By Adam Brown –
In the book of 1 Timothy, I have identified 16 individual instructions to the church to be independently implemented. The first of these instructions constitutes one sixth of the book. Thus, both its location at the head of the book and the length of its content indicate to us that this instruction is paramount among Christ’s vision for His church.
The first instruction is this: Teach the truth.
We find this instruction in 1 Timothy 1:3-20. The structure of this passage is established by the “charge” of Paul to Timothy in 1:3, 1:5, and 1:18. This creates three sections:
- 1 Timothy 1:3-4 – What is the instruction?
- 1 Timothy 1:5-17 – Why is this instruction important?
- 1 Timothy 1:18-20 – How should we implement this instruction?
What is the Instruction? (1 Timothy 1:3-4)
Paul charges Timothy to ensure that the church is teaching the truth. It is worded in 1 Timothy 1:3 a little more negatively:
. . . charge certain persons NOT to teach any different doctrine. . .
Anything that deviates from the Gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, in accordance with the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone, is a different doctrine. Timothy is to ensure that no one is teaching a different doctrine.
Why is this instruction important? (1 Timothy 1:5-17)
This very long section can be sub-divided into three parts: 1 Timothy 1:5-7, 1:8-11, and 1:12-17.
In 1 Timothy 1:5-7, we learn that the instruction to teach the truth is essential because the goal of Christian doctrine is to produce love and bad doctrine cannot produce love. Love comes from a regenerate heart (pure heart), an understanding of justification (good conscience), and a right understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done (sincere faith). Bad doctrine does not create any of these and, therefore, it cannot produce love. Rather, bad doctrine produces vain discussions.
In 1 Timothy 1:8-11, we learn that those who propagate bad doctrine misuse the law. Paul then asserts that there is a role for the law in sound doctrine. The law must be used in accordance with the gospel, which means that the role of the law is twofold. First, the law reveals sin and pronounces a guilty verdict on all people. Second, the law drives us to Christ for mercy and salvation. The law, then, is a servant to love in that it forces us receive and then respond to the love of God in Christ.
Finally, in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Paul reflects on his own personal journey. Like the false teachers that Timothy was contending with, Paul too had been a legalistic false teacher. He praises God for extending mercy to him on two accounts. First, he received mercy because he had acted ignorantly in unbelief. The false teachers cannot say the same because Timothy informed them of the truth. Second, he received mercy so that Jesus Christ might demonstrate his patience, mercy, and grace toward Paul as an example to all. Thus, no one is beyond the reach of Christ’s love. Paul ends this section with a beautiful doxology that expresses his love for God in Christ Jesus.
How should we implement this instruction? (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Paul doesn’t pull any punches in this closing section. Implementing the instruction that we are to teach the truth is akin to going to war. The stakes are high. Eternal life and eternal death hang in the balance. There will be casualties, as is exhibited in the handing over of Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. The weapons for this war are faith and a good conscience. Faith is a right understanding of Jesus and the Gospel. A good conscience is a reminder of the centrality of the doctrine of justification in war against legalists.
Unless the church teaches the truth, there is no reason to implement any other instruction. As we learn in 1 Timothy 3:15, the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth. Without the truth, there is no church. Therefore, instruction number one is foundational: Teach the Truth!