The letters to Timothy and Titus are important for understanding Paul’s perspective on missions and his own identity as a missionary. Chaio Ek Ho concludes his article on the Pastoral Epistles:
From our examination of the letters in the PE [Pastoral Epistles], we have seen how these letters articulate an underlying missionary outlook and a theology of mission à la Paul. (Chaio Ek Ho, “Mission in the Pastoral Epistles,” Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, ed. by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Terry L. Wilder, 2010, p267.
In today’s post, we want to explore Paul’s outlook on his identity, how he describes his role in the Pastoral Epistles. Paul describes himself:
1 Timothy 2:7 – 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. (ESV)
2 Timothy 1:11 – for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher. (ESV)
Both of these descriptions refer back to the gospel. Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel. Köstenberger suggests that Paul uses these three terms together presenting himself to Timothy as an example of a missionary, though he notes that the term “apostle” is reserved for Paul (see Köstenberger, Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus, p. 104). The three terms provide insight into how Paul understood his identity.
First, Paul identifies as an appointed preacher. The term describes a herald who made public an authoritative message. In addition to having a loud voice to publicize the message, the herald was required to convey the message unchanged. Titus 1:3 points out that Paul has been entrusted with this preaching by the command of God. Preaching the gospel has a definite content that the herald must not alter. Paul emphasizes “sound words,” “sound doctrine” throughout the letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 1:10,11; 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9). Schnabel writes:
Paul’s preaching was focused on the good news whose source is God himself -the good news of the coming of Jesus Christ and of the salvation that God offers through him, good news which is announced with authority as the word of God. (Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, 2008, p 214)
Central to Paul’s three self-descriptions is his role as an apostle. This is the most common term he uses to identify himself. While the term has other referents in the New Testament, it most often refers to the authoritative role of those commissioned personally by Jesus Christ. Paul was given that status through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12-17; 1 Corinthians 15:5-11). Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God (1 Timothy 1:1) and by the will of God (2 Timothy 1:1). Paul emphasizes “I am telling the truth, I am not lying (1 Timothy 2:7). He takes his authoritative role as an apostle seriously and is not shy about commanding people to not teach a different doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). There were those who questioned Paul’s authority then as there are those who question the Bible’s authority today. Our response should be the same, the Bible tells the truth, it is inerrant in all that it affirms.
In the New Testament, we have in written form the gospel that was proclaimed and taught by the apostles of Jesus Christ. We do not have the identity as apostles but our message has the authority of the apostles as we faithfully proclaim the “sound words” of the New Testament. We are faithful preachers and teachers as we “rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)” handed down to us by Christ’s apostles.
Paul adds to his identifiers “a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” Teaching is an essential task in missions. From the earliest days of gospel proclamation, there have been those who hear and distort the doctrine and lifestyle of the gospel. Even those who do not distort the message often need teaching to fully understand as we see throughout the book of Acts. Paul wrote to Titus that he is a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ “for the sake of the elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness (Titus 1:1). Paul’s teaching included truth and godliness, doctrine and lifestyle. Throughout the letters to Timothy and Titus teaching is concerned with right doctrine and right practice.
KEY TAKEAWAYS IN APPLYING PAUL’S IDENTIFIERS:
We are preachers like Paul when we faithfully, clearly communicate the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul asked for prayer that he might have opportunity to proclaim the gospel, that he might have boldness in proclaiming the gospel, and that he might make the gospel clear (Ephesians 6:19,29; Colossians 4:3,4).
We are not apostles. We follow Paul, the apostle when we submit to the authority of Scripture. The Bible is the source of wisdom “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). Our message firmly rooted in the Bible goes forth with the authority of God.
We are teachers like Paul when we practice our ministries so that our disciples gain “knowledge of the truth that accords with godliness (Titus 1:1).”We teach like Paul when we entrust the teaching to others who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). The goal in teaching is that our disciples “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, … be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also be able to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).
In short, we identify with Paul as preachers and teachers of the apostolic gospel.