When I left for college my father gave me a copy of Louis Berkhof’s Manual of Christian Doctrine, a small classic in the tradition of Reformation theology. The book was inscribed with these words: “For Philip upon entering college, in the hope that your theology will remain Reformed.” My father wanted me to remain true to the biblical and evangelical doctrines defended during the Protestant Reformation, doctrines like the authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone. In other words, he wanted me to remain a true son in the faith.
A TRUE SON
Paul had the same desire for Timothy. He considered himself to be the young minister’s spiritual father, so he addressed his first Pastoral Epistle “To Timothy, my true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). At the time he wrote this, Paul was coming to the close of his world-changing ministry. He was the great missionary of the New Testament, God’s evangelist to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He was also an apostle, a messenger or ambassador for God. And as an eyewitness of the risen Christ (Acts 9:3–6), he was a man appointed to teach God’s people with divine authority.
Paul was not a self-appointed apostle, or even an apostle commissioned by the church. On the contrary, he had been chosen, called, and commissioned directly by Jesus Christ. His apostleship thus came “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). Not only is this a strong claim for Paul’s authority, but it is also a strong claim for the deity of Jesus Christ. A command from the Father is also said to be a command from the Son, and vice versa. Therefore, the Son must be equal in power and authority to the Father. Jesus is God.
Already it is evident that this letter is full of profound teaching about the attributes and activities of God. “God our Savior”—this phrase looks back to the salvation God accomplished through Christ; “Christ Jesus our hope”—this looks forward to the day when Christ will return in power and glory. So, as John Stott explains, “Paul locates his apostleship in a historical context, whose beginning was the saving activity of God our Savior in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, and whose culmination will be Christ Jesus our hope, his personal and glorious coming, which is the object of our Christian hope, and which will bring down the curtain on the historical process.”1 Not bad for a return address! Paul’s opening lines mention virtually everything God has done and will do to save his people.
Like his return address, Paul’s greeting is full of profound theology. He offers Timothy “grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2). The apostle starts with the traditional Greek salutation of grace (charis), ends with the traditional Jewish greeting of peace (shalom), and inserts mercy (eleos) to make a distinctively Christian blessing.2 From the very beginning, therefore, this epistle is full of Christ. It is full of the hope that Christ will return in glory, the grace Christ offers to sinners, the mercy Christ gives to the needy, and the peace Christ has made with God through his death on the cross. The letter brings grace, mercy, and peace from Christ to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual son.
Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 3–5.
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