2 Timothy: Chapter 1May 4, 2010
The pressure of a death sentence emerges from every line of 2 Timothy, starting from the very introduction.
2Ti 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2Ti 1:2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul reminded himself as well as Timothy of the promise of a life after this life. Paul’s ministry was part of God’s plan, and his imprisonment was no less a part of the plan. His martyrdom also was in God’s plan from the beginning of time. Everything was happening for a reason.
2Ti 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
2Ti 1:4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
Paul was confident in that next life. He had served wholeheartedly for around twenty years, at great personal sacrifice. This final sacrifice would just be the natural conclusion of a life spent for God. But as the time approached, he wanted to see the one who was closest and dearest to him. History does not tell us whether that happy reunion ever occurred.
2Ti 1:5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
2Ti 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
2Ti 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Paul didn’t waste time getting to the point of the letter. His message to Timothy was for him to be faithful. He encouraged Timothy for his sincere faith, and reminded him of the faith of his mother and of his grandmother (Sadly, there is nothing encouraging to say about the men in his family.) He urged him to be a bold prophet of the Lord, through the power of the Spirit he had received.
I think modern day preachers have been unfair to Timothy on this point. From what we see Paul urging Timothy in other places, he apparently was not timid by nature. Does this seem like instruction that needs to be given to a timid preacher?
1Ti 5:1a Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.
2Ti 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
2Ti 2:25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct…
Paul had sent Timothy into some pretty intimidating situations during his second (Timothy’s first) missionary journey. Timothy was no wimp. So, what was the purpose of this message about timidity, right at the beginning of the letter, and recurring throughout?
Let’s set the context of the letter. What was going on in Rome at the time?
In 64 AD, a great fire occured in Rome. Nero, seeking to divert responsibility from himself, blamed the on Christians. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, in his Annals:
Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.” In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man.
In the aftermath of the fire, we find Paul in prison in Rome, and some pretty well-known Christians were running to hide in the tall grass. We learn from verse 15 that the entire province of Asia had abandoned Paul, including two men named Phygelus and Hermogenes. (We know nothing more about these two than that they apparently had played a significant role in Paul’s ministries, and they had abandoned him. What a shame to be known for something like that!) And in 2 Tim 4:10, we learn that Demas, Crescens, and Titus had abandoned the apostle. It seems that nobody wanted to be too close to someone like Paul at a time when Christians were being fed to animals, nailed to crosses, and burned at the stake. Who could blame them?
Paul hoped for better things from Timothy. Paul urged the still-young evangelist to be faithful. But what would that mean?
2Ti 1:8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,
2Ti 1:9a who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
Paul challenged Timothy not to be ashamed to testify about the Lord. Considering the kind of court in which Paul would soon be giving his testimony, Paul’s words must have cut right to the heart of Timothy. And he challenged him not only to testify boldly about the Lord, but to be loyal to Paul as well. He urged Timothy join him in suffering for Christ. Being faithful meant being passionately loyal, even at the risk of his own life. That kind of faithfulness would only be possible by the power of God. After all, this was all according to God’s purpose and grace.
2Ti 1:9b This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
2Ti 1:10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
2Ti 1:11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
2Ti 1:12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
Again Paul reminded Timothy, and himself, that Christ had overcome death, and had promised immortality to his followers. So just as Paul was not ashamed, he urged Timothy not to abandon him out of fear. God will keep his promise.
2Ti 1:13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
2Ti 1:14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Paul did not merely want Timothy to be loyal to him. More important was for Timothy to continue to preach the truth boldly. Under persecution from the Roman government, Timothy nonetheless must continue to preach about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He must not let the message be suppressed out of fear.
Not everyone had been so bold.
2Ti 1:15 You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
But there were also examples of faithfulness:
2Ti 1:16 May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.
2Ti 1:17 On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.
2Ti 1:18 May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.
In spite of personal risk, Onesiphorus had diligently sought out Paul in prison. Paul hoped that Timothy would do likewise.
I wonder how modern American Christians would have fared under similar pressures. And as I hear preachers talking about “timid Timothy” I wonder who the real timid ones are.
Editing to add: In case anyone may think there is no risk of preachers going to prison for their faith in Western countries today, check out this news article.