Summary: Paul wants Timothy to confront some of the elders and leaders of the church who’ve deviated from the truth, Paul uses the language of a fight, of conflict and war, to describe the struggle that Timothy is engaged in
Imagine for a minute that you’re Timothy. If you can, think back to what it was like to be 30! Now, imagine you’re slightly reserved, perhaps a little timid. You’ve travelled around with Paul, but now he’s left you in charge of the church at Ephesus. At long last, you receive a letter from Paul. Except, instead of saying he’ll be there next week, it looks like he’s going to be delayed for some time. He’s writing to remind you of what you’ve been left there to do. It’s your job to get the church in Ephesus in order, to oversee the household of God. What’s more, the very first thing he wants you to do is confront some of the elders and leaders of the church who’ve deviated from the truth, who’re distorting the gospel. In verse 18, we see it wasn’t an easy task. Paul uses the language of a fight, of conflict and war, to describe the struggle that Timothy is engaged in. So how are you feeling? Are you up to the task? How are you going to take on these false teachers? What’s going to keep you going?
The truth of course is that not many of us will find ourselves in exactly the same situation as Timothy. But, we will all encounter false teaching. At some stage or another, we’ll all come across those who want to distort the message of the gospel. We’ll all have to think about how we’re going to respond.
The good news is that Paul doesn’t leave us dangling. He encourages Timothy, and us, left right and centre. Paul says the answer is to focus on the gospel, which is trustworthy and true. Throughout this passage, that language abounds. Paul reminds us again and again, that his message is true and trustworthy, that the gospel is true, that his ministry and message is true and faithful. He says we must be true to the gospel, we must cling to it. We must faithfully live it out in our lives, both individually and as a church.
At the end of verse 11, Paul had reminds Timothy to focus on
the sound teaching 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
It’s possible that the false teachers had been calling Paul’s leadership into question. But the truth is that God entrusted Paul with the gospel. As we saw last week from verse 1, Paul was appointed an apostle by the command of Jesus Christ. What’s more, God judged him to be faithful, to be trustworthy in this service. But Paul acknowledges this is only the case because God first strengthened him. He’s incredibly thankful, he’s grateful, that God has not just called him, but also equipped and strengthened him to carry the gospel.
Paul wants us to know that he wasn’t entrusted with the gospel based on his own merits. His credentials were hardly suitable for this task. In fact, if you’d received Paul’s C.V., he’s the last person you’d be recommending for the job. With incredible honesty he tells us that he was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor of the church, a violent man. This description matches up with what we see in the early chapters of Acts. Paul/Saul, was there when Stephen was martyred. He looked on; he gave his approval, as the crowds stoned Stephen. Then in Acts 9 we read that:
9:1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts (9:1-2)
In Galatians he says that in violently persecuting the church, his aim was nothing less than destroying it! Paul had been determined to stamp out the Christian faith. He firmly believed Christians were heretics, that they were the blasphemers.
More than just being fired up by a religious zeal, Paul candidly confesses that he was fuelled by violence. Far from living a life of love coming from a pure heart and a good conscience (v5), he breathed violence. He was completely unfit to be a messenger of the gospel!
In verse 13, Paul says he did all this in the ignorance of unbelief. He’s not trying to excuse what he did, or claim that he deserved mercy because of his ignorance. If that were the case we should probably stop sharing the gospel with people. Ignorance would be bliss. When Christ returns, you could claim you deserved to be forgiven because you didn’t know any better. But, just as that doesn’t work if you’re trying to get out of a parking ticket, it doesn’t work with God. Rather, Paul is drawing on a Levitical category, to say that these sins didn’t arise from a willful disobedience of God, but rather from an ignorance of the truth.