Introduction to 1 Timothy

The first Epistle of Paul to Timothy.

Of the so-called Pastoral Epistles the First to Timothy now claims our attention. It is a solemn charge of the apostle to his young fellow-servant in that place of trust which had been assigned him Timothy was not an elder, but was set to guard the doctrine, order, and conduct of the elders, as well as of the saints in general. And so distinct is his position from all the modern as-well-as-possible arrangements of Christendom, that one wonders how an Episcopalian, or a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, can venture to appeal to it. And yet, in their opposing systems, they all do cite it with similar confidence, but this (is it hard to say?) proportioned to their failure in intelligence to see its bearing. Men are apt to be more arrogant where they have least reason.

For what analogy can honestly be traced between Timothy’s position and that of a diocesan bishop, not to speak of a spiritual baron with claim to control hundreds of clergy in a given area? Development is not faith, but the avenue to corruption; and this becomes the ruin of that which bears the name of the Lord. Again, Presbyterianism is herein more distant than Episcopacy from the church in apostolic times, because it denies and dispenses with a superior authority to ordain, losing sight of the evident truth that power comes from above. Thus the Lord Who chose the apostles invested them with title, themselves or by delegates where fit or when requisite, to choose elders for the saints, and to appoint deacons chosen by the saints. Never in those days was such a thought as a mere elder ordaining elders. More remote still from the divine idea and primitive practice is the congregational plan of the people choosing their own religious official. All alike depart from the truth in setting aside, not only the direct and constant supply of gifts from the Lord as distinct from local charges (if these were ever so duly appointed, whereas it is wrongly done as we have seen), but the actual presence and free action of the Holy Spirit in the assembly. This they agree to count a by-gone state of miraculous power, instead of owning His being with us for ever and the consequent abiding responsibility of the Christian body as long as it goes on here below.

Timothy’s charge was in its measure that of an apostolic delegate, besides doing the work of an evangelist or discharging ordinary ministerial functions. He was not only to teach, but also to enjoin others not to teach strange doctrines. This is a frontispiece so indelibly graven in the Epistle that the difficulty is in understanding how it could be overlooked, if one did not know the eagerness with which men neglect plain truth and catch at appearances to justify themselves in that strange anomaly, unknown to God’s word, the minister of a church. Scripture speaks often and seriously of ministry; and we, as believers, should honour gift for the Giver’s sake, value it in itself for its exercise of love, and hail it as a priceless blessing for souls. But beyond doubt a minister of Christ and of the church is alone according to its spirit and letter; and his responsibility is immediate to the Lord Jesus the Head, though no one ought to question his liability to just scriptural discipline (like other members of His body) for walk or doctrine.

One innovation, come in, drew another dark shadow with it, most offensive to a rightly taught spiritual mind, namely, that a certain circle of the assembly is his flock, and that he is their minister. Man’s thoughts always fall short of God’s word, and his will recklessly cuts through the most sacred obligations to his own loss and to the Saviour’s dishonour. For the gifts are distributed in the one body, and the elders or overseers are set in the flock or church of God, not each church having its own minister and each minister his own church: an arrangement painfully calculated to foster the jealousy of the minister and the avarice of the flock. It may have been as ancient as you will; what matter if it were of the second or even the first age, if it were not of the Lord through His apostles in His word?

Ministry, like the church, is a divine institution and therefore must not alter from its original. We may not have all the church once had; but therefore should we reverently cherish all that remains, which we may be assured is all that best suits our present condition and the Lord’s glory, Who regulates all in wisdom and love. If the church is morally a ruin (and who that knows what it was would deny the sin and shame of its present states) Christ abides ever faithful and true, with all the resources of love, in the seat of power and glory. He will never abdicate, nor even relax, His functions while we need Him. People forget or never knew that He only became Head of the church since He sat down at God’s right hand in heaven; and since then no change has ever passed over Him, nor can do so while the work of gathering the church is in hand.

But it became very and sadly different with the church, as His word warned that this was to be. For departure from the faith was to set in, as grievous wolves would also, not sparing the flock; the mystery of lawlessness was to work; men were to have the form of piety denying the power thereof; evil men and impostors would wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. Hence we ought to be not at all surprised if even good men be drawn away by their dissimulation, as Barnabas was and even Peter in a measure in the very earliest days. (Gal. 2:11-13).

And these Pastoral Epistles let us into the confidential communications that passed between the wise masterbuilder and his associates. For government supposes the evils and disorders which need to be checked or exposed, and shows us, not what the assembly has to do in given circumstances, but the duty of a man of God like Timothy or Titus. It does not follow that these Epistles were at once the common property of all saints. They were addressed to individuals in a special place, and may only have been copied and circulated later on when the difficult and delicate matters which drew them forth had passed away The truth and exhortations would always abide, even if no one could claim the peculiar place to which prophecy designated Timothy, as it had Paul and Barnabas in their place before him (Acts 13:2).