It is commonly thought that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy after his trial before Nero and his subsequent acquittal, which means it was written after the events recorded in the final chapter of Acts. If so, Paul and Timothy would have been closely associated for at least 12 years when Paul wrote this letter to him. (Remember that Paul named Timothy as co-sender of six of his letters: 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Philemon). Both Paul and Timothy had been ministering once again in Ephesus, but Paul moved on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind to tend to the needs of the growing Ephesian church (1:3). How amazed Paul would have been to know that his private letter to Timothy would eventually be printed in hundreds of millions of books in many of the world’s languages and read by countless people during the next 2,000 years!
Of greatest concern to Paul was false teaching that was infiltrating the Ephesian church. Like most “strange doctrines” (1:3), this particular strain pulled its pupils away from what was most important, namely, obedience to the commandments of Christ (1:5). Apparently the false teachers’ focus was upon “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4), which did nothing to engender what God desired, which is “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith” (1:5). How much of modern preaching and teaching engenders what God desires?
The false teachers in Ephesus were apparently taking their texts from the Mosaic Law (1:7), which makes us wonder if Timothy found himself battling the Jewish legalists once again. Paul affirms that the Law is good, yet it was not written for righteous followers of Christ, but instead for rebels, to lead them to repentance (1:8-11). This is just one more indication that true Christians are those who have repented and who are now on the path of holiness. If this were not the case, Paul would not have written that the Law was only relevant to rebels and irrelevant to the righteous.
Along these lines, Paul recalls the time when he himself was a rebel who needed the Law’s conviction to lead him to repentance and faith in Christ. He was, in his own estimation, the “foremost” of sinners, being a former “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1:13). But the mercy God granted him in Christ was more than sufficient, not only to forgive him for his crimes, but to put him into valuable service. Imagine forgiving your worst enemy and then making him the president of your multi-national company! That is what God did for Paul. And He did so, at least in part, to demonstrate His “perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1:16). If God would forgive Paul and put him into service, He will also do those things for you. Amazing grace! “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15).
This amazing grace, however, is not given to us as a veil behind which we can continue sinning out of God’s sight. And for this reason Paul admonishes Timothy to “keep faith and a good conscience” (1:19). Others, who at one time had possessed both, had rejected them, and “suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1:19). It is amazing to me that theologians and Bible teachers can read such verses and still cling to the concept of “once-saved-always-saved.”
Paul specifically names two men whom Timothy apparently knew, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were prime examples of the very thing of which Paul was warning against. If one does not “keep faith and a good conscience,” that means he previously possessed faith and a good conscience. Hymenaeus and Alexander were now apparently blaspheming, and thus deserved to be “handed over to Satan” (1:20). Whatever that means, it also indicates that Hymenaeus and Alexander were previously on the right path, because there would have been no reason for Paul to “hand over to Satan” those who had never escaped Satan’s captivity, as is the case of all unregenerate people.