(1) Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour.—From questions connected with the presbyters and others among the recognised ministers and officials of the church, St. Paul passes on to consider certain difficulties connected with a large and important section of the congregations to whom these presbyters were in the habit of ministering—the Christian slaves.
It was perhaps the most perplexing of all the questions Christianity had to face—this one of slavery. It entered into all grades and ranks. It was common to all peoples and nations. The very fabric of society seemed knit and bound together by this miserable institution. War and commerce were equally responsible for slavery in the Old World. To attempt to uproot it—to preach against it—to represent it in public teaching as hateful to God, shameful to man—would have been to preach and to teach rebellion and revolution in its darkest and most violent form. It was indeed the curse of the world; but the Master and His chosen servants took their own course and their own time to clear it away. Jesus Christ and His disciples, such as St. Paul and St. John, left society as they found it, uprooting no ancient landmarks, alarming no ancient prejudices, content to live in the world as it was, and to do its work as they found it—trusting, by a new and lovely example, slowly and surely to raise men to a higher level, knowing well that at last, by force of unselfishness, loving self-denial, brave patience, the old curses—such as slavery—would be driven from the world. Surely the result, so far, has not disappointed the hopes of the first teachers of Christianity.
This curse at least is disappearing fast from the face of the globe. St. Paul here is addressing, in the first place, Christian slaves of a Pagan master. Let these, if they love the Lord and would do honour to His holy teaching, in their relations to their earthly masters not presume upon their new knowledge, that with the Master in Heaven “there was no respect of persons;” that “in Jesus Christ there was neither bond nor free, for all were one in Christ.” Let these not dream for an instant that Christianity was to interfere with the existing social relations, and to put master and slave on an equality on earth. Let these, by their conduct to unbelieving masters, paying them all loving respect and honour, show how the new religion was teaching them to live.
That the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.—There would indeed be a grave danger of this, if the many Christian slaves, instead of showing increased zeal for their masters’ service, should, as the result of the teaching of the new society they had joined, become morose, impatient of servitude, rebellious. Very soon in Pagan society would the name of that Redeemer they professed to love, and the beautiful doctrines He had preached, be evil spoken of, if the teaching were for one moment suspected of inculcating discontent or suggesting rebellion. An act, or course of acting, on the part of professed servants of God which gives occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, is ever reckoned in Holy Scripture as a sin of the deepest dye. Compare Nathan’s words to King David (2 Samuel 12:14) and St. Paul’s reproach to the Jews (Romans 2:24).
But rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.—The Greek here is better translated thus: but the rather serve them, because believing and beloved are they who are partakers of their good service. Let these slaves of Christians rather (or, the more) serve their masters zealously and loyally, because the masters who will profit by their true faithful service are themselves believers in Jesus, the beloved of God. This thought should never be absent from the heart of a Christian slave to a Christian master. “Every good piece of work I do will be a kindness shown to one who loves my Lord.”
And consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.—The Apostle, no doubt, was referring to well-known sayings of the Redeemer, such as “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,” or “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” or “If any man will follow me, let him take up his cross daily, and follow me;” “But I say unto you, resist not evil,” “Love your enemies, pray for them which despitefully use you.” It was upon such sublime sayings as these—no doubt, current watchwords in all the churches—it was upon the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount that St. Paul based his teaching and grounded his advice to the slaves in the flock of Christ. But the false teachers, who would be Timothy’s bitterest and most determined foes at Ephesus, would not consent to these “wholesome words,” though they were the words of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To the doctrine which is according to godliness.—These self-willed men, in consenting not to the sublime words of Christ, at the same time refused to acquiesce in the doctrine which insisted upon a holy life: for Christian truth is inseparable from purity, single-heartedness, self-forgetfulness, brave patience.
Knowing nothing.—Better rendered, yet without knowing anything; having no real conception of the office and work of Christ in the world.
But doting about questions.—While so ignorant of the higher and more practical points of Christian theology, the false teacher is “mad upon” curious and debatable questions, such as the nature of the ever blessed Trinity; God’s purposes respecting those men who know not, have not even heard of the Redeemer; and the like—problems never to be solved by us while on earth—questions, the profitless debating of which has rent asunder whole churches, and individually has broken up old friendships, and sown the seeds of bitter irreconcilable hatred.
And strifes of words.—Verbal disputes, barren and idle controversies about words rather than things; such wild war as also has raged, not only in the days of Timothy and of St. Paul, but all through the Christian ages, on such words as Predestination, Election, Faith, Inspiration, Person, Regeneration, &c.
St. Paul was writing, then, in the spirit of the living God, and was warning no solitary pastor and friend at Ephesus of the weeds then springing up in that fair, newly-planted vineyard of his, but was addressing the Master’s servants in many vineyards and of many ages; was telling them what would meet them, what would mar and spoil their work, and in not a few cases would break their hearts with sorrow.
Of men of corrupt minds.—More accurately Tendered, corrupted in their mind. From their mind, over which corruption had spread, arose those mists which (1 Timothy 6:4) had clouded their sight with pride. The language used seems to imply that for these unhappy men a time had existed when corruption had not done its fatal work.
Destitute of the truth.—More literally, deprived of the truth. The truth was taken away from them: this was the immediate consequence of the corruption which had spread over their minds.
Supposing that gain is godliness.—Here the translation of the Greek words must run thus, supposing that godliness is a source of gain. The article before the word signifying godliness requires this rendering of the sentence. (See Titus 1:11.) St. Paul, here adding his command to Timothy to have no dealings with these men, dismisses the subject with these few scathing words of scorn and contempt. One can imagine with what feelings of holy anger one like the noble chivalrous St. Paul would regard the conduct of men who looked upon the profession of the religion of the Crucified as a source of gain. This was by far the gravest of his public charges against these teachers of a strange and novel Christianity. We read elsewhere (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) men might go wrong in doctrine, might even teach an unpractical, useless religion, if only they were trying their poor best to build on the one foundation—Christ. Their faulty work would perish, but they would assuredly find mercy if only they were in earnest, if only they were zeal. But these, St. Paul tells Timothy and his church, were not in earnest; these were unreal. Their religion—they traded upon it. Their teaching—they taught only to win gold. There was another school of teaching—he had just been dwelling on it—the teaching which told men, even slaves, simply, lovingly to do their duty as though ever in the presence of the Lord, without any restless longing for change. This teaching would win souls to Christ, but it would never win gold, or popular applause, or gain, as the world counts gain.
From such withdraw thyself.—Most, though not all, the ancient authorities omit these words.
There is no contradiction between this reading and that contained in this same Epistle (1 Timothy 4:1-5). There the Apostle is warning the Church against a false, unreal asceticism, which was teaching men to look upon the rich gifts of this world, its beauties and its delights, as of themselves sinful, forgetting that these fair things were God’s creatures, and were given for man’s use and enjoyment. Here the same great teacher is pressing home the truth that the highest good on earth was that godliness which is ever accompanied with perfect contentment, which neither rejects nor deems evil the fair things of this life, but which, at the same time, never covets them, never longs for them. It was one thing to be rich, it was another to wish to be rich; in God’s providence a man might be rich without sin, but the coveting, the longing for wealth, at once exposed him to many a grave danger both to body and soul.
Fall into temptation.—Those longing to be rich will fall into the temptation to increase their worldly goods, even at the sacrifice of principle. Some unlawful method of gratifying their passion for gain will present itself; conscientious scruples will be thrown to the winds, and they who wish to be rich will fall into the temptation. We pray so often His prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” In the same hour we long—perhaps even with the same breath we pray—that our worldly means may be increased, our position bettered, little thinking that the longing for an increase of riches and position will lead us into the most dangerous of all temptations!
And a snare.—A very tangle, as it has been well called, of conflicting motives—each fresh gratification of the ruling passion, perhaps excused under the plausible names of industry, home claims, praiseworthy and healthy enterprise, entangling the unhappy soul more completely.
And into many foolish and hurtful lusts.—The lusts or desires into which those who long to be rich fall, are well named “foolish,” because in so many instances they are passionate desires for things utterly undesirable, the possession of which can afford neither pleasure nor advantage—such, for instance, is the love of hoarding wealth, so common to those men who have longed for and obtained riches; and “hurtful” often to the body as well as to the soul do these rich find their “longings,” when gratified.
Which drown men in . . .—Better rendered, which plunge men into . . .
Destruction and perdition.—“Destruction” refers rather to wreck and ruin of the body, whilst “perdition” belongs rather to that more awful ruin of the eternal soul. The gratification of desires, whether these desires are centred in the lower animal passions of the table, or in the pursuit of yet baser and more selfish passions still, invariably leads to the destruction of the poor frail human body first. This premature breaking up of the earthly tabernacle is the herald and precursor of the final perdition of the immortal soul.
St. Paul had just written (1 Timothy 6:9) of men being plunged into destruction and perdition—the awful consequence of yielding to those lusts into which the fatal love of riches had guided them; he now sums up the teaching contained in these words by pithily remarking. “Yes, for the love of money is the root of all evil,” meaning thereby, not that every evil necessarily must come from “love of money,” but that there is no conceivable evil which can happen to the sons and daughters of men which may not spring from covetousness—a love of gold and wealth.
Which while some coveted after.—There is a slight irregularity in the image here, but the sense of the expression is perfectly clear. It is, of course, not the “love of money,” strictly speaking, which “some have coveted after,” but the money itself. The thought in the writer’s mind probably was—The man coveting gold longs for opportunities in which his covetousness (love of money) may find a field for exercise. Such inaccuracies in language are not uncommon in St. Paul’s writings, as, for instance, Romans 8:24, where he writes of “hope that is seen.”
They have erred from the faith.—Better rendered, they have wandered away from the faith. This vivid picture of some who had, for sake of a little gold, given up their first love—their faith—was evidently drawn by St. Paul from life. There were some in that well-known congregation at Ephesus, once faithful, now wanderers from the flock, over whom St. Paul mourned.
And pierced themselves through with many sorrows.—The language and the thoughts of Psalm 16:4 were in St. Paul’s mind when he wrote these words—“Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another (god).” The “many sorrows” here are, no doubt, the “gnawings of conscience,” which must ever and anon harass and perplex the man or woman who, for covetousness’ sake, has deserted the old paths, and has wandered away from the old loved communion of Christ.
The imagery used in this tenth verse seems to be that of a man who wanders from the straight, direct path of life, to gather some poisonous, fair-seeming root growing at a distance from the right road on which he was travelling. He wanders away and plucks it; and now that he has it in his hands he finds himself pierced and wounded with its unsuspected thorns.
Gold and popularity, gain and ease, were to be won with the sacrifice of apparently so little, but with this sacrifice Timothy would cease to be the “man of God.” To maintain that St. Paul was aware of any weakness already shown by his disciple and friend would, of course, be a baseless assertion; but that the older man dreaded for the younger these dangerous influences is clear. The term “man of God” was the common Old Testament name for “divine messengers,” but under the new covenant the name seems extended to all just men faithful to the Lord Jesus. (See 2 Timothy 3:17.) The solemn warning, then, through Timothy comes to each of His servants, “Flee thou from covetousness.”
And follow after righteousness.—“The evil must be overcome with good” (Romans 12:21). The “man of God,” tossing away from him all covetous longings, must press after “righteousness;” here used in a general sense, signifying “the inner life shaped after the Law of God.”
Faith, love.—The two characteristic virtues of Christianity. The one may be termed the hand that lays hold of God’s mercy; and the other the mainspring of the Christian’s life.
Patience.—That brave patience which, for Christ’s dear sake, with a smile can bear up against all sufferings.
Meekness.—The German “sanftmuth”—the meekness of heart and feeling with which a Christian acts towards his enemies. His conduct who “when he was reviled, reviled not again” best exemplifies this virtue.
Whereunto thou art also called.—The “calling” here refers both to the inner and outward call to the Master’s work. The inner call is the persuasion in the heart that the one vocation to which the life must be dedicated was the ministry of the word; and the outward call is the summons by St. Paul, ratified by the church in the persons of the presbyters of Lystra.
And hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.—More accurately translated, and thou confessedst the good confession . . . These words simply add to the foregoing clause another ground of exhortation: “Thou wast called to eternal life, and thou madest the good confession.” When—has been asked—was this good confession made? Several epochs in the life of Timothy have been suggested. Were it not for the difficulty of fixing a date for so terrible an experience in Timothy’s, comparatively speaking, short life, it would appear most probable that the confession was made on the occasion of some persecution or bitter trial to which he had been exposed. On the whole, however, it appears safer to refer “the good confession” to the time of his ordination. In this case the many witnesses would refer to the presbyters and others who were present at the solemn rite.
Who quickeneth all things.—The older authorities adopt here a reading which implies, who keepest alive, or preservest, all things. The Preserver rather than the Creator is here brought into prominence. Timothy is exhorted to fight his good fight, ever mindful that he is in the presence of that great Being who could and would—even if Timothy’s faithfulness should lead him to danger and to death—still preserve him, on earth or in Paradise.
And before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession.—Better rendered, who before Pontius Pilate bore witness to the good confession. The good confession which (1 Timothy 6:12) Timothy confessed before many witnesses, Jesus Christ, in the presence of Pilate, had already borne witness to. In other words, Jesus Christ, before Pontius Pilate, bore witness by His own solemn words, that He was the Messiah—the long-looked-for King of Israel. If the preposition which we have, with the majority of expositors, construed “before” (Pontius Pilate) have here its local meaning, the “witness” must be limited to the scene in the Judgment Hall—to the interview between the prisoner Jesus and the Roman governor.
Although this meaning here seems the most accurate, it is possible to understand this preposition in a temporal, not in a local, signification—under (that is, in the days of) Pontius Pilate—then the “witness” was borne by the Redeemer to the fact of His being “Messiah:” first, by His own solemn words; secondly, by His voluntary death. The confession was that “He, Jesus, was a King, though not of this world.” (See Matthew 27:11; John 18:36-37, where the noble confession is detailed.) He bore His witness with a terrible death awaiting Him. It was, in some respects, a model confession for all martyrs, in so far as it was a bold confession of the truth with the sentence of death before His eyes.
Until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.—The speedy return of the Lord in glory was, no doubt, looked for in the Church of the first days. The expressions of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 evidently were written at a time when the second advent of Messiah was looked on as probably near at hand. By slow degrees—as one great teacher of the first days after the other fell asleep in Jesus, and the first generation of believers was rapidly passing away, and no fresh sign of the coming in glory was manifested—the strong expressions used in the first fervour which succeeded the Pentecost morning began to be qualified, as in this Epistle, written far on in St. Paul’s life, by words which seemed to say to Timothy: “Keep the Master’s commandment pure and blameless till the hour of that glorious Epiphany which your eyes will possibly behold.”
Who is the blessed and only Potentate.—The stately and rhythmical doxology with which the solemn charge to Timothy is closed was not improbably taken from a hymn loved by the Ephesian Christians, and often sung in their churches; the words, then, were, likely enough, familiar to Timothy and his people, though now receiving a new and deeper meaning than before. Well might Timothy, as example to the flock of Ephesus, keep “the commandment without spot, unrebukeable”—fearlessly, even though danger and death were presented before him as the sure reward of his faithfulness—for He who in His own times should reveal (show) the Lord Jesus returning to earth in glory, was inconceivably greater and grander than any earthly potentate, king, or lord, before whose little throne Timothy might have to stand and be judged for his faithfulness to the “only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Of the first of these sublime titles, God is termed “the blessed,” or the happy, because He is the source of all blessedness and happiness; and the “only Potentate,” in solemn assertion that the Christian’s God was One, and that to none save to Him could this appellation “only Potentate” be applied. Possibly already in Ephesus the teachers of Gnosticism had begun their unhappy work—with their fables of the mighty æons, and their strange Eastern conception of one God the source of good, and another the source of evil.
The King of kings, and Lord of lords.—God is king over those men style kings, and lord over all men call lords here.
Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.—This should be rendered, dwelling in light unapproachable. The Eternal is here pictured as dwelling in an atmosphere of light too glorious for any created beings (not only men) to approach. (See Psalm 104:2, where the Eternal is addressed as covering himself with light as with a garment; see too Daniel 2:22, where light is spoken of as dwelling with God.) The symbolism of the old covenant teaches the same truth, the unapproachable glories in which God dwells; for instance, the guarding of the bounds of Sinai in the giving of the Law; the covering of the faces of the Seraphim in the year that King Uzziah died, when Isaiah saw the divine vision; the veiled darkness of the Holy of holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple, where ever and anon the visible glory dwelt.
Whom no man hath seen, nor can see.—The Old Testament teaches the same mysterious truth—“For there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20, and also Deuteronomy 4:12). John 1:18 repeats this in very plain words—“No man hath seen God at any time.” The Greek word here includes all created beings. The English translation, “no man,” utterly fails to reproduce the meaning of the original. (See also 1 John 4:12.)
These last words seem to preclude the interpretation which applies the foregoing description to the Son. We have above referred this glorious doxology to the Father, as the one who, in His own times, should reveal the Lord Jesus returning to judgment.
It is, however, very noteworthy that the loftiest, the sublimest, epithets the inspired pen of Paul could frame to dignify his description of the First Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, God the Father, are used again of the Son. “The Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16; and see too Revelation 1:5).
In this world.—The Greek word rendered “world” signifies, in its literal sense, age, and includes the period which closes with the second coming of the Lord. Now, as St; Paul had just made a reference to the probable speedy coming of the Lord in judgment in Timothy’s lifetime, the words “the rich in this world” have a special signification. Very fleeting indeed will be those riches of which their possessors were so foolishly proud [be not high-minded, St. Paul urges]; these riches were a possession always terminable with life—possibly, let them bear in mind, much sooner.
Nor trust in uncertain riches.—The literal translation of the Greek here is more forcible—“nor trust in the uncertainty of riches.” Uncertainty—for (1) the very duration of life, even for a day, is uncertain; and (2) the numberless accidents of life—in war, for instance, and commerce—are perpetually reminding us of the shifting nature of these earthly possessions.
But in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.—The Greek word rendered “living” does not occur in the more ancient authorities. Its removal from the text in nowise alters the sense of the passage. The rich should set their affections and place their trust, not in these uncertain riches, but in God, the bestower of them, who wills, too, that His creatures should find pleasure in these His gifts—given to us to enjoy.
This is another of the many sayings of the old man St. Paul, in which he urges on the people of God, that their kind Master in heaven not only allows men reasonable pleasures and gratifications, but even Himself abundantly provides such for them.
Ready to distribute, willing to communicate.—In distinguishing between these words, which are nearly synonymous, the first points rather to the hand which generously gives, and the second to the heart which lovingly sympathises.
The first obeys willingly the Master’s charge—“Give to him that asketh;” the second follows that loving command which bids His own to rejoice with those that rejoice, and to mourn with those that mourn.
Here a simple command, in complete accordance with the teaching: of Christ, is given, and a definite consequence is attached to the obeying the command. If the “rich”—the word “rich,” we must remember, is a broad term, and in St. Paul’s mind would comprehend many a one who would hesitate to apply the term in its strict sense to himself—if the “rich,” or the comparatively rich, are really generous and kind with their wealth—and of this God alone can be judge—then with these perishable, fleeting riches they are laying the foundation of an everlasting habitation on the other side the veil. Bengel quaintly expresses the truth, slightly changing the metaphor—“Mercator, naufragio salvus, thesauros domum præmissos invenit.”
That they may lay hold on eternal life.—The older authorities here, instead of “eternal,” read truly. The sentence will then read thus, that they may lay hold on that which is truly life—that is, may lay hold on that which in truth deserves the name “life,” because the fear of death will no longer cast its gloomy shadow over it. This “laying hold on eternal life” is the end the wise rich Christian proposes to himself, when he orders his earthly life and administers his earthly goods, and St. Paul has just showed Timothy how this “end” is to be reached by such a man.
Such plain statements in the Book of Life as the foregoing by no means weaken the divine truth so often repeated, that men are saved only by the blood of Christ, with which they must sprinkle their sin scarred souls. Poor men and rich men alike may try; they will find, with all their brave struggles, that of themselves they will never win salvation, they cannot redeem their souls.
But such plain statements as we have here, and in Luke 16:9, tell us, if we really are “of Christ’s,” sprinkled with His precious blood, then we must try with heart and soul, with hand and brain, to follow out such charges as we have just been discussing.
This “sacred trust,” so solemnly committed as the parting charge to Timothy, was “the doctrine delivered by St. Paul to him to preach,” the central point of which, we know from the Apostle’s other writings, was the teaching respecting the atonement and the precious blood of Christ. There is a beautiful, though somewhat lengthened, paraphrase of the “Trust” in the Commonitorium of Vincentius Lirinensis, composed about A.D. 430. “What is meant,” he asks, “by ‘keep the trust?’ The disciple of St. Paul must keep the sound doctrine of his master safe from robbers and foes. . . . What is meant by ‘the trust?’ Something intrusted to you to keep—not a possession you have discovered for yourself; something you have received from another—not what you have thought out for yourself . . . of this ‘trust,’ remember, you are nothing but the guardian. . . . What, then, is the meaning of ‘keep the trust?’ It is surely nothing else than ‘guard the treasure of the Catholic faith.’ . . . Gold have you received; see that you hand gold on to others.”
“Is there, then,” asks this same wise writer “to be no progress, no development in religious teaching? Yes,” he answers; “there should be a real progress, a marked development, but it must partake of the nature of a progress, not of a change. . . . Let religion in the soul follow the example of the growth of the various members which compose the body, and which, as years roll on, become ever stronger and more perfect, but which, notwithstanding their growth and developed beauty, always remain the same.”
Avoiding profane and vain babblings.—The Apostle has before in this Epistle warned Timothy against these useless, profitless discussions. Anything like theological controversy and discussion seems to. have been distasteful to St. Paul, as tending to augment dissension and hatred, and to exalt into an undue prominence mere words and phrases.
Oppositions of science falsely so called.—Rather, of knowledge falsely so called. These “oppositions” have been supposed by some to be a special allusion to some of the Gnostic theories of the opposition between the Law and the Gospel, of which peculiar school, later, Marcion was the great teacher. It is hardly likely that any definite Gnostic teaching had as yet been heard in Ephesus, but there is little doubt that the seeds of much of the Gnosticism of the next century were—when St. Paul wrote to Timothy—being then sown in some of the Jewish schools of Ephesus and the neighbouring cities. (Comp. the allusions to these Jewish and cabalistic schools in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church.) The “oppositions” here may be understood as referring generally to the theories of the false teachers, who were undermining the doctrine of St. Paul as taught by Timothy.
Grace be with thee.—The ancient authorities are almost equally divided between “with thee” and “with you,” the congregation. The public nature of so many of the directions and instructions contained in this Epistle account for the absence of those private greetings which we find in the Second Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy.