The Pastoral Epistles, Part 1: Greetings & Salutations

Imagine for moment that you are the CEO of a global Fortune 500 conglomerate. You have built this company from the ground up — established its policies and procedures and made it what it is. For all intents and purposes, you are the primary reason for all its success. But now you are getting older and you see the writing on the wall that your time as hustling, hungry cutthroat CEO is coming to an end. You recognize the looming change in the industry and that sooner or later Father Time will come knocking. Fortunately, though, you have mentored several young, rising employees to take over when you are gone. In order to ensure your company’s sustainability, you take time to carefully compose a series of essays addressed to hand-picked individuals so as to make the transition after you’re gone as smooth as possible. These papers would include all you desire to pass on. Such is the circumstances for the Pastoral Epistles.

In the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus), the apostle Paul is essentially passing the torch of gospel ministry to a new generation of preachers and pastors, those being who the letters are surnamed: Timothy and Titus. Once pupils, they are now the primary doctrinal voices in the church. Such is why Paul stubbornly appeals for these young preachers to keep the faith and hold fast to “sound teaching.” (Titus 1:9; cf. 1 Tim. 1:18–19; 2 Tim. 1:14) Much like our imaginary CEO, Paul understands and anticipates the frailty and fragility of his ministerial career. No doubt, he senses a change in the wind in the church in a widespread departure from and disparaging of the faith. (1 Tim. 1:19–20)

Around this time, the truths of the gospel and doctrines of the apostles are being codified, written down. “The oral Gospel of the apostolic ministry,” writes 19th century Trinity College in Cambridge fellow, A. E. Humphreys, “is giving place to the written Gospel.” (54) As the church expanded and the demand for the teaching of apostolic doctrine blossomed, there came a necessity for the truths which constituted the churches be formally recorded. This gave way to a new form of deception against which the church must be fortified: perverted and plagiarized Gospels. The more that was written down, the more opportunities there were for falsehood and heresy. Budding ideas of gnosticism and intellectualism began infecting the churches. It is these crises, among many others, that Titus and Timothy were to face. Therefore, the Pastorals represent a new phase of pastoral ministry: a defense of the faith. What was once new and fresh is now being tainted and diluted. Such is why Paul writes with such emphasis on avoiding “myths and endless genealogies” and “fruitless discussions” (1 Tim. 1:4, 6), and the supreme importance of knowing the true, “eternal, immortal, invisible” God and King. (1 Tim. 1:17)

It is my goal to engage each of the Pastoral letters of Paul on their own, which might, in the end, lead to a repetition of themes and subjects, but I think this will prove to be undoubtedly useful in their retelling. And though they are called “pastoral” and were originally penned with young pastors in mind, one would be uninformed to gloss over them simply because one is not employed as a pastor. “The [Pastoral] Epistles are letters, first and foremost,” continues Humphreys; “but they are at the same time more than this, being guided by the Holy Spirit to form the transition from the oral gospels of the apostleship, and to be the Church’s inspired abiding Manual of the Pastoral Care.” (77) These letters speak to ministers, yes, but more than that they speak to the church and all its disciples. They speak to everyone.

The Pastoral Epistles deal with the earliest beginnings of the doctrine and institution of the church. The apostle does not necessarily introduce new concepts and ideas as much as he reminds his audience of the fundamental and foundational truths which bind the Lord’s people together. In this, we might say, that these letters are comprised of crystallized truth. The gospel has manifested and now materialized to such a degree that Paul’s concern deals primarily with the sustenance and maintenance of the church catholic. He writes with pointed fixation on embedding the timeless truth of God’s tireless grace into the hearts of his disciples. The content of the Pastorals is simple, fervent doctrine that breeds simple, faithful devotion.

Such is what Paul’s after as he seeks to impart the magnitude of the gospel message as well as magnify the maturity which is fostered by such an emphasis. Paul’s own life was a testament to the fact that God’s gospel leads to practical, visible changes in the lives of those who believe in it. He is desirous, then, that the implications of the gospel be manifested in the lives of his disciples. Such is what we gather from the opening verses of 1 Timothy.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope: To Timothy, my true son in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Tim. 1:1–2)

There is a tendency, oftentimes, to skip or skim the greetings of the epistles. But one would be gravely mistaken to leave out these welcoming addresses from one’s study of the Scriptures. The salutations function like portable gospels — with Paul often cramming as much doxology as possible in these brief hellos. Through them, though, I believe Paul is actually aligning the hearts and minds of the reader for what’s to come in the rest of the letter.

It might go without saying, but it bears repeating in an era in which every detail of Scripture is scrupulously nitpicked that Paul the apostle is the clear author of 1 Timothy. Any scholastic criticism or skepticism of this is unfounded and should be disregarded. This can be corroborated by an abundance of early church writings which also considered this letter to be apostolic and authoritative. What is curious, though, is that begins his missive to his young protégé with an adamant avowal of his apostleship. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God.” (1 Tim. 1:1) Timothy certainly knew this already — they had been partners in ministry for a while by this time.

If you remember, Paul first met Timothy in the midst of his second missionary journey while in an area around Derbe and Lystra. (Acts 16:1–5) We learn that Timothy’s reputation and character were highly regarded by those around him (Acts 16:2) — certainly Paul noticed this, too, as he quickly took Timothy with him and employed him into ministry, which proved to be a fruitful decision. (Acts 16:5)

But still, why the effort to emphasize his title? Why does Paul repeat what Timothy would have already known?

I think Paul self-identifies in such a formal manner to bring heightened significance to the letter itself. The subsequent discussions would have an added apostolic and authoritative weight laid on them. These words were not only good ministerial advice from a fellow minister, they were divine. Therefore, Timothy was to pastor in accordance to these instructions with the understanding they originated from God’s appointed servant that he, too, might perpetuate the mission of the gospel for the glory of God. Paul had commissioned Timothy to remain at Ephesus while he “went to Macedonia.” (1 Tim. 1:3) And this letter is born out of Paul’s pastoral and paternal concern for his ministry.

Paul and Timothy were more than merely teacher and student, master and apprentice. They were father and son. “To Timothy, my true son in the faith,” Paul writes (1 Tim. 1:2, 18; cf. 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1), elsewhere calling him his “dearly loved and faithful child in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 4:17) We are, thereby, given a glimpse for the unique responsibility Paul felt when addressing this one he considered to be his son. His paramount concern is that his protégé would carry on the proclamation of God’s gospel. Such is why the apostle frames the entire letter in the cardinal message of the gospel:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God . . . Grace be with you. (1 Tim. 1:2; 6:21)

This is the entire gospel in a mere three words. “Grace to you” is the crux of God’s good news to us and for us. Thus, as Timothy was being charged to preach the gospel for others, he was being reminded to preach to himself as well. “While [future ministers] are ambassadors of mercy to others,” writes Scottish churchman, Patrick Fairbairn, “let them never forget that they need to be themselves partakers of mercy.” (74) His ministerial effectiveness was directly linked to the recognition of his need for the very same message he was called to proclaim.

And what was that message? Nothing less than the astonishing fact of the gospel that God himself is our Savior.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. (1 Tim. 1:1)

The phrase “God our Savior” is a distinctive of the Pastorals (1 Tim. 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4), and is, therefore, pivotal for understanding for understanding Paul’s logic and labor in these letters. The order of words, too, is worthy of our attention. “God our Savior” and “Christ Jesus our hope” are the apostle’s declarations. He is, thereby, affirming the apostolic doctrine of Jesus’s identify as God in the flesh (which was already coming under fire in the nascent days of the church). He is articulating the critical fact that the church’s hope of salvation is sure because it comes from Jesus, and Jesus is God. Thus, in one verse, we are given attestations to both the sovereignty of God and the deity of Christ.

I am reminded of the apologetic “trilemma” made famous by British author and professor C. S. Lewis, in which he asserted that Jesus Christ “was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” (55–56) This has often been shorthanded to “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” It is not an argument of Lewis’s own invention. Though he certainly popularized it, it was first propagated (and I would say more eloquently) by mid-19th century Scottish preacher John Duncan. He writes:

Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or he was himself deluded and self-deceived, or he was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable. (109)

Jesus was not just another man. Neither was he just a good teacher or a really nice guy. Rather, if Jesus is who he says he is, we cannot be indifferent to what he says. Such is truth of the gospel, which announces that the Creator has come to be your Savior. The Ruler of the heavens is also the Redeemer of the heathen. He is both Lord and Creator, Savior and God, capable of speaking worlds into existence and yet deferential enough to take on the ignobility of the cross. Paul knew this to be true. Such is why he wrote so intently: he was glorying in the One who saved him. (1 Tim. 1:15–16) He was being taken up with the God who was and is his Savior.

References

  • John Duncan, with William Knight Colloquia Peripatetica (Deep-Sea Soundings): Being Notes of Conversations (Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas, 1871).

  • Patrick Fairbairn, The Pastoral Epistles: The Greek Text and Translation with Introduction, Expository Notes, and Dissertations (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874).

  • A. E. Humphreys, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus: With Introduction and Notes (Cambridge: University Press, 1895).

  • C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).