Leadership. For as long as I can remember, the word ‘leadership’ has been a buzzword. Answers to the questions how, what, when, why and where of leadership are valuable and necessary for those called to lead. The importance of successful (i.e., biblical) leadership in the local church cannot be overstated. The church is the body of Christ, and the health of every local church reflects the quality of their leadership. Broadly speaking, 1 Timothy is about leadership in the local church and the responsibility of church leaders to lead and guard the saints dependably. As Paul says in 1:5, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” My intent here is to provide three pointers that I hope will be helpful to you as you preach through 1 Timothy to your congregation.
KNOW THE OCCASION AND TONE OF THE LETTER
Just today, I sat at the breakfast table with my son and gave him instruction regarding his responsibilities at school. The conversation went something like this, “Here’s what you need to know . . . . Do this. Don’t do this. Remember this. Watch out for this.“ The intent of my instruction was to inform, remind and encourage my son, in both a loving and serious tenor. His mom is his teacher, so there’s a lot at stake (for the whole family!).
I believe an appropriate exposition of 1 Timothy begins by understanding the occasion and tone of the letter. 1 Timothy is the first letter the apostle Paul wrote to his “true son in the faith” and co-worker in gospel ministry, Timothy. Like 2 Timothy and Titus, this ‘Pastoral Letter’ was a personal letter written to a young disciple in pastoral ministry. Paul was familiar with the inherent dangers and problems of church life in a fallen world . . . and he understood the importance of having competent church leaders committed to avoid and solve such problems.
As the letter opens, Paul has left Timothy in Ephesus to serve and lead the local church there. The church in Ephesus had problems, including false teachers and false doctrine. As a seasoned proclaimer and defender of the true gospel, Paul wrote 1 Timothy as a church ministry summary manual in order to help young Timothy lead well. Paul’s objective was to inform, remind and encourage his son in both a loving and serious manner. The gospel, the glory of God, and the spiritual health and joy of the whole church was at stake.
Preaching tone: When you preach through 1 Timothy, you will be required to engage some potentially confusing and or dividing topics, such as: verses referenced in the ongoing dialogue on the extent of the atonement (2:4-6; 4:10), the role of women in public worship (2:9-15), the “husband of one wife” criterion for deacons (3:12), the possibility of apostasy (4:1), etc. When you preach these passages, be prepared to communicate clearly and make sure your tone demonstrates love and understanding. It’s okay for us to grant our contemporary listeners freedom to initially think something the Bible says is strange. However, contend for their obedience and joy. Take the necessary time to unpack the reason(s) for the commands. For example: if we merely preach what Paul commands in 2:9-15 about women’s roles in public worship without taking the time to explain why, then we might evoke women to respond in a confused, legalistic or rebellious manner. Paul pointed back to Genesis and God’s sovereign plan as warrants for his instructions concerning the primacy of the husband’s role in public worship, modest dress and a quiet/submissive demeanor. Both men and women need the biblically-informed worldview and need to know why it matters.
KNOW THE CONTEXT OF THE LETTER
Knowing the structure of the entire letter is imperative for text-driven exposition. 1 Timothy appears to have six main sections over the course of six chapters. Know them, and know the main idea(s) of each section. Clearly introduce the main idea within each section in order to provide the proper literary context of your sermon text. Here’s an outline for 1 Timothy:
- Introduction (1:1-2)
- Instructions Regarding False Doctrine (1:3-20)
- Instructions Regarding Church Order (2:1-3:16)
- Instructions Regarding Combating False Teachers (4:1-16)
- Instructions Regarding Pastoral Responsibilities (5:1-6:2)
- Final Warnings and Admonitions (6:3-21)
When preaching, divide the main sections into smaller units or preaching passages. The main idea of the smaller units will be more specific than the main idea of it’s bigger section, but clearly communicate both in order to fairly represent the author’s intended meaning of your focus passage. For example:
- Instructions Regarding Church Order (2:1-3:16)
- The Prominence of Prayer in the Church (2:1-2:8)
- The Role of Women in the Church (2:9-15)
- Qualifications for Leadership in the Church (3:1-16)
- Qualifications for Elders (3:1-7)
- Qualifications for Deacons (3:8-16)
You might preach this section in four sermons. Regardless, make sure to remind your congregation of the macro context of each preaching passage. Doing such will serve you and your church well, especially when you exposit the more ‘challenging’ passages such as 2:9-15 on women’s roles in the church.
ENCOURAGE INDIVIDUAL AND CORPORTATE INTROSPECTION
Preaching through 1 Timothy will provide an opportunity for you and your church to examine yourselves, both individually and corporately, in light of Paul’s personal and practical instructions to Timothy. As individual followers of Christ and members of His body, do we love from a pure heart, and are we maintaining a good conscience and keeping a sincere faith? As a church family, are we striving together for spiritual purity and fulfilling the roles God has called and equipped us to fill? Make sure the church understands the calling on your life to lead and guard what has been entrusted to you, namely the bride of Christ. As you exposit and apply each section, remind your congregation why it matters, i.e., the gospel, the glory of God, and the spiritual health and joy of the whole church is at stake.