The story goes that, as he was preparing for one of his Antarctic expeditions, the famous explorer, Earnest Shackleton, put an ad in the London newspaper that read something like this: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
Warren Wiersbe, commenting on Shackleton’s ad, said this, “If Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this: ‘Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor, and your full reward will not come till after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.’”
I think that we are now facing the question, of whether or not we are really willing to accept this kind of challenge… to invest our lives in the service and community and growth of the church. And the 1st century church in Ephesus faced a very similar challenge, only 30 years after the earthly life of Christ.
Let me just give you a little bit of context for the book of 1 Timothy. Timothy was from Lystra, a city in the Roman province of Galatia, (part of modern-day Turkey). Paul led Timothy to Christ (1:2,18; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 1:2) during his ministry in Lystra on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6–23). When he revisited Lystra on his second missionary journey, Paul chose Timothy to accompany him (Acts 16:1–3), because, although Timothy was very young (probably in his late teens or early twenties at that time), he had a reputation for godliness, as we see in Acts 16.
Timothy would become Paul’s disciple, friend, and co-laborer for the rest of Paul’s life, ministering with him in Berea (Acts 17:14), Athens (Acts 17:15), Corinth (Acts 18:5; 2 Cor. 1:19), and Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). Paul frequently mentions Timothy in his letters to other churches (you see that in Romans, 2 Cor, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thess, and Philemon), and Paul often sent Timothy to churches as his representative, as we see in 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians — and that’s the role we find Timothy in at the church in Ephesus, when Paul writes this letter.
1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus are referred to as the Pastoral epistles, and so it is often assumed that Timothy and Titus were regular pastors of their respective local churches; but technically, they were really left in Ephesus and Crete as Paul’s personal representatives, in order to temporarily oversee and aid in the work of the churches there.
Since Timothy’s theology was solid—(he had been traveling with and learning from Paul for almost 15 years now)—Paul doesn’t seem to have a need to give Timothy extensive doctrinal instruction. Rather, this letter is pastoral because Paul is giving practical instruction to Timothy regarding how Timothy (who is in many ways functioning like a pastor) can shepherd the church in Ephesus in several important, but easily neglected, practical matters of church life.
About 10 years before the writing of this letter, Paul and Timothy met with the elders of the Ephesian church, and Paul warned them (at the end of Acts 20) that “savage wolves” would enter the church, wreaking havoc and luring away disciples (Acts 20:28-30).
Fast-forward 10 years and, after being released from his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:30), Paul revisited several of the cities in which he had ministered, including Ephesus. When Paul and Timothy came to Ephesus, they saw that Paul’s predictions had not been exaggerated, and false teaching was staring the church at Ephesus square in the face. Therefore, Paul left Timothy behind to deal with problems that had arisen in the Ephesian church, and Paul went on to Macedonia. And it’s from Macedonia that he wrote Timothy this letter to help him carry out his task in the church. We’ll get into the first chapter in the next post.