Lesson 2: Introducting the Book of First Timothy
Paul's Letters To Preachers. This is lesson #2. Now, we have assumed already that the apostle Paul was undoubtedly released from his first Roman imprisonment probably in the year of AD 62 or possibly early in the next year (AD 63). [One of the easiest ways to establish this date (to me at least, if you are interested) is to start with Porcius Festus (Acts 24:27); go to a good encyclopedia and find the date that Porcius Festus became the Roman governor of Palestine and then add to that date the two years of Paul's Roman imprisonment that Luke mentions (in Acts 28:30), that brings us to somewhere near the end of AD 62.]. After four years of imprisonment (two years in Caesarea and two years in Rome), Paul was finally set free. Now, use your imagination just a minute. Try to visualize Paul being freed from that big Roman prison. Paul had already made some commitments for himself and for Timothy before his release. In the Philippian letter, Paul told those brethren (anticipating his release), "I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you." (Phil. 2:19). He further told the Philippians of Macedonia, "I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly." (That's down in v.24). Paul had promised Philemon also, you will remember, to visit Colossie. Now, while you are at this point, anchor your tape player on PAUSE just a minute, flip over to one of those maps in the front of your Bible and re-familiarize yourself with these places: find Rome where Paul was released, find Philippi and find Colossie. Notice, that if Paul went to Colossie, he probably went right by Ephesus, that big cosmopolitan seaport with a Roman highway that Connected Colossie about 100 miles to the east, that we discussed before. If Paul went to Philippi, he undoubtedly went by way of a ship through the Aegean Sea and that would have taken him fairly close to the port of Ephesus, even if that ship did not stop over at the port of Ephesus. AND, while we're discussing Paul's commitments: do you remember that some four or five years before the time we're talking about [that winter that Paul wrote the Roman letter from Corinth?] Paul told the Roman brethren by letter, i.e. the Christians right there in that big capital city where Paul was being released, that he planned to visit Spain after coming to Rome. Do you remember that? (Rom. 15:28). Now, whether that was still on Paul agenda or not, I don't know. Where did Paul go first? Philippi, Ephesus, Colossie, Spain, or someplace else? Well, again I don't know. But, you can be sure he didn't set around and whistle Dixie. He probably got on the first ship out; if his previous character is any clue. Maybe he took a trip to the west and spent a year or two on a missionary journey in Spain, I don't know. However, it must have been within the next couple years (i.e. by about AD 65) that Paul either left Timothy at Ephesus or sent Timothy to Ephesus.
Notice (here), in I-Timothy 1:3, Paul in writing to Timothy said, "I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia." Now, there's a little clue. It's not much; but, it associates Timothy with Ephesus in this first of Paul's letters to Timothy AND it tells us a little about Paul's itinerary. It fits roughly into the scheme of things. Unfortunately, no time element is given; however, Paul IS TRAVELING about where we expected, i.e. where his prior commitments would have taken him. Right?
Now, back up just a .minute. Somewhere back there in introducing Paul's Prison Epistles, we discussed briefly the decade of the AD 60's, do you remember that? Paul was in prison at Rome the first two years of the AD 60's.. We know a good bit about that. AND, jumping to the other end of that decade, the last two or three years of the AD 60's found Rome coming down on the Jews in what is generally referred to as the War of AD 70. The Jewish nation came to an end forever. The temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was plowed like a field, and many Jews were shipped off into Roman slavery. In the year of AD 67, Nero sent one of his military generals, a man named Vespasian, to put down the Jewish rebellion in Judea which was really the formal beginning of that Roman-Jewish • war. Then, the encyclopedia says Nero committed suicide in AD 68. It is generally said (tradition has it...at least), that Nero was the one that ordered Paul's execution; sending the apostle to his grave. Thus, sometime between AD 63 (when Paul was let out of prison) and no later than AD 68 at the very extreme (the end of Nero's reign), Paul was beheaded at the hand of a Roman soldier. Now, during that five year period, AND I think the chances are it must have been early-on in that five year period, possibly AD 63-64-65, Timothy at the instigation of Paul spent some time in Ephesus working with-that congregation as we have said.
This letter of I-Timothy was written to Timothy when he was at Ephesus and during his stay there. We don't have much to go on here; however, that entire period (we have discussed) was a turbulent time for Christians. This is quite evident. Along about AD 64, for example, there was a great fire in the city of Rome and a large slum section of the city burned up. Nero was a musician (as well as the emperor) and perhaps you have heard the expression: "Nero fiddled while Rome burned." Some accused Nero, himself, of setting the fire, others doubt that Nero was guilty. However, regardless of who set the fire, it is said that Nero blamed the Christians for this destruction and as a result Nero had many of those Roman Christians (members of the church of Christ in Rome) put to death very cruelly. Some tradition has it, that both Peter and Paul's deaths were associated with this event. Whether that is right or not, is a good question in my mind. There is no scriptural evidence that Peter was ever in Rome at any time. I couldn't find any good history on it, really. But, it's not hard for me to imagine and envision that the decade of the AD 60's was a difficult time for Christians in general and especially Jewish Christians.
Remember now, Timothy was abiding in Ephesus (v.3); but, what happened in Rome must have set the mood for the whole empire. As I said, this was a difficult time for Christians. Do you remember the family man and his wife, Aquila and Priscilla (the tent makers) that worked with Paul in Corinth in establishing the Corinthian congregation? They're mentioned first in Acts 18:2. They did a little personal work on Apollos. Aquila was a Jew, it says there, and the same verse goes on to says they were chased out of Rome by Claudius (who was the emperor up until AD 54, when Nero took over). Aquila and his wife went on with Paul to Ephesus, if you remember (Acts 18:19). However, when Paul wrote the Roman letter some three or four years after Mr. & Mrs. Aquila went with Paul to Ephesus, perhaps about AD 58, we find in the last chapter of the Roman letter that Aquila and Priscilla had gone back to Rome and a congregation of the church was meeting in their home (Rom. 16:3,5). However, during the mid-AD 60's, six or seven year later (now), when the letter of II-Tim. was written (very turbulent times we have said), we find that Aquila was back at Ephesus again (that's II-Tim. 4:19). Now, it may be they just wanted to come back to Ephesus to work with Timothy and sell a few tents, I don't know. But, again considering the social climate of the empire, they (being Jews) more likely were flushed out of Rome by the emperor or some other governmental pressure. Now, these were real, live, breathing, feeling, hard working people, undoubtedly trying to make a living with their tent making business. They had problems, just like you have problems and like I have problems.
O.K., Now, it was not our intention in this lesson to begin a verse by verse analysis of I-Timothy, we had planned to save that for next time. However, you will remember, much of our last lesson (the first lesson) was spent developing a biographical sketch of Timothy and familiarizing ourselves with this young preacher, his past association with Paul, etc. We said Timothy had spent some 20 years (now) traveling with the apostle Paul and for the apostle Paul. We said that Timothy was perhaps the closest person to the apostle and perhaps spent more time with the apostle than any other of Paul's co-workers. Paul had complete confidence in Timothy. Now, dovetail that into the purpose of this present lesson. We're trying to introduce the book of I-Timothy and to get a feel for the pressures and the circumstances under which Paul wrote this letter, why it was written, the purpose of the book and beyond that to see how that message impacts on us. What's in there for us? What's the payload for me? In other words, how do I apply what Paul said to Timothy (here in this letter) to me? In order to bridge that gap, you must be able to relate to the time and the place and the circumstances. It's only when you get it in that context, that Paul's letter to Timothy begins to unload its message by the Holy Spirit on our hearts.
Alright, are you getting the picture? O.K., now, what do you know about the city and the congregation at Ephesus? Imagine you are going to spend a day with Timothy knocking doors in Ephesus telling people about Jesus. What would you expect? Imagine you are going to attend a worship service with Timothy in this big cosmopolitan, Diana dominated, seaport city. Use your imagination! How did this congregation start? Let's review! After Paul had planted the Corinthian congregation about the middle of the AD 50's, he and his tent making friends, Aquila and Priscilla, came to Ephesus (Acts 18:19). They found a synagogue in Ephesus where they and Paul went in and started reasoning with the Jews. The synagogue leaders invited Paul to stay. So, Aquila and Priscilla did stay; but, Paul took a trip back to Jerusalem and Antioch and on his return he visited the churches of Galatia and Phrygia that he and his co-workers had established before. However, he promised the Ephesian synagogue leaders, "I will return" just like MacArthur (that's in Acts 18:21). When Paul returned to Ephesus, some months later, he found about a dozen disciples that knew only the baptism of John. Obviously, they had been taught by Apollos before Aquila and Priscilla had "expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (Acts 18:26). Paul taught these disciples about Jesus and baptized them scripturally. Paul laid his hands on them and the Holy Ghost came on them, i.e. they were miraculously given certain spiritual gifts and we've talked about spiritual gifts before. This is discussed at the beginning of Acts chapter nineteen. This was the beginning of the Ephesian church. When some began to speak evil of the church, Paul separated the disciples, i.e. they left the synagogue and began to meet separately. Then, Paul disputed in the school of one Tyrannus for two whole years there in Ephesus. The word of God grew and prevailed (Acts 19:20). In other words, the church in Ephesus grew. God was glorified. The church began to have an impact upon the city of Ephesus. The Ephesian church even had an impact on the city economy, at least to the extent the Diana makers became upset and incited a riot. That was when Paul left Ephesus, you will remember. The church at that time had elders and was by all accounts a thriving congregation. That was maybe AD 57 or in other words some 7 or 8 years before Timothy came to Ephesus (as mentioned here in I-Tim. 1:3).
During that 7 or 8 year interim, Paul had visited the Macedonian churches, spent a winter in Greece or Achaia. Paul and his co-workers had with the cooperation of the western churches taken a bounty or "a certain contribution" (Rom. 15:26) to the poor saints at Jerusalem. It was there at Jerusalem that Paul was arrested and wound up spending a total of four years in two different prisons before being released (in what we have assumed here to be about AD 62 or 63). We have said, sometime after Paul's release, Timothy went to Ephesus. Why? Well, it's obvious from this letter of I-Timothy that there were problems in the Ephesian congregation. Problems that usually go back to false teachers and overzealous teachers and elders.
Now, can we identify some of their problems? It might help, if we could. In other words, what do we know about the Ephesian church that transpired during that 7 or 8 year interim from the time Paul left Ephesus until the time that Timothy came. Fortunately, we do have a good bit to go on here. First of all, a year or two after Paul left Ephesus, when he was on his way to Jerusalem, his ship anchored at Miletus for a time, possibly 30 miles south of Ephesus. Paul sent for the elders of the Ephesian church, you will remember, and he had an opportunity to spend a little time with them. In Acts ch. 20, beginning in v.18, we have Paul's famous sermon to the Ephesian elders (18 verses of admonition), well worth you taking the time to re-read, right now. Secondly, we have the book of Ephesians, that letter that Paul wrote to this congregation near the end of his first Roman imprisonment and sent it by the hands of Tychicus "a beloved brother and faithful minister of the Lord" (Eph. 6:21). So, here are two opportunities for us to glean a little information. We've been over all this material before; let's do a quickie review. In his sermon to the elders, there is a little prophecy worth our notice here, Paul said: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock [i.e. the congregation at Ephesus], over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this [Now listen close!], that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. [Did you get that? Paul's prophesy spelled out problems...now listen close!] Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember..." Thus, Paul gave them a preview of coming attractions and warned those elders to watch and remember. In the book of Ephesians, we have only time enough to say this: beginning (4:1), Paul said, "I...the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called..." To walk worthy (implies), they needed to be serious, more serious. Sound familiar? Now, (in 1:3-4 of I-Tim.), you get a hint of these problems when Timothy arrived, Paul said he left Timothy there that: "thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies," then skipping down to v.7, (quote) "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." In I-Tim. ch. 4, Paul spoke of "seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." He said some were "forbiding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats..." This is just a few clues. And, the fact that elder qualifications are mentioned in ch. 3, rather implies problems with the Ephesian eldership. Timothy had his work cut out for him. However, Paul had confidence in this young man. In this letter, Paul was trying to encourage Timothy and help him sort it all out in the name of Truth. I'll be with you in lesson # 3, until then: have a good day.