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How to Read the Pastoral Epistles

As is displayed in Acts and his other letters, Paul’s love and compassion for others overflows in the Pastoral Epistles. He refers to Timothy as “my son” and as “my beloved child.” He calls Titus “my true child in a common faith.” But we especially see Paul’s heart for others at the end of his last letter, 2 Timothy. We hear his heartbreak over those who abandoned him. But we also see his love for other colleagues and friends, such as Timothy, Luke, and even Mark, with whom he has evidently been reconciled. The Pastoral Epistles make it clear that Paul’s deep love for Christ overflows in his love for others.

The three Pastoral Epistles are unique among Paul’s thirteen letters because they were written to Paul’s co-workers, Timothy and Titus, who were exercising pastoral oversight of churches. Both men were dealing with false teachers and other trials that made pastoral duties challenging. Although addressed to Timothy and Titus, the letters end with Paul’s benediction, “Grace be with you,” with “you” in the original Greek being plural. Thus, they are, in a sense, semi-public. Paul expected the letters to be read to the entire church. With this in mind, let’s look at four tips for reading the Pastoral Epistles.

1. Read the Pastoral Epistles with reference to the corporate body of Christ and your participation in it.

Many Christians today have lost a sense of the importance of the church. To them, the Christian life is more focused on their personal relationship with Christ than on being an active member of the body of Christ. Paul’s concern in the Pastoral Epistles is for the health and faithfulness of the church. It is the place where God’s people are nurtured and grow in faith. This is why Paul spends time detailing qualifications for godly leaders, including both elders (1 Tim. 3:1–7Titus 1:5–16) and deacons (1 Tim. 3:8–13). It is also why Paul repeatedly exhorts Timothy to devote himself to the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. A healthy church requires God’s people to be fed the manna of the read and preached Word of God.

The Pastoral Epistles, although written to individuals, aim to build up Christ’s church and encourage active corporate life together. This includes worship together (1 Tim. 2; 4:13), working and serving together (2 Tim. 2:21Titus 3:1), generosity to others in the church (1 Tim. 6:17–19), and serving one another faithfully. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul presents the church as central to the Christian life, not an afterthought or add-on.

2. Recognize the danger of false teaching and the necessity of combatting it.

Paul takes up more time in the Pastoral Epistles combatting false teaching than any other subject. In 1 Timothy, he devotes three passages throughout the letter to false teachers. In fact, at the beginning of the letter, instead of the standard section of thanks that normally follows the opening greeting in Paul’s letters and which was customary in his day, he immediately addresses the false teachers at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3–11).

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