Summary: Wolves have entered the church and Paul writes to correct the errors that they're promoting
It’s interesting that the two places where Paul spent the most time in his missionary travels, Corinth and Ephesus, appear from his letters to have the most problems. He certainly spends a lot of his time writing to correct the errors that were being introduced by certain people. But then we shouldn’t be surprised about that. Wherever God’s ministers are doing good work we can expect Satan to be working hard to oppose them. In fact, on his final visit to them, Paul warned the Ephesian elders to look out for opposition. Let me read you what he said as he addressed the Ephesian elders: “29I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears.” Acts 20:29-31 (NRSV)
Now it seems that those wolves have indeed come into the Church. And so Paul writes to them addressing 5 main topics: what Christians believe; how we should conduct worship; who should be leaders in the church; how we should handle our social responsibilities; and what our attitude should be to material possessions. Now much of what he says is addressed to the particular context of Ephesus, with its strong affiliation to Artemis, or Diana – the Goddess of the Hunt and of Fertility. The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and the population was very proud of their goddess. But there’s also the general context of a culture where authority and influence came with years and to be considered wise you needed to be old.
One of the things we’ll discover as we go through this letter is that the Church is central to Paul’s thinking. Can you see why that is? It’s because the Church is the visible messenger of the gospel. So the way Christians live as a Church is emphasised because what others see when they look at us will either promote or undermine the gospel.
Well, let’s look at chapter 1.
He begins in his usual style by announcing himself, describing the recipient of the letter and reminding the readers of the source of all they have. We often jump over these introductory sentences, but here the way he introduces his letter is quite significant.
Notice how carefully he describes himself. Not just as an apostle but as an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope. He wants to emphasise his authority as an Apostle, not just of the Church; he’s not just a missionary like we might send out today; no, he’s an apostle of Jesus Christ, chosen, appointed and authorised directly by Christ our hope and by God our Saviour. The term “by the command of” is the sort of formula that would have been used in an official letter of authorisation. We use the same term today in “Royal Command Performance”. He speaks as one authorised by God himself.
Similarly he addresses Timothy as “my true child in the faith.” The term translated there as loyal was used for legitimate children. It’s as though Paul wants to pass on to Timothy some of his own authority by referring to him as a genuine child of Paul. Paul, of course, was responsible for his conversion so he saw him as his spiritual son, but he no doubt also sees him as a true child because he holds faithfully to Paul’s teaching.
Timothy is a “young man”, which probably means he’s in his mid to late 30s. And apparently he’s shy and unsure of himself, possibly because of his age.
Thirdly Paul refers to God who binds them together in his family. What holds them together is their common share in God’s grace, mercy, and peace
He then sets the letter in its historical and geographical context. The details he gives don’t fit with Luke’s account of Paul’s travels in Acts so commentators have deduced that these events must have happened sometime after Paul was imprisoned in Rome. They think he must have been released and then travelled again to Macedonia via Ephesus [possibly after first visiting Spain]. But the main point is that Timothy was charged with leading the Church in Ephesus in Paul’s absence and particularly with instructing the Church and correcting those who were teaching false doctrines.
Now he wants to reinforce this instruction. Timothy is to instruct certain people who are teaching what he describes as a ‘different’ doctrine. That is, different from what was taught by the apostles. There are certain truths that are central to Christian belief that we mustn’t swerve from: the things mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed for example; or in this context, the centrality of grace, mercy, and peace from God but these people were teaching something different from that.