The Acts of the Apostles 9 & 20
Paul's ministry to the Ephesians is rooted ultimately in His conversion experience. In Acts 9:3-6 as he was traveling to persecute Christians in Damascus a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'"
Right from the beginning of Paul’s experience as a Christian Jesus was teaching him about the church. The concept of the church was foundational to how Jesus revealed Himself to Paul. Notice in this passage that Jesus doesn’t say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the church?” or even, “Why are you persecuting Christians?” Jesus says, “Why are you persecuting me.” This is the foundation of Paul’s understanding of what a church is, namely part of Jesus Christ.
Later in Acts 20 we see Paul's first encounter with the Ephesian church. One of the main emphases of Paul’s teaching there was in regard to the nature of the church. So in Acts 20:28-31 we see Paul teaching the elders of the Ephesian church about the church. Specifically that they should, “be on guard for themselves and for all the flock…which He [Christ] purchased with His own blood (v. 28).” Further, he wrote that they should, “be on alert [after admonishing them for three years, because he was] now commend[ing] [them] to God and to the word of His grace (v. 31-32).” Later then, in verses 36-38 Paul prays with them all (v. 36) and they all wept over the word which he had spoken, because he was leaving and they might not see his face again (vs. 37-38). There was a deep relationship between Paul and the church in Ephesus. They loved each other to the point of tears (this was not uncommon for Paul and the churches he helped plant 2 Cor 2:4; Phil 3:8). Paul even remembers Timothy's tears in his second letter (2 Tim 1:4). They were truly brothers and sisters in Christ. They were a family.
Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians
It is no surprise after seeing this relationship that Paul clearly outlines some of the themes that he does in Ephesians. However, remember that Ephesians is a general letter, it's even for us, “Most of Paul’s letters are…penned to meet specific pastoral and theological needs. But it is not easy to find any particular occasion that called for this letter…There is no reason, in principle, why a letter could not be general in nature and written for the purpose of instructing and edifying Christians over a wide area or in a range of congregations (Obrien, 51).” So then, as in all of Paul’s letters, despite the specificity of the audience we see that generally this letter is for all Christians. Even us!
We don't know exactly when he wrote this letter, but he probably wrote it from prison in Rome in A.D. 60-61 (Acts 28:16-31). The letter of Ephesians is divided into four main sections: First, the introduction (1:1-2); Second, the doctrinal exposition (1:3-3:21); Third, the practical application (4:1-6:20); and Fourth, the conclusion (6:21-24).
The section of doctrine, 1:3-3:21, has a three-fold trajectory. First, Paul sets out to outline God’s purpose of displaying His glory by knitting people into Christ (1:3-23). Second, he discusses the obstacle, namely sin (2:1-22). Third, and last, Paul is writing to us about how God has planned to fulfill His purpose of displaying His glory, namely, by showing his glory through the church (3:1-21). The application of the doctrine in chapters 1-3 begins directly after it in 4:1 with a pregnant “Therefore” which harkens the church toward unity. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones summarized the doctrinal exposition section of the letter by writing, “[Unity] is something that results from all that has gone before…These people are those who have been ‘bought’ into God’s kingdom and family at the cost of the precious blood of Christ’ [as we saw in Acts 20:28]. No-one can ever belong to this family, and participate in its unity, unless he believes that (Lloyd-Jones, 24).” In order then to have unity we must share the one thing in common that we all agree on, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It's clear from all of this that Paul has a history with the church in Ephesus.
Where 1 Timothy Fits in the Chronology
It is generally thought that Paul wrote this letter after being released from a two year Roman confinement mentioned in Acts 28:30 (where he wrote Ephesians from in A.D. 60-61) approximately A.D. 63 (Leschert, 373; Schnabel, 115-121). This was either before or during his travels to Spain and then Crete, which took place before a second and final Roman imprisonment which is thought to be where Paul wrote Titus and 2 Timothy from sometime between A.D. 65-67. So here it is in a more clear list (please remember these are approximates, and we aren't 100% positive that there were 2 imprisonments):
- Chronology of Paul's Relationship with the Ephesians
- A.D. 52-55: Arrived in Ephesus and left in A.D. 55 - This is the account in Acts 19-20
- A.D. 60-61: 1st Roman Imprisonment - Wrote Ephesians, etc.
- A.D. 63 (approx.): Released and travelled to Spain & Crete - Wrote 1 Timothy
- A.D. 65-67: 2nd Roman Imprisonment - Wrote 2 Timothy & Titus
All of this finally brings us to the question, "What is the context of 1 Timothy 3 within 1 Timothy?" Here's a brief outline of the book from Dale Leschert:
Salutation (1:1-2)Prior to the passage I'm going to start looking at regarding deacons (1 Tim 3:7-13) the apostle Paul is writing to Timothy about how Timothy is to remain in Ephesus in order to charge the leaders of the church not to teach different doctrine than what they received (1:1, 3). He entreats Timothy to wage the good warfare holding faith and a good conscience (1:18-19). Then he exorts Timothy to pray for all and particularly kings and those in high positions so that the believers might live a quiet and dignified life (2:1-2), specifically to pray for the leaders so that their leadership might allow the gospel flourish. He clearly lays out the foundation of the "good warfare" by explaining the gospel:
I. Responses to the Ephesians' ecclesiastical needs (1:3-3:13)
A. Preliminary warnings about theological errors (1:3-20)
B. Important instructions concerning church order (2:1-3:13)
II. Prescription for Timothy's ministerial conduct (3:14-6:19)
A. Timothy's apostolic mentoring for church leadership (3:14-16)
B. Timothy's professional responsibilities as a good minister (4:1-16)
C. Timothy's social relations with various groups (5:1-6:2)
D. Timothy's personal integrity as a godly man (6:3-19)
Leschert, Dale The Flow of the New Testament (Geanies House: Mentor, 2002), 372.
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (2:5-7)After this Paul shares his desire for the church to pray without quarreling (2:8). Then we get to some of the more controversial passages in 1 Timothy about how women ought to dress, and how they are not to teach or exercise authority over men (2:9-15). This flows out of Paul's discussion of the church praying together in unity (the unity he desired for the church in Ephesus can be seen most clearly in Ephesians 4:1-16). After discussing women's role in the church Paul then moves into the lists of elders and deacons in chapter 3.
The role of the elders and deacons (regarding the church in Ephesus and our churches) are the antithesis of the poor leaders that Paul wrote the Ephesians about, and that Paul tells Timothy about in 1 & 2 Timothy. It's almost as if the qualifications of elders and deacons is set up as a direct contrast (we'll see this more clearly as we walk through the qualifications).
In my next post I'll explore some of the qualities of the false teachers in Ephesus. Then after the next post, Lord willing, I'll start looking at the qualifications for deacons.