Holy Spirit in the Letters to Timothy and Titus (in 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)

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Studies in the letters to Timothy and Titus tend to see institutional church order and ministerial offices as the means through which the Holy Spirit works. However, there is also a larger theology of the Holy Spirit in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. This theology, as expounded by Fee (1994: 755-94), relates the person and work of the Holy Spirit to Christ, salvation, and Christian living. It also emphasizes the relation of the Holy Spirit to ministry in the church. In addition, the Holy Spirit aids the church leader in perceiving unhealthy teachings and how to deal with them.

The Holy Spirit And Christ

We see a connection between the Holy Spirit and Christ in the hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16. The phrase vindicated in spirit ties into the previous phrase, revealed in flesh, which speaks of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The phrase vindicated in spirit refers to the supernatural existence entered into by Christ through the resurrection. In this interpretation, the resurrection vindicated the humanity of Christ, including his experience of the cross. Just as Christ in the flesh ministered in the power of the Spirit, so now, through the resurrection, Christ has entered into the spiritual and supernatural realm. Though the unhealthy teachers in Ephesus tended to reject the flesh (1 Tim 4:1-4), the phrase vindicated in spirit affirms the created order.

A second passage showing the connection between the Holy Spirit and Christ is Titus 3:6. This Spirit he [God] poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Christ is the agent through whom God sends the Holy Spirit into the world. Thus, Christ’s work of salvation is actualized in the Christian believer by the person of the Holy Spirit. It follows that the activity of Christ and the Holy Spirit are connected in a third passage (2 Tim 1:12, 14). Paul has put his trust in Jesus Christ, who is able to stand guard over his salvation. Similarly, Timothy is instructed to guard the treasure of the gospel of Christ entrusted to him, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. Though in verse 12 Christ is the agent of guardianship, in verse 14 guarding comes through the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit And Salvation

Salvation is an important theme in the letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim 1:15; 2:3-7; 3:16; 4:10; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; 2 Tim 1:8-14; 3:15). Salvation is emphasized in Titus 3:4-7, which says the Holy Spirit “washes” and thus brings about rebirth and renewal. Salvation comes through the regenerating work of the Spirit, who is the agent of rebirth and transformation. Because the Holy Spirit is lavishly poured out by God through Jesus Christ (Titus 3:6), there is no question regarding the Spirit’s ability to bring salvation in the life of the believer.

The Holy Spirit And Christian Living

In contrast to opponents, the author exhorts Christian believers in Ephesus and in Crete to practice good works. Christians are to live lives that are godly and respectful in every way (1 Tim 2:2 RSV). Although the lives of some are filled with evil, Christ gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14). Christ’s saving work, coupled with the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, transforms the believer, resulting in new ways of living. This newness is contrasted with the way people once lived in sin (3:3). It therefore follows that believers washed by the Spirit will avoid the actions of the opponents described in what follows in Titus 3:9-11.

The Holy Spirit And Ministry

In the letters to Timothy and Titus, the character of leaders is given major attention. Leaders are to be sound in teaching, to guard the deposit of the gospel of salvation, and to lead the household of God (1 Tim 3:1-5). In several passages, Timothy is reminded of the Holy Spirit’s work in calling him to ministry and enabling him for the task (1 Tim 1:18; 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6-7). The gift of the Spirit is associated with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Timothy is given the gift of teaching and preaching by the Holy Spirit. With this gift he is enabled to teach sound words that protect and guard the faith. Through the gift of prophecy, the church has identified Timothy and his ability to lead the congregation (1 Tim 1:18). The prophetic gift as office, however, is not identified in the letters to Timothy and Titus, nor is any church leader called a prophet. Only the pagan poet Epimenides is called a prophet (Titus 1:12). Both 1 Timothy 1:18 and 4:14 refer to the prophetic Spirit that directed Timothy on how to lead the community of faith in Ephesus. Thus, the Holy Spirit identified who was gifted for ministry, and the community first tested and then openly recognized this gifting by the laying on of hands (1 Tim 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6). Christian ministry is exercised in the power of the Spirit (2 Tim 1:7). Both the origin and strength for Timothy’s ministry came from the Holy Spirit. Timothy is to remember the gift that the Holy Spirit gave him. He is not to neglect it (1 Tim 4:14), but to fan it into flame (2 Tim 1:6).

The Holy Spirit dwells in all Christian believers (Titus 3:6-7). All Christians are given the Spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7). Furthermore, the Spirit provides self-discipline. Not only are leaders called to self-discipline (Titus 1:8); the Holy Spirit also provides this discipline to leaders and all Christians.

Timothy is to remember that all Scripture is inspired—literally, God-breathed—and therefore useful for the preaching and teaching ministry (2 Tim 3:14-17 TNIV). The same Holy Spirit who called Timothy to ministry, who equips him for the task, was also at work in the process of divine revelation, transmission, and writing of the sacred Scriptures. These sacred Scriptures instruct one for salvation in Jesus Christ and equip church leaders for every good work.

The Holy Spirit In Paul And In The Pastorals

Many aspects of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the other Pauline letters also appear in the letters to Timothy and Titus. These include the relation between the Holy Spirit and Christ (2 Tim 1:12-14; Titus 3:6-7), the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian conversion (Titus 3:5-6), the Holy Spirit and Christian living (Titus 3:1-8), the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (2 Tim 1:6-7; Titus 3:5-6), the Holy Spirit and power (2 Tim 1:7), the Holy Spirit and love (2 Tim 1:7), and the Holy Spirit and eschatology (1 Tim 4:1; Titus 3:6-7). Absent from the letters to Timothy and Titus is Paul’s teaching on the contrast between the Spirit and the flesh (Rom 8:3-17; Gal 4:29; 5:13–6:10; Phil 3:3), the Spirit giving revelation and understanding (1 Cor 2:6-16), the Spirit and worship (Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 14:2, 6, 24, 26; Phil 3:3), and the Spirit and Christian unity (1 Cor 12:13; 2 Cor 13:13; Phil 2:1).

New aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work include guarding the deposit of faith (2 Tim 1:14), providing self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7; but cf. Gal 3:23, 26), and giving the gift of ministry (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6-7; but cf. Rom 12:7). Thus the author of the letters to Timothy and Titus largely affirms what is said previously in Paul’s epistles regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the letters to Timothy and Titus give additional insights into the Spirit’s work that are relevant to the situation of the church at Ephesus and Crete when they were written (Fee 1994: 755-94; Treblico: 241-56; Young: 68-70).

Paul M. Zehr