the responsibility of teaching the truth as elders and for those who would serve as deacons. There is to be a recognizable standard for representing the Church of God. Verse 15 describes the Church as God’s. The Beck translation of this verse calls it “God’s family.”
Paul continued in the next chapter by giving instructions on dealing with slanderers and deceptive doctrines of demons—deceiving spirits.
Chapter 4 makes it abundantly clear that as time moves along (and especially in the last days), these false teachings would cause tremendous challenges for the faithful brethren, so Paul told Timothy to instruct the brethren carefully with words of faith and good doctrine (4:6). That is how he would show himself to be a good servant of Jesus Christ.
Doctrine and teaching
Throughout the letter Paul kept returning to the importance of what Timothy taught and the importance of his countering the false teaching that was subtly causing people to depart from the faith. He told Timothy to stand firm against what is wrong and to be sure to take care of the widows and respect all the elders in his area of work.
He told Timothy that even though he was young, God had given him a very serious responsibility, so he needed to carry it out and set the right example so others would not have reason to “despise” his youth (4:12). Chapter 5 discusses specific principles for proper treatment of Church members and for properly showing honor to those to whom it was due.
As Paul returned again to doctrine in 1 Timothy 6:3-5, he warned about how quickly humans can get off track and begin to use purely human reasoning and be led astray from the right pathway. Arguing and debating inconsequential points with those who do not understand God’s law can lead us off the right path, and we can lose sight of the example left for us all by Jesus even when He was on trial for His life (verse 13). Paul showed that greed and coveting are very human emotions that need to be resisted (verses 6-10).
The NKJV Study Bible puts the caption “The Good Confession” before verse 11. The importance of setting a right example isn’t just for the ordained ministry, but by extension it applies to all. We should all lead a good clean life and be a willing example of a true servant of God as we prepare for the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (verses 14-15).
In chapter 6 verses 17-20 Paul encouraged Timothy to pass on to the members of the Church the proper way to do “good works” from a right attitude.
Finally Paul charged Timothy in very strong words to guard—take care of, preserve, appreciate and keep hold of—the truth that had been committed to him as a servant of God. It had been passed on to Timothy, so Paul told his “son” Timothy, in effect, “You hold onto it, and faithfully pass it on to those you are serving.”
The importance of the truth of the Bible—true doctrine—is taught throughout the Bible. God wants us to focus on this, and so we encourage you to delve deeper by studying the biblical teaching presented in the article “What Is Doctrine?”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.