Throughout Paul’s ministry he surrounded himself with next-generation leaders — young men who loved Jesus and had the touch of God on their lives — and Paul invested his life in them. There were no seminaries in those days, so the best, most practical training was taking these young men along on missionary journeys. They would learn on the go, listen to Paul teach, and observe his life. In that way Paul helped to train a new generation of missionaries, church planters, pastors, and teachers. Without a doubt, Timothy, the young man to whom this letter is addressed, was his favorite protégé (v.2).
Paul entrusted Timothy with a difficult assignment in a key church, appointing him as pastor of the church at Ephesus. Paul had planted the church on his second missionary journey and later returned to spend three years there. Since that time, the church had become vulnerable to false teachers. Their destructive doctrines were confusing the members and jeopardizing the mission of the church. The false teachers had to be confronted and rooted out, and Timothy was the man for the job.
In order to get the church back on track doctrinally, Paul instructed Timothy to simply stick to the pure gospel of Christ. “Different doctrines” (v.3) that “promote speculation” (v.4) are not to be tolerated in the church. Our mission is too important to be sidetracked by “vain discussions” (v.6). The simple gospel is the power of God to save lost sinners (see Romans 1:16), simple discipleship is enough to grow a church, and simple evangelism is sufficient to change the world. But “certain persons” in the church had “wandered away” from this and had “swerved” off course into needless, useless, baseless teachings (v.6).
Paul’s description of the false teachers is telling (v.6-11). Instead of focusing on the gospel, they delved into the law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy), going off on irrelevant tangents and constructing elaborate teachings on minor details — but missing the point of the law. The law was not meant to burden believers with endless lists of rules and regulations for every occasion, but to show unbelievers their sin and bring them to Christ (v.9-11). The false teachers in Ephesus wanted to make a name for themselves as “Christian rabbis”, but their teachings were wrecking the church (v.19).
Timothy’s assignment was to attack this problem in two ways. First, he was to confront these teachers in love and to attempt to correct their doctrine (v.3-5). If they were not receptive, Timothy was to follow Paul’s example in exercising the severest measure of church discipline — removal from the fellowship of the church in order to correct and restore them (Paul called it “handing them over to Satan”, v.20). Second, and most important, Timothy was to focus on “the glorious gospel” (v.11). The success of any church depends on our commitment to this singular, consistent message: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v.15). Paul offered himself as an example of the transforming power of that message. Paul, the “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of Jesus, turned to Jesus and found the mercy of God, the love of Christ, and overflowing grace — and he was never the same.
Like Paul and Timothy, we have been entrusted with the glorious gospel. May we never stray from it. May we never confuse it. May we defend it faithfully. And may we proclaim it with passion until Jesus calls us home.