A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 1:18-20. 3). Timothy and the good fight.
So far Paul has referred both to the teachers of the law (and their false gospel) and to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ (and the true gospel). Now Timothy has to choose which of the two he is going to follow. On the one hand, the apostle is urging him to silence the false teachers; on the other he must feel the insidious influence of their speculations. He cannot remain neutral, and sit on the fence, even though he is young, inexperienced, impressionable and retiring. Now as then the truth demands a verdict.
Paul begins by describing the context in which he is writing. He reminds Timothy both of the special father-son relationship which bound them together and of the circumstances of his ordination: *Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight* (18). We are not told the substance of these prophecies. Nor is it clear whether they were directed to the church or to Timothy (declaring him called by God to his task, cf. Acts 13:1ff.) or to Paul (declaring Timothy a suitable addition to his mission team). What seems at least probable is that the occasion was his ‘ordination’. For it was then that a ‘gift’ was given to Timothy, ‘a prophetic message’ was spoken, and ‘the body of elders laid their hands’ on him (4:14). Together these solemnly set him apart for his ministry, gifting and authorizing him to exercise it. It was *by following* these prophecies (RSV ‘inspired by them’) that Timothy would and could *fight the good fight*. Such at least was Paul’s *instruction* to him. The word is again * parangelia*, ‘command’, as in verses 3 and 5. ‘As often in military contexts…it conveys a sense of urgent obligation.’
What this ‘good fight’ is Paul does not specify. But since in 6:12 he urges Timothy to ‘fight the good fight of the faith’, it is reasonable to conclude that he means the same thing here. Certainly to defend the revealed truth of God against those who deny or distort it, and to ‘demolish strongholds’ of error (2 Cor,10:4), is to engage in a dangerous and difficult fight, which demands spiritual weapons, especially ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph.6:17).
In particular, Timothy must keep *holding on to faith and a good conscience* (19a). Although here ‘faith’ does not have the definite article in the original, it does at the end of the verse (literally, ‘suffered shipwreck concerning *the* faith’). So surely we must assume it at the beginning of the verse as well. Timothy possesses two valuable things which he must carefully guard, an objective treasure called ‘the faith’, meaning the apostolic faith, and a subjective one called ‘a good conscience’. Moreover, they need to be preserved together (as in 1:5 and 3:9), which is exactly what Hymenaeus and Alexander have failed to do. This hymenaeus is presumably the same heretic who taught that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim.2:18). But Alexander was a common name, and there is no reason to identify this one with ‘the metalworker’ who did Paul ‘a great deal of harm’ (2 Tim.4:14), and who does not seem to have been a Christian at all.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 1:18-20. 3). Timothy and the good fight (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.