Teaching series from 1 Timothy

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

1 Timothy 1:1-7

Teaching t14012


This morning we begin a series on 1 Timothy.  Let’s plunge right in (read 1:1-3).  Some background information will be helpful.

As you can see, the letter is from Paul, one of the key leaders of the early Christian movement.  After planting churches all over the north Mediterranean Basin (MAP), he was unjustly imprisoned for several years.  After being acquitted and released, Paul started more new churches and visited existing ones.  He wrote 1 Timothy during this period.  Then Paul was arrested again and executed around 64/65 AD.

The leadership of the church in Ephesus (MAP), which Paul had started earlier, had been penetrated by false teachers.  Paul had predicted this in his last meeting with these elders (read Acts 20:29,30).  This had seriously damaged the whole church culture.

After his release, Paul re-visited Ephesus and (evidently) removed the heretical elders.  He left his colleague Timothy there to replace them with solid elders, and to restore a healthy church culture.  In addition to these daunting challenges, Timothy also had significant personal challenges (his youth in an old-honoring culture; his chronic physical infirmities; his timid personality tendencies).

So Paul writes this letter to remind Timothy of key requisites of healthy church life (read 3:14,15 – NASB).  Before we go any farther, I want to speak to two mind-sets that could prevent you from profiting from this series.

You may be thinking: “This would be important if I were an influential member (leader, teacher, etc.) – but I’m not, so it’s not very relevant to me.”  But remember – we are all influencing others in our church.  We all impact a portion of the household of God, so how we conduct ourselves in the household of God matters.

You may be tempted to go through this material focusing on how others in the church should improve in these areas for your benefit (consumer mentality).  That’s not what 3:15 says!  Instead, we should take in this series asking ourselves: “How can I conduct myself in a way that contributes to a healthy church culture?”

The first priority Paul addresses is the teaching ministry of the church (read 1:3-7).  He is saying what someone once told me about Bible teaching: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  As you can see, Paul’s instruction contains both positive and negative material concerning this priority.  Let’s begin with the positive . . .

Focus on 2 teaching themes

A church’s teaching ministry should cover many areas (both theological and practical; EXAMPLES) – but it must have a center of gravity, an axis around which all instruction revolves, a foundation on which all instruction is based.  Paul describes this teaching axis/foundation as having 2 foci:

First, it should “further the administration of God which is by faith” (1:4b).  This phrase can also be translated “God’s provision which is (received) by faith” (NASB margin) or “God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith” (NET).[1]

This provision or redemptive plan is what Paul often calls “the gospel” – the good news that God has provided the way of salvation from our sins and His judgment through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This salvation involves not only deliverance from sin’s penalty, but also from sin’s power and (ultimately) from sin’s presence.  It also involves being adopted into God’s family, having access to God being given God’s Spirit, etc.  You can see why Paul calls this provision “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (read Eph. 3:8).

This salvation is a free gift to us because Jesus paid the full price of our sins.  God’s one condition is that we receive this salvation by faith, by humbly entrusting ourselves to Jesus to deliver us (Eph. 2:8,9).  This faith is a one-time decision to be delivered from sin’s penalty and be guaranteed of eternal life, and an ongoing faith to be progressively delivered from sin’s power and enjoy the abundant life of a love-relationship with Jesus.

So the teaching of the church should center around the gospel.  Church teachers should labor to feature this, expound this, and connect all other teaching to it (as Paul did in his letters to the Ephesians and other churches).

Secondly, it should lead people into lives of genuine love – love for God, one another, and those who don’t know God (1:5).  This is the “goal” of our teaching on the gospel.  God lavishes His love on us through Jesus so that He may transform us into people who love like He loves.  This love is not an emotion or superficial niceness; it is practical, serving, and sacrificial love that emerges from an inner life that is being transformed and motivated by God’s love:

“A pure heart” – an honest desire to follow God and put God first (based on trust that God’s will is good, well-pleasing and perfect) vs. using God as Genie, guilt-motivated duty, etc.

“A good conscience” – sensitivity and responsiveness to God’s personal moral guidance (because we trust His goodness and wisdom) vs. moral controversy with God, justification/rationalization of rebelling against His moral will (more on this later).

“A sincere faith” – an unhypocritical trust in/dependence on God vs. God-talk, external box-checking, self-sufficiency, etc.

This is what pleases God – seeing His children growing in their trust in His love and increasingly giving His love back to Him and to others.  This is what the watching world needs to see – people who genuinely love one another and those in their communities, and who give the credit to God’s life-changing love for them.

These two foci are dynamically related (“SPIRITUAL RESPIRATION”).  The more we “inhale” God’s love by faith, the more motivated we are to “exhale” His love away to others.  The more we choose by faith to give His love to others, the more this increases our appreciation of and dependence on His love.

This two-fold teaching focus is what Paul calls (throughout the Pastoral Epistles) “sound (hugiaino) doctrine” (see 1:10,11) – hygienic teaching, teaching that produces health in those who receive it.  This is what we were created by God for – to receive His love and to give His love away to Him and others – and we flourish only as we embrace this teaching and allow God to lead us ever further down this path.[2]  The church in Ephesus was suffering ill spiritual health because its teachers had strayed from this teaching focus into something else.  This is why Paul reminds Timothy of his other, negative teaching responsibility . . .

Oppose 2 kinds of destructive teaching

Negatively, the church’s teaching ministry is to resist and oppose all teaching that contradicts sound doctrine (1:3,4a,6).  Paul repeats this responsibility later in the letter (read 6:20,21).  There are two kinds of such teaching:

When we think of going astray from the gospel, we usually think of overt heresy – denial of essential Christian doctrines (e.g., salvation by works; denial of Jesus’ deity & uniqueness; universalism; etc.).  That is evidently what three former Ephesians elders embraced and taught (read 1 Tim. 1:19b,20; 2 Tim. 2:17,18).  Church leaders and teachers must discern heresies, remove false teachers, and warn the flock.

But this is by no means the only way of deviating.  More common is churches going off on biblical “tangents.”  A tangent in geometry is a line that touches a circle or curve at one point, but moves away from the circle (DIAGRAM).  A doctrinal tangent is any biblical teaching emphasis that moves the center of gravity away from “sound doctrine.”

The Ephesian doctrinal tangent included an emphasis on genealogies (more spiritual to be Jewish?), myths (about Jesus’ youth?), dietary restrictions (4:3), and some kind of prosperity doctrine (6:4).  Does any of this sound familiar?

21st century American evangelicalism is rife with doctrinal tangents.  Listen to what one church leader says on this: “What might take the place of the gospel in our sermons and books and  . . . home Bible studies and, above all, in our hearts?  A number of things, conceivably.  An introspective absorption with recovery from past emotional traumas, for example.  Or a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause.  Or a confident manipulation of modern managerial techniques.  Or a drive toward church growth and ‘success.’  Or a deep concern for the institution of the family.  Or a fascination with the more unusual gifts of the Spirit.  Or a clever appeal to consumerism by offering a sort of cost-free Christianity Lite . . . Or a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power.  Or a warm affirmation of self-esteem.  The evangelical (church), stripped of the gospel, might fix upon any or several of such concerns to define itself and derive energy for its mission.  In other words, evangelicals could marginalize or even lose the gospel and still potter on their way, perhaps even oblivious to their loss.”[3]  Does this sound familiar?  What else could we add?  (end-times position & speculation; Calvinism-Arminianism; church government; etc.)[4]

Why would a church go astray by following doctrinal tangents?  There are many possible reasons (OPTIONAL):

It may be because we are simply not being nourished enough by the gospel, so we become vulnerable to pseudo-spiritual nourishment.  Sometimes this is because the leadership doesn’t provide this; sometimes it is because members don’t want it.  Biblical tangents are spiritual “junk food” – addictive and subject to the “law of diminishing returns” – so Christians who start down this path tend to migrate from tangent to tangent.

It may be because we lack the joy that comes from grace-motivated self-giving love (including evangelism), so we succumb to the counterfeit joy of advancing other less-important causes (e.g., inordinate passion for political causes). 

It may be because we want to find a biblical justification for our own lusts (e.g., “prosperity gospel” teachers & recipients).

It may be because we want to focus more on “felt needs,” (e.g., topical series/books only), rather than let the Bible define and address our needs.  

It may be because we want to forge an identity as an expert in a particular area (e.g., evangelism, end-times, apologetics, etc.) – so we harp on this inordinately and over-critique others who don’t agree with us.


SUMMARIZE: This is the first way we can all contribute to a healthy church culture!

NEXT WEEK: 1 Tim. 1:7-17  - “Using the Law Lawfully”

[1] God’s redemptive plan. The basic word (οἰκονομία, oikonomia) denotes the work of a household steward or manager or the arrangement under which he works: “household management.” As a theological term it is used of the order or arrangement by which God brings redemption through Christ (God’s “dispensation, plan of salvation” [Eph 1:10; 3:9]) or of human responsibility to pass on the message of that salvation (“stewardship, commission” [1 Cor 9:17; Eph 3:2; Col 1:25]). Here the former is in view (see the summary of God’s plan in 1 Tim 2:3–6; 2 Tim 1:9–10; Titus 3:4–7), and Paul notes the response people must make to God’s arrangement: It is “in faith” or “by faith.” Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.

[2] This is why Martin Luther said: “. . . this we have to fear as the greatest and nearest danger, lest Satan take from us the pure doctrine of faith (the gospel) . . . Wherefore it is very necessary, that this doctrine be kept in continual practice and public exercise both of reading and hearing.  And although it be never so well known, never so exactly learned . . . this doctrine can never be taught, urged, and repeated enough.  If this doctrine is lost, then is also the whole knowledge of truth, life and salvation lost and gone.  If this doctrine flourish, then all good things flourish . . . the true service of God, the glory of God, the right knowledge of all things and states of life . . . It is not without good cause, therefore, that we do so often repeat and beat into your minds the forgiveness of sins, and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.” Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, cited in John Dillenberger, Martin Luther, pp. 99,100,112.

[3] Raymond C. Ortlund, Afterward from Passion for God (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994).

[4] “We must avoid the view that, while the Gospel provides a sort of escape ticket from judgment and hell, all the real life-transforming power comes from something else—an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course, etc.  That is too narrow a view of the Gospel.  Worse, it ends up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less meaningful.”  D. A. Carson, For the Love of God, Vol. 2, March 10.