The Agora
Godliness with Contentment - 1 Timothy

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A. The Man Paul

What should be written, in a brief introduction such as this, about a man like Paul? He was, quite simply, the greatest man ever to follow the Lord Jesus Christ -- a man whose heart throbbed always with love for God and love for his brethren, despite their failings, despite even their sins against him. He was a man who truly "filled up", or completed, that which was lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24); for he surely took up the cross and followed his Saviour, even unto death. With no pride or arrogance, but in simple truth, he was able to say of himself that he had been:

"In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the ecclesias" (2Co 11:23-28).

Paul was "a chosen vessel", to bear the gospel of Christ before the Gentiles (Acts 9:17). He was learned in all the Law and the prophets, having been taught by the famous Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was a member of the Sanhedrin. But more importantly, he was directly instructed by Christ (Gal 1:12). No man ever carried out a commission better. It goes almost without saying, therefore, that his writings are fully inspired by God (2Ti 3:16, 17).

The Pastoral Letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are the last writings of Paul, of which we have any record. They were written after the first imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28:30). Although some (mostly modern) writers would contend otherwise, the general consensus of expositors and historians (which seems more likely) is that Paul lived and worked some years after the captivity related in the last chapter of Acts. Early Christian testimony informs us that Paul's appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11) had a successful conclusion, and that after his first imprisonment he was released in approximately 63 AD. After this he appears to have spent a couple of years of freedom before he was again arrested and condemned. In these last years he wrote, first of all, 1 Timothy and Titus, which have much in common. (That Paul was at liberty when he wrote to Titus is substantiated by Tit 3:12.) At the very last, Paul wrote 2 Timothy from prison, in his second confinement, fully expecting to die soon afterward (2Ti 4:6).

With a very few exceptions, Paul's letters were written to meet immediate situations. They were not dispassionate treatises written in the peace of a well-stocked study. There was some threatening situation in Corinth, or Galatia, or Thessalonica, and he wrote a letter to meet it. Or there were dearly beloved "sons" in the faith, like Timothy and Titus, whose hands needed strengthening in difficult positions and, again, Paul took time out of an unbelievably busy life to meet the need.

But we must not think that a composition is of no consequence to us because it was written to address an immediate situation which has long since ceased. Indeed, it is just because the frail flesh we all bear does not change that God still speaks to us today through the letters of Paul. In these little letters, a great and good and truly humble man still "lives" and pours out his heart and mind in love to us, his beloved children in the Truth.

B. The Pastoral Letters

Paul's fourteen letters seem to fall into five groups:

  1. The earliest, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians (and possibly Galatians), were written on his second missionary journey when he first went to Europe.
  2. Romans and 1st and 2nd Corinthians were written during his third journey, when he spent most of his time in Ephesus. (This was at the time of the troubles in Corinth, when Titus was sent there: 2Co 8:16, 23; 12:18).
  3. Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, and Hebrews were written near the end of his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30), when he was expecting soon to be released, as he indicated in several of them.
  4. Titus and 1st Timothy were written in the period after his release, when he was back working in the same area of Greece, Asia Minor, and Macedonia again.
  5. Finally, 2nd Timothy was written, right at the end of his life, from prison again in Rome.
Paul wrote several different types of letters. Nine were written to seven ecclesias (if the Galatian ecclesia may be reckoned as one) -- there being two each to Corinth and Thessalonica. Just as Jesus Christ in the Apocalypse sent messages to seven ecclesias, so did Paul. Seven is the Scriptural number of completion and perfection, suggesting that Paul's ecclesial letters contain the complete gospel and perfect instruction for all ecclesias. Some of the nine ecclesial letters were written to answer special questions (as the two to Corinth); some to oppose special false doctrines (as that to the Galatians); and others to upbuild and strengthen generally.

From a different aspect, these nine ecclesial letters may be divided into three basic groups:

4 doctrinal:
Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.
3 practical:
Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.
2 concerning Christ's return:
1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Paul's five other letters were also written for several purposes. They consist of one thoroughly personal letter (Philemon); one general letter, to Hebrew Christians with dangerous leanings toward Judaism (Hebrews); and three letters to individuals (Timothy and Titus) who were leading brethren.

These last three letters naturally belong together in any overall consideration of Paul's writings. They have long borne the designation of "Pastoral Letters" -- or letters written to pastors. A pastor was a shepherd (as the word itself implies), almost certainly identical in first-century terminology to a bishop or elder. Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, for they were themselves pastors, as he was. And he wrote concerning their duties and qualifications, as well as those of all ecclesial "shepherds" (of that day and this).

While these three Pastoral Letters are addressed to individuals, and many of the admonitions are clearly personal, much of the material is nevertheless intended for the flocks over which Timothy and Titus helped preside. So, in a sense they are to be understood as ecclesial letters also -- either read directly to the congregations by the recipients, or handed down second-hand in Timothy's and Titus' own words.

The general aim of the three letters is set down by Paul:

"That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the ecclesia of the living God" (1Ti 3:15).
These letters, then, are seen to deal with the care and organization of the flock of God. They tell men how they ought to behave in an assembly which had replaced the Temple in Jerusalem as the true dwelling place of the Almighty upon earth. They give instructions as to what kind of people ecclesial leaders must be, how they must administer ecclesial affairs, and how they should deal with the threats to Christian doctrine and life.

The Pastoral Letters reveal to us intimate glimpses of the struggles of infant ecclesias, veritable islands in a sea of paganism. Many of these believers were only slightly removed from their heathen origins and could easily relapse into the sensual atmosphere of the world around them. In some measure, then, these letters may speak to us in our "missionary" pursuits today -- whether in far-off lands, or in the establishment of new light stands and the strengthening of new converts nearer home.

Despite the newness of the Truth revealed to the flocks of Timothy and Titus, they possessed (through Paul's instruction?) a high degree of ecclesial organization. At Ephesus and in Crete there were "bishops" (1Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:7-16); at Ephesus at least there were also "deacons" (1Ti 3:8-13) and an order of "widows indeed" (1Ti 5:3-16).

There are even the beginnings of a "creed", or "statement of faith", implicit in what appear to be quotations from recognized documents (1Ti 1:17; 2:5, 6; 3:16; 2Ti 2:11-13; Tit 2:11-14; 3:4-7). In the Pastorals, Paul no longer presents new and challenging ideas -- as he did in Romans and Hebrews, for example. His great aim is not to introduce new teaching, but instead to persuade his followers to stand by the old, to consolidate and maintain what they had received. This is why he so often refers to "sound teaching" (2Ti 1:13; 4:3); "wholesome teaching" (Tit 1:9); "sound faith" (Tit 1:13), and "sound doctrine" (Tit 2:1).

One more interesting element in the Pastorals is what might be called "domestic codes" -- sections outlining advice on the correct behavior of believers in different social classes and relationships:

1Ti 2:9-15
1Ti 5:3-16
1Ti 6:1,2
Tit 2:1-3
Elderly people
Tit 2:4,5
Young women
Tit 2:6,7
Young men
Tit 2:9,10

These domestic codes are also found in other letters -- especially Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter -- and are a reminder of how much the Truth should affect all our activities, especially our family life. In the ancient world, religion was often considered as purely a public affair. (Sadly, that is also very much the case with many churches). But believers in Christ should be members of a close-knit family, the family of God (1Ti 3:15). Paul's letters constantly emphasize this.

A reading of the Pastorals leaves the impression that the style is not quite like that of the other letters. It is less fiery, less emphatic, but more exhortational and comforting than Paul's other letters. There are also differences in vocabulary between the Pastorals and the earlier letters (so much so as to lead modernists to postulate some author other than Paul). But it should not be expected that the same author would write in the same manner and use the same words in two letters composed probably fifteen years apart, as were 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy. (If this is doubted, let the reader compare his latest composition to his high-school or college term papers!) It is entirely reasonable that Paul's attitudes and characteristic expressions would undergo great changes in the course of a generation. The amazing thing is that God spoke, through both Paul the younger preacher and Paul the older apostle -- as He did also through Moses and David and Isaiah and Jesus! And that each revelation, while superficially different, was essentially identical!

C. The Theme Of 1 Timothy - Godliness With Contentment

There are several themes woven into the fabric of this letter -- perhaps one of the most dominant being the "charge" to sound doctrine. We do not, however, feel that this is the theme. The strong, emphasized point is that of eusebia -- godliness, with contentment. Without this sense of godly satisfaction, a charge to sound doctrine would fall on empty ears and hearts.

The word eusebia (godliness) appears fifteen times in the New Testament. Ten of these are in Paul's writings, and only in the Pastoral Letters. The word occurs once in 2 Timothy, once in Titus and eight times in 1 Timothy -- which might almost be called an exhortation to godliness. The theme of our study, then, is this "Godliness with contentment" which Paul stresses throughout. Note especially 1Ti 6:6-10, and the comments on that section.

The Greek word eusebia is compounded from two words: eu which means 'well or right'; and the remainder, which signifies worship. True godliness is therefore "right worship", the practical expression in our daily lives of the worship and honor (1Ti 1:2) due to God. This is the lesson which Paul emphasizes in the often misused passage, 1Ti 3:16, concerning the "mystery of godliness". Paul is not saying that it is the "nature of the Godhead" which is a mystery. Rather, the "mystery of godliness" is the development of the perfect and unified body of Christ. It is the awe and wonder we must experience as we view the unfathomable depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God manifested in His plan through Christ for our salvation! The "mystery of godliness" is the compelling influence of the Word of God acting upon impure men and women to develop a godly character. This we do by practical application of God's principles, while we never lose sight of the fact that we are saved by God's grace alone and not by our own efforts.

All this perhaps seems obvious, but men and women have always been prone to idolatry and mistaking the false for the true. So it has been with godliness. At Ephesus, when Paul wrote this first letter to Timothy, there were those whose lives were taken up in contention and argument, fables and genealogies (1Ti 1:4), wordy strifes, questions, and surmisings (1Ti 6:4) -- rather than simple godliness which edifies. There were even those who, while maintaining a profession and appearance of godliness, thought that it could be made a way of material gain (1Ti 6:5). In opposition to such a thought Paul sets the converse, that godliness with contentment is the only true gain. The contentment is not of course self-contentment, but the satisfaction which comes to those whose minds are stayed upon God, bringing the peace which surpasses natural man's understanding. This contentment of mind and heart can be nothing but an incomprehensible mystery to those restless and dissatisfied brethren who always engage in strife and dispute, or who seek false riches and security (1Ti 6:9). Beware, says Paul of any false idea of eusebia, whether it be in contentiousness masquerading as "earnest contending" or in materialism disguised by a thin veneer of religion.

The warning comes to us today with full force. This is a discontented age when it is fashionable to be 'frustrated'. Discontent expresses itself in various ways, most often in grumbling, irritability, strife and wrangling. We are never completely free of such weaknesses, but we must fight against the negative with positive feelings and actions. This weapon is the true contentment which goes hand in hand with true godliness and which springs from a recognition of what God has done for us in Christ. So long as such contentment is lacking in our hearts, its absence will show itself by a proneness to strife and criticism and procrastination and self-justification.

This age is also a materialistic one, which has abandoned faith of every sort and gone in search of false and illusory gain. We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. We all recognize the truth of these words, but the busy and anxious lives we lead often deny their force. In our modern economy, it is difficult not to be caught up in the search for possessions, comfort, and 'security'. We need the constant reminder which Paul gives Timothy regarding that which constitutes true gain, Godliness with contentment.

In contrast to material things, true gain is to be found only in worship of God, in eusebia. This can only deliver us from the fretful cares and anxieties of life, bringing true contentment. Here then is the antidote for our modern illnesses of frustration and materialism. But it will only grow if it is fed by constant reflection upon the greatness and goodness of God. Paul tells us to exercise ourselves in eusebia, not in profane and old wives' fables (1Ti 4:7,8). If we are wise, we shall heed the lesson and let the consciousness of God's love and mercy so dwell with us continuously that in the godliness of our lives we may truly worship Him.

D. The Man Timothy

Although we know little of Timothy's personal life, he is nevertheless one of the best known and closest of Paul's fellowlaborers. He was instructed by Paul and is referred to as Paul's "own son in the faith". He joined Paul's company on Paul's second journey, and worked with him thereafter till the end of the apostle's life.

His father was a Gentile (Acts 16:1), and Timothy was not circumcised, although he knew the Holy Scriptures from childhood (2Ti 3:15). His mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were faithful believers (2Ti 1:5) but his father and grandfather were not so mentioned. It would appear from this that faithfulness was on the female side of the family and probably in the face of difficulties.

Paul's choice of Timothy to accompany him, as well as Timothy's subsequent field of labor, was apparently indicated by the Holy Spirit, for Paul says:

"This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee... " (1Ti 1:18).
Paul made three major journeys throughout the Roman Empire preaching the Truth and establishing ecclesias. Timothy lived at Lystra (Acts 16:2) in East Asia Minor. When Paul arrived there on his second journey, Timothy joined him and travelled eastward with him through Asia Minor to Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

When Paul was driven out of Berea, Timothy and Silas stayed to continue the work. Paul called them to him at Athens, then sent them back to Thessalonica where the persecution was severe on the brethren. He later wrote to the ecclesia there:

"To establish you and comfort you concerning your faith that no man should be moved by these afflictions" (1Th 3:2, 3).
Persecution and afflictions were the usual lot of the early believers when they joined the "sect everywhere spoken against". And the youthful Timothy, soon after his call to the work, is sent back to the scene of danger to be a source of courage and strength to the new believers.

Some have assumed, from Paul's exhortations to him to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ" and to "let no man despise" his youth, that Timothy was timid and lacking in missionary fervor for the work of the Truth. But surely the picture we get of him in this his earliest appearance in the work, shows him to be exceptionally faithful, courageous, and devoted.

The most we can fairly infer from Paul's exhortation to him is that he may have been too reluctant to stand as an equal to older brethren, and that he, like all -- like even Paul himself -- felt the need for encouragement to press forward in a difficult and often lonely path.

A brother -- especially a young brother -- who is strongly motivated by love of the brethren and who recognizes his own human weakness may be too cautious about taking firm action when it is called for.

From Thessalonica, Timothy rejoined Paul at Corinth and stayed with him for the rest of the second journey. He accompanied Paul on his third journey (which ended with Paul's arrest and transportation to Rome), three years of which was spent in Ephesus. He was with Paul on the return trip to Jerusalem, at the end of which a riot occurred in Jerusalem and Paul was imprisoned.

We have no record of Timothy while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, nor on the journey to Rome. He appears again with Paul in Rome -- part of the time, at least, a prisoner himself -- for Heb 13:23 records that Timothy had been "set at liberty", as Paul himself was then expecting to be.

In this first letter we read that Paul had left Timothy at Ephesus to set in order ecclesial affairs there. This letter appears to fit best into the period between Paul's two imprisonments.

The second letter to Timothy was clearly Paul's last, for he is once again imprisoned in Rome, this time on the verge of execution, and he urgently calls Timothy to him. Whether Timothy reached him in time we do not know, for this second letter is the last we hear of either Paul or Timothy. There the record ends.

Of Timothy's value to Paul and of the difficult conditions under which Paul worked, we learn in Phi 2:19-21 --

"I trust to send Timothy shortly unto you... I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state, for all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ's."
Would he have the same to say of us? Do we leave the labor to others, while we pursue our own comfort and material advantage? Let each of us ask honestly and frankly -- and demand answers.

Or would he find us walking in true wisdom, realizing the vanity and brevity of present possessions and interests? Would he find us dedicated to His work, laying hold on that eternal treasure that does not fade away?

Throughout this first letter Paul is continually impressing upon Timothy the great responsibility of his calling. And he is indirectly speaking to us in the same way:

"This charge I commit unto thee... that thou... mightest war a good warfare... " (1:18).

"These things write I unto thee... that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God... " (3:14, 15).

"Put the brethren in remembrance of these things... Be thou an example to the believers... Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them... " (4:6, 12, 16).

"I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things... " (5:21).

"Keep that which is committed unto thy trust... " (6:20).
The matter of sound doctrine, coupled with a godly life, is the duty and the privilege to which Timothy had been called. These matters receive continual attention, and we should reflect carefully upon them: See 1:3-6; 3:14-16; 4:6-5:2; and all of chapter 6.

True knowledge and a careful obedience to God's commands are the twin antidotes to the creeping sickness of apostasy -- to which Paul makes several references in 1 Timothy.

  1. In ch. 1 he warns of falling away into a dead formalism, with the genealogical disputes, and the rabbinical questions of the Mosaic Law in its corrupted form.
  2. In ch. 4 he prophesies of a great system of religious deception in the latter days.
  3. And in 6:20, 21 he mentions the apostasy to "science falsely so called", a trust in modern "enlightenment" and "scholarship", which is really nothing but the "wisdom of this world".
The letter is sent to Ephesus, where Paul had left Timothy, after the effective labors in that city ten years before. Those labors had so widely affected the community as to stop a trade in silver shrines, which had previously flourished, thus causing a great stir among the trades people. This led to a public uproar in which several of the brethren suffered violence. At about the same time, many believed and confessed bringing their books to be burned.

We find "certain of the chief of Asia", described as Paul's friends, during the uproar just referred to (Acts 19:31). The testimony for the Truth had affected the higher circles of society, the educated and devout-minded among Jews and Gentiles. The consequence was the formation of a large ecclesia in Ephesus composed of "the better son".

This influx of the well-to-do and the better-educated citizens would naturally lead, in time, to the problems we find mentioned in 1 Timothy. These are in some ways the same problems that confront the Christadelphian body today, with the conversion of more wealthy and learned brethren, and with the tendency for the Truth to become 'respectable'. (We speak, of course, of general tendencies, not of particular individuals. It is certainly a pan of our problem today that we are nearly all too well-to-do for our own good, and more relaxed, leisure-prone, and worldly-wise than our forefathers!)

The problems Paul enumerates are as follows:

Unprofitable questions

"Giving heed to new doctrines"

The last three tendencies that Paul alludes to were above all others in the harm they might cause, and they were very common in Timothy's day (and prevalent in our times as well):

"Strifes of words"
Seeking to be rich
Reverence for false science and knowledge

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