American Journal of Biblical Theology Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
2 Timothy 1:1-18.
Minister with Full Confidence
Any study of the second epistle of Paul to Timothy would best be served by establishing the context for the letter that is identified in the first epistle. The purpose of the second letter is similar to that of the first, as Paul continues to encourage Timothy as he seeks to lead the Ephesian church. We find in the first letter that Paul and Timothy had returned to Ephesus some years after Paul established the church, only to find the church in theological disarray and confusion. Individual leaders, with variant ignorance of the gospel, were taking the congregations into a variety of theologies and heresies that were contrary to the gospel. When Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia, he left Timothy behind and assigned him the task of bringing the truth of the gospel to the congregations in an attempt to restore them. The first epistle shows that this was no easy task. the first letter was one of instruction and encouragement
This second epistle is written towards the end of Paul's recorded ministry, after Timothy has had some time to work with these churches. Though Timothy's relationship with the Ephesian church is now matured and close, it appears that many of the issues that Timothy has been called to tackle are still engendering controversy and stress. After at least a couple of years of ministry in this city, Timothy still needs encouragement and instruction on how to deal with this fractured and unsubmissive congregation.
Unfortunately, the situation that existed in the Ephesian church almost 2000 years ago still exists today. Pastors who feel called to lead their congregations to faith in the grace and mercy of the gospel and to facilitate their call to personal evangelism often find themselves up against a brick wall of apathy and bad doctrine. Pastors more often than not find themselves unable to serve in the capacity they are called to because of lay leaders who lead by demand and manipulation rather than as servants in submission to the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the average tenure for pastors in congregations where lay members are given leadership opportunity is quite short: less than three years. Often, peace is maintained in the church by failing to confront leaders who are antagonistic to the true purpose of the Church. Other times peace is maintained by an abstinence from any real ministry. Such congregations continue to go through the ritual of religion, but fail to be active in reaching others for Christ.
Pastors who serve in these settings need continual encouragement and prayer support as they seek to find ways to lead their congregations in grace and mercy, and at the same time tear down the strongholds of sin that so binds church members. We can see by the content of this second letter to Timothy, that the effort to defeat these strongholds has taken its toll on Timothy, much like it does on young pastors today.
As we read Paul's encouraging letters to Timothy (and to Titus), we see little description of the specific problems that Paul addresses. However, when Paul mentions a need, he is addressing that need in a response to what is happening in the church. By asking ourselves why Paul would address an issue, the answer simply reveals that he felt that he had to, because this issue is problematic in the congregation. As we look at Paul's second letter to Timothy, we find yet more encouragement and instruction that communicates to Timothy what is helpful for him in his role as a servant-leader, and communicates to the church the appropriate response to the issues he raises. All of this is relevant today as our pastors and churches are in a very similar state.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
We see a lot of similarity in the form of Paul's salutations. Paul describes himself as "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God" in four other letters, 1 Cor., 2 Cor., Eph., and Col. He raises no doubt as to who he is and where he stands. Paul could easily place in writing this self-definition because he knew that his calling to ministry was real, and he was confident enough in the Lord to declare to all people his submission to Jesus Christ. How many Christians are that confident in telling others that they are also committed to Jesus Christ? All Christians may not be called to be apostles, but all Christians are called to be a witness of the love of God to the lost world. Though Paul had the resources and experience to claim to be one of the prominent Jewish leaders, he rejected this definition for the higher calling of Jesus Christ, not because of his own choosing, but because God called him. In the same manner God calls all Christians to a ministry of grace, mercy, and peace.
Paul goes on to declare his full acceptance of Jesus' teachings, again contrary to his background as a respected Pharisee. Paul sets a good example of how he set aside worldly power and unabashedly defines himself as a Christian. He can do this because he fully understands and appreciates the gift of eternal life with God that faith in Him through Jesus Christ brings.
After identifying himself, Paul identifies the recipient of the letter, Timothy, as he beloved son. In the first letter, Paul referred to Timothy as his "true" son. Here, Paul reminds Timothy of how much he is loved by Paul. Those in ministry often hear any real expressions of love and appreciation from others. Church members should always be quick to show love and appreciation for those who serve them.
I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
Following customary literary form, Paul turns to thanks following his address. However, in all portions of his letter, as he does follow the cultural model for a personal letter, he always adds the Christian context to it. Paul gives his thanks to God, to whom he openly declares his service and submission. Unlike many Christians who, because of their own anxieties keep their faith hidden from the world and feel the guilt that comes from such disobedience, Paul carries no such guilt. Not only has he dealt with the fear of reprisal for his faith, he has experienced reprisal for his faith to the point of Roman imprisonment. (Note that his imprisonment stems from his taking Timothy into the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul's opponents accused him of taking a Gentile into the Temple, stirring up a riot against him. It was these charges, and Paul's appeal of them to Caesar that placed Paul in a Roman prison.)
Paul had close relationships with many people, and it seems that Timothy and he shared one of the closest of them. Though it was common in a letter to follow the words of thanks with words of continual remembrance, Paul again adds the Christian touch by stating that he continually remembers Timothy in his prayers. When one considers the relationship between Paul and Timothy, it is easy to understand how Paul could be praying for Timothy every day. Paul met Timothy as a young man and he led Timothy to faith in Jesus following on the Christian teaching of Timothy's mother and grandmother. Timothy then served as a form of apprentice under Paul for many years, traveling with him and ministering with him in many circumstances. Then, Paul and Timothy parted company as Timothy stayed behind to serve the church in Ephesus, a task that would prove difficult, necessitating much love and endurance. Knowing that Timothy is being subjected to so much stress, Paul would have no other response than to remember and pray for Timothy regularly.
Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy;
Many a parent has been separated from his child only to find that child in a stressful environment. Paul responds much in the same way as he considers the distance between himself and Timothy, separated both by physical distance and by his imprisonment. Paul greatly desires to see Timothy, to be able to travel to Ephesus and deliver his message himself rather than through a letter-carrying courier. He also is continually mindful of Timothy's tears. Some scholars feel that Paul is referring to the tears shed when he and Timothy parted. However, the tense of the Greek word used for "mindful" implies that Paul's mindfulness is on-going, implying that Timothy's tears are on-going. When we consider the context of the letter, this is not surprising. Timothy's is a tough ministry, one that brings many heartaches as he witnesses Christians and others who claim to be Christians who are willfully damaging the work of Christ in the church by imposing their own form of religion, ritual, or practice on others. Watching people do this breaks the heart of the pastor who is called to serve them. Timothy knows the ministry to which the church is called, and recognizes the potential of the church members to take part in that calling, but sees only potential instead of real love and ministry, and again his heart is broken. Obviously, I hold that Timothy's tears are continual, and are motivated by the hurt that comes from trying to serve a congregation that does not desire the truth.
Paul's joy is not predicated upon the successful ministry of the Ephesian church, but by his relationships with Christians, a relationship that parallels his relationship with God. In this, an opportunity to come to Ephesus and help Timothy would bring him great joy. We find later in this letter that Paul fully expects that he is close to the end of his life, and if this is true, he may never see Timothy again. Presumably, Paul never did.
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.
This sentence is a continuation of the last, as Paul often wrote in long single-sentence paragraphs. Here Paul more clearly describes the source of his joy: Timothy's strong and unwavering faith. This is probably an encouragement that Timothy rarely experiences. If you are a Christian, when was the last time someone said that they were overjoyed by your faith in God? We are quick to complement one another on the expression of showy gifts, but we fail to encourage one another in other important areas of our lives. Soldiers on the battlefield need encouragement that reminds them of the value of their sufferings and helps them to focus their efforts against the enemy. This is true of those who are in ministry also. Paul is truly overjoyed when he witnesses the strong faith that is evident in the life of Timothy, a faith that he also saw in Timothy's mother and grandmother. Paul points to a strong legacy of faith, reminding Timothy that, as he stands against what may seem to be an overwhelming enemy, his faith is strong, and will withstand the wiles of Satan, and he will not fall. We are quick to encourage one another in the battlefield of sports, as we shout across the field (or at the television screen) to our favorite player, as we try to encourage one to stand against the foe, and come out victorious. We, like Paul, can also do the same for those who serve us in ministry, by not only appreciating the faith of those called to ministry, but also by letting them know of that appreciation. When your pastor knows that you appreciate his faith, he is more fully empowered to engage in the battle. He knows he is not alone in this task, but has the support of those who love Him. Of course, Timothy knows he has the full support of the Lord in his efforts, but we are still human and need human companionship and support. Let us not forget that the servant leaders in our church also need encouragement from those who they serve.
Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.
The KJV grammar used here is a bit cumbersome to some of us who do not speak ancient English. Some more modern translations help a little to understand Paul's instruction that encourages Timothy to "fan the flames" of that faith that he just described. Paul has already stated that Timothy's faith is strong and unwavering. Then, still, he tells Timothy to remember to continually fan the flames of that faith (stir up the gift of God which is in you). How does one go about fanning the flames of their faith? What will stir up the faith one one who is engaged in a long-term and difficult ministry? I am reminded of the encouragement that successful football coaches will try to engender as they prepare their teams to take the field in battle. By the time they are finished with their motivation speech, the team runs from the locker room screaming and ready to tear down the goal posts with their bare hands. However, the motivation that is produced by this type of encouragement vanishes with the first shock of defeat. Paul did not send out Timothy with a motivational speech. Paul sent him out by the laying on of his hands. The football coach is communicating, "what you will now do," whereas the laying on of hands communicates "who you are." There is a significant difference here, as the laying on of hands symbolizes Timothy's calling by God into this ministry. Timothy is not engaged in this effort to score a few points, but to be used of God to change people's lives.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
This is one of the most familiar verses in this letter to Timothy. Note that the encouragement that Timothy needs is not unlike the encouragement that every Christian needs as they seek to be obedient to Christ, witness to a lost world, and make a difference on this Earth as they minister to and love God's people. What is it that keeps Christians from the full expression of their faith? Why is it that so many Christians find it far easier to keep their faith a secret, or express it only around other Christians? Most Christians who are not actively engaged in some form of personal evangelism will express their frustration and guilt if given an opportunity to do so. In almost every case, the Christian will cite "fear" as the reason for the holding back of their faith. Fear can, like water on a campfire, douse the flames of faith and reduce the Christian to a fruitless, diminutive state. Christians can be encouraged to know that even Timothy faced these fears. Paul clearly states that God is not the author of these fears, and if it is not of God, than it is of Satan. It is the evil spirit of Satan that produces fear that so fully blinds Christians. God is the author of power, love, and clarity. With the power of the Holy Spirit in the heart and life of every Christian, God's power, love, and clarity of purpose is already there. It is Satan who covers it with fear. If Christians recognized this as an attack of Satan they would be more likely to reject it rather than succumb to it. God has empowered all Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit in them, to express His love in a manner that will produce fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;
As strong as Timothy's faith is acclaimed, it is interesting that Paul would tell him to not be ashamed of it. Most Christians today seem to walk around like they are ashamed of the gospel, and shamed by their own feelings of submission to the Lord. Certainly, the world wants us to be submitted to the world system, and sees any other submission to be a form of weakness, a weakness that we do not want to admit. However, just as the fear that quenches our faith stems from a lie of Satan, the shame of faith stems from another. In the heart of every believer is the peace that comes from the assurance of their eternal salvation, the peace that comes from the knowledge of their relationship with God, and a joy that cannot be quenched. Yet, Christians are shamed to share this with others who are desperately seeking the same thing, but are simply ignorant of the truth that Christians are called to share. Sharing the gospel with the lost is not as much overcoming an adversary as it is simply dispelling ignorance.
It is also evident from this letter that people in the Ephesian church were expressing their shame of Paul because of his Roman imprisonment. People like to serve as their own police, judge, jury, and executioner. People were failing to recognize why Paul was imprisoned, and probably had little interest in really knowing why he was there. As long as they could brand Paul a prisoner, his doctrines could be disregarded as coming from an unworthy source. Paul calls upon Timothy and the church to reconsider how they interpret his incarceration. Rather than being critical of it, Paul calls upon them to be partakers in it. When Christians are faithful in their obedience to Christ, they will not agree with the ways of this world, so conflict with the world will be normal, not the exception. However, Christians receive the blessing of the knowledge of their own obedience, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome the conflict. For this reason James writes of the joy of the conflict (Jas. 1:1-3). When the world sees conflict, it runs away in fear. When a Christian sees this conflict, he/she should understand that it is overcome by the power of God. There is no reason to run. There is no reason to be ashamed. To run in fear when called upon by God to serve is to be listening to the wrong voices, and miss out on the blessing that God has in store.
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:
Paul, as he frequently does, inserts a quick presentation of the gospel message as the reason and context for the power and purpose of the Christian life. The lack of understanding of the gospel by the lost is all that defeats them. Those who have come to faith in God through Jesus Christ have been saved from an eternity that is separated from God. Christians have been called out of the lost world to a holy purpose, a purpose that is separate from the world, separated out for God's honor and glory. Christians did not obtain this state from any religion, ritual, rite, or act of works. People are saved, not of their own works, but according to God's purpose of grace. Mankind cannot save himself, as much as all of the pagan world still attempts to do so. Salvation only comes from accepting it free from God.
This gift of salvation was given to man even before the world began, and as God revealed it to mankind through the patriarchs and through the prophets, it was through Jesus Christ that God's plan was completely made known. The plan had been revealed by the prophets and lived out by the patriarchs, yet the Jewish nation failed to recognize either, and missed the coming of the Messiah. However, the prophecies were fulfilled (made manifest) in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, who by his identification as the eternal Messiah, provided the way for salvation, ending the condemnation of death upon all people, reserving it only for Satan and those who reject God throughout their lives. When one fully understands God's grace and what He has done for us, one can approach faith with confidence, without fear or shame.
Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.
Each individual person is created with a unique set of abilities and interests, and upon turning to faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit empowers these to be used for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit empowers these, and on a foundation of agape love, those abilities and interests become gifts that produce the fruit of good works. Each Christian has a unique set of gifts that can be fully expressed in ministry. For Paul, those gifts empowered him for ministry as a preacher, a missionary (or apostle), and a teacher. Note that this profession by Paul is part of the gospel presentation he just stated. When one comes to saving in faith in Christ, the natural fruit of that decision is the expression of his/her gifts in ministry. As one grows in spiritual maturity, learning more of the depths of the knowledge of faith, one's desire for ministry increases. Just as God called (appointed) Paul to be a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the Gentiles, He calls all Christians to some form of ministry. Where we might consider Paul's ministry as "vocational," and may Christians are called to vocational ministry, most Christians remain in secular vocation, but are no less called to ministry, serving as the salt and light of the gospel in a perverse and dark world.
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
So, why does Paul subject himself to persecution? Why is it worth fighting the battle against the evil in this world? Why is it beneficial to continue in Bible study and Christian fellowship? Paul answers these questions in one of the most dramatic confessions of his writings. This confession has been the source of poetry and music over the years, and is the foundation for a classic Christian hymn. Paul is able to serve God because of the nature of the commitment that he (and all Christians) made to God. It is a commitment that is kept, not by our own doing, but by God Himself. Paul fully understands that God is keeping safe the profession of faith that Paul made when he gave his life to Jesus Christ. Paul knows without any doubt that when "that day" comes, when at the end of the age the judgment comes that will separate the godly from the godly, those destined for heaven from those destined for hell, that he will be heaven-bound. Paul fully believes that when one turns to Jesus Christ in faith, the Holy Spirit serves as a seal of that decision because the Holy Spirit never leaves the heart of a Christian. So, he is persuaded that when the final judgment comes, that initial commitment will still stand, held secure by God himself, not by any work of his own. This doctrine, referred to as the doctrine of eternal security, is rejected by many Christians who want to impose additional tasks on other Christians, teaching that disobedience to these tasks will result in the loss of salvation. This is simply not the teaching of scripture. Opponents of eternal security take their scriptural defenses out of context to produce a doctrine that places Christians back under the bondage of the law, fearing that they will lose their salvation, that their name will be "blot out" of the book of life.
Because of this confidence, Paul is not filled with fear or shame, but filled with joy and peace. It is this Holy-Spirit empowered joy, peace and knowledge of the truth that empowers Paul, and all other Christians, to service. Christians who attempt to serve without this power find themselves frustrated, discouraged, and burned out. However, when the work of a Christian carries the power of the Holy Spirit, he/she can withstand controversy as their faith serves to deflect the fiery darts (Eph. 6:12 ff.). The knowledge that this state of salvation is secure frees Paul and all Christians from the bondage of the law, and frees Paul and all Christians for faithful service. When the end of the age comes, the mark of the Christian will be the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. The mark of those who are lost, the mark of the beast, is the mark of Satan: the absence of the Holy Spirit from the person's heart. Their heart will not just be found guilty of sin ("6") falling short of the perfection of God, ('7") but their depravity will be total and complete, "666"), the mark of the beast.
Praise God for whom all blessings flow, that He has a plan for the salvation of all mankind, and that no person need to be found wanting at the final judgment. Christians can draw from the well of the power of the Holy Spirit to understand His purpose and overcome the fear and shame that Satan provides, and boldly step out in faith to serve as a witness to this lost world so none would be saved.
Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 14That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.
What does it mean to hold fast to these words? It would be easy to read these words and fully agree with them, but then forget the interchange as soon as the book is closed, and then go on and live like nothing was ever learned. In closing the book, we take a deep breath of peace and confidence, but an hour later when we are called upon to express our faith we fall back into fear and shame. When this happens, Satan wins. Paul deliberately warns Timothy, the church in Ephesus, and all Christians that this fault is possible, and Christians should be vigilant to avoid the error. Though Christians will still continue to stumble, still continue to respond to God's call in fear and shame, the Holy Spirit is still faithful to keep our commitment because He dwells in us.
Some have argued that some people have more of the Spirit than others. The Holy Spirit is a person of God, not a variable quantity or commodity that can be stored up. As a person of God, the Holy Spirit is a powerful resource in the life of all Christians. However, as people free from the law, Christians have the opportunity to ignore the Spirit's gentle message. Christians can make choices that stifle the work of the Spirit in their lives as they choose to go in their own direction. However, the Spirit is still there, and can still draw that Christian back to obedience. So, the question is not how much of the Holy Spirit does a Christian have ... the true question is how much of the Christian does the Holy Spirit have? If you call yourself a Christian, the question to you is how much of yourself have you given to God? How much are you keeping for yourself?
This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. 16The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: 17But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. 18The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.
As this chapter draws to a close, Paul illustrates his points by drawing from the example of three individuals, presumably members of the Ephesian church who were well-known by Timothy. We see the names of two individuals, Phygellus and Hermogenes, who turned away from Paul when they heard of his imprisonment. These two played a large part in turning the churches of Asia (those surrounding Ephesus) away from Paul's influence. Though Timothy has been in Ephesus for some time now, the strife that was in the church when he arrived still existed at the time of this writing. People who are determined in their position are not easily swayed by the truth of the gospel. One can probably assume that Phygellus and Hermogenes were sincere in their beliefs, and fully thought that they were Christians. However, their rejection of Paul and his doctrine clearly shows that the direction that they wanted to take the church was not that of Paul, and served only to divide the church and take it away from the truth.
On the other hand, another individual, Onesiphorus, did not follow the teachings of these two antagonists. Not only did Onesiphorus continue to support Paul in doctrine and in prayer, he took the effort to travel to Rome and search out where Paul was imprisoned so that he could minister to him. We see between the two examples the stark contrast between those in the church who follow their own leadership and those who follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Where the first two individuals demonstrate hatred and rejection, the latter demonstrates love and ministry. Which of these models confident Christian ministry?
As Christians continue to mature in the faith and find opportunities for ministry, they have many reasons to be confident in their calling to Christian service, and their ability to honor that call. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers, so there is no reason for a fear of failure. Actually, without the Holy Spirit, such failure is expected. When this is true, God is glorified in success rather than the Christian who experiences it. Furthermore, there is no reason to be ashamed of the gospel, there is no reason to be ashamed of personal faith when one recognizes that that shame is held in regard to those who are ignorant of the truth, people who would embrace faith if they simply understood. Finally, Paul teaches that Christians are free from the bondage to works that maintain salvation because the Holy Spirit serves as the seal of the commitment for salvation rather than any set of human works. Consequently, Christians can confidently stand before God and praise Him, and thank Him for what he has done.