As we make the switch from Revelation to First Timothy, we really have to switch our brains and our way of understanding these books. Revelation was written in an apocalyptic style with its strange references, visions and symbolism. The epistles are simply letters, written from real people to other real people – friends to friends, you could say. They are generally much more down to earth, relational and instructional. That is exactly what we find as Paul writes to his spiritual son, Timothy.
In Paul’s two letters to Timothy, we catch a glimpse of how the faith is supposed to be passed along. In God’s kingdom there is an emphasis on fathers and mothers passing the faith along to their sons and daughters. This is true of our literal, physical children as well as our children in the faith. In Paul’s letters to Timothy there are many references to one generation passing truth along to the next generation. That is what is happening here as Paul continues to pour wisdom and direction – and especially grace – into his son, his co-laborer and his friend, Timothy.
Timothy was a remarkable person and had impact far greater than we imagine:
- He was a trusted co-worker of Paul, journeying with him throughout Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia, as well as Troas and Philippi and Berea (Acts 17:1-14).
- He was much involved with the Thessalonians and gave that church support in a time of persecution (1 Thess. 3: 1–5).
- He was dispatched from Ephesus to bring some order to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. 16: 10–11).
- There was also a plan for Timothy to go to Philippi (Phil. 2: 19–24)
- He ministered later at Ephesus and Macedonia (Acts 19:22) and accompanied Paul to Asia.
- He joined Paul in Rome and then, after Paul’s death, he returned to Ephesus where he was a faithful witness for many years before being martyred.
- So close were Paul and Timothy that both names are listed as the authors of six of Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1).
Since Timothy had such tremendous influence in the spread of the early church, Paul took great pains to set Timothy on the right theological path. What strikes me as I read the first chapter of the first letter is that, right from the beginning, Paul takes special pains to make sure Timothy is grounded in grace.
The law of Moses was the center of all religious thought among the Jewish people with whom Timothy came into contact. Many people, even believers in Christ, were giving the law too much importance in their relationship with God. Paul comes right out with it from the first chapter. He explains that the law is for law breakers; the gospel is for the righteous. When believers, made right with God through the work of Jesus on the cross, hold themselves and others to the works of the law, they are misguided. It is a clear choice – I either trust in Christ’s work (which is sufficient) or in my own works (which fall short).
Because his life was to be so influential, it was crucial for Timothy, Paul’s spiritual son, to be grounded in grace. We, too, have to be grounded in God’s great grace and we have to pass this grace foundation on to our sons and daughters. This is what makes a healthy marriage, home, and church. “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2).