Paul’s Letters to Preachers

by Keith Sharp

In denominational commentaries, the apostle Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus are grouped together as "The Pastoral Epistles." The term "pastor" is found only once in the New Testament, in Ephesians 4:11 (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASV).

The word is translated as “shepherds” in the ESV. It is the noun form of the verb translated “shepherd” in Acts 20:28 in the NKJV and NASV and refers to the elders or bishops (overseers) of the local church (Acts 20:17, 28; I Peter 5:1-4).

There is no evidence Timothy and Titus were pastors (elders, overseers), but they indeed were preachers or evangelists (II Timothy 4:2, 5; Titus 2:1, 15). Their work was to “preach the word” (II Timothy 4:2). Thus, these three letters may correctly be grouped together as “Paul’s Letters to Preachers.”

Life of Paul

Our knowledge of the life of the apostle to the Gentiles is primarily from the book of Acts and personal references in his letters. The book of Acts closes with Paul still in prison in Rome after two years there and with the outcome of his trial before Caesar unknown (Acts 28:16, 30-31). In Philippians, written toward the end of this time, Paul expressed confidence he would be released (Philippians 1:25-26). Timothy was with him (Philippians 2:19). When the apostle wrote to Philemon, he was still in chains but expecting to be released soon (Philemon 1, 10, 22-23).

"If Paul followed his expressed purpose (Phil. 2:19-23), as soon as he was acquitted, he sent Timothy to Philippi with news of his release. This acquittal likely took place early in A.D. 63. The burning of Rome took place the following year (A.D. 64), which marked the beginning of Nero’s intensified efforts in persecuting Christians ... Paul immediately left Rome for Asia Minor by way of the island of Crete where he left Titus (Tit. 1:5) ... After arriving in Ephesus, Paul proceeded to Colosse, according to his expressed plan (Phile. 22), after which he returned to Ephesus ... At Ephesus, Paul was joined by Timothy with news of Philippi ... As Paul departed for Macedonia, according to former plans (Phil. 2:24), he left Timothy at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3,4).... From somewhere in Macedonia, Paul wrote 1 Timothy and Titus to instruct further the young preachers left behind concerning their assignment" [Patton. xiii].

Paul spent that winter at Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). There is a Nicopolos in Western Greece and one on the border between Thrace and Macedonia. Either could be the Nicopolos in which Paul spent the winter of A.D. 63. “From Nicopolis Paul traveled to Spain, probably in the spring of A.D. 64, thus realizing a long anticipated dream (Rom. 15:23, 24, 28)...” (Ibid. xiv).

The events in II Timothy suggest the following itinerary subsequent to Paul’s work in Spain:

  1. He revisits Asia Minor and leaves Trophimus sick at Miletus (II Timothy 4:20).
  2. He experiences an emotional reunion with Timothy at Ephesus (II Timothy 1:4).
  3. He visits Troas and leaves his cloak and parchments with Carpus (II Timothy 4:13).
  4. He goes to Rome. Whether he was arrested before or after his arrival in Rome, we do not know. We do know that Titus was with Paul in Rome and, from there, went to Dalmatia (II Timothy 4:10).
  5. From his prison cell, Paul writes, urging Timothy to come to him before winter (II Timothy 4:21). This was likely the winter of A.D. 65 ... Paul was probably executed in the spring of A.D. 66 [ibid. xv].

Thus, we date Philemon in A.D. 62, I Timothy and Titus in A.D. 63, and II Timothy, the last of Paul’s letters and farewell to his son in the faith, in A.D. 65.

Introduction to First Timothy

Author

The apostle Paul wrote I Timothy (I Timothy 1:1). It is one of four letters Paul wrote to individuals (I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon) and one of three he wrote to younger preachers to instruct them in their work (I & II Timothy, Titus). Thus, these three books constitute the fullest inspired teaching on the work of an evangelist.

To Whom Written

Paul wrote the letter to the evangelist Timothy, whom he calls “my true son in the faith” (I Timothy 1:2,18; cf. II Timothy 4:5). Timothy was from Lystra and had a Greek father and Jewish mother (Acts 16:1). His name is Greek and means “honored of God.”

Paul had apparently converted him on his first preaching trip to Asia Minor (Acts 14:6-23), for when Paul returned to Lystra on his second journey, Timothy was already “well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). Thus, as a babe in Christ, Timothy had seen first hand the persecution he might be called upon to endure, as he must have seen in Lystra when Paul was there stoned (Acts 16:19-22). Since Timothy was still a young man when Paul wrote I Timothy (I Timothy 4:12), he must have been a teenager or barely older than a teenager because approximately seventeen years earlier, he was baptized and thirteen years before he began traveling with the apostle. Young people can and should be active in the service of the Lord.

From that time on, Timothy became Paul’s companion. Since Timothy had a Jewish mother, Paul had him circumcised so he could go with him into the synagogues to preach (Acts 16:3). As a child, Timothy had been taught the Old Testament and nurtured in faith by his godly grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (II Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15). Paul had imparted to the young preacher a spiritual gift, apparently prophecy, and the elders of the church had approved him in his work (II Timothy 1:6; I Timothy 4:14).

Timothy journeyed with Paul, joining in the work of preaching, and was sent on important trips to help the apostle both on Paul’s second and third journeys (Acts 17:14; 18:5; 19:22; 20:4; I Corinthians 4:17; 16:10; II Corinthians 1:19; I Thessalonians 3:2,6). He even joined with Paul in greeting the church in Rome (Romans 16:21) and in addressing letters to other churches (II Corinthians 1:1; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:1). Timothy labored for the Lord despite recurring health problems (I Timothy 5:23).

The young evangelist did not abandon his aged mentor when he was imprisoned but joined the beloved apostle in addressing letters while in Roman chains (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1). Paul had no other companion who so completely partook of his spirit of humble, self-sacrificial service (Philippians 2:19-21). He shared with the great apostle the closeness and love of a son (Philippians 2:22; II Timothy 2:2). Paul’s afflictions brought tears to Timothy’s eyes, and Paul prayed for him without ceasing and longed to see him (II Timothy 1:3-4).

As Paul drew near death in his final Roman imprisonment, with most earthly companions gone or afraid to be seen with him, he sent for Timothy to come attend to his personal needs (II Timothy 4:9-21). What a comfort it must have been to the old soldier of the cross, as he prepared to lay his armor down, to be able to hand the banner of truth to his “beloved son” Timothy (II Timothy 4:1-8).

When and Where Written

When Paul wrote to the Philippians and Philemon, he expected to be released from Roman prison shortly (Philippians 1:24-26; 2:24; Philemon 22). He was jailed in Rome for at least two years (Acts 28:30-31). The apostle apparently was released from prison and traveled back to the East, leaving Timothy to preach at Ephesus and writing to him from Macedonia (I Timothy 1:3). This would date I Timothy after Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment and before a second arrest (II Timothy 4:16), probably around AD 63.

Occasion and Purpose

About a decade earlier, as Paul bid the elders at Ephesus farewell, he warned them of coming apostasy (Acts 20:28-31). Apparently, that apostasy had begun in the Ephesian congregation at this time. Some were turning from the faith to fables and binding the precepts of the law on Christians (I Timothy 1:3-7). Hymenaeus and Alexander had made shipwreck of the faith (I Timothy 1:19-20). The false doctrines of celibacy and asceticism were being taught (I Timothy 4:1-5). The heresy later known as Gnosticism, which introduced many doctrines and practices now central to Roman Catholicism, had begun (I Timothy 6:20; The word “knowledge,” [New King James Version] or “science” [King James Version], is from the Greek word “gnosis,” hence, “Gnostics,” those who claimed to have a higher knowledge of mystical truth).

Central to Gnosticism was the denial that Jesus was at once both human and divine, and Paul emphatically stated the true nature of Christ (I Timothy 3:16). He strongly urged Timothy to defend the faith (I Timothy 6:11-16). In the face of this paramount danger, Timothy needed to be edified and encouraged to do the work of an evangelist in a local church.

Theme

The theme of I Timothy is stated in I Timothy 3:14-15: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

The theme of the letter is the preacher’s conduct in the church. Paul instructed Timothy about how to deal with the faith and departures from it (I Timothy 1:3-20), the proper behavior of men and women (I Timothy 2), the organization of the church (I Timothy 3), his work and life as a preacher (I Timothy 4), his relationship to various groups (I Timothy 5:1 - 6:2), how to treat false teachers (I Timothy 6:3-5), and his attitude toward wealth (I Timothy 6:6-10) and the wealthy (I Timothy 6:17-19). Above all, the preacher must guard the faith (I Timothy 1:3-4, 18-20; 4:6; 6:12, 20-21).

Titus

The beloved apostle addressed Titus as “a true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4). Thus, he was converted by Paul (cf. I Corinthians 4:15) and followed Paul’s example of faith. Titus was a Greek of pagan background (Galatians 2:3). We first read of him in Paul’s company when Paul and Barnabas went from Antioch of Syria to Jerusalem about the question of circumcision and the law (Galatians 2:1-5; cf. Acts 15:1-29). Titus accompanied Paul on his third journey to the Gentiles, and the apostle employed him as a messenger to the church in Corinth (II Corinthians 2:13; 7:6,13-14; 8:16; 12:18). He was Paul’s “partner and fellow worker” (II Corinthians 8:23), not as an apostle of Christ but as a preacher of the gospel (I Timothy 2:7). Paul entrusted to Titus the work of encouraging the church at Corinth to participate in the collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem (II Corinthians 8:6). Titus was with Paul during the apostle’s final imprisonment, and Paul once again trusted him to be his messenger (II Timothy 2:10).

When and Where Written

Paul wrote Titus after they had been together in Crete (Titus 1:5). Paul was still free at this time (Titus 3:12). There is no record of Paul preaching on the island of Crete in the book of Acts, although his ship touched there when he was being taken as a prisoner to Rome (Acts 27:7-13, 21). Thus, Paul must have written Titus around the same time he wrote I Timothy, during the interval between his first Roman imprisonment, recorded in Acts, and his second and final imprisonment, recorded in II Timothy. Thus, Paul penned his letter to Titus around A.D. 63. When he wrote, he planned to travel to Nicopolos, perhaps the Nicopolos in Western Greece, to spend the winter (Titus 3:12).

Theme

The great apostle left Titus in Crete so that he might “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5). The letter instructs Titus how to do this. Thus, the theme of Titus is Setting the Church in Order. This should be the goal of every preacher in his work with the local church.

The apostle instructed Titus to use two means to set the church in order. First, he was to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Every church needs the good leadership of properly qualified elders. Also, Titus was to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The church grows strong on a steady diet of sound doctrine. The primary obligation of the preacher toward the church is to teach sound doctrine.

Every basic element of sound doctrine is found in two great doctrinal statements in Titus: 2:11-14 and Titus 3:3-7. In them Paul states the person of God (Titus 2:11), the three Persons of the Godhead and their function in our salvation (Titus 3:4-6), the grace and mercy of God (Titus 2:11; 3:6), salvation from God (Titus 2:11; 3:4), Jesus Christ the Savior (Titus 2:13-14; 3:6), the work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-6), redemption by the blood sacrifice of Christ (Titus 2:13-14), the fact God’s grace is made known by teaching (Titus 2:11-12), the truth salvation in Christ is for all (Titus 2:11), the new birth (Titus 3:5), the obligation to lead pure lives (Titus 2:12), the responsibility to do good works (2:14), and the hope of eternal life at the second coming of Christ (Titus 2:13; 3:7).

Second Timothy

Apparently, after writing I Timothy, Paul was in Nicopolis in Western Greece (Titus 3:12). Nero was then Emperor, and Christians, particularly around Rome, were being severely persecuted. Paul left Nicopolis for Troas, where Carpus was his host (II Timothy 4:13). It seems that he was arrested there and taken to Rome in such haste that he had to leave his cloak, books, and parchments behind (Ibid).

Now, the conditions for the old soldier of the cross have changed dramatically worse. In his first imprisonment, he had his own hired house and received visitors at will (Acts 28:30-31). Now, he is in prison with only Luke, the beloved physician, with him (II Timothy 4:11). No one dared stand with him when he appeared in court (II Timothy 4:16). Some have forsaken him; others have gone to duties elsewhere (II Timothy 4:10-12). He faces the miserable prospect of winter in a cold prison with no cloak (II Timothy 4:13, 21). Then, he was accused by the Jews of being a troublemaker (Acts 24:5-6); now, he is accused by Nero of being an enemy of the state. Then he confidently expected release (Philippians 1:25; Philemon 22); now he courageously, triumphantly awaits an imminent, violent, bloody death (II Timothy 4:6).

The aged apostle, knowing his own death is near, fearful for the future of the church (II Timothy 3:1-13), anxious for the faithfulness of his beloved Timothy (II Timothy 1:8; 2:1), he is lonely for his companionship (II Timothy 1:4) and sends for him to come (II Timothy 4:9).

Since Nero died in the spring of A.D. 68, II Timothy was written before then, perhaps in late 65.

Theme

Although II Timothy is intently personal, Paul summarizes the work of the evangelist more succinctly in this letter than in any other epistle. The little four-chapter letter abounds in great passages of weighty import. However, the theme of II Timothy is found in Paul’s solemn charge to Timothy, “Preach the word!” (II Timothy 4:2) When all has been said, those three words summarize and epitomize the duties of a preacher.

Consider the gravity of the command. Paul calls God and His Son, Christ Jesus, Who shall judge us on that last great day, as His witnesses. The work is God’s work (II Timothy 2:24), the divine message has the power to save (II Timothy 3:14-17), and the purpose is the salvation of men (II Timothy 1:8-11).

The dying words of a great man are cherished and long remembered. Every gospel preacher should make these, the last words of perhaps the greatest servant of Christ, his theme of life. They should be so etched in his mind and soul that they constitute the sum of his life’s work and the purpose of his daily tasks. Only by faithful fulfillment of this commission may he with clear conscience whisper in death Paul’s magnificent summary of his own life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7) Only then may he, with the beloved apostle, lay claim to the victor’s crown, the crown of life (II Timothy 4:8).

Conclusion

You, O man of God:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).

Only thus can you, when your race is run, repeat with beloved Paul with the fervor of honest conviction:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8).

Work Cited

Patton, Marshall, Truth Commentaries: The Books of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon.

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