What makes 1 Timothy special?
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are often called the “Pastoral Letters,” since they deal with the responsibilities of those who were in charge of some of the first Christian churches. Although this letter is addressed to Timothy personally, it actually served as a leadership manual for the early churches, because it provided so many helpful standards and guidelines for organizing these new communities of faith.
Why was 1 Timothy written?
This letter was written to give warnings about false teaching and to offer advice for all God’s people. The letter also tells the church how its leaders are to be chosen, what titles are to be given to them, and what responsibilities they are to take on.
What’s the story behind the scene?
Timothy, the son of a Jewish Christian mother and a Gentile father from Lystra (Acts 16.1), was guided in his faith by Paul (1 Cor 4.17). He is named as Paul’s co-worker in many of Paul’s letters (2 Cor 1.1; 1 Thes 1.1; Phlm 1). Paul had great confidence in Timothy (1 Cor 16.10; 2 Cor 1.19), who served as his messenger and is often mentioned as a co-sender of many of Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon). Timothy traveled and worked with Paul (Rom 16.21; Phil 2.19; Acts 16.1-3). Because of their shared faith, Timothy was like a son to Paul (1.2).
This letter may have been written toward the end of Paul’s life, or, as some scholars believe, it may have been written in his name by one of his followers after Paul’s death. The structure of the church and certain teachings that appear in this letter indicate that the letter may have been written as much as a generation or two after Paul died. It was not unusual in the ancient world for followers to honor their teacher by writing something in the teacher’s name.
How is 1 Timothy constructed?
The letter can be outlined in the following way:
- Instructions for church life (1.1—3.13)
- True faith and warnings about false teachings (3.14—4.5)
- Advice to Timothy and other church leaders (4.6—6.21)
Instructions for Church Life
This letter is addressed to Timothy, who the apostle Paul considers his “son” in the faith. The author then offers general instructions for life in the church, which include giving thanks, praying, and staying away from false teachings. It also gives instructions on how women are to dress and act and how church leaders should live. Most of Paul’s letters include a section of thanksgiving near the beginning. In 1 Timothy, this is replaced with warnings about false teachers.
True Faith and Warnings about False Teachings
This brief section provides a summary of what the writer calls the “mystery of our religion.” It includes a short hymn and is followed by additional warnings about false teachings.
Advice to Timothy and Other Church Leaders
The remainder of the letter includes personal advice to Timothy and general instructions for church leaders. It continues with more warnings about false teaching and the love of money, and ends with words of encouragement to “fight a good fight for the faith.”
Questions about 1 Timothy
1. This letter refers several times to the close relationship between the apostle Paul and his “son” Timothy (1.2,18; 3.14; 4.11; and 6.11-14,20). How do you think sharing a common faith in God can strengthen a relationship? How can Christians help one another strengthen their individual relationships with God?
2. The author of this letter gives Timothy much advice about how to deal with false teachers who are having a bad influence on the people of Timothy’s church. What are some of these “false teachings” based on? (1.4; 4.6; 6.20; also 4.1-5) What, according to the author, is “the whole truth”? (2.4-6; 4.16) What are some of the things he suggests followers of Christ do (and not do) in order to “be faithful and have a clear conscience”? (2.1; 4.7; 4.16; 5.1-3; 6.11)
3. 1 Timothy is a kind of “Manual for Church Leaders.” What does the author say church leaders should be like, and what kind of behavior is expected of them? (3.1-13) Why do you think the standards are so high? (3.15; 4.16; 6.19) In your opinion, what are the five most important traits of a church leader, pastor, or priest?
4. Timothy seems to have been “young” for a church leader at this time. What special advice did the letter writer give Timothy about being a respected and effective leader? (4.12; 5.1,2) How much does your own church encourage young people to be involved, to lead worship, and to serve?
5. Timothy’s church seemed to have included both poor people (widows, 5.3-16) and rich people (6.17-19). How is each group to be treated? (5.22) What is expected of each group?
6. What special warnings did the letter writer have for people who thought religion was supposed to make them rich? (6.3-10) How can religion make a person’s life “rich”? Are you “content with what you have”? Why or why not?
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