As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4)
Paul’s first (and second) letter to Timothy was written after his Roman imprisonment, which is where we leave Paul at the end of the book of Acts. This means the entire grouping of letters known as the “Pastoral Letters” (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were penned when Paul was a free man. We don’t have a biblical chronological record of this period in Paul’s ministry, but we do have references to it, such as this morning’s passage, and we do our best to put the pieces together in a logical manner.
Several years earlier, Paul had spent approximately three years in Ephesus, struggling against paganism, and teaching the Word of God. Of all the places he ministered, Ephesus was where he had an opportunity to put down a few roots and establish some close relationships he would treasure throughout his ministry.
Before Paul was caught up in a riot in Jerusalem and eventually taken to Rome to stand trial, he met the elders of the church at Ephesus. They chose a town called Miletus for the meeting, presumably so they could spend some quality time together without the distractions of ministry and controversy. It was a time of prayer and tearful farewells. It is also noteworthy Paul encouraged the elders to stand guard against false teachers.
And so, years after Paul fought personal battles in Ephesus, and fewer years after he had met with the elders of Ephesus who were fighting the very same battles, Paul wrote to Timothy to offer support in the same struggle.
The main source of false teaching in Ephesus was Jewish in nature, or more accurately, “Jewish-Christian.” Some Jewish followers of Christ were practicing rules and regulations relevant under the Old Testament Law, and pressuring others to do the same. These practices were no longer necessary since Jesus had fulfilled the Law on the cross and offered Himself as the final sacrifice.
When people are pressured to follow rules that are no longer relevant, or necessary, faith becomes very legalistic and “work” oriented. In other words, the rules begin to overtake the heart, and before long the focus of worship gets lost in the practice of religion.
Having just finished a study of Titus, I am struck at how defined the flaw of legalism was in the writing of the Apostle Paul. He understood the mentality behind it and the danger it posed to the church. As we move through out study, pay careful attention to Paul’s method of refuting it. Legalism is still with us today and it is important for all of us to understand how it differs from sincere faith.
Dear God, help me know the difference. In Jesus’ name, Amen.