1 Timothy, when read in a spirit of personal devotion, illuminates some important principles for biblical leadership. At the very beginning, Paul opens his letter with a bold charge for Timothy: “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:2-4). Paul refers to Timothy as “my true child in the faith.” He had imparted a very life to Timothy from His own experience with the Lord. That life is one in which Timothy now has access to “God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul charges Timothy to instruct people who err in the faith, who apparently do not have their minds on “furthering the administration of God…” The Greek word, οἰκονομίαν (oikonimian), here translated “administration,” more fully means the management of a household or a stewardship. From the outset, the church is to be understood as the household of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. All doctrine should conform to the purposes of the Head of the Household! This household has a shared life, an eternal one, which Timothy is to fight to preserve: “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1:18-19). Paul comes back to the “good fight of faith” at the end of the letter, which, together with the charge at the beginning of the letter, emphasizes both the present contention inside and outside God’s household and the future hardship to come, only to end when the Lord returns for His Church! “Fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:12-14). This indicates the resolve and conviction with which Timothy was to carry out his ministry—a ministry which involved contending for sound doctrine, facilitating discipleship, and cultivating an atmosphere of care and concern for every member of God’s Household.
As sound doctrine influences everything the Church does, including discipleship and cultivating a caring community, this theme is at the forefront of this letter. At the beginning, Paul reminds Timothy of what their doctrine should accomplish in the Church by saying, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). What can be observed here is that doctrine should call God’s people to action, starting with inward transformation. As we have a sincere faith in Christ, we have our conscience cleared and our hearts purified. That is the condition from which we love others properly. In the rest of chapter 1, Paul describes people who have strayed from this goal. Instead of seeking transformation by which they may serve God’s household, they are wanting to puff themselves up. They seek to teach God’s people using God’s Law, but they are not submitting to God’s Spirit. Hence, some of these men are blasphemers, getting nowhere in their faith (1:18-20).
Chapter 2 reminds Timothy the means by which the good fight of faith is to be waged and won: prayer. This in itself is a doctrinal truth which leads the household of God to boldly proclaim Christ, who empowers them. Paul then gives some instructions specific to men and women. Men are to “pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (2:8). In other words, they are to be unified in their submission to the Lord. Women are also to submit to the Lord by showing that submission to men in the Church who are given the authority to instruct God’s household.
Chapter 3 details the roles of these men in leadership before giving the crux of the sound doctrine being taught: “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (3:14-16). Again, the Church is described as God’s Household, and this household is supposed to display and defend the truth of the Head of the Household. “He who was revealed in the flesh…” Jesus came in a human body. Is He currently being revealed in our bodies? “…Was vindicated in the Spirit…” Jesus was proven to be the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit in his life on earth, death on the cross and victorious resurrection. Are we being proven children of God by our submission to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit? “…Seen by angels…” Jesus came from heavenly realms and returned after His resurrection to sit down at God’s right hand—the place of ultimate authority. Are we recognizing His authority in every area of our lives? “…Proclaimed among the nations…” The same God who displayed Himself through Israel to all nations has now appeared to the Church to do the same. Are we indeed proclaiming Him everywhere we go? “…Believed on in the world, taken up in glory…” Jesus came to display a different type of life—one reconciled to God in which we can display His glory again. Are we putting our hope only in this new life or our life in the world?
Chapter 4 details false teaching to come which might draw God’s household away from living these truths. In verse 11, Paul turns to Timothy with a more personal tone, reminding Timothy of the “spiritual gift” within him which was given by the laying on of hands of the church. It is with this spiritual gift that Timothy is to, in everything he does, “show [himself] an example for all who believe” (4:12-14). Through this example of the doctrine lived out, Timothy could carry out his stewardship in God’s household of making disciples.
All these doctrines which Paul is laying out for Timothy are nothing new. He is actually just reminding Timothy to follow his example of faith—a true experience of Christ which he outlines in chapter 1:12-17. He could not help but give God the glory, given God’s awesome mercy and patience. These are two aspects of discipleship. The first is to follow in the footsteps of one who is following Christ wholeheartedly. The second is to recognize God is the one doing everything through the disciple who gives all glory to God.
Chapter 2 demonstrates how God’s household should be committed to teaching and being taught. Men are given the place of teaching. Chapter 3 gets into specific roles. The instructing and servicing responsibilities of elders and deacons is predicated on the God-honoring management of their own households. Here, we can observe that discipleship should start at home. If a husband or father is not discipling his family properly, he has no business doing it with anyone else in the Church.
Caring community starts with the family and works outward. Chapter 5 goes into some detail regarding specific groups of people. All are to be regarded as family members, even if they are not blood family. With this mindset, all people in the Household of God should be caring for one another. This is a responsibility—a stewardship—which Timothy was to take hold of and to influence others with.
Chapter 6 brings the letter full circle back to doctrine, now with an application for every day life: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (6:3-6). In other words, be content with your situation in God’s household, and you will treat others the way you want to be treated. This brings unity as we actively conform ourselves to godliness. Any other doctrine which hinders this needs to go. This clearly shows that doctrine, discipleship and caring community should conform us to Christ Himself, who is the head of the household.
Of the leadership principles of discipleship, influence, service, and stewardship—themes which indeed are all present—stewardship is emphasized the most in 1 Timothy. Paul frames the Church as the “household of God,” a family. The Greek word οἰκονομίαν can literally mean “stewardship.” In a sense, Timothy is a steward over God’s Household. He has been placed in a position of authority to preserve and promote sound doctrine in the family of God. Really, the people themselves are Timothy’s stewardship, and it is reasonable to suggest that Paul did not intend for this letter to be exhaustive in terms of Timothy’s charge. He should indeed influence by way of instruction and modeling (4:12-13; 6:17-19). This instruction and exhortation is indeed service in itself, but the goal of that instruction is “love from a pure heart” (1:5). That is an all-encompassing lifestyle, to include things like caring for widows (5:1-8). Regarding service, it could also be inferred that what Paul says of himself in 1:12-17 is also expected of Timothy to some degree. Discipleship, the practice of which is a stewardship in itself, is the second most developed leadership principle in this letter. Timothy was to follow Paul’s example of following Christ. As Timothy worked out Christ’s character in his own life (6:11), he was also charged with discipling other men who could be charged with discipling still others (3:1-13). Still, within these discipleship relationships comes the understanding of a stewardship. Elders and deacons are only qualified to serve if they can manage their own households well (3:5, 12). Timothy was charged with making disciples who would hold onto the true faith in Christ, all helping each other grow in godliness in the context of a caring community in the midst of trials. We are charged with no less in our contemporary world. This is a calling to take seriously.
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This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Associate Pastor for Centre Union Church in Yeagertown, PA.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!