“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and Christ Jesus our hope; unto Timothy my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is our plan to write a series of sketches on this first epistle of Paul to Timothy. We believe that this pastoral letter is full of instruction, correction, reproof, in order that the man of God be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Although this letter is addressed to Timothy, it cannot, therefore, be said that its instruction is meant only for him. It is, indeed, a letter for the entire church; only in this instance it gives various directives to Paul so that he may be able to conduct the affairs in the church. Paul does not touch upon everything in this letter; he merely writes the essentials and matters which were pressing. The rest he will set in order when he comes.
It seems that when Paul writes this letter he has left Ephesus for Macedonia; he has left Timothy at Ephesus. And now he will write a letter to the young preacher. This letter is a gem for every preacher of the Word of God. In a way it is a veritable textbook of practical instruction for the church. It is a kind of “church-order” on doctrine and customs.
Without entering too much into detail as to the purpose, place and time of the writing of this letter, we shall proceed to our exposition of the verses 1 and 2 of this first chapter.
As in all of his epistles, so also here, Paul writes in the deep and firm confidence that he writes as an “apostle of Christ Jesus.” He is an apostle of Christ in the sense that he belongs to Christ, called by Him into His service in the Gospel. That he is an apostle is due to the great mercy of God upon him. Paul was appointedto the service of Christ, and he is empowered by Him so that he has all the ability which this office requires (I Tim. 1:11, 12). God counted him trustworthy ; he may take care of the ministry entrusted to his care. Hence, he stands in the service of the Anointed One of God, the Christ, and may labor in the gospel of Him, who is “Jesus,” that is, of Him who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He is Immanuel, God-with-us!
And thus Paul takes up the pen to write. He is clothed with apostolic authority. He is an apostle of this Christ Jesus.
The office of apostle was unique in the church. And Paul insists that he is an apostle, equal to any of all the other apostles. He has all the credentials necessary to prove his apostleship. This is evident from the following:
1. He has the earmark of apostleship because he had seen the Lord; he had been an eye-witness of Christ, the exalted Lord. It is true that he had not been with Christ and the other apostles from the baptism of John unto the day that He had been taken up into heaven. Such was necessary in an apostle according to Peter’s address as recorded in Acts 1:15-26. Paul was an apostle extraordinary. But he was an apostle nonetheless. He was one as “born out of due time” (I Cor. 1:8). Paul had seen the Lord, however. He is on this count a bona fide apostle.
2. He has the earmark of having been instructed by the Lord Jesus Himself. He did not receive his knowledge in the mystery of God’s will through and from the other apostles. We know that he received his knowledge of the Lord’s Supper from the Lord Himself, as he writes in I Cor. 11:23: “For I have ,received from the Lord, that which I also delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed . . .” And, in Gal. 1:1, Paul emphasized that he is “an apostle—not from men, neither through men, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” And, again, in Gal. 1:12 Paul explicitly states that the gospel which was preached by him was not after man, whereas he says: “For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul received nothing second-handed as did the prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
3. Paul also has the third earmark of being an apostle. He was called directly and personally by Christ Himself. He was not chosen by the congregation, nor was he appointed by the laying on of hands by the other apostles. He was arrested by Christ Himself on the way to Damascus. We read in Acts 9:3-6 as follows: “And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shown round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said: Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Hence, Paul was directly called by Christ Himself. Jesus, whom he persecuted in His church, met him upon the way, and mercifully took him up into His service. For when Ananias feared to go to see Saul at the street called Straight, the Lord reassured Ananias that it would be very safe to go and see him. He says to Ananias: “Go thy way: for he [Saul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings and children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:13-16).
Small wonder that Paul writes, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” This indeed he is. But it is not so strange either that Paul adds, “According to the commandment of God our Savior, and Christ Jesus our hope.” Paul is under order. He knows himself a servant and a minister. However, the phrase “according to the commandment of God our Savior” means far more than simply a limited command to Paul. This term here really anticipates the meaning of the sovereign will and purpose of God, in our salvation in Christ. That Paul is an apostle fits with, is in harmony with the great plan of God in the salvation of Jew and Gentile. It refers especially to God’s decree that in the Dispensation of the fullness of times, God would have the Gospel proclaimed not merely to the Jews, but that now the Gospel shall be proclaimed to “all men.” The middle-wall of partition has been broken down; the enmity between the circumcision and foreskin is gone. Thus we read so beautifully in Rom. 16:25, 26: “Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to thecommandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith.”
In accordance with this plan of salvation, and God’s commandment that the mystery of salvation no longer be kept in silence, Paul is made an apostle. For let it not be overlooked that Paul speaks here of the commandment of God, our Savior. We must not attempt to put another meaning than that of the Bible into the term “Savior.” It is true, as Thayer points out in his Lexicon, that the term Savior (Sooteer) was “a name given by the ancients to deities, esp. tutelary deities, to princes, kings, and in general to men who had conferred signal benefits upon their country, and in the more degenerate days by way of flattery to personages of influence.” It would be an entirely wrong methodology to reason from the usage of the term “Sooteer” among men, and then try to apply such to the term when used of God in Scripture. This has been attempted. And they, who thus attempted to construe the term, did this in order to show that God is the Savior of all men in the sense that His providential care is over all men and over all His creatures. Now surely the latter is true. But it does not follow that one can simply interpret the concept that “God is Savior” in such a sense. The Scriptures too definitely indicate everywhere that God is Savior in the sense that He delivers the creation from the curse and the bondage of corruption, and that He saves His people from their sins, from the guilt and pollution of sin, and exalts them to the glory of the heavenly through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that is something far different and also far more exalted than simply referring God’s being Savior to His providential care over the cosmos.
The addition of the pronoun “our” with “Savior” indicates that Paul has in mind that God is our Savior from sin and death, as He is the God of our salvation and worketh all things after the Counsel of His will. For the commandment according to which Paul is an apostle refers to the will and purpose of God which He executes in Jesus Christ, our hope.
Let us try to understand this just a bit.
When the Scriptures speak of Christ as our “hope” this is a tremendous concept. It refers to that sure and certain future of the believers in Christ which is and has been brought about through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. It is the promise of the renewal of all things. We look for and expect a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness shall dwell. In this new heaven and new earth Christ is the first-born. He must have the pre-eminence in all things, He has made peace; He reconciled all things unto the Father. And herein God is glorified in the Son.
In this great work we can say that, whereas Christ will bring this all about, as the anointed Mediator of God and men, He is the hope. He is our peace. He is the hope of glory. And thus is the “commandment of God our Savior.” And, in accordance with this great commandment, Paul is an apostle of Christ. Thus it is in the text here.
What a grandeur this lends to Paul’s office!
And well may we give believing heed to what he has to write.
He writes in this capacity to Timothy. Timothy was from the city of Lystra. He was a companion of Paul in travel, born from a Greek father and a Jewish mother. From earliest childhood he had been instructed in the Scriptures by his believing grandmother Lois, and his equally believing mother Eunice. Paul had circumcised Timothy because of the Jews who knew that his father was a Greek.
It is especially the gift of “peace” that is spoken of in this apostolic greeting. Paul speaks of a “peace” which is joined with “grace and mercy.” The term peace is the “Shalom” of the Old Testament. Only the term is greatly enriched in the New Testament in the light of the work of Christ on the cross. A greater riches has been put by God into this term in the sending of His Son in the flesh. It is for this reason that when Christ is born the multitude of the heavenly host sing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace among the men of his good-pleasure.” The reason is that a Savior is born to us, who is Christ, the Lord. And for this very reason Jesus, speaking with His disciples at the occasion of the last Passover, said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). And, again, it is for this reason also that Jesus, when He appears to His disciples after His resurrection, says, “Peace be unto you,” while showing them His hands and His side (John 20:20).
This is the peace which Paul has in mind. It is a peace which in the “grace” of God the Spirit effectually works in our hearts, and which is rooted in and springs forth from “mercy.” Grace meets us as we are—unworthy—while mercy reaches us in our utter helplessness.
And thus from God the Father and from Christ our Lord we receive the peace that passeth understanding. And in that peace Timothy is addressed and we with him.