5 Reasons You Should Preach through 1 Timothy

Article
06.03.2020

In my first pastorate, the empty pastor’s study served as a metaphor for my sparse understanding of pastoral ministry. No letter from the former pastor lay in a drawer to instruct me on the personality of the church. No instruction manual addressing polity issues, doctrinal controversies, church conflicts, or personal growth could be found. I had a little experience and a couple of years of seminary under my belt. And suddenly, I faced shepherding this little flock—alone. 

Or so I thought. 

Centuries ago, an older man did write a letter to a younger man who faced the challenging task of pastoring the congregation the older man had planted. That letter is called 1 Timothy. While it cannot be called “The Complete Pastor’s Instruction Manual,” it’s the closest thing biblically —along with the other Pastoral Letters—that we have. Paul preferred doing face-to-face instruction for Timothy and the Ephesian church but in case of a delay, he told Timothy, “I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14–15 ESV). With a gospel foundation, 1 Timothy teaches us about the church’s corporate life.

Paul followed the rationale for the epistle with a theologically and missiologically saturated confessional statement (3:16). That’s why William Mounce explains, “This paragraph [1 Timothy 3:14–16] is the heart of the Pastoral Corpus, . . . which puts the instructions of the corpus into proper perspective.” E. F. Scott goes further: “So in these verses we have the key to the inner meaning of the Pastoral Epistles. The writer is no mere ecclesiastic, more concerned with the mechanism of the church than with its spiritual life. He insists on right order because he feels it to be necessary to true religion.” Order to church life and health seem hand-in-glove for Paul’s practice in the church.

Three years in Ephesus meant that Paul knew this community and church. He understood their propensities and fault-lines. In some respects, his letter to Timothy resembles a respected former pastor giving counsel to the new pastor so that he might avoid pitfalls and lead the church to health. 

Over my decades of pastoral ministry, I’ve often retreated to 1 Timothy for meditation and direction. But it’s not just a letter for pastors. It holds equal value for the congregation. In 2011, I embarked upon 22 expositions from this epistle. Preaching 1 Timothy urged pertinent application to the life of our church. 

As I reflect upon that series, five reasons for preaching First Timothy come to mind.

1. It urges pastors to be humble yet bold.

Paul’s humility sets the tone for pastoral warmth in the letter (1:12–17). Keep things in perspective, he indicates. Imitate his humility. Remember the mercy Christ has shown you. You’re not worthy to pastor this congregation but Christ found pleasure in entrusting the flock to you (1:18–19a). So be conscious of false teaching (1:3–4) and false teachers (1:6–7, 18–20) that trouble the church. Be patient and wise in handling conflict (4:6, 12; 5:1–2, 19–22). Stay focused in your labors, keeping the gospel at the forefront of everything that you do (1:5; 2:3–7; 3:16; 4:15–16; 6:12–16; 6:20–21).

2. It covers the vital details of church life and order.

The condition of the worship, polity, and leadership in some churches can tempt a pastor to quit. Timothy probably felt that way. But Paul wisely redirected such despairing thoughts. He laid out priorities for praying (2:1–4, 8), public worship (4:13–16), preaching (1:3–4; 4:6–12, 15–16; 5:17–18; 6:17–19), caring for members (5:1–16), roles of men and women (2:8–15), and correcting erring members (6:3–10). He gives urgency to elder and deacon plurality, with elders responsible for ruling, preaching, and teaching (3:1–13; 5:17–22). Pick any of these areas for a one-time sermon and it might be helpful. But showing the centrality of each through an expositional series in 1 Timothy enables the congregation see biblical priorities for the church’s health. That’s Paul’s model: “How one ought to behave in the household of God” points to “a prescribed manner of living in which” the corporate conduct “is to assume a specific shape because of theological realities” (Philip Towner). Our expositions through the epistle will shape the way the church thinks and puts into practice these essentials of church life and order.

3. It offers a window into the value the early church placed on good theology.

For those thinking that 1 Timothy lacks theological moorings, au contraire mon frère! Paul’s greeting has theological richness (1:1–2). He sets forth the right use of the Law, a perennial theological issue (1:8–11). His doxologies in 1:17 and 6:14–16 spur robust worship. His explanation of prayer is anchored in the mediatorial work of the Incarnate Christ (2:1–6). His description of the church expands our grasp of healthy ecclesiology (3:15). His confessional statement motivates the church to mission (3:16). His theology of divine judgment brings caution to the process of setting apart elders (5:19–25). His charge to “fight the good fight of faith” is grounded in Christological thought (6:11–16). Theology? Paul weaves it throughout the letter, and so should we.

4. It provides wise counsel for pastors’ spiritual lives and ministries.

Okay, should we preach to ourselves in the corporate gathering? Yes, absolutely! Our congregations need to feel the intensity that we sense in pastoral ministry, especially as we bare our hearts in the pulpit. Paul exhorted, “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience,” as the first personal charge to Timothy in a letter that would be publicly read (1:18–19). He continued by calling for disciplining himself for the purpose of godliness (4:6–8), not neglecting his spiritual gift (4:14), immersing himself in faithful ministry (4:15), and paying close attention to himself and his teaching (4:16). The passion of his closing exhortation, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you,” breathes the air of intensity and attentiveness (6:20). As you preach to yourself and your fellow elders in the public gathering, you’re exhorting your church to pray for, encourage, and hold you and fellow elders to the standard Paul gave Timothy. In a day when too many ministers fall by the wayside, we need this kind of public accountability.

5. It shows how the gospel is central to our existence and purpose as a church.

Mounce points out that the health of the gospel appeared to be at stake in this letter. So Paul’s instructions didn’t come as merely practical advice from an experienced minister but so that Timothy might stand upon the gospel with this congregation. The confidence in Christ Jesus as our hope (1:1), warnings about substitutions and distortions of the gospel (1:3–7; 4:1–5; 5:3–5), and specifically detailed gospel passages (1:15; 2:3–6; 3:16; 4:10, 6:13–16) reiterate that our churches ought to be all about the gospel—in both preaching and practice. 

So brothers, preach 1 Timothy. And don’t wait too long. You and your congregation need its Christ-centered focus for the church.

COMMENTARIES

William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary 46; Bruce M. Metzger, gen. ed.; Nashville: Nelson, 2000). Not all commentaries in the WBC series are equal but this one soars in background, exegetical notes, theology, and pastoral helps. Skim the technical notes common to the series while devouring Mounce’s substantial pastoral richness.

John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996). Stott wrote as a pastor shepherding his flock through this epistle. His perceptions and applications will stimulate good hermeneutics and homiletics, plus, Stott’s judiciousness and economy with words models good exposition.

Patrick Fairbairn, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Geneva Series of Commentaries; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002 from 1874 edition). The 19th century Scottish pastor and professor skillfully interprets 1 Timothy, making use of the Greek text, while helping the pastor with applying it to the church. His comments produce clearer thinking on the text.

By:
Phil Newton

Phil Newton is the senior pastor of South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.