In Lystra, during his second missionary tour, Paul found Timothy, already a well-known disciple in the area (Acts 16). He quickly became one of Paul’s closest friends and trusted companions. Timothy appears more than twice the times of anyone else in Paul’s letters, and he is mentioned in all of Paul’s letters except four, plus once in Hebrews and six times in Acts.
We know only a few things about Timothy’s personal life. He was born to a Greek father and Jewish mother (Acts 16:1). He was young, but how young is unknown (1 Timothy 4:12). He seemed to have been sick frequently (1 Timothy 5:23). He suffered a major period of spiritual depression at one point that left him nearly ready to quit the ministry (2 Timothy 1:6-8).
Contrary to popular opinion, Timothy was not a pastor or elder of a local church; rather, he was Paul’s personal representative and an apostle in every sense of the word. Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus when he went on to Macedonia to continue the work there (1 Timothy 1:3), yet planned to rejoin Timothy back in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:14; 4:13). Since this event does not line up with the timeline in Acts, it is probable that this took place after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:30-31), meaning that both of his letters to Timothy were written after the book of Acts, probably in A.D. 64-66, before Paul’s final imprisonment and death in Rome. The purpose of this letter was to clarify the instructions and task that he had left for Timothy to accomplish in his absence. It seems as if Timothy may have written Paul with some questions that Paul needed to answer as well.
Chapter one begins with a slight modification of Paul’s traditional greeting. With only the letters to Timothy as the exception, Paul always offered “grace and peace” to his readers, combining the normal Greek and Hebrew salutations, respectively. To Timothy, though, he offered “grace, mercy, and peace” (1 Timothy 1:2). It is possible that he included “mercy” because of the difficulty of the work in Ephesus and Timothy’s weaker tendencies. In fact, Timothy faced a situation that would become confrontational, as he had to stop false teachers in the church, about whom Paul warned the Ephesian elders a few years earlier (1 Timothy 1:3-7; Acts 20:28-30). Apparently, they wanted to place the Gentile church under the Mosaic Law, something Paul had fought from the beginning of his ministry (1 Timothy 1:8-11). 1
Paul connected back to the theme of mercy by reminding Timothy of Paul’s own past (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Even though he “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man,” God treated him with mercy for one primary reason: so that he could be an example demonstrating “for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life” that God can save anyone.
Paul concluded this opening chapter by charging Timothy with his task: “fight the good fight,” a soldier theme that will permeate both letters (1 Timothy 1:18-20). This would require him to “hold firmly to faith and a good conscience.” There were those in the Ephesian church who had already shipwrecked their faith, and Paul did not want Timothy to suffer the same fate.
- The entire letter of Galatians was written to combat this false teaching, and Paul had to fight it everywhere he went, as shown in several of his other letters as well. ↩