Have you ever read through Paul’s first letter to Timothy? In all honesty, I have to tell you I kind of have a love-hate relationship with this letter from Paul to his coworker, who is now serving in the Church in Ephesus. I find myself agreeing with Paul in one verse and then arguing with him in the next. As we spend the next few days in this letter, unpacking all that Paul had to say to the Church, I am praying for wisdom and understanding from God. I do not want my own pride to get in the way of hearing what God has to say in the midst of what Paul had to say.
Let’s start with Paul’s greeting. Too often we rush through this part and miss out on the significance of each word carefully chosen by the author.
This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope. I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy and peace. – 1 Timothy 1:1-2
Paul obviously holds Timothy in high regard. He has assigned him to the Ephesian Church to help the believers grow in their faith and stay focused on the truth of the Gospel during a time when false teaching is rampant. Paul expresses affection for Timothy, showing us he not only trusts him with this great responsibility but he also cares deeply for him. Let’s look back in Acts to see how Timothy and Paul met and how God used them in partnership for the sake of the gospel.
Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. –Acts 16:1-5
From the start, Timothy’s calling was to the Church – to help them strengthen in their faith and grow, individually and as the body of Christ. Paul saw the potential in this timid young man and placed him in leadership. Timothy was highly respected by the church and deeply loved by Paul, who was now in prison and wishing he could give these words of advice in person instead of in a letter.
Notice Paul adds to his normal greeting. Instead of wishing Timothy grace and peace, Paul wishes him grace, mercy and peace.
Grace – May God give you unmerited favor, acceptance regardless of our guilt and sin – not favor we have earned but favor we have received out of God’s great love for us.
Peace – May God give you rest and tranquility in knowing you are His and that He has you in His care.
Mercy – May God have compassion on you in your time of need.
Timothy was facing trouble in the Church because of the false teaching that was popping up and distracting the believers from living a life of faith. Paul urges Timothy to stay right where he has been assigned and stop those who are teaching what is contrary to the truth (1:3-4). He has a new target for them to focus on in order to avoid the distractions – he tells them to make LOVE their target.
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with LOVE that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions…
We know the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father and mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good news entrusted to me by our blessed God. – 1 Timothy 1:5-11
So what was their distraction? What were their meaningless discussions about? It seems from these verses that the believers in the Church were trying to make righteousness about following the law or a set of rules. But Christ died for a different kind of salvation – for believers to experience genuine faith in God and not in their own ability to live a good life, to have a clear conscience because of God’s grace and not because of their own good behavior.
Lord, help us as a Church to make LOVE our target instead of our own self-righteousness. Help us to keep our focus on the Good News of grace, mercy and peace instead of falling back into a mindset of legalism and rules. Remind us of what you have called each of us to do and help us to live a life of faith in YOU and not in ourselves. Reveal to us today what is distracting us from your purpose in our life. Identify every meaningless conversation we are participating in and help us to refocus on YOU. Lord, fill us with your love – the kind of love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience and genuine faith. We love you, Lord! Amen.