Remain in Ephesus

Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 1:1-3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/31/2016 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Timothy 1:1-3

“Remain in Ephesus”

We begin today a new sermon series through 1 Timothy. This book is one of three books categorizes as the Pastoral Epistles. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, make up this collection. They are grouped together like this because of their similar theme. They are each a letter that the Apostle Paul is writing to someone serving in a pastoral capacity over a congregation. In these pastoral letters, Paul writes to either Timothy or Titus to remind them of some of their important duties that they must do as they pastor their congregations. And so as we study 1 Timothy we see that on the one hand it is a personal letter. It is a letter of an apostle coaching a pastor about his pastoral ministry. And yet on the other hand, we should see that this personal letter is not a private letter. There is good reason to believe that Paul intended for Timothy to read this to the congregation where he was ministering. In fact, the last verse of each of Pastoral Epistles ends with a benediction that is put in the plural in the Greek; in other words, they are blessings that bless multiple people. Of course the very fact that we have this letter today proves that it was not intended to be a private letter.

The point then is that this private letter of an apostle to a pastor has a message to send to us as well. Yes, it especially speaks to me as your pastor. I need to make sure I’m doing what this letter says pastors are supposed to be doing. But as we study and see what Timothy was supposed to be doing, we will also see other applications for us as a church. At a bare minimum, we’ll see what the church should expect and want their pastor to be doing. You should want me to be doing what I’m biblically supposed to be doing. That means you will want to encourage me and urge me to be this kind of pastor. It means you will try to provide whatever support or help I need in order to be able to be this kind of pastor. So that certainly is one major way to apply this book to the church. But another application from this book is that we’ll see how Timothy as a pastor is supposed to address certain issues in the church. Or similarly, we’ll see how Timothy is supposed to minister to different kinds of people in different situations. This shows us the biblical authority granted to pastors to lead in such areas. And so that means that if you see myself speaking to such issues or coming to you to address a matter that falls under this scope, you should not be surprised. It means that you should be ready to welcome and appreciate such ministry, even if it is a challenge to you personally. Instead of being offended or upset if something hits a little too close to home, you should recognize that this is what I’ve been commanded by God to be doing and you should welcome this ministry.

So with that introduction, let’s begin in our first point to think about some of the setting and context of this book. In other words, let’s think of some of the who, what, when, where, and why sort of details of this book. Let’s begin with the “when”. The simple answer is we are not sure. The most commonly held view is that this happened after the history recorded in the book of Acts. The Book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, but with anticipation that he would be released. Church history records that he was released and continued on his ministry until a second imprisonment under Emperor Nero which led to his death in 67 AD. So the most common view is that Paul wrote this sometime between those two Roman imprisonments, maybe in the early or mid 60s AD. A second view is that this happened on Paul’s third missionary journey recorded in the book of Acts, in the timeframe mentioned in Acts 20:1-4, where we see Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia. That would at least fit the context of what we read in today’s passage but the timeframe of Acts 20 might be a little tight to fit perfectly. That being said, I don’t think it has any significant effect on our interpretation regardless of which of those two options it was.

In terms of the location of this letter, we can say a little more. Verse 3 speaks that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus while he went to Macedonia. So, Timothy the recipient of the letter was ministering in Ephesus when he received the letter. Presumably, Paul was writing from Macedonia, maybe at a place like Philippi, for example. But it’s this location of Ephesus that is particularly helpful to see. It means that Paul’s concerns to Timothy have to do with Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus. And we actually know a lot about Ephesus. It was located in Asia Minor and became a rather important city for the Christian church. There is a lot mentioned of ministry in Ephesus in the book of Acts. We also have the book of Ephesians which was written to the church in Ephesus. And we also have a letter from Jesus written to them in the book of Revelation! Many important Christians did ministry there including Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos and obviously Timothy. Also, we learn from church history that Ephesus is the city where the Apostle John was at the end of his life, where he ministered to the next generation of pastors, men like Polycarp and Papias. And so what we know of Ephesus will certainly help us in our study of 1 Timothy.

As for the “who” details of this letter, we’ve already mentioned that Paul is the author and the recipient is Timothy. But I would like us to notice what we learn about them from what we read today. Paul notes in the opening of the letter not only that he is an apostle, but that this was God’s command. In other words, that is where Paul’s authority and commission lies. He didn’t volunteer for the job. Instead we remember how Christ on the road of Damascus intervened in Paul’s attempt to persecute Christians. That resulted in Paul’s conversion to Christianity and he received instruction from Christ that he was to be an apostle. An apostle, by the way, is literally one who is officially sent by another. So God commanded for Paul to be Christ’s apostle. Paul in his ministry was an official spokesman for the Lord, especially of the gospel.

As for Timothy, we learn a couple things here about him and his relationship to Paul. First we see in verse 3 that he has been instructed by Paul to stay back and conduct ministry in his absence. We know from both the book of Acts and several of Paul’s letters that Timothy labored alongside Paul on the mission field. Some of Paul’s letters even include Timothy as one of the authors (2 Corinthians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). Now what also is clear from the Biblical data is that though Paul and Timothy were co-laborers that Paul was certainly the leader of the two. Not only does Paul holds this special apostolic commission from God in way that Timothy does not, but we learn that actually their relationship was more of a father-son type relationship. We see that here of course in verse 2. Paul calls Timothy his true, his genuine, son in the faith. To say “in the faith” acknowledges that he is not talking physically, but spiritually. There is this spiritual mentorship that Paul gave to Timothy that could be described in terms of a father and a son. Paul wrote of Timothy in Philippians 2:22 acknowledging his proven character, and describing how “as a son with his father he served with” him in the gospel. There is certainly an application here that as Christians we are reminded that we have become spiritually a family, and we should treat each other like that. That’s a theme that comes up in chapter 5 of this book too.

Well, the last detail of the setting for this letter that I want to mention is the “why”. Why did Paul write this letter? In general, we’ve mentioned that it contains information for Timothy about how to pastor the church in Ephesus. Chapter 3, verse 15 gives a purpose statement that would essentially confirm that. But when we see what Paul says in verse 3 we recognize an even more specific purpose. Paul says in verse 3 that the reason Paul left Timothy in Ephesus was to specifically combat false doctrine. And as read this letter we see that’s a major theme here. Interestingly, in Acts 20, Paul had prophesied to the Ephesian elders that false teachers would rise up from among them. Encouragingly, the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2 records Jesus commending the Ephesians for successfully rejecting false apostles that had come among them. It’s possible that was written after the successful ministry of Timothy in helping the Ephesians to fight against false doctrine. But the point is that this becomes a major concern in Ephesus, and Timothy has been called to fight against it. Paul’s letter writes to encourage him in this way.

So then, that leads us now to our second point for today. I want us now to consider Timothy’s charge here to combat these people who would teach false doctrine at Ephesus. We’ll be focusing on verse 3 this week on this issue. Next week we’ll deal with the rest of this section and deal with the matter more. So, we see starting in verse 3 that description of Paul having previously urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus for this work. The word there for “urged” can also be translated as “called.” I like that idea. Think of this as Timothy’s calling for now. If Paul has been commanded and called by God to be an apostle, well, Timothy has been called by that apostle to be a pastor here in Ephesus. I like the chain there.

And this idea is further brought out by the word Paul uses to describe how Timothy is to charge those who would want to teach false doctrines. That word in verse 3 for “charge” is literally a word about transmitting orders from someone else. It could be used in a military sense, for example, when a general gives instruction to his captains who then go and convey the orders to the soldiers in their unit. In other words, Paul as an apostle is giving orders to Timothy the pastor about what to do in the congregation. But lest you misunderstand and think the authority comes from Paul, remember where Paul was taking his orders from! Verse 1! God commanded Paul. He is an apostle, and authorized spokesman for Jesus. So, the picture here is a wonderful picture of Christian leadership. It’s all derivative. Timothy’s orders from Paul derived from God in Christ. So, that’s the authority here for Timothy and any minister of the Word. It is only as it comes from God. Nowadays we have a fancy way to describe this. We say that the authority of church elders and ministers is ministerial and declarative. Ministerial and declarative. In other words, we are simply serving God and acting on his behalf, by declaring his word. As we do that, we have authority. But should we deviate from that, to make our authority magisterial and legislative, then we are in the wrong, because we don’t have such authority. Timothy is not king over the church at Ephesus. Paul as an apostle is not a king. I’m no king! There is one king for God’s people. It’s the Lord’s anointed, King Jesus!

So then looking more specifically at what Timothy is being told to combat, we see in verse 3 it mentioned as those who teach other doctrine. That’s a pretty literal translation. It’s actually one word in the Greek, and possibly a word coined by Paul. The word is a compound word meaning “other-teachers”. I’ll give you a quick Greek lesson. The Greek word here is hetero-didaskalo. Didaskalo is to teach. Hetero is the word for “other”, like we have in the word heterosexual. So hetero-didaskalo is to teach something other, something different or opposite, of what should be taught. In other words, Paul and Timothy are the authorized teachers in the church. But there are some who are other-teachers. These are the people teaching things other than orthodox teaching. The word orthodox can be contrasted with the word heterodox. That’s essentially the contrast here. The church is to be a venue for orthodox teaching. It is not to be a venue for heterodox teaching. (Orthodox means straight teaching; heterodox means other teaching”.)

Now that’s a pretty broad category if you think about it. For Paul to say that other teaching is to be rejected, we realize that could include a lot of different things. Verse 4 will talk about myths and genealogies and might refer to various Jewish speculations and folklore about extended backstories to the Old Testament saints. Not all of that would necessarily be heresy but at a minimum it is another teaching, at best apocryphal teaching, that distracts from what the church is supposed to be teaching and learning. And yet you also have for example the false asceticism teachings condemned in chapter 4. There evidently some were replacing the Christian faith with ascetic practices, with things like forbidding marriage and teaching people to abstain from certain foods. That was not just another teaching, it was a heretical teaching that directly contradicted orthodox doctrine.

So Timothy is being called to oppose this “other teaching.” In contrast Timothy is to instead promote orthodox doctrine. This leads now to our third point. This is implied here and will be brought out more as the letter goes on. If Timothy opposes other teachings, he must promote sound teaching. We get a small snapshot of some of that orthodox message right here in these first two verses. This is what I want to do in our final point. I want us to see some of this orthodox faith right here. That’s my job as a pastor to make sure we keep hearing this. I’m not here to bring you other teachings. I’m here to bring you this teaching. And so we first see that orthodox doctrine here with the identity of God and of Jesus. God is our savior. Jesus is our hope.

The Old Testament talks a lot about God being our savior, which is what verse 1 says as well. The New Testament, however, talks a lot about Jesus being our savior. Both are true of course. God had a plan from the beginning to save a people unto himself. God accomplished his plan through Jesus. God the Father sent the eternal Son of God into this world. He was born of the Virgin Mary after the Holy Spirit had come upon her and caused her to be with child. Jesus ultimately went to the cross to offer himself as a sacrifice for sinners. The gospel then declares that whoever repents of their sins and puts their faith in Jesus and in his sacrifice will be saved. After Jesus died on the cross he rose again from the dead proving his gospel to be trustworthy and true. God in Christ is indeed our savior!

As for Jesus being our hope, we can remember what happened after the resurrection. He ascended up into heaven with the promise that he would return again. Amidst all the seeming uncertainty of the future, Jesus tells us not to fear, but have hope, because he is coming again to usher in his kingdom in glory. And of course Jesus also said that he himself is the resurrection and the life, so that we don’t need to fear death. So in terms of both the future and even if we die before his return, our hope is secure in Jesus.

God and Jesus are also given another identity in verse 2. Not only are they called our savior and our hope, but God is called our Father, and Jesus is called our Lord. Both of those labels command respect and obedience. As much as it is true that God in Christ saves us and gives us hope. But it is also both true and wonderful that God is our Father and Jesus is our Lord. Let us revel in that fact as much as we do seek to live it out in trying to honor and obey our Triune God.

Well the other way we are reminded of orthodox teaching in this passage is with the opening blessing in verse 2. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. We just talked about the identities given of both God and Jesus in this passage. Now we learn that they jointly are the source for grace, mercy, and peace. This is an extra special blessing from Paul since we know he often likes to say “grace and peace”, but here he says “grace, mercy, and peace.” This blessing means we seek these things from God in Christ. And it also reminds us that God in Christ is pleased to give us these things. Grace – all those undeserved gifts he gives to us, especially in our salvation, how he gives us of Christ’s righteousness. How he justifies us and sanctifies us and will glorify us. Mercy – the compassion he has upon us and the love he shows us in our needs, always faithful to keep his promises, even to pardon our sin in Christ. Peace – we now have peace with God through Christ’s reconciling us to God, and he grants us to begin to have peace within, and we can begin to pursue true peace even with other humans as we know the unity that comes in our relationship with the Lord. Grace, mercy, and peace – so much more could be said. But the good news is that we will continue to speak of grace, mercy, and peace, here at Trinity OPC in Novato. Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the conclusion for today. The closing exhortation is to be reminded of the ministry that we have before us here in Novato and surrounding cities. Paul’s letter to Timothy called him to remain longer in Ephesus. Interestingly, in 2 Timothy he’ll ask Timothy instead to come to him quickly. But for now, at this point in Timothy’s life, God’s intention was for him to remain at Ephesus and carry on this important work of combatting false doctrines and teaching sound doctrine.

And that’s what I personally take away from this opening passage. In 2007, I was called to pastor this congregation here in Novato. As I read verse 3 of Timothy’s call to remain in Ephesus, I am reminded of my own call here to Novato. And as I read this call for Timothy to continue to remain in Ephesus, I too had a renewed sense of my own call to continue on in the labors here at Trinity. I am honored to be able to serve the Lord here in this gospel ministry. I look around this area and there is so much work left to do.

And so it is my hope that you too, as we read this passage together, that you too will have a renewed sense of calling to this ministry here in Novato. Yes, sometimes God does call us away to other places and other labors. But for now the Lord has you here, in this church, in this place. Let us continue then to labor together for this gospel work. Let us work together and serve together our great God who is our savior. Let us strive to teach this area about Jesus Christ our hope. Let us keep declaring the grace, mercy, and peace, that comes from God in Christ. Let us keep standing against false doctrines, or even just “other” superfluous or apocryphal ideas, that we can focus on teaching the sound doctrine found in the glorious Word of God.

Paul’s letter to Timothy meant to encourage him to press on this his ministry in Ephesus. May we here in Trinity OPC Novato be encouraged today, may we be renewed in purpose, for the ministry that God has for us here in the north Bay Area. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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