The scholarly community generally describes the letters Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus as the “pastoral” epistles. This is not really an accurate description because it derives from the denominational concept of a preacher as being THE “pastor” of a congregation. The new testament shows a distinctly different picture of the church, with each congregation having multiple “pastors” (i.e., shepherds, elders, overseers), not the “one-man-rule” so common in modern denominationalism. (Acts 14:23 shows clearly that each individual congregation had plural elders.) Perhaps a more accurate description of these letters would be to call them the “preachers’” epistles. These letters were penned by the aging apostle to two younger evangelists to provide both advice/instruction and encouragement, as they encountered various challenges in the church.
One of Paul’s first points to Timothy stresses the authenticity of his position as an apostle of the Lord (1 Timothy 1:1 & 12). Verses 13-16 show the probable reason for this, as Paul acknowledges the obvious “disconnect” between his former life as a persecutor of Christians, and his current dedication to the Lord. In verse 16 Paul says ONE reason for his role as an apostle was so that he could be a living illustration of God’s ability to save anyone, regardless of how “bad” they might have been in their former life.
In chapter 1:3-7, Paul emphasizes that Timothy needed to correct some of the Ephesian Christians (with whom he was working), to prevent them from teaching a doctrine that was “different” or “other” from the gospel Paul had taught them. Timothy also needed to “stabilize” them in the faith, so that they would not give credence to myths and claims about family connections (“endless genealogies”). Paul’s instruction here emphasizes that Christians ought to be in agreement in what we believe and teach others (we are to “speak the same thing” and not be divided, 1 Corinthians 1:10), and the fact that a person’s cultural or family “history” doesn’t “count,” in getting us into heaven! (He goes on to point out that these things often cause division in the church instead of drawing us closer together.) We are not at liberty to hold our own opinions in matters where the Lord has spoken – doing so puts us in the position of holding a “different doctrine.” Likewise, being a third-, fifth-, or even a tenth-generation Christian doesn’t insure my standing with the Lord: Each of us is responsible for ourselves, and must live up to the Lord’s high calling for us (Philippians 3:14).
At the end of 1 Timothy 1, Paul mentions that several Christians – including two brothers in particular, Hymenaeus and Alexander – had “made shipwreck” of their faith. This is an interesting and important description because it is an “active” verb; it is not merely a “vivid” image, it also shows that their spiritual condition resulted from their own actions, and it shows the magnitude of what they had done to themselves, spiritually! While Paul doesn’t give specific details of how these Christians damaged their relationship with God (vs. 20 implies that they blasphemed), his words indicate that they had “ruined” themselves spiritually, putting themselves in a position that would normally be beyond hope. He singles out Hymenaeus and Alexander as examples who were “handed over” or “surrendered” to Satan so that they could experience the full consequences of their sins and thus learn (through harsh experience) to avoid such sins. In this, we need to see and remember that the burden of responsibility to repent always lies on those who err, not on those seeking to correct them; only they could make the choice to “save themselves.”