The age in which we live is accurately described in verse 9: “lawless and disobedient (unsubject)"-manward; “ungodly and sinners"- Godward; “unholy and profane"- selfward. Some details are given by Paul which are remarkably descriptive of our own days: children actively and physically opposing parents, murderers, fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and any other thing that is contrary to the spiritual and moral teaching of the holy Gospel. God’s inflexible law applies to such and its inevitable penalties will be ultimately exacted from the offenders, for the grace of God has not displaced the government of God, even in this present era, Rom. 1. 27.
The Gospel in a ^Corrupt World. This is a day calling for plain speech, not profitless discussion. As in Paul’s day, so today; there are plenty who are desirous of being theological teachers, though they do not understand what they say nor the things about which they make such confident assertions. They do not understand either the statements they make, or the cases with which those statements deal. They but engender questions and leave their hearers all confused and in doubt. What they should do is to teach the true Gospel which is designed to produce love out of a pure heart (the inward spring), and of a good conscience (the inward monitor), and of unfeigned faith (the inward sight). This sacred word “love" (in the Authorized Version translated “charity”, which today has a different nuance) is now much abused, and used in all manner of unworthy associations. It is not uncharitable when one attempts to curb the harmful teaching of others, which teaching occupies the minds of people with things that get them nowhere, solves no problems, and leaves the mind full of doubts, instead of building up a solid structure of faith. Such are many religious leaders today, who, anxious to be recognized as such, have no real understanding of the matters with which they profess to deal, yet speak so confidently. They have a religious “jargon”, but when it is measured by the standard of Scripture it is found to be wanting both in accuracy and usefulness.
It was no easy thing for Timothy to be left in Ephesus to care for the saints and to propagate the gospel, seeking at the same time to hinder its corruption by others. He might readily have been prone to despair in a city noted for its spiritual “wild beasts”, 1 Cor. 15. 32, but for his encouragement Paul recounts his own conversion. Who, desirous of the salvation of sinners now-a-days, does not have a similar feeling of inadequacy in view of the wickedness and hardness of the ungodly in the midst of whom we are placed? Yet Paul was a blasphemer of God, a persecutor of Christ, and a “hectoring bully" of the saints, but he obtained mercy because he did not know the real nature of his hostile actions. The situation would have been far different had he known the real nature of his enmity. But as with his nation, so with him. “I know”, says Peter, “that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers”, Acts 3. 17, and the Lord Himself prayed “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”, Luke 23. 34, Saul’s question on the Damascus road, “Who art thou, Lord?”, revealed that he did not understand that, in persecuting the Christians, he was persecuting the Lord of glory.
Paul could never forget the mercy shown to him, the chief of sinners – the “longsuffering" of God that waited and yet waited till He was apprehended on the Damascus road. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is, next to the resurrection of Christ, the outstanding miracle of Christianity. He himself recognized that God had made him an exemplary case for the encouragement of all other sinners that afterwards should believe, and we may add for the encouragement of all who are interested in, and are prayerful about, the conversion of long-standing and bitter opponents of Christ.
Before the New Testament Scriptures were in circulation,, certain phrases became current among the early Christians which are referred to as “faithful sayings”; see 1 Tim. 1. 15; 3. 1; 4. 9; 2 Tim. 2. 11; Titus 3. 8. The emphatic words in 1 Timothy 1. 15 are “sinners” and “chief”: Paul puts them in a place’ of emphasis. And Paul so records it to stress the “mercy”, the “grace”, the “love”, and the “long suffering” of which he was the undeserving object, but which called forth such abundant thanksgiving as he utters in verse 12. He attributes the eternal glory of it to “the King eternal, incorruptible, invisible, the only God” in verse 17 r.v., which verse should not be read in isolation: its immediately preceding context lends force to it.
Such spiritual work as was entrusted to Timothy was of a militant nature. He would have many enemies to face and it was imperative that he should keep fast both faith and a good conscience. Were he to allow doubt or unbelief to creep into his mind, and were he to allow sin and inconsistency to enter into his behaviour, defeat would be sure. Others had done so with calamitous results. Hymanaeus and Alexander had thrust these things from them: personal faith and a good conscience were thrown overboard: no marvel they had made shipwreck concerning “the faith”, that is, concerning that body of revealed truth presented to us for our acceptance. With apostolic authority, Paul had delivered these individuals to Satan that they might learn by discipline not to blaspheme. This authority cannot be exercised by any today, but such persons should not be allowed to remain in the church; they should be excommunicated. The phrase “deliver unto Satan” is a very solemn one. It is again found in 1 Corinthians 5. 5. It denotes that, when a person is thus dealt with, he is put into a sphere where Satan has power, even over his body. It might have been experienced in the form of disease or death. Of course, if the person were a genuine believer Satan could not touch his spiritual life. In each of these passages the spiritual good and recovery of the persons are in view. Note in this connection the phrases “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”, and “that they may learn not to blaspheme”, 1 Cor. 5. 5; 1 Tim. 1. 20.
Paul twice joins “faith" with a “good conscience”, vv. 5 and 19. These must not be divorced the one from the other. Orthodoxy must be accompanied by proper conduct. Belief and behaviour must agree. Belief without a good conscience tends to hypocrisy. A good conscience without faith is like a ship without a rudder, it lacks guiding control. It can degenerate into prejudice. The surrender of either one may be the cause or the effect of the abandonment of the other.