Timothy and the Ephesian Church

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By: Raymond Harris
Contributor: Bryan Walden
Regarding Scripture: First Timothy 1.3-4

Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of First Timothy in conjunction with this article.

Timothy and the Ephesian Church

Each of our shepherds have been asked to provide some ideas as to what they find interesting and noteworthy for examination in our articles. As we continue our examination of First Timothy, this week’s suggestion comes from our Elder Bryan Walden. Brother Walden suggested four items from the first chapter. The first is from verses three and four with its references to doctrine and controversies. The second is from verse eight and the purpose of law. The third is from verse fifteen and the reason why Christ came. And the fourth comes from verse twenty and wondering who has the power to hand one over to the adversary. Considering time constraints and possible reader, writer, and Elder personal preferences, we will examine his first suggestion because of the verses’ physical and chronological position within Paul’s epistle to Timothy. With no preferences in mind, we will spend a brief period looking at the third and fourth verses from chapter one.

Timothy in Ephesus
From the third verse of chapter one, we learn that Paul wanted Timothy to remain in Ephesus because Paul himself traveled into Macedonia. But what is important is what Paul wanted Timothy to do. With verse three and four, it seems that what we see is Paul’s goal for Timothy in Ephesus. If so, Timothy’s task was difficult. Paul instructs Timothy to make sure that a certain doctrine is taught and Paul does not want Timothy to give fables and genealogies “airtime” because doing so caused endless searches for answers instead of congregational edification.

Paul’s Concern about Ephesus
When we read First Timothy we are given only a glimpse of Timothy’s responsibility and his challenge while in Ephesus. In order to receive a little clearer image of the Ephesian church, we should feel compelled to see if the New Testament has any other information about these brethren. With a brief search, we should not only find Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, but we should also find references to Ephesus in the book of Acts, specifically in chapter twenty.

Acts not only reveals a lengthy dialog that Paul had with the Ephesian Elders,1 but also in one of Paul’s comments perhaps an important tidbit for consideration of Timothy’s tenure in Ephesus is found. According to Acts, Paul told the Elders:

“I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”2

While it is a valuable discussion identifying the you as referenced by Paul (which we will not do here because one can adequately argue that the you refers to the eldership, but one can also adequately argue that the you could be a generic reference to the Ephesian Church), it is noteworthy that the wolves will enter the Ephesian church prior to the phrase “your own selves” who will give misdirected teachings.

Regardless of the specific you (Elders or Church), Paul is telling the Elders to be alert because a danger was coming that would threaten the existence of the Ephesian church. It seems that Paul has this same threat in mind when he wrote his first epistle to Timothy. Again, consider the opening verses of Paul’s letter to Timothy giving him directions while working with the brethren in Ephesus:

“As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith.”3

It seems from these two passages that Paul was considering a great many things regarding the people he had taught in Ephesus. But there is an additional passage that sheds some interesting light on the Ephesian brethren found in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. In that letter, Paul makes a reference about sending Tychicus to Ephesus.4 This reference seems to indicate that Timothy was still in Ephesus when Paul penned his second letter, but timeframe of writing is not nearly as relevant to our discussion as is what Paul tells Timothy about the Ephesian disciples. Consider what Paul tells Timothy regarding the Ephesian church:

“the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”5

As we saw, these passages refer to three various parts of the Ephesian church. One, the admonitions found in the book of Acts were given honestly and frankly to the Eldership about their responsibility. Two, the directions in First Timothy were given specifically to the church’s evangelist about his responsibility. And three, the passage in Second Timothy was given directly to the evangelist about the responsibility of the Ephesian church. It is possible that the disciples could have learned indirectly this information from Paul, providing Timothy informed them about their collective responsibility.

Lessons from Ephesus
Timothy was directed to instruct the Ephesians in sound doctrine, to teach truth and be an example, among the many others items found in the letters to Timothy. The church herself was warned that it was not only possible to be led away by non-truth teaching teachers, but also that the church herself would not take note of the truth. The Ephesus church reveals the potential of multiple weaknesses in any church. Without being biased: weaknesses can exist in the leadership; weaknesses can exist in the evangelist(s); and weaknesses can exist in the membership.

Upon reflection, it seems fair to say that within modern American churches there is a majority of Christians taught, from childhood, truths from God’s Sacred Word. With direct application, some of those truths are right-on-the-money, so to speak, but others may not be. So as we close, let us take note of the things that we should from Paul’s direction to the Elders and to Timothy. First, it is the responsibility of the church leadership to lead the church cautiously and watchfully. Second, it is the responsibility of the evangelist to teach the church about the truth carefully, patiently and lovingly. Third, it is the responsibility of the church to listen attentively to the truth. May the LORD bless us as we work together to strengthen our church.

1. “Paul’s Dialog with the Ephesian Elders.” Acts 20.17-38, NASB.
2. “Paul’s Warning to the Elders.” Acts 20.29-30, KJV.
3. “Paul’s Direction for Timothy’s Work in Ephesus.” First Timothy 1.3-4, KJV.
4. “Tychicus Sent to Ephesus.” Second Timothy 4.12, NASB.
5. “Paul’s Perception of Ephesian Christians.” Second Timothy 4.3-4, NASB.