Exposition: 1 Timothy 1:1-7
Every one of Paul’s letters – without exception – begins with Paul asking the reader(s) to be given grace. Every one of Paul’s letters – without exception – ends with Paul saying ‘God’s grace be with you’ (or something to that effect). I am grateful to John Piper who argues that Paul knows that God’s grace is imparted by God’s word. Through Paul’s divinely inspired writings, Timothy will be freely nourished and taught by God himself.
We know that Timothy travelled with Paul and that he considered Paul his mentor. This letter to Timothy deals with three main concerns. The first is a warning against false teaching in the church. The false teaching appears to be that the physical world is evil and that one can only attain salvation by special secret knowledge, by not marrying and by avoiding certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3-5). This is Gnosticism. Secondly, the letter contains instructions about church administration and worship, with a description of the character that church leaders should have. And Finally, Timothy is advised how to be a good servant of Jesus Christ.
Here in chapter 1, Paul is urging Timothy to stay put in Ephesus in order to deal with the issue of false teaching, “myths and endless genealogies” (v.4). These myths have promoted speculations and pride (1 Tim. 6:4) and their proponents have failed to realise that the Gospel message can only ever be accepted on the basis of faith, which God wants all men to receive (1 Tim. 2:4). Instead of being distracted by such meaningless talk, the focus must be on “advancing God’s work.”
What is this work?
“Love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v.5).
A Gnostic worldview despises the physical world and fails to see God’s goodness and love shining through the cracks of its fallen-ness.
The lesson for us is that faith must be rooted and expressed in love. Knowledge must lead to a changed heart and a changed life. I am reminded of Paul’s famous plea in 1 Corinthians 13: We may be able to speak the language of humans and angels, be an inspiring preacher, have all knowledge and secrets, have faith to move mountains, and give away everything we have, yet if we do not have love, it does us no good.
For Paul, love is the main thing. Jesus stepped down from the glory of heaven to be born in a stable amongst the animals because of love. Jesus taught and pleaded and healed because of love. Jesus bore our griefs because of love. Jesus was pierced for our transgressions because of love. Talk is meaningless without love. Love saves us from arrogant and contemptuous thinking. Love saves us from condemning that with which we do not agree. We would do well to be reminded of this in our own churches when divisions plague us.
The church members in Ephesus want to be teachers of the law, but “they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (v.7). Why do they not know? Because they do not love. And because they do not love, they do not understand what it means to be the church.