This first letter has to do with the ministry of the church itself -- its character and its nature, its function in the world.
The second letter centers around the message that it has to convey -- the great theme is the gospel, and Timothy's relationship to that gospel.
A devotion introduction for November
The apostle Paul's two letters to Timothy, together with his letter to Titus, are often called the Pastoral Epistles. This is appropriate, in one sense, because these letters were written to young pastors who were involved in the leadership of churches. They constitute, therefore, a kind of handbook for pastors. But I prefer to call the letters the Filials rather than the Pastorals, because filial has to do with sonship, and that is what Timothy and Titus were--sons in the faith of the apostle Paul. He had led them both to Christ. They were very dear to him, and they had shared many hardships with him on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire.
In this first letter to Timothy (whom he had left at the church at Ephesus), Paul is giving him counsel and guidance on how to conduct himself in the leadership of that church. Scholars have had difficulty identifying the timing of the writing of these letters to Timothy. Nothing that Paul refers to in them fits into the history recorded in the book of Acts. Some, therefore, have doubted that Paul even wrote them. Most scholars are now agreed, however, that these are the last letters to come from Paul's hand.
The book of Acts closes with Paul imprisoned in a hired house in Rome, where he stayed for two years. Luke suggests that Paul was released from there, and many scholars feel that after his release from that first imprisonment, Paul traveled with Timothy and Titus around the Roman Empire before going to the East again. He left Titus on the island of Crete to guide the emerging church there, and he brought Timothy on to Ephesus with him where there already was a church that had been long established. The apostle then left Timothy in Ephesus while he himself traveled on up to Macedonia.
Many think that Paul went from there to Spain, and perhaps even to Britain. At any rate, after the apostle had left Timothy, he was subsequently arrested and re-imprisoned in Rome, this time very likely in the Mamertine Prison. In that cold, dark hole, the apostle wrote the second letter to Timothy. Shortly thereafter, as far as tradition tells us, Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Way, outside Rome. These letters, therefore, come from the close of the apostle's ministry. They were written to someone who was very dear to Paul's heart, who was very closely involved with him in the ministry. These are beautiful letters from a father to a beloved son who is undertaking a demanding and dangerous work.