A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 1:1-2. Introduction.
Most readers find Timothy a very congenial character. We feel that he is one of us in all our frailty. He was very far from being a stained-glass saint. A halo would not have fitted comfortably on his head. No, the evidence is plain that he was a real human being like us, with all the infirmity and vulnerability which that entails.
To begin with, he was still comparatively young when Paul addressed this letter to him, for he told him not to let anyone look down on him on account of his youth (4:12), and some two years later he urged him to ‘flee the evil desires of youth’ (2 Tim.2:22). So how old was he? It seems unlikely that the apostle would have invited Timothy to join his mission team before he had reached his late teens or early twenties, (Acts 16:1ff. Those who would like to get to know Timothy as a person would do well to read Lance Pierson’s *In the Steps of Timothy* (IVP, 1995). Claiming to be the first biography of Timothy to be written for nearly 1,000 years, and firmly based on the biblical data, it also uses inference, surmise and ‘reasonable speculation’ to reconstruct Timothy’s life and ministry.), in which case now, about thirteen or fourteen years later, he would be in his mid thirties. The ancients regarded this as being still within the limits of ‘youth’ (*neotes*). According to Irenaeus, ‘thirty is the first stage of a young man’s age, and extends to forty, as all will admit’. Nevertheless, Timothy evidently felt inexperienced and immature for the heavy responsibility which Paul was laying upon him.
Secondly, he was temperamentally shy, needing affirmation, encouragement and assurance.So a few years previously Paul had urged the Corinthians to ‘put him at his ease’ when he came to them (1 Cor.16:10, REB). And in his second letter to Timothy he felt the need to exhort him not to ashamed of Christ, since God had not given us ‘a spirit of timidity’ (1:7f.). It is not unfair, therefore, to think of him as ‘timid Timothy’.
Thirdly, Timothy was physically infirm, and suffered from a recurrent gastric problem. For Paul referred to his habitual ailments, in particular to his stomach. He even prescribed a little medicinal alcohol: ‘Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses’ (5:23).
So this is the profile of Timothy which we can construct from a number of Paul’s references to him. He was young, diffident and frail. These three handicaps might have been thought to disqualify him from taking charge of the churches in and around Ephesus. But they endear him to us, and the grace of God was sufficient for his need: ‘You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim.2:1).
Paul was expecting to visit Timothy in Ephesus soon, and would then of course, as an apostle, assume responsibility for the churches. But he seems to have anticipated the possibility of being delayed, and so sends Timothy these written instructions, so that during his absence Timothy would know how to regulate the life of the churches (3:14f.; 4:13). This letter, therefore, although addressed to Timothy personally, is not a private communication. It is written to him in his official capacity, and throughout it Paul is looking beyond Timothy to the churches. One clear hint of this is that his final greeting is couched in the plural: ‘Grace be with you’ (*meth’hymon*), 6:21). Augustine in the fourth century and Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth both used the adjective ‘pastoral’ in relation to one or other of these letters, although not until 1703 did D.N.Berdot refer to the three of them as ‘the Pastoral Epistles’.
It is an appropriate expression, since the letters are concerned with the pastoral care and oversight of local churches. The apostle addresses six main topics. The first is the church’s *doctrine* and how to preserve it intact, uncorrupted by false teaching (1:3-20). The second is the church’s *public worship*, its global intercession for all humankind, together with the roles of men and women in the conduct of it (2:1-15). Thirdly, the apostle writes about the church’s *pastorate*, and in particular the conditions of eligibility for presbyters and deacons (3:1-16). Fourthly, after the outlining the church’s moral instruction, which arises naturally from the doctrine of creation and calls for personal godliness (4:1-10), Paul addresses himself to the church’s *local leadership*. especially how younger leaders can ensure that their teaching is listened to and not despised (4:11-5:2). Fifthly, the apostle handles the church’s *social responsibilities*, not only to widows, but also to elders and to slaves (5:3-6:2). His sixth and final concern, in reaction to those who think ‘that godliness is a means to financial gain’, is the church’s attitude to *material possessions* (6:3-21); he addresses both the covetous and the wealthy.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 1:1-2. Introduction (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.