Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 1 Timothy 1
To this point we’ve seen only Paul’s letters to churches in particular ancient Mediterranean cities, but today we begin a letter to an individual. Timothy was one of Paul’s missionary companions, a younger man who was also biracial, the son of a Jewish Christian woman and a Greek man. He’s first introduced in Acts 16:1-5, and we hear more of his missionary journeys and work in Acts 16-20. Beyond that, Paul at times puts Timothy’s name alongside his own in his salutations and mentions him in his letters. I don’t know to what extent Timothy influenced on Paul’s writing, whether he co-authored any particular letters or passages. But today we have a letter not from Paul and Timothy, but rather from Paul to Timothy.
Paul’s primary aim in this chapter is to entrust Timothy with the ministry in Ephesus and equip him to keep the believers in his sphere of influence on track. He reiterates instructions to Timothy that he previously delivered in person: “Remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines” (3). Believers are getting sidetracked by myths, obsessing over family trees, and bogging themselves down in pointless discussions about the Law. In contrast, Paul says, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (5). According to the marginal note in my NASB, the word “instruction” here is literally “commandment.” Ministers like Paul and Timothy issue commands with the intention to foster love, faith, and clean consciences. They don’t want people mired in time-wasting teachings and empty pursuits. They want believers to know and practice love.
Obedience isn’t an end in itself, Paul explains. God didn’t give the Law with the aim of securing compliance to a set of rules. Rather, “law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious” (9). The Law is God’s response to our rejection of him; it’s intended to show us that we’ve strayed from him, and that we can’t restore ourselves to goodness on our own. As he makes this point, Paul launches into another of his litanies, this time listing sins with a focus on lawlessness and anarchy, such as patricide and kidnapping.
Paul uses his own example to show that the point of the Law is to open our eyes to grace. Paul, a Pharisee, got his start as early Christianity’s number-one opponent, “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (13). But on the road to Damascus, in a bright light that temporarily blinded Paul’s physical eyes, the resurrected Jesus Christ himself opened up Paul’s eyes to his own sinfulness, that he was opposing the only one who had perfectly fulfilled the Law. Jesus Christ extends forgiveness to all humanity, a race of lawbreakers. Paul explains, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (15-16). Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, gave Paul mercy to show that even his worst enemies can receive forgiveness and new life.
It takes more than rules to save us from the pit of our evil. It takes a hand with a nail-pierced wrist reaching down to pull us out.