A Brief Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:1-2
Paul opens up this letter, as he does with other letters, with a greeting and statement of address. However, this is more tailored to his particular audience and primary recipient, the Church in Ephesus and Timothy, respectively.
Paul adds to his normal self-ascription of apostle a few phrases, first by calling Jesus “Christ Jesus” and second by adding “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”
Mounce suggests that the reason Paul places “Christ” before “Jesus” in his opening models the way he came to know Jesus. While many others would know Jesus as the earthly minister first, and then as the resurrected Christ, Paul met with Jesus first as the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, and came to know the resurrected Christ as the Jesus from Nazareth (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 6).
Ephesus was a difficult situation at that particular time. Being now a church plant of twelve years in the heart of Ephesus, it is going through some difficult times which we see bubbling up in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about 3-5 years prior. While the church remained diverse in many things, the heart of Paul’s exhortation in Ephesus revolved around showing forth the majesty of God in the church’s unity and moral purity. Further, in Acts 20, when Paul is giving his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Miletus, he warns them – in a prophetic form – that if the elders do not guard and exercise the gospel well, false teachers will sprout up from among the church and even among themselves. Now, some 10-12 years later, this was indeed the case.
Paul writes to Timothy, dispatched to put the church in order with apostolic authority by centering it back on the gospel. Whereas once the church was formed out of the ashes of burnt sorcery books, it now is a church in danger of leaving their first love for another message and lifestyle. False teachers have entered, perhaps subtly, through the house churches they were already apart of. Perhaps though wandering groups of false teachers bearing down upon women, widows, elders, and the social elite. However they arrived, they now have created enough of a spark to flicker into flame doubt, suspicion, and movement away from the gospel Paul explained at first. Timothy goes to put back into order a church that will provide adequate backlash against Paul, his gospel, and anyone who comes in the name of such an apostle or gospel. The church wasn’t sold out yet, but movement had begun. Therefore, Paul writes, reminding the congregation that the authority he has, unlike the false teachers, was not self-proclaimed, but rather appointed by God and Christ Jesus. In so doing, he is also reminding the congregation of Timothy’s similar authority, since he has been dispatched from Paul to fulfill a particular apostolic purpose of Paul.
Amid this, Paul tips his hand in his view of Christology. By equating God and Christ Jesus together in his derivation of authority, he is explaining Jesus’ position, nature, and authority. Furthermore, by attributing to God that which is commonly attributed to Jesus (“savior”), Paul is communicating that the work that the two undergo is inseparable and communal. They work together because they are one and as one, they share in similar titles.
Over against Paul’s opponents who have crept in and begin to poison the hearts and lives of the Ephesian church, Timothy, Paul’s apostolic emissary, is his true child. Mounce comments that this term “true” (gnh,sioj) “conveys both intimacy and authority. It originally referred to children born in wedlock, hence “legitimate,” as opposed to children born illegitimately (no,qoj) or adopted. It can also be used figuratively to mean “genuine”” Mounce concludes, “The Ephesian church must listen to Timothy because he, and he alone, is Paul’s legitimate son evn pi,stei, “in faith.”…Timothy is Paul’s true son because Timothy has been faithful to Paul’s gospel, in contrast to the opponents.” (Mounce, 8).
Grace, mercy, and peace are blessings given by the Father and Son acting in concert – much like the grammatical construction in verse 1. Paul is once again showing his Christology. Each of these terms are typical in a salutation, but one that atypical in Pauline letters is his inclusion of “mercy.” We’ll see why later.
Grace is “a one-word summary of God’s saving act in Christ, stressing that salvation comes as a free gift to undeserving sinners”(Ibid, 10). Used 155 times in the NT, it appears in Paul’s letters 100 times. This term must be defined within Paul’s theology (as is above) – not from our own definitions, nor from those of classical Greek literature.
Mercy “describes acts of pity and help that are appropriate within a relationship between two people” (Ibid, 10). While in classical Greek literature, it refers to an emotional response to a bad situation, this kind of mercy finds its root in the Old Testament term dsh, indicating not so much emotional displays but rather proper conduct within the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. “Mercy therefore primarily defines a relationship and secondarily elicits a response of pity to those within the relationship. Mercy is not a subjective emotion but an objective act appropriate for this relationship.” (Ibid, 10-11). It is fitting, therefore, that Paul would include “mercy” (e;leoj) in his salutation to Timothy, since Timothy is undergoing a most challenging and even hostile environment of ministry. May God grant Timothy His promised presence and action within Timothy’s situation that the gospel might be faithfully represented in Timothy’s life and work.
Peace “describes an objective relationship between God and the believer. It is not so much an emotion or feeling as it is a reality…In the OT, [salom] describes the external absence of hostility and the ensuing general sense of well-being given by God…but here the word is charged with a Christological significance. Peace is possessed by Christ and given to his followers…From this objective stance develops the subjective feeling of peace” (Ibid, 11-12).
Application For Today
What Paul has to say is important and deserves our full attention since the Father and Son appointed him by command to this church oversight role. Further, just as Paul sets the stage of his objective authority, he sets the stage for God’s objective relationship with his people. Both the Father and the Son are objectively his people’s savior and hope, who has dispensed grace, mercy, and peace upon his people so that they may subjectively feel these realities amid the difficult situations of life.
In a time where objectivity is challenged, where a solid footing for truth is denied and each person does what is right in their own eyes (Jdg. 17:6; 21:25; Is. 5:21), objectivity is more precious than gold; truth is more valuable than the finest possessions imaginable. With God’s objective, set-in-stone truth, a sure light is given to every Christ-follower to light their path as they make their way through this fallen world. Since Paul’s authority was not earned, but rather given “by command”, we would do well to listen to his words, now handed down to us, which were given him by God himself.
An objective relationship with God is particularly important to both Timothy and the Ephesian church, as it is for us today. In a culture that continues to sell us lies concerning how hope should be defined and where it ought to be placed (relationships, business ventures, wealth, sexual satisfaction, personal achievements, the latest fashions, a more structured/organized lifestyle, optimal eating/sleeping/exercising habits, skill set development, and the list goes on), Christians must fight to keep the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope found in him alone at the center of our passions, possessions, and positions. What does it look like for a believer, with the gospel as their hub for discernment, to evaluate each major area of their life? How does the gospel affect, transform, destroy any one of our passions, possessions, or positions?
Another way to understand all the above is to simply understand and call Jesus “Lord.” If you were to ask, “What does Lord mean when applied to Jesus?” you could see the beginnings of that definition above. For Jesus to be Lord is for him to take center stage in every life that follows him. He alone dominates – not just affects – your thought patterns, your habits, your career choices, your academic excellence, your extra-curricular involvements, your scheduling decisions, your everything. If the gospel is not at the center for all your life, and Jesus as Savior and Lord is not at the center of your gospel, your gospel will be twisted and grossly deceiving (if not a false gospel), and your life will be shaped and revolve around a different lord – either you, the ones you love or fear the most, or the things you most cherish or detest. How does both Paul and Timothy display an exemplary lifestyle of that which we are to strive after? What and who is at the center of all your life?