Today we begin the first of Paul’s three pastoral letters. This letter was written to a young pastor named Timothy. This is the same Timothy that traveled with Paul (Acts 16:1, Rom 16:21, 2 Cor 1:1). This letter was written sometime after Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. Timothy was at this time pastoring in Ephesus (1:3) and Paul provided detailed instructions on how the church there (or any church) was to live out their calling as a church.
Paul begins by instructing Timothy (as he had in person) not to allow false doctrine to enter the church (v. 3). This includes myths, which would be any stories about gods or even the one true God that were false (v. 4). He also warns against genealogies, which were being used by more than just the Judaizers as some kind of proof of someone’s rights within the church. Paul says that the aim of “our charge” (as elders) is to love sincerely and believe sincerely (v. 5). Those who stray into false teaching have abandoned these pillars (v. 6) and therefore do not know what they’re talking about (v. 7). Paul here specifically mentions the Law. He then says that the Law is good if used properly (v. 8). The Law is not given as a rule book for the righteous (v. 9 – see Gal 3:21). It is given so the wicked will recognize their sin (vv. 9-10 – see Gal 3:22, Rom 7:7). This is in accordance with the Gospel that Paul preached (v. 11).
Paul then thanks Christ for calling him into the Gospel ministry (v. 12) even though he was just as much a sinner as anyone else (v. 13). But by grace, Christ worked in Paul that love and faith that are the pillars of pastoral ministry (v. 14 – see v. 5). In fact, Paul was not just as sinful as everyone else, but now realizes the true extent of his sin and believes he is the worst of all sinners (v. 15). Christ saved him so that Christ’s saving power would be revealed (v. 16). In other words, Paul is saying that if Christ saved him, nobody is beyond the saving reach of His grace!
Paul then charges Timothy to lead the church in Ephesus (v. 18). There were prophecies made about Timothy’s Gospel ministry – perhaps even by Paul – and Paul wants Timothy to fulfill God’s call on him and fight the spiritual war by remaining faithful and keeping his conscience clear (v. 19). This is a call to obedience. Others, who have not remained faithful, have ruined their faith and turned from God. Paul names two men in particular and says that he has excommunicated them in order to save them (v. 20 – see 1 Cor 5:5).
Paul now lays out Timothy’s responsibilities as an elder. His first priority is prayer (2:1). He is on the front line of a spiritual war (see 1:18), and His first weapon is prayer (see Eph 6:18). He is to entreat God for all needs, and thank God for all His provision. He is to pray not just for his flock, but for earthly rulers (v. 2). The prayer is that earthly powers would allow the church to live as we are called. This is what God wants from us (v. 3), because He desires (prescriptive will, not decretive) that all people respond to the Gospel with saving faith (v. 4). Timothy must come to God in prayer to effect these things, because there is nowhere else to go (v. 5). And Christ gave Himself for us not just to ransom us from sin, but to open the way to God as our Mediator (v. 5-6).
Remembering that Paul’s letter to Timothy is about church leadership and about the life of the church, the following verses are not difficult to interpret. In the church, Paul requires that men should pray without anger or debate (v. 8). He is pointing back to what he said in 1:4-6. There are some who were causing division in the church because of their lack of knowledge and false doctrine. Instead of doing this, Paul encourages them to pray. He then addresses women’s apparel (vv. 9-10). Why? Because he wants the church to live a peaceful, godly, dignified life (see v. 2). In Graeco-Roman culture, it was not unusual for women to dress very immodestly. This is not appropriate for Christian women (v. 10).
Paul now lays out requirements for women within the church. He is writing this in the context of rule for church leadership. Women are to learn submissively (v. 11). They are not to have the authority of an elder in the church (v. 12). Paul is here excluding women from eldership. But his reason is not do to any shortcomings of any woman, but of one particular man. When Paul says that Adam was formed first (v. 13), he is referring to the fact that the command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was given to Adam alone, before Eve was created (see Gen 2:15-17). When this command is broken, God addresses Adam first as the one responsible for breaking the command (the “you” are all masculine singular in Gen 3:11). So that Adam was not deceived but Eve was (v. 14) is not a knock on Eve; quite the opposite. Eve was deceived, but it was Adam that sinned with his eyes wide open. His was the high-handed sin. In other words, man is given the responsibility of headship in the home and the church, because the first husband and priest failed. Christian men have a responsibility to succeed where Adam failed. That is God’s ordained role for men in the church. For women, they are to carry out the creation mandate through child-rearing, by which they are saved (meaning sanctified). When we accept the roles God designed for us, we grow in faith (v. 15).
Paul then lays out requirements for elders in the church to continue explaining God’s will for church leadership. First, there needs to be the inward call on a man’s life. He has to want to be an elder (3:1)1. But then he has to live like he wants to. He has to be “above reproach” (v. 2). This is a Greek word used only in this letter (three times) and it means “not open to criticism or attack.” This is not talking about sinlessness in any way. It is saying that elders should be more aware than other people how their actions might be perceived. An elder must be married to one woman. This excludes polygamy, but also remarriage that would be sinful according to God’s word in the case of divorce.
Next, Paul uses terms that mean “temperance” and “moderation.” An elder cannot react over-emotionally (like getting angry easily) and must be able to “take things in stride.” “Respectable” means an elder acts appropriately (literally: “orderly”). He must be hospitable (a people person) and able to teach (not necessarily from the pulpit). He cannot be a drunkard (v. 3 – literally: “addicted to wine” or in modern terms a “wine-o”). This is not saying drinking alcohol is a sin (it is not – Jesus drank wine), but drunkenness is (and yes, “buzzed” is drunk!).
An elder cannot be prone to violence (this goes along with the temperance and moderation), must not be eager to argue, and not desirous of money (literally: “a friend of silver”). An elder must also first be the head of his household as God commands before he can have authority in the church (vv. 4-5). Recently saved men should not be ordained because they are not spiritually mature enough (v. 6). An elder must have a good testimony with those outside the church (v. 7) – his witness (the “well thought of” is actually the Greek word where we get our word “martyr”) must be good outside the church. In other words, he has to act like an elder even when he is not with his church!
Paul then shifts his focus to deacons. Once again, the word “deacon” simply means “servant” or “minister.” Also remember, the seven in Acts 6:1-6 are nowhere called deacons. It is tradition that has linked the two passages as the office of deacon. It may be better to think of what Paul describes here as the qualifications for anyone to serve visibly within the church in any ministry.
Servants must “likewise” be dignified (v. 8), as in, like an elder must be (respectable, etc.). They must not be “two-faced.” They must not be “addicted to much wine.” Paul uses a different word here than he uses in v. 3 (drunkard). The word here literally means something like “be devoted to wine.” They must also not be greedy or make money dishonestly. These two requirements (the wine and the money) may be put differently here because Paul wants to show the greater responsibility of elders in these things. Servants have to believe the Gospel and be able to live it out with a clear conscience (v. 9). They also need to be “tested” (v. 10). The church has to make sure those who serve have proven themselves to be believers in good standing. The “blameless” means “not accusable.” It is the same root as the word used in verses 2 for “above reproach.”
Verse 11 does not say “their wives.” The “their” is not there. It just says “wives.” However, in the Greek, this can also be translated “women.” That women “likewise” must be dignified (v. 11) just like servants must “likewise” be dignified (v. 8) may be Paul clarifying that what he is describing in verses 8-13 is not just for men. The reason he would have to specifically mention women here is that the word for “servant” (or deacon, or minister) in the Greek is a masculine noun. This would then be a point of clarification that women may, in fact, be deacons/servants/ministers. Women, then, serving in ministry must be dignified. Thy cannot be slanderers. The word here is literally the word “devils.” They cannot be deceitful like the devil. They must be temperate. The “faithful” can also mean “have faith”. Husbands who serve in the church must, like elders, lead their household well (v. 12). Those that serve in the church must gain a good standing in the church and have an unwavering faith (v. 13).
Paul now reminds Timothy the context of everything he just said. Paul is talking about roles and responsibilities within the church (vv. 14-15). We are the “pillar and buttress of the truth.” In other words, all truth stands upon the witness of the church. We must live out the truth of God by following these guidelines for the church. We must also declare the greatest truth of all (v. 16)2: The Son of God came in the flesh. He was vindicated by His resurrection from the dead by the power of the Spirit. He was seen by “angels” – the Greek word for messengers. This refers to those who saw Him in His resurrection and established and expanded the church based on that truth. This is what we proclaim to all nations, and what is believed throughout the whole world. Christ died, rose again, and is now in glory.
1 Regardless of how different traditions label their church hierarchies, the Bible uses the Greek words often translated as “overseer,” “bishop,” and “pastor” to describe the same role.
2 This is believed to be an early creed or hymn.