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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Timothy 1

 

 

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Verse 1

(1) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.—The letter to Timothy, though addressed to a very dear and intimate friend, was sent with a two-fold purpose. It was an affectionate reminder from his old master, “Paul the Aged,” to his disciple to be steadfast in the midst of the many perils to which one in the position of Timothy would be exposed in the city of Ephesus; but it was also an official command to resist a powerful school of false teaching which had arisen in the midst of that Ephesian Church over which Timothy was then presiding. So St. Paul prefaces his letter by designating himself an Apostle according to the commandment of God. The commandment especially referred to is to be found in Acts 13:2 : Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

God our Saviour.—This, designation is peculiar to the Pastoral Epistles, but frequently occurs in the Septuagint. It is fitly ascribed to the first Person of the blessed Trinity in reference to His redeeming love in Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.—The words “which is,” printed in italics in the English version, are better left out: Jesus Christ, our hope. As St. Paul felt the end of his course approaching, he loved to dwell on the thought of Jesus—to whom, during so many weary years, he had longed to depart and be with—as his hope, his one glorious hope. The same expression is found in the Epistles of Ignatius.


Verse 2

(2) My own son in the faith.—Timothy was St. Paul’s very own son. No fleshly relationship existed between the two, but a closer and far dearer connection. St. Paul had taken him while yet a very young man to be his companion and fellow-labourer (Acts 16:3). He told the Philippian Church he had no one like-minded (with Timothy) who would care for their affairs. He wrote to the Corinthians how Timothy was his beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who would put them in remembrance of his ways in Christ.

Mercy.—Between the usual salutation “grace and peace,” in these Pastoral Epistles, he introduces “mercy.” The nearness of death, the weakness of old age, the dangers, ever increasing, which crowded round Paul, seem to have called forth from him deeper expressions of love and tender pity. Jesus Christ, his “hope,” burned before him, a guiding star her brighter and clearer; and the “mercy” of God, which the old man felt he had obtained, he longed to share with others.


Verse 3

(3) That thou mightest charge some.—Some time after the first imprisonment at Rome, and consequently beyond the period included by St. Luke in the Acts, St. Paul must have left Timothy behind at Ephesus while he pursued his journey towards Macedonia, and given him the solemn charge here referred to. The false teachers who are disturbing the Church at Ephesus are not named. There is, perhaps, a ring of contempt in the expression “some,” but it seems more probable that the names were designedly omitted in this letter, which was intended to be a public document. The chief superintendent of the Ephesian community, doubtless, knew too well who were the mistaken men referred to.

That they teach no other doctrine.—“Other”—i.e., other than the truth. When the Apostle and his disciple Timothy re-visited Ephesus, after the long Cæsarean and Roman imprisonment, they found the Church there distracted with questions raised by Jewish teachers. The curious and hair-splitting interpretation of the Mosaic law, the teaching concerning the tithing of mint and anise and cummin, which in the days of Jesus of Nazareth had paralysed all real spiritual life in Jerusalem, had found its way during the Apostle’s long enforced absence into the restless, ever-changing congregations at Ephesus.

Dangerous controversies, disputings concerning old prophecies, mingled with modern traditions, occupied the attention of many of the Christian teachers. They preferred to talk about theology rather than try to live the life which men like St. Paul had told them that followers of Jesus must live if they would be His servants indeed.

Unless these deadening influences were removed, the faith of the Ephesian Church threatened to become utterly impractical. The doctrine these restless men were teaching, and which St. Paul so bitterly condemns, seems to have been no settled form of heresy, but a profitless teaching, arising mainly, if not entirely, from Jewish sources.


Verse 4

(4) Neither give heed to fables.—These fables ware, no doubt, purely Rabbinical. It was said in the Jewish schools that an oral Law had been given on Sinai, and that this Law, a succession of teachers, from the time of Moses, had handed down. This “Law that is upon the lip,” as it was termed, was further illustrated and enlarged by the sayings and comments of the more famous Jewish Rabbis, and in the time of our Lord constituted a supplement to the written Law in the Pentateuch. For centuries this supplementary code was preserved by memory or in secret rolls, and doubtless was constantly receiving additions. It contained, along with many wild and improbable legendary histories, some wise teachings. This strange collection of tradition and comment was committed to writing in the second century by Rabbi Jehuda, under the general name of the Mishna, or repetition (of the Law). Round this compilation a complement of discussions (the Gemara) was gradually formed, and was completed at Babylon somewhere about the end of the fifth century of our era. These works—the Mishna and the Gemara, together with a second Gemara, formed somewhat earlier in Palestine—are generally known as the Talmud. The influence of some of these traditions is alluded to by our Lord (Matthew 15:3).

Endless genealogies.—Genealogies in their proper sense, as found in the Book of the Pentateuch, and to which wild allegorical interpretations had been assigned. Such purely fanciful meanings had been already developed by Philo, whose religious writings were becoming at this time known and popular in many of the Jewish schools. Such teaching, if allowed in the Christian churches, St. Paul saw would effectually put a stop to the growth of Gentile Christendom. It would inculcate an undue and exaggerated, and, for the ordinary Gentile convert, an impossible reverence for Jewish forms and ceremonies; it would separate the Jewish and Gentile converts into two classes—placing the favoured Jew in an altogether different position from the outcast Gentile.

In the Gentile churches founded by the Apostles, for some years a life and death struggle went on between the pupils of St. Paul and his fellow Apostles and the disciples of the Rabbinical schools. In these earnest warnings of his Pastoral Epistles the great Apostle of Gentile Christianity shows us, how clearly he foresaw that if these Jewish fables and the comments of the older Jewish teachers were allowed to enter into the training of the new-formed congregations, the Church of Christ would shrink, in no long space of time, into the narrow and exclusive limits of a Jewish sect. “Judaism,” writes the anonymous author of Paul of Tarsus, “was the cradle of Christianity, and Judaism very nearly became its grave.”

Which minister questions.—Disputings, questions of mere controversy, inquiries, which could not possibly have any bearing on practical life.

Rather than godly edifying which is in faith.—The rendering of the reading in the more ancient authorities would be: rather than the dispensation of God which is in faith; or, in other words, the introduction into Church teaching of these Jewish myths—these traditions of the elders, these fanciful genealogies—would be much more likely to produce bitter and profitless controversy than to minister to God’s scheme of salvation, designed by God, and proclaimed by His Apostles.

So do.—The Apostle, in 1 Timothy 1:3, begins this sentence of earnest exhortation, but in his fervour forgets to conclude it. The closing words would naturally come in here: “For remember how I besought thee when I left thee behind at Ephesus, when I went on to Macedonia, to discourage and firmly repress all vain teaching, which only leads to useless controversy, so I do now;” or, so I repeat to you now. (This is better and more forcible than the words supplied in the English version: “so do.”)


Verse 5

(5) Now the end.—The Greek word should be translated But the end. Though Timothy must resist and oppose these false teachers with all courage and firmness, still he must not forget what was the real end, the aim, the purpose of all Christian teaching, which, the Apostle reminds him, is Love.

Of the commandment.—There is no reference here to the famous commandments of the Law of Moses. “Commandment” may be paraphrased in this place by “practical teaching.”

With the false teachers’ sickly “fables,” which only led to disputing, St. Paul contrasts that “healthy practical teaching,” the end and aim of which was love, or charity.

Charity.—That love, or broad, comprehensive charity, towards men, so nobly described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.—This broad all-embracing love, or charity, emanates only from “a pure heart:” i.e., a heart free from selfish desires and evil passions. The “pure in heart” alone, said the Lord, in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:8), shall enjoy the beatific vision of God.

And of a good conscience.—This “charity” must also spring from a conscience unburthened of its load of guilt, from a conscience sprinkled with the precious blood, and so reconciled to God.

And of faith unfeigned.—And, lastly, the root of this “charity”—the end and aim of the practical teaching of the gospel preached by the Apostles—must be sought in “a faith unfeigned,” in a faith that consists in something more than in a few high-sounding words, which lay claim to a sure confidence that is not felt. The “unfeigned faith” of St. Paul is a faith rich in works rather than in words.

Without this faith, so real that its fruits are ever manifest, there can be no good conscience; without this conscience, washed by the precious blood, there can be no pure heart.

The error of the teachers of whom Timothy was warned, we see from the next verse, consisted not so much in false doctrines as in an utter neglect of inculcating the necessity of a pure, self-denying life. They preferred curious questions and speculative inquiries to the grave, simple gospel teaching which led men to live an earnest, loving life.


Verse 6

(6) From which some having swerved have turned aside.—This sentence is rendered more accurately: From which some, having gone wide in aim, have turned themselves aside. These words seem to tell us that these teachers had once been in the right direction, but had not kept in it; indeed, from the whole tenor of St. Paul’s directions to Timothy it is clear that these persons not only had been, but were still, reckoned among the Christian congregations of the Ephesian Church. The presiding presbyter appointed by St. Paul could have exercised no possible authority over any not reckoned in the Church’s pale.

Unto vain jangling.—These men, having missed the true aim of the commandment, have now turned themselves to vain, empty talking, which could lead to nothing except wranglings and angry disputations.


Verse 7

(7) Desiring to be teachers of the law.—“Desiring,” though they really were not. They coveted the respect and influence which was ever paid to the acknowledged teachers of the Law of Moses; but these men utterly failed to understand the real spiritual meaning of that Law which they pretended to teach. Similar pretenders in a neighbouring Church, some years later, received from another Apostle—St. John—a stern rebuke for such pretensions. “I know,” wrote St. John to the Christians of Smyrna, “the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9).

Understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.—A wise teacher must understand what he teaches, and must, at the same time, be clear in his own mind that what he teaches is true.

The false teachers are here charged (1) with not understanding the wild fables and traditions upon which their teaching was based, and (2) with not comprehending the things whereof they make their assertions: that is, they had no real belief in those great truths which really underlie that Law with which they were meddling.


Verse 8

(8) But we know.—Better, Now we know: a strong expression of his knowledge, learned in the school of the Holy Ghost. He spoke with the conscious authority of an Apostle, confident of the truth of what he preached and taught.

That the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.—“The Law is good,” St. Paul declared with apostolic authoritative knowledge, “should a man—i.e., a teacher of the Law—make use of it lawfully; if he should use it so as to make men conscious of their sins, conscious that of themselves they deserve no mercy, only punishment.” To press this sorrowful knowledge was the Law’s true work upon men. It was never intended to supply materials for casuistry and idle, profitless arguments. It was never meant as a system out of which man might draw material for self-deception. It was never meant as a system through which a man might imagine that by a compliance, more or less rigid, with its outer ritual he was satisfying all the higher requirements of justice and truth.


Verse 9

(9) Knowing this.—The teacher of the Law, being aware of this great truth, now to be detailed—viz.:—

That the law is not made for a righteous man.—The stern Mosaic Law was enacted centuries before the Messiah Jesus had given to men His new Law. The Law of Moses was not, then, enacted for a “righteous man”—that is, for a Christian in the true sense of the word, who has sought and found justification by faith in Jesus, and who, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, is living a new life. In other words, the “teacher,” Paul says, must teach the flock of Ephesus (1) the true use of the prohibitions of the Law, viz., that they served to convince a man of his hopeless condition; they showed him he was a slave to sin, from which wretched bondage, the Law, which made him bitterly conscious of his condition, gave him no assistance to free himself; (2) the “teacher” was to press home to the people that the Law, good though it was, if used as a means to open men’s eyes to see their true condition, was not made for them if they were reckoned among the righteous—that is, if they had found acceptance in the Redeemer. In the case of these justified and sanctified ones the moral law was written in their hearts and was embodied in their lives.

But for the lawless.—Now the Law was not made for the holy and humble men of heart, whom St. Paul trusted formed the main body of the congregation of believers in Ephesus, and in every city where men and women were found who called on the name of the Lord Jesus, and who struggled to follow their dear Master’s footsteps. It was made centuries before Jesus of Nazareth walked on earth, as a great protest against the every-day vices which dishonoured Israel in common with the rest of mankind. The terrible enumeration of sins and sinners in these 9th and 10th verses, while following the order of the ancient Tables of Sinai, seems to allude pointedly to the vices especially prevalent in that day in the great centres of the Roman empire.

And disobedient.—More accurately rendered, unruly, or insubordinate.

For the ungodly and for sinners.—These four terms with which the Apostle opens his sad list of those for whom the Law was enacted, generally denote those who care nothing for human law, and who despise all obedience; who to their careless neglect for all constituted authorities, unite irreligion and contempt for all sacred things.

For unholy and profane.—The persons designated in these terms are those wanting in inner purity—men who scoff at holiness of life and character in its deepest sense. These six classes may be assumed in general terms to include the prohibitions of the first four Commandments (the First Table, as it is termed), where sins against God are especially dwelt upon. The sins against man, which form the subject of the prohibitions of the Second Table (Commandments Five to Ten), are included in the following enumeration of wrong-doers.

For murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers.—The original Greek expressions here require the milder rendering, smiters of fathers and smiters of mothers, and refer to persons of various ages who refuse all reverence, even all kindly treatment, to their parents. The words of the Fifth Commandment exactly explain this unnatural conduct.


Verse 10

(10) For menstealers.—After enumerating the transgressors of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments against murder and adultery, St. Paul speaks of a class well known in the Roman world of his day—perhaps the worst class of offenders against the Eighth Commandment—the “slave-dealers.”

For liars, for perjured persons.—In these inclusive terms St. Paul apparently reckons all who break the solemn Ninth charge given on Sinai, which forbade false witness against a neighbour. Among the sins which especially excite the hot wrath of the first inspired teachers of Christianity, “want of truth” appears singularly prominent. One after the other of the Apostles, in different language, express their deep abhorrence of this too common sin, which, in St. John’s fervid words, will suffice to exclude from the city of the blessed (Revelation 22:15).

And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.—In this broad and general summary, with which St. Paul concludes his dreadful catalogue, the prohibition of the Tenth Commandment against “covetousness” is doubtless included. In the words “sound doctrine”—an expression peculiar to this group of Epistles—a sharp contrast is suggested to the “sickly and unhealthy” teaching of the false teachers, with their foolish legends and allegories—a teaching which suggested controversy and useless disputes, and had no practical influence at all upon life.


Verse 11

(11) According to the glorious gospel.—All that St. Paul had been saying concerning the Law—its true work and its only work—was no mere arbitrary conception of his own; it was simply a repetition of the teaching of the gospel which his Master had intrusted to him, the gospel which taught so clearly that the Law was for the condemnation of sinners—that it was for those alone who do not accept the easy yoke and the light burden of the Lord Jesus.

Of the blessed God.—The whole sentence is more accurately translated, according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 4:4.) “The glory of the blessed God,” whether as shown in the sufferings of Christ or in the riches of His great mercy, is that which is contained in and revealed by the gospel; in other words, the “contents” of the gospel is the glory and majesty of God. God is called here “blessed,” not only on account of His eternal and changeless perfection, but also on account of His blessed gift of forgiveness, offered to all sinners who accept His gospel of love.

Which was committed to my trust.—This precious deposit, this “trust,” the gospel of the glory of God, was perhaps, in St. Paul’s eyes, his truest title to honour. When we inquire more closely what was exactly meant by “the gospel committed to his trust,” something more definite seems to be required than the general answer that he was a minister of the Church, intrusted with the proclamation of his Master’s blessed message. If this were all, St. Paul’s loved title to honour would have been by no means peculiar to him, but would have been shared by many another in that great company of prophets, teachers, and evangelists of the Church of the first days. St. Paul rather seems to have gloried in some peculiar and most precious trust. Was it not possibly in that Gospel of “Luke,” which some of the most venerated of the fathers tell us St. Paul was accustomed to mention as the Gospel written by him? (Irenæus, Origen, Jerome.) It was, perhaps, this blessed privilege of having been judged worthy to compile, under the direction of the Holy Ghost—or, at all events, largely to furnish materials for—one of the precious records of his adorable Master’s earthly lite and work and suffering which St. Paul loved to tell of as his proudest title to honour.

To his own disciples—as well as to those who disputed his apostolic authority—he would now and again refer to this, the highest of all honours bestowed on him by his Master; but there the boasting of the holy and humble man of God ended. Though the blessed evangelist St. Paul knew his work was for all the ages, the true humility of the noble servant of Jesus appears in the substitution of “Luke” for “St. Paul”—the scribe’s name in place of that of the real author.


Verse 12

(12) And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me.—Better rendered, who hath given me strength within. The ancient authorities here are divided; the majority omit the first word of the verse, the connecting “and.” With or without this word, the sense is much the same; for on the words, “the gospel . . . committed to my trust,” the Apostle pauses, overwhelmed with the flood of grateful memories which such a thought let loose. “How I thank God,” wrote St. Paul, “who hath strengthened me within, with this power to bear witness to my Master!—me of all persons, who was once a blasphemer of His royal name! What an example I—your teacher, the founder of this Church of Ephesus—am of the transforming grace of the gospel—of its sweet, mighty power to forgive sins.” It was the thought of the great love, passing understanding, of the tender, pitiful mercy which suffered so wondrous a trust to be committed to the charge of such a sinner, that called forth the ejaculation of deep thankfulness we read in the twelfth and following verses.

If we ask more particularly respecting the exact way in which Jesus Christ “enabled,” or “strengthened St. Paul within,” we must think of his strange power of winning men to his Master’s side; we must remember his miraculous gifts over disease and even death; and last, but not least, that strength of endurance, that brave, sweet patience which made his life of suffering borne for Christ so beautiful, so touching, an example for men.

For that he counted me faithful.—The All. seeing, knowing from the beginning that St. Paul would continue steadfast and true, selected him as “His chosen vessel” to bear His name and the glad news of His salvation into many lands.

It is observable, however, that this very faithfulness, this unflinching steadfastness, which seems to have been the reason why the Lord chose him for his great work, St. Paul, in a well-known and remarkable passage, refers to as a gift of grace which he had obtained in mercy of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:25).


Verse 13

(13) Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.—In these words of bitter I self-accusation, St. Paul sums up. the characteristic features of his brilliant career as a young Pharisee leader, as a popular Jewish patriot. The object of his intense hatred and of his burning antagonism during these never-to-be-forgotten days was that very Lord, from whom later he had received such unspeakable gifts. He knew he had been “a blasphemer” of that dear Master in the truest sense of the terrible word, since, as it has been well said, that: “He who had seen Stephen die for Christ, and after this did not cease to pant like a wild beast for the blood of the Church, must have known that he had not been guilty of simply reviling men but of blaspheming God.” And “a persecutor,” for, to quote his own words at Jerusalem (Acts 22:4): “I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” (Comp., too, Acts 25:11 : “I compelled them to blaspheme.”) And “injurious” (or, more accurately rendered, a doer of outrage), as he must well have remembered the events referred to in the history of the Acts (Acts 9:1) in the words: “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.”

But I obtained mercy.—The Apostle, his heart overflowing with love and gratitude, contrasts his Master’s mercy with his own want of it; the “mercy” shown to him consisting in something very different to simple forgiveness of a great wrong. In St. Paul’s case the pardon was crowned by many a noble gift bestowed by that pitiful King whom he had so cruelly wronged.

Because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.—This is one of the passages which throws a gleam of light on some of the hard questions which perplex us when we meditate on the principles of the final judgment. Very little is told us as to the doom of those who have not heard, or else have failed to understand, the message of Christ. Still, from even such scanty teaching as is contained in the words we are now considering, and in such passages as Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 23:34, we gather that there is an ignorance which at least greatly modifies the guilt of unbelief; we learn at least this much—such a sinner is not out of the pale of the operation of divine mercy But in spite of these hints—for they are little more—of the almost limitless area of the divine mercy, great care must be taken not to press overmuch these blessed intimations of the possibility of a mercy far more extended than the usual interpretation of the inspired utterances would lead us to expect; for, after all, the words and teaching of the merciful Redeemer Himself (Luke 12:48) seem to point to a mitigation of punishment, rather than to a complete forgiveness, of sins committed under circumstances of perhaps partial ignorance. “He that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”


Verse 14

(14) And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant.—The thought of his Master’s great love to one who once reviled Him so bitterly, and who had spent his strength in trying to undo His servants’ work, seems to have pressed with overwhelming force on St. Paul, who struggled to find words which should express how deeply he felt the loving tenderness which had transformed the cruel persecutor into the favoured Apostle. The Greek word translated “was exceeding abundant” is very rare, and possesses a superlative force.

With faith and love.—He sums up the divine mercy showed to him in the three words: grace, faith, and love. Grace, the unspeakable gift of God to him; faith and love, the results of the exceeding abundant gift of grace.

Faith: not merely a childlike trust in Christ, but a belief which accepted Christ as the hope of an otherwise hopeless world; and love, which includes love to man as well as love to God, a strange contrast to his former cruelty and hatred; for, instead of blaspheming, now he believed on Him whom he once reviled, and instead of persecuting the followers of Jesus, now, in his great love for them, he spent himself. Then, overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness that he, the enemy of God, had obtained the mercy and love of God, and conscious, from his own sweet and bitter experiences, what that mercy of God bestowed on a sinner signified, he gave utterance to one of those bright watchwords of the faith, with which the Christians of the first days used to comfort and encourage one another, and which, perhaps, better than any other words, gave expression to the burning thoughts which rose up from his grateful heart.


Verse 15

(15) This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.—This striking formula in the New Testament, found only in the Pastoral Epistles, here and in 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8; and the somewhat similar expression, “these sayings [words’] are faithful and true,” Revelation 21:5; Revelation 22:6, were formulas expressing weighty and memorable truths, well known and often repeated by the brotherhood of Christians in the first ages of the faith. They were, no doubt, rehearsed constantly in the assemblies, till they became well-known watchwords in the various churches scattered over the Mediterranean-washed provinces of the Roman empire; and in these “sayings” we see, perhaps, the germs of the great creeds of Christianity. [1 Timothy 3:1, perhaps, as usually understood, hardly falls under this category of “watchwords of the faith,” unless St. Chrysostom’s interpretation of the text be followed, which refers “the faithful saying” to the solemn truths which immediately preceded it in 1 Timothy 2]

That Christ Jesus came into the world.—This is an unmistakable allusion to the pre-existence of Christ. He came into the world, leaving the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (see John 16:28; John 17:5; Ephesians 1:3-4). And the purpose for which he came into the world is stated distinctly in the next sentence.

To save sinners.—There are no details given respecting this salvation. The “sinners” here mentioned is a broad, inclusive term. It includes, besides Jews, the outcasts of the Gentiles without hope and without God—all the lost, irrespective of race or time. In the Lord’s own blessed words: “The Son of Man was come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Of whom I am chief.—The intense humility of the strange, beautiful character of the Gentile Apostle prompted this bitter expression. St. Paul, it has been well said, knew his own sins by experience, and every other man’s per speculationem. In another place a similar feeling leads him to style himself as “less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8). He had been in time past so bitter an enemy of the Lord that no preaching of the disciples was effectual to work his conversion. In his case, to overcome his intense hatred of the Name, it needed a special appearance of the Risen One.


Verse 16

(16)Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy.—In spite of this deep consciousness of his guilt, faith and confidence in his own salvation seem never to have wavered. He speaks of this with all certainty, and proceeds to tell us with great clearness why Christ saved him, the chief of sinners.

That in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering.—If Christ could show mercy to him, surely in after times the greatest of sinners need never doubt the Redeemer’s power and will to save. St. Paul’s conversion foretold many a patient waiting on the part of the Lord, much long-suffering, which would never hurry to punish His enemies, but which would tarry long, in the hope of the sinner repenting while it was yet time.

For a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him.—Men were to learn that such conversions as his were to be looked forward to as no uncommon occurrences—conversion of blasphemers, of persecutors, whom the Lord would tarry long for, till they, too, coming to the knowledge of the truth, should acknowledge Him. Thus to all sinners was St. Paul a pattern—an example of the Lord’s long-suffering, of His patient waiting. His gracious Master had dealt with him like a king, who, when judging the case of a rebel city, pardons the chief rebel. If God would redeem Saul the persecutor, none need despair of finding mercy.

To life everlasting.—And the goal—which lay before these poor redeemed sinners, who, like St. Paul, in faith and loving trust in Jesus had found peace and acceptance—was eternal life.


Verse 17

(17) Now unto the King.—The wonderful chain of thoughts (1 Timothy 1:12-16) which so well illustrate the great assertion of 1 Timothy 1:15—“that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners”—St. Paul closes with a noble ascription of praise and thankfulness to the great God.

This doxology is addressed to no one Person of the ever blessed Trinity, but is—as has been said with great truth—“a grand testimony to the monotheism of St. Paul: the Godhead, the Trinity of his worship, is a sublime unity. To this Eternal, Incorruptible One be glory and honour unto the ages of the ages. Amen.”

Eternal.—More accurately rendered, (to the King) of the ages. The King of the Ages is the sovereign dispenser and disposer of the ages of the world. There is no reference at all here to the Gnostic æons.

Immortal (or incorruptible).—This epithet and the following one—“invisible”—are connected with “God,” not, with the preceding clause, “to the King of the Ages.” God is immortal, in contrast with the beings of earth, and—

Invisible, in contrast with the visible creation.

The only wise God.—The only God, the most ancient authorities omitting “wise.” “Only,” as in 1 Timothy 6:15 : “the blessed and only potentate.” “The only God,” a contrast to the multitude of created spirits, angels, principalities, powers, &c. (See 1 Corinthians 8:5-6.)

For ever and ever.—Literally, to the ages of the ages, to all eternity—a Hebraistic expression for a duration of time superlatively (infinitely) long.


Verse 18

(18) This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy.—The nature of the charge which he committed to Timothy must be gathered from the solemn words and thoughts of the foregoing passage—1 Timothy 1:15-16. The sum of it was that men should put their whole trust in Him who came into the world to save sinners, and who alone was able to lead them into everlasting life. There is something very solemn in St. Paul’s pressing home this charge to Timothy, and invoking the memory of the prophecies which went before on him. The charge was the last precious heritage, the priceless treasure which the old master, feeling that for him the end was not far distant, would leave to his favourite disciple—his own dear son in the faith. Anxious above measure for the loved group of Asian churches, of which Ephesus was the centre, foreseeing that the present perils and dangers from within and without would rapidly close round the congregations, and placing his greatest earthly hope on the steadfastness and knowledge of his own dear disciple whom he had left there as a shepherd to the sheep, he charges his son Timothy, by the memory of those strange prophetic utterances which, years before, had been made over him (Acts 17:1-2) in Lystra or Derbe, and which, perhaps, had first induced him to choose the young son of Eunice as his friend and companion, to hold fast the blessed doctrine which taught men to put their whole trust in Jesus Christ.

According to the prophecies which went before on thee.—These prophetic utterances seem to have been not unfrequent in the days of the Apostles, and were among the precious gifts which enriched and encouraged the Church of the first days. We read of them at Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-28), at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14), at Cæsarea (Acts 21:8-10).

In the case of Timothy they appear to have been farseeing glances into the life and the work and the teaching of the future Christian leader; here the last named—the doctrine and teaching—is especially referred to. The prophecies in question were uttered, no doubt, over him at his ordination, and, possibly, some of them at his baptism.

That thou by them mightest war a good warfare.—Better rendered, that thou in them, &c. St. Paul committed the sacred charge to Timothy concerning the faith in full confidence that, in accordance with those well-remembered glorious predictions which had been made foretelling his future zeal and success in the promulgation of the gospel, that in these—accoutred in these as his spiritual protection and armour—Timothy would wage his warfare against sin and evil.

St. Paul’s words in this verse may be thus paraphrased: I give this charge to you, son Timothy, in accordance with those well-remembered predictions respecting your future steadfastness in doctrine and in life. I remind you now of them, Do not disappoint these grand hopes—these prophecies of your future—but bear them ever in your mind. Equip yourself in them as your spiritual armour, and so armed, fight your Master’s fight against sin and evil—eine gute Ritterschaft, according to Luther.

The war imagery here used St. Paul employs again and again: the good warfare. (Comp. 1 Timothy 6:12.) To the old, tried Apostle a Christian’s life is a warfare in the truest sense of the word: to every believer it is a weary, painful campaign. In the case of the professed teachers a sleepless vigilance was especially demanded.


Verse 19

(19) Holding faith, and a good conscience.—Again, as in 1 Timothy 1:5, the Apostle joins “faith” and “the conscience undefiled.” In the mind of St. Paul, “want of faith” was no mere refusal to accept a definite religions dogma, but was ever closely connected with impurity and the love of sin. If a man dares to do wilful violence to his better nature he must not presume to dream of faith saving him. The thought expressed by another inspired teacher seems to run constantly in the mind of St. Paul: “The devils also believe and tremble.”

Which some.—“Some.” A quiet reference here is made to those false teachers who seem to have been doing such evil work at Ephesus among the Christian believers, and against whom Timothy is so urgently warned to be on his guard in the 6th and following verses of the chapter.

Having put away.—The simile in St. Paul’s mind is a nautical one. The “good conscience” represents the ballast, or cargo, of the ship. When this is put away—tossed overboard—the vessel becomes unmanageable and is tossed about, the plaything of the waves, and in the end is wrecked.


Verse 20

(20) Of whom is Hymenæus and Alexander.—Here the Apostle names two, as examples of the utter shipwreck of all true faith—persons evidently well known to Timothy and the members of the Church at Ephesus. Hymenæus is probably identical with the heretic of that name, charged, in the Second Epistle to Timothy, with teaching that the resurrection was already passed, thus undermining the great hope which Christian faith so firmly laid hold of. In the second letter to the Presbyter presiding over the Ephesian congregations the fundamental error was specified on account of which this Hymenæus was excommunicated.

Alexander.—It would be unsafe positively to identify this person with the personal adversary of St. Paul alluded to in the Second Epistle, 2 Timothy 4:14, there spoken of as “Alexander the coppersmith,” or with the Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33. The name was a very common one. Of the Alexander of Acts 19:33 we know nothing; from the circumstances in connection with which he is there mentioned, which took place some ten years before this Epistle was written, he seems to have been a Jew.

Whom I have delivered unto Satan.—In this fearful formula the offender is delivered over to Satan, the evil one. It is a solemn excommunication or expulsion from the Church, accompanied with the infliction of bodily disease or death. In ordinary cases, the offender was quietly expelled from the Christian society. But an Apostle, and only an Apostle, seems to have possessed the awful powers of inflicting bodily suffering in the forms of disease and death. Certain special instances of the exercise of these tremendous powers are recorded in the cases of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas, the incestuous person at Corinth, and the men here alluded to. The fear of Simon Magus, related in Acts 8:24, seems to have been aroused by his evident expectation that this well-known apostolic power would be put in force in his case. It is, however, noticeable that this punishment was not necessarily, in the case of disease, an irrevocable sentence. The true end and purpose of this, as of all divine punishments, was not revenge for the sin, but the ultimate recovery of the sinner.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-timothy-1.html. 1905.

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