The Truth of the Gospel

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you ground your faith in the gospel of grace.

Avoid Distractions to the Truth:  1 Timothy 1:3-7.

[3]  As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4]  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. [5]  The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. [6]  Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, [7]  desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.  [ESV]

[3-7]  Paul’s preoccupation is with the importance of maintaining true or sound doctrine, and of refuting false doctrine. The phrase (teach any different doctrine) Paul uses both in 1:3 and in 6:3 clearly indicates that there is a norm of doctrine from which the false teachers had deviated. It is variously designated in the Pastorals. It is called ‘the faith’, ‘the truth’, ‘the sound doctrine’, ‘the teaching’ and ‘the good deposit’. In nearly every one of these expressions the noun is preceded by the definite article, indicating that already a body of doctrine existed which was an agreed standard by which all teaching could be tested and judged. It was the teaching of Christ and of His apostles. These false teachers Paul warns Timothy about may have been allegorizers. They were certainly speculators. They treated the law as a happy hunting-ground for their conjectures. In verse 5 Paul indicates two consequences of the false teaching. It obstructs both faith and love. Myths and genealogies promote controversies. False teaching promotes speculation rather than God’s work or plan [administration] which is by faith. The reference seems to be to God’s revealed plan of salvation, of which we are stewards, and to which we must respond by faith. For speculation raises doubts, while revelation evokes faith. Paul feared that the Ephesians might spend so much time in fruitless discussion of novel doctrines that they would not carry out God’s plan of bringing people to a place of obedience and faith before Jesus. This false teaching promotes controversies, arguments and quarrels about the law, whereas the goal of this command, or perhaps the end of all Christian moral preaching, is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Heart is the seat of the mind, the emotions, and the will. The seat of religious experience from which moral conduct springs. Conscience refers to an individual’s inner awareness of the moral quality of personal actions. Paul recognized that a conscience can be scarred by receiving imperfect information (1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15). In order to develop a good conscience, individuals must fill their minds with God’s message and render obedience to it (1 Cor. 8:7-12; 1 Pet. 3:15-16). Sincere faith is a trust in God characterized by being always ready to listen to truth, and a constant desire to do right. Faith is sincere only when it is not mere talk but is genuine trust and confidence in God. Some refers to the same group as certain men in verse 3. The two verbs [swerving, wandered away] indicate the importance of maintaining a straight course. Thus Paul paints a double contrast, between speculation and faith in God’s revelation, and between controversy and love for one another. Here are two practical tests for us to apply to all teaching. The first is the test of faith: does it come from God, being in agreement with apostolic doctrine (so that it may be received by faith), or is it the product of fertile human imagination? The second is the test of love: does it promote unity in the body of Christ, or if not (since truth itself can divide), is it irresponsibly divisive? Faith means that we receive it from God; love means that it builds up the church. The ultimate criteria by which to judge any teaching is whether it promotes the glory of God and the good of the church. Vain discussion contains a prefix that means empty, useless, or meaningless. The false teachers desired to be teachers of the law but they lacked the required understanding of their subject matter causing them to wander off into error.

Take Your Stand on the Truth:  1 Timothy 1:12-17.

[12]  I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, [13]  though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, [14]  and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. [15]  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16]  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. [17]  To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.  [ESV]

[12-15]  Turning away from the false teachers and their misuse of the law, Paul now writes about himself and the gospel which has been entrusted to him. His whole life is permeated with thanksgiving, not only for his salvation but also for the privilege of having been made an apostle. In particular Paul mentions three related blessings. First, I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has given me strength [12a]. It is striking that he refers to the inner strength Christ has given him, even before he specifies the ministry for which he needed to be strengthened. The appointment would have been inconceivable without the necessary equipment. Secondly, I thank Christ that he considered me faithful [12b]. This cannot mean that Jesus Christ trusted him because he perceived him to be inherently trustworthy. His faithfulness was not the cause nor motive, but the fruit and effect, of the grace of God in calling him to the ministry. This Paul expressly declares in 1 Cor. 7:25: who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. If Christ had discovered Paul’s trustworthiness without bestowing that grace upon him, then Paul would not have a reason for such affectionate thanksgiving. Thirdly, I thank Christ for appointing me to his service [12c]. Paul is clearly referring to his commissioning as apostle to the Gentiles. He now gives further substance to his thanksgiving by reminding Timothy what he had been, how he received mercy, and why God had shown him mercy. First, he uses three words to describe what he had been: I was once a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent [13a]. Secondly, Paul describes how he received mercy. Twice he uses the same verb I received mercy [13b, 16a]. To mercy Paul now adds grace, having already bracketed them in his opening greeting. Grace overflowed like a river which cannot be contained but bursts its banks and carries everything before it, sweeping irresistibly on. The river of grace brought with it faith and love to which Paul has already assigned a primacy [4,5]. Grace overflowed, and faith and love sprang up. Grace flooded with faith a heart previously filled with unbelief, and flooded with love a heart previously polluted with hatred. No wonder Paul goes on to quote the first of the five ‘trustworthy sayings’ which occur in the Pastorals [3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8]. Paul presents these sayings as a faithful presentation of God’s message. This first faithful saying is a concise summary of the Gospel. First the content of the gospel is true and trustworthy, in distinction to the speculative nonsense of the false teachers. Secondly, the offer of the gospel is universal. Thirdly, the essence of the gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. The law is meant for the condemnation of sinners; the gospel for their salvation. Fourthly, the application of the gospel is personal [in me, as the foremost]. Paul was so vividly aware of his own sins that he could not conceive that anybody could be worse. It is the language of every sinner whose conscience has been awakened and disturbed by the Holy Spirit.

[16-17]  Why did God have mercy on Paul. The only possible answer is because God is a merciful God. Ultimately, there is no other explanation. His merciful forgiveness originates not within us, as if we had any merit which inclined (let alone obliged) God to show mercy, but within His own merciful character. Nevertheless, Paul mentions two factors which in his case might be said to have predisposed God to be merciful. The first concerned his past ignorant unbelief: I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief [13b]. Mind you, Paul is not saying that his ignorance established a claim on God’s mercy (or mercy would no longer be mercy, nor would grace be grace), but only that his opposition was not open-eyed and willful. If Paul’s ignorant unbelief in the past was one reason why God had mercy on him, a second related to the faith of others in the future. It was this experience of Christ’s grace, mercy and patience which underlay Paul’s evangelistic enthusiasm. No wonder Paul broke out into a spontaneous doxology. He addressed God as the King, the sovereign ruler of all things, who not only reigns over the natural order and the historical process, but has also established His special kingdom through Christ and by the Spirit over His redeemed people. The divine King is now characterized by four attributes. First, He is eternal, beyond the fluctuations of time. Secondly, He is immortal, beyond the ravages of decay and death. Thirdly, He is invisible, beyond the limits of every horizon. For nobody has ever seen God [John 1:18; 1 John 4:12], and indeed nobody can see Him [6:16]. All that human beings have ever glimpsed is His glory, which has been defined as the outward shining of His inward being. Fourthly, the King is the only God. What Paul is affirming is the uniqueness of God’s being. He has no rivals. The honor Paul gave to God involves esteem and reverence due to God because of His personal qualities of excellence. The term glory is an acknowledgment of God’s majesty and power.

Battle for the Truth:  1 Timothy 1:18-20.

[18]  This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, [19]  holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, [20]  among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.  [ESV]

[18-20]  This charge I entrust to you conveys a sense of urgent obligation. The prophecies probably represent promising comments concerning Timothy’s spiritual usefulness spoken at earlier occasions in his ministry. The military term wage the good warfare suggests that Timothy faced a grueling spiritual battle and not a pleasant rural retreat. Certainly to defend the revealed truth of God against those who deny or distort it, and to demolish strongholds of error, is to engage in a dangerous and difficult fight, which demands spiritual weapons, especially the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. In particular, Timothy must keep holding on to faith and a good conscience [19a]. Timothy possesses two valuable things which he must carefully guard, an objective treasure called the faith, meaning the apostolic faith, and a subjective one called a good conscience. Moreover, they need to be preserved together [as in 1:5 and 3:9]. Paul’s appeal in verse 19 reminds us that correct belief alone does not guarantee a useful Christian life. Each Christian must combine a right understanding of Christ with a proper response to that understanding. Concerning Hymenaeus and Alexander, the word used for their rejection of conscience means to push something or someone away, to repudiate. It implies a violent and deliberate rejection. Having done this to their conscience, they have shipwrecked their faith. Conversely, it is precisely by preserving a good conscience that Timothy will be able to keep the faith. Thus belief and behavior, conviction and conscience, the intellectual and the moral, are closely linked. This is because God’s truth contains ethical demands. As Jesus said, if anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out (or know) whether my teaching comes from God [John 7:17]. In other words, doing is the key to discovering, obedience the key to assurance. By contrast, it is when people are determined to live in unrighteousness that they suppress the truth. So if we disregard the voice of conscience, allowing sin to remain unconfessed and unforsaken, our faith will not long survive. Anybody whose conscience has been so manipulated as to be rendered insensitive is in a very dangerous condition, wide open to the deceptions of the devil [4:1-2]. Whom I have handed over to Satan [20] has at least two possible interpretations. First, it may refer to some illness or physical disability Satan is allowed to inflict on evildoers. Second, it may be used as a semitechnical phrase that regards life in the church as the sphere of the Spirit and life outside the church as the sphere of Satan. Paul may have been saying that he had removed the offenders from the fellowship of the church and placed them in Satan’s realm, where they would experience his malice. This seems the more likely interpretation. The purpose of handing them over to Satan was not merely punitive but chiefly corrective or formative in purpose. Paul hoped that Satan’s affliction of the troublemakers would teach them not to insult the Lord by their words and deeds. It is instructive to study the context of 1 Cor. 5:5 in which Paul also spoke of handing a sinner over to Satan.


Summary  In this first chapter, which concerns the place of doctrine in the local church, Paul gives valuable instruction about false teaching. Its essential nature is that it is a deviation from revealed truth. Its damaging results are that it replaces faith with speculation and love with dissension. Its fundamental cause is the rejection of a good conscience before God. Paul’s words are helpful at three points of application. First, in verses 3-11 Paul warned against the false doctrine permeating Ephesus. He accused the heretics of not properly understanding and using the law. His words show the importance of having a theological understanding of the gospel. Second, in 12-17 Paul refreshingly recounted his conversion experience. We must never move beyond the excitement and joy our conversion generates in us. Third, in 18-20 Paul was reminding Timothy of truths that he had previously heard. Much Christian communication consists not of bringing new ideas forward but of recounting tested, tried principles which we often forget or neglect.

Questions for Discussion:

1.   How can we distinguish between false teaching and true teaching? How do you decide if some teaching is speculation or if it is furthering the work or plan of God? What two practical tests does Paul give us to apply to all teaching?

2.   Why does Paul list these three ingredients as necessary for genuine love in verse 5? How does each ingredient contribute to genuine love?

3.   Why does Paul emphasize the qualities of faith and a good conscience in order to fight the good fight [18-19]?


1 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of 1 Timothy, John Stott, InterVarsity Press.

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