Paul’s first letter to Timothy is a heartfelt letter from a spiritual father to his true child in the faith. Paul has dispatched Timothy to Ephesus to help the church weather some difficult times. Ephesus had constantly been a tough place for the church.
When Paul first arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19, he began his usual course of action. He preached in the synagogue until some there became tired of his preaching Christ, and they cast him out. But as the church in Ephesus grew, conflict followed.
Ephesus was known for the false worship that happened in the temple of Artemis. This worship included the use of idolatrous silver shrines, and Demetrius, one of the local silversmiths, was feeling the financial hit from people no longer worshiping Artemis. He reasoned that this was Paul’s fault. Demetrius organized a riot against Paul, so Paul was forced to leave for Macedonia.
Later, Paul was in Miletus (Acts 20), and he called for the Ephesian elders to meet him. As they met, Paul warned them of “fierce wolves who will come among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things” (vv. 29–30; see also 1 Cor. 15:32). His instruction was for them to be alert.
And yet, when Paul writes later to Timothy in Ephesus, he is still urging Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). The false teachers and fierce wolves are still around, and the church must guard against this different doctrine.
Paul reminds Timothy that the aim of this charge is not vindictive. It is not with anger and malice toward the false teachers. The goal of his charge is love (v. 5). It is not just love for the flock, but it is also a love for the lost. It is a love for those who violate God’s law in every way. Paul proves this in the following verses by giving an example of the amazing work of Christ.
Paul recalls that in his former life he was a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (v. 13). Paul describes himself as the “foremost” of sinners (v. 15). He is the worst of the worst. And yet he follows this with four of the sweetest words we can ever hope to hear: “But I received mercy” (v. 13, and again in v. 16). Paul had violently opposed Christ and persecuted the church, but he received mercy. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15).
We live in an increasingly polarizing time. It is easy to fall into the temptation to hate our enemies, especially the ones who attack the church. But Paul instructs Timothy that our goal is love. There is hope for the lost. If God can show mercy to an insolent opponent such as Paul, then God can save even our worst enemy.