2 Timothy 1:1 & 2 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Why should I choose to preach on Paul’s second letter to Timothy? Or, more to the point, why should I ask you to listen to the message of this book for the next six months or so? I believe it’s a rather obvious choice. In this epistle we find an old preacher writing to a young preacher with all the experiences that the older brother has known in his life and now he shares with the young man his assessment of the situation they’re both facing. He expresses his encouragements and his exhortations to Timothy about the future. I chose this letter because I love the apostle Paul and his writings. I chose it because it’s not too long, though I wouldn’t be surprised not to complete preaching through it. I thought it would be helpful for all of us to think about the truths of this letter once again. It is quite different from the letter to the Romans. I would guess that the most loved letters in the New Testament were both written by Paul, one to the church at Philippi and the other this one, his second letter to Timothy. They are both full of doctrine but also full of the heart and affections of the apostle. We discover Paul the believer and disciple saved by grace in this letter to Timothy. I have always loved this epistle.
- AN INTRODUCTORY WORD ABOUT THIS LETTER.
In this second letter to Timothy there’s a special pathos because it’s the last letter Paul wrote. Imagine the interest and the price asked in purchasing the last letter King Charles I wrote the night before he was executed, or the final letter Napoleon wrote from St. Helena. They would be priceless documents. Or consider how you would value the last letter your late husband wrote to you expressing his thanks to God that he had met you and that you had agreed to marry him, and what happy years you’d been given together. How precious are the last words of our loved ones! So in this letter we find the Christian hope expressed in a wonderfully personal way: “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
So here we’re reading the final words of a man who knows that he is on the borders of eternity. Some people think that Paul was executed within weeks of writing II Timothy. He knows the end is near; he has reached the final curtain; his work is done. Never again will he preach to great crowds. Never again will he stand on the Acropolis in Athens and face the philosophers on Mars Hill. Never again will he preach in Jerusalem. Never again will he visit the churches of Asia Minor. Never again will he sail the high seas. Never again will he preach on the streets of Corinth. Those days are gone forever. Life is now resolving itself into a few simple tasks, making sure the message lives on after he is gone.
Added pathos comes from the fact that when Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison, actually in chains, in Rome. In verse16 see how Paul specifically mentions his chains. That’s not a metaphor or a symbol; it’s a statement of his incarceration in Rome. Although the precise details are hard to pin down, the chronology goes something like this. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul is under house arrest in Rome but he’s able to receive guests and to preach to them. There are those two words at the end of the book of Acts in one translation that describe his situation. They say this about his ministry, “with all openness, unhindered”; in other words no soldiers were on guard at the door of the house where he was staying stopping anyone going with questions or for counseling or under conviction to Paul. He had real liberty to teach and evangelize and defend the faith at this time of house arrest, and Rosario Butterfield (in her second fine book about her pilgrimage into stronger and wiser Christian faith) has given that autobiography that very title Openness Unhindered. I shall be open with you all in bringing to bear on your minds and consciences and affections the truths of this little letter. I will not be hindered by frowns of disapproval but I will be encouraged by smiles of approval because I am weak . . .
So initially Paul had freedom, even, it appears, that in a while Paul was released and he resumed his itinerant ministry, as it was with John Bunyan in Bedford, but that period did not last long for either man. He was rearrested (perhaps at Troas), charged with a crime (Ray Prichard suggests Paul could have been accused of treason for asserting the supreme lordship of Christ, with that doctrine being twisted to make an attack on the absolute power of the Emperor), and so he was sent to Rome for trial. This is where we meet him in this letter, in prison, in chains (v.16), perhaps chained to a Roman soldier, and that’s his condition as he writes this letter and I suppose he gave it to Luke to deliver to Timothy. The date of composition is the mid sixties, in other words, about thirty-five years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was a time when the fullest reflection and flowering of Christian truth had occurred.
Here is another ‘fast fact’ about the context of this letter (as Ray Prichard designates them). He says, “Historical background is important at this point. For the first 25 years or so after the birth of the Christian movement at Pentecost, the church spread rapidly across the Roman Empire. Although there were pockets of resistance and occasional persecution, the church by and large found a warm reception in many places. That all changed in A.D. 64 when Nero burned Rome and blamed it on the Christians. They were notable enough and large enough and evangelistic enough and preachy enough and different enough to be targeted as scapegoats to cover Nero’s folly. This ushered in a wave of general persecution across the empire. Suddenly being a Christian became a dangerous and sometimes deadly affair. It was a sifting time, and the big theology of Paul’s letters and the completion of the four gospels were now available to give backbone to the fledgling church. There were stony-ground hearers and they drifted into the shadows as Jesus warned. Lots of ‘so-called Christians’ no longer wished to be “so-called.” It was easier and safer not to get involved with Jesus or his followers. In addition, false teachers had crept into positions of influence in local churches as Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus. These heretics claimed to follow Christ but denied the major tenets of the Christian faith. And a surprising number of believers were taken in by their false teaching. From his prison cell, Paul heard of all these ominous developments and he addresses them particularly in the third and fourth chapters, with warnings about perilous times in the last days, and reaffirmations about the central truths of the gospel.”
Paul in fact was virtually abandoned in Rome. The Christians were being thrown to the lions and were meeting secretly. It was a dangerous thing to be known as a disciple of Paul and so few people visited him. See later on in this chapter Paul writes, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me” (vv. 15-17). He could not get directions from any believer in Rome telling him in what prison Paul was locked up. They were not helpful. It was too dangerous to know too much about the number one Christian in the world. Onesiphorus had to search going from one jail to another until he found the apostle (probably in the Mammertine) prison in a damp underground cell with a single hole in the ceiling for light and air. Shivering, the old man asks Timothy to bring him his warm cloak that he left in Troas, and, lacking in mental stimulation from the proximity of the soldiers he’s chained to, he also asks Timothy to bring some of his books for him to read (4:13). “Only Luke is with me,” (4:11) he says. But for Paul and for every Christian whatever the pressures it is always too soon to quit. Let us look at this man . . .
- PAUL AN APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST BY THE WILL OF GOD.
Here we are confronted with one of the greatest intellects the world has ever seen, whose influence on human history, education, philosophy, medical care, family life, morals, the Christian church, has been immeasurable. Letters of his like this one have transformed the lives of millions and millions of people, even today hundreds of people all over the world as I’m speaking to you are being converted to the Christian faith by the writings of Paul. He is a colossus. The former Hindu who worked with Keith Underhill for many years, Sukesh Pabari, was converted, he told me himself, as he read Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Imagine Paul coming to your door and he rings the bell and when you answer it this little man stands there and he introduces himself, “Excuse me for bothering you. My name is Paul.” You wouldn’t have looked twice at him if you passed him in the street. His enemies said about him that his bodily presence was weak, and his speech was contemptible. He had no natural eloquence as Peter had. Anyone less like the actor Brian Blessed you could hardly imagine. Paul was not larger than life, not loud, not bombastic, not intense. He spoke tenderly and un-cleverly. He knew his own heart. He was straight with people. On that doorstep you soon felt you were meeting a very loving man. He had faith and hope, indeed he did, but the greatest grace he possessed was love.
Then he spoke to you and he told you that he had been sent to you by God! “Oh!” He was saying that it was not just his decision to come to you and speak with you, but that the one true and living God had commissioned him to make contact with you. The word ‘apostle’ means a ‘sent one’, ‘one who has been sent.’ It would have been more than enough – utterly mind blowing in fact – if this extraordinary man had come to you on his own initiative, sought you out and was speaking personally to you, but now you discover that the Son of God, the Messiah Jesus, had actually sent Paul to speak to you, that behind the apostle speaking to you is the figure of the Son of God sent by him to address you. Paul says here that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” So this letter to Timothy did not come from an older man, or a mere friend, or an experienced pastor. It came from an apostle, a plenipotentiary of our Lord. That is why we are studying it. God himself speaks to us in this letter like all the letters of Scripture.
You understand that he was an apostle not by personal choice but by the will of God. When Paul was a schoolboy and the children were asked by their teacher what they wanted to be when they grew up, then one said, “a soldier,” and another said, “a fisherman,” and another said, “a camel driver,” but Paul didn’t say, “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” Paul didn’t make that choice by his will. No one could choose that as a career. To be an apostle of Christ Jesus you needed to be a witness of the risen resurrected Son of God, and that is exactly what happened on the road to Damascus and a couple of days later in Damascus itself. Jehovah Jesus came and confronted Paul. But you also needed to be commissioned by Jesus. He needed to show himself alive and spectacularly glorious, yes but then he needed to personally appoint you to this office. That is what he’d done for Paul. He had said to him on the Damascus Road, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God,” (Acts 26:16 & 17). That is what had to happen for Paul to become an apostle, first a sight of the risen Christ Jesus and then a divine commission given to him to be his servant and witness. That made him one sent by the Lord, an apostle.
I think it is very important to grasp the relationship between Paul and Jesus that it is a relationship of love. The Son of God had loved Paul before the foundation of the world, and he continued to love him through his incarnate life and because he loved Paul he set his face to Jerusalem and had given himself for Paul dying in the apostle’s place, making sacrifice for his sins, reconciling God to him by his death. And Paul loved Jesus too in return. That was the secret of Paul’s wonderful character, why he was so patient, and kind, not jealous, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs you’d done, never delighting in evil but rejoicing in the truth, always protecting you, always trusting, always hoping and persevering. It was his love for Christ that made him live like that; he’d never wish to grieve Jesus by behaving in a way that Jesus found unacceptable. They were bound together in love, Jesus and Paul. So you could always trust anything Paul said. It always had the stamp of Jesus Christ on it. The Saviour said, “If they hear you, Paul, then they are hearing me, but if they reject you, Paul, then they’re rejecting me.” So when we study this letter we are studying what the Lord Jesus is saying to us, just as much as we are also studying the thinking of Paul. You cannot put a sheet of Indian paper between the theology of Paul and the theology of Christ because every thought of Paul was chained to Jesus Christ without exception.
So Paul had the authority and insight to instruct Timothy as to how he was to live, how he was to evangelize and pastor, what he was to teach the people, what errors he was to avoid, what truths he was to major in, and though Timothy knows all this already and believes it with all his heart, Paul writes of his apostleship willed by God in the opening sentence for those people to hear who were leaders in Timothy’s congregation and for all the people in the church who would heard these words of Paul read out to them. Timothy taught them as he did because he was under the authority of Paul, the sent one of Jesus Christ, who holds this office by the will of God. For Timothy Paul could say no wrong, and for Paul Christ could say nothing wrong. Then don’t mess with Paul because then you are messing with God your Judge, the one who would become your Saviour but that is on his terms, not on yours, and his terms are “Learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart.” We are not naturally meek. We have our own ideas of what God is like and we will tell others about them at the drop of a hat without considering the New Testament and how you can please God, and usually we are up the creek in most of our religious opinions, but Jesus Christ says, “Learn of me and learn from my apostles. They are the ones who will tell you how to become a Christian and what being a Christian is all about.” There is no real Christianity without learning from Jesus and his apostles and doing what they do. That is why we are studying the second letter of Paul to Timothy. It is in order to become genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. In writing this letter Paul saw the way he could help every Christian.
- PAUL’S APOSTOLIC MISSION WAS FOR THIS END, TO BRING TO THE WORLD THE PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS.
There is this tight phrase in very first verse, that Paul had become an apostle, “according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (v.1). Paul is saying something like this; “I was sent by God as the apostle to bring the message of Christianity especially to the Gentiles principally for this reason, that once long ago, 2000 years before I was born, God made a covenant promise to Abraham that the time would come when all the nations of the world would be blessed by Abraham’s Seed Christ the Messiah. People in Wales in 4000 years’ time would be singing, ‘The God of Abraham praise.’ Distant Gentiles, millions of them, would have life and not death, eternal life and not eternal death. God once made a solemn promise of this when he entered into the covenant of grace with Abraham saying that ‘many favoured Gentiles would certainly have life.’”
Do you remember the ceremony God initiated at the inauguration of this covenant? He made Abraham sacrifice several animals, dismember their bodies, and lay down their carcasses in two wide parallel lines on a mountain-side. Abraham had to chase away the vultures that were drawn there by the sight of that dead meat. Then the Lord brought a deep coma-like paralysis upon Abraham so that the old patriarch could see everything and hear everything but he’d become helpless and immobile. Then Jehovah himself came to that mountain but he came in the form of a mobile furnace blazing like a consuming fire, and it moved suspended in the air, up and down between those avenues of sacrifices. God was saying, “If I fail to keep my word, and fail to provide life and mercy and salvation for the Gentiles, if multitudes like the sands on the sea-shore are not brought from death to life, then let that judgment that has fallen upon those animals fall on me. Let me be cursed in death.” Abraham did nothing. Abraham could do nothing but simply spectate this covenant initiation in awe. Paul got caught up into that covenantal promise when God said to him on the Damascus road, “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). The Lord himself spoke those words to Paul after the Damascus road and made that promise of a life-giving ministry for Gentiles who believed in Jesus and it was powerfully fulfilled. They would receive life, that supernatural life belonging to God and Christ, the life of heaven which all of us who are joined to Jesus Christ already have begun to experience now, but are going to receive measurelessly in the new heavens and earth. We are now alive to God in Christ Jesus. We now walk in newness of life. We do not perish but have everlasting life, and this is through being joined to Jesus Christ our Lord. Then what richness of eternal life from heaven lies before us.
It all goes back to the covenant of grace with Abraham. That is why Paul himself had been saved out of his spiritual blindness; that is why he had been brought into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. That is why Paul had been given the privilege of telling the world about it. Paul lived by the power of God’s promise of God. All his life, even in chains now in this dungeon he was standing on the promises of God. Now, at the end of his life, with unbelief attacking the churches, in prison, in that cold dark cell, Paul could write with authority to Timothy – and all of us who read this word believingly today. Paul writes with confidence because he believes in the sovereignty of God’s will, in the graciousness of God’s providence, and in the certainty of his covenant promises to Abraham being fulfilled.
Men and women, you know from your own experience, that we Christians draw strength in our trials from being reminded of God’s covenant and of God’s providence, in other words, what he has promised and how he deals with us every passing moment. We’ve known the love of God in our lives and we can’t doubt it. Every Christian faces the trials of life with the same kind of confidence that God gave Paul. We can say to one another, “I help you with the help that I’ve had from God.” You understand that it’s not self-confidence; it’s confidence in the Lord, and confidence in his will, and confidence in his ways, and confidence in the goodness of his promises. That assurance makes us strong. “He has said that he will work all things together for my good and I am greatly strengthened remembering that truth.” He came promising to give me life and to have it abundantly. Here it is – “the promise of life.”
You can live the Christian life only by the power that Christ supplies day by day. This promised life from heaven is “in Christ Jesus” – that’s what our text says in this compressed phrase. In other words we get it through being joined to him, being united to Jesus Christ. Let me use this illustration. Think of the difference between your house being dependent on a windmill for its power and being dependent on the national grid. There are days when the wind blows and blows, and then the fridge and the cooker and the lights all work. But there are days when the wind drops and you are in the doldrums for days and the fridge switches off and there is no power in the house at all. But if you are on the national grid there is always power coming in. The Christian is joined to Jesus Christ always. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” says every Christian. It is not enough to be living a Christian life when you feel great, when you feel the wind in your sails. When there is no wind and you are virtually on the floor feeling powerless then you must still love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself. You can only do it in Christ, plugged into Christ, dependent on him.
The apostle Paul is telling us in this phrase that he could live and minister in confidence because he believed and knew God’s will and God’s covenant promise that eternal life would come to every single Gentile believer – however strong his faith, as long as his faith was focused in the Lamb of God who once and for all had taken away the sin of the world. Jesus has come that we Gentile believers might have life and have it more abundantly.
- TIMOTHY WAS THE BLESSED RECIPIENT OF THIS LETTER.
“To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (v.2). Timothy represents the up and coming generation of Christian preacher-pastors, and that in itself would give Paul strong affection for him. I understand that. I love free grace preachers. But it is as a person that Paul loved Timothy, not because of his office as a minister. He loved him and he loved his family. He knew Timothy’s biography, his upbringing, quite intimately. His mother was named Eunice and he even knows the name of his grandmother, Lois. There are very, very few of the ministers I know whose grandmother’s name I also know. I can only think of one obvious person.
Timothy was half Gentile and half Jewish. His father was a Greek. He’d been raised in the pagan – non-Jewish – town of Lystra where Paul had been stoned so severely that the crowd left his body thinking they’d finished him off. Timothy was probably converted under Paul’s ministry. We know he was ordained with Paul and the other elders laying hands on him. He must have been still a young man, that is, in his thirties, because Paul tells him to flee youthful passions (2:22). He was also a little timid because Paul has to remind him that God has not given us a spirit of fear (1:7). He was also a man of a rather fragile constitution who needed to be urged to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his frequent ailments. Timothy was not a man of tireless energy – like some of my friends. Even thinking of what they achieve makes me tired! He was no C.T.Studd, or William Carey, or David Livingstone or even a Keith Underhill.
Paul knew him well and he dearly loved Timothy – see how affectionate he is in these words, “my dear son” he says. What an encouragement it must have been to Timothy to be greeted in that way. The Greek word here is agape, ‘my beloved son.’ We see Paul being quite uninhibited and spontaneous in this expression of his affection, speaking of his love for this young man, his son in the faith. I would love to see the evangelical church today characterized by that spirit. The apostle was never slow to speak of or show his love for friends, or for his fellow Jews, or for all the members of a congregation such as the one in Rome. You do realise don’t you, that this manifest affection is not some optional grace in the Christian life, that it is not just a matter of personality, that one Christian finds it hard to show his love and that that is quite acceptable? No it is not. The gospel changes our hearts. It makes those who are naturally cool-hearted become warmly affectionate people – I don’t mean splashy and demonstrative. That is quite different from being loving. It makes those hurt by bad relationships able to show a true holy love for people, and accept the love of others in return. It heals the abused so that they live totally normal loving lives in good marriages for 40 or 50 years. This love must come from the King of love reigning in our hearts and the fruit of the Spirit showing itself in our relationships, loving “one another with pure hearts fervently.” That biblical exhortation is given to the whole church. No one in the congregation is exempt from it.
This expression of Paul’s love for Timothy that we read in this verse – and often elsewhere in the New Testament – is of incalculable value for us. There are Christians who feel they cannot handle a loving relationship without falling into some sin or other. There are Christians who feel they’d give themselves away if they expressed their affection to another church member. Inwardly they love and admire tremendously another Christian, but they dare not and cannot express it. I think that birthday cards and Christmas cards are a natural and sweet way of saying to another that he or she is loved by us. It is proper and sweet and easy.
To love anyone at all is to make yourself vulnerable. Love anyone and your heart may well be hurt, even broken, or at least tried and tested. If you want to be sure of always being in control, don’t love someone. If you want to keep intact give your heart to no one and nothing. Lock it up in a room the key into which you alone have a copy. Keep it there in the dark, airless place of your selfishness, and in that room, dead quiet, safe, motionless, it will stay. It won’t be broken. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable and stillborn. You will be the perennial Mr. Cool and that room will be the one place that you feel safe, when you’re all alone, safe from the dangers of loving. I am trying to say this that there is suffering in all real love. How heart-broken must Timothy have been when Paul was brutally killed, but he would never say in his grief that it would have been better for him not to have known Paul. He had known a loving friendship with Paul and been loved in return. When you accept a love, and then offer that love to God, and throw away your defenses then in loving another you find more of yourself. It is a broken heart that God does not despise and through loving other Christians you find a new rich dimension to your life but also a brokenness that is a sweet offering to God. I’m asking you whether you find the cost of loving someone, as Paul loved Timothy, a price too high to pay? Then on what are you going to focus your affections? God is love. You are made in the image of God. You are born to love. You are also a child of God with access to the indwelling Saviour. Your model for living is Calvary and Jesus desperately in love with his people, dying for them, experiencing horrendous pain for them, suffering the loss of his Father for them. The Christ of Golgotha helps you to love others. When Paul loved Timothy he showed that he was a true disciple of the Lord.
Paul loved him and that would have made Timothy feel so unworthy and inadequate. “Paul doesn’t know me,” he must have often thought. “If he knew me he wouldn’t love me like he does. And how can I love him – or anyone – as he does?” Paul has the answer to that dilemma. He tells us. I tell you it. He says to Timothy, “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (v.2). May all this be yours! Not grace alone, and not the divine mercy alone, and not peace, but all three graces may they come to you from God the Father and from Jesus Christ our Lord. In other words may God see you day by day, the pressures you are under, the needs you have, the coldness you feel in your own heart and your need to be guided, and God is all sufficient to help you, exceeding abundantly above all you ask or feel.
His answer is his grace, his omnipotence redeeming and transforming you, never dealing with you as you deserve, but determined to transform you and make you like his Son, grace that is greater than all your sins. That grace changed Paul from a hating bigoted persecutor to a loving man and that grace can change you. God’s answer is more, it is his mercy for every sin, every cold day, every repeated fall into familiar sins, every defiance or boredom with God, every disobedience – God is merciful. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, especially those sins that seem to us like scarlet, horrible unspeakable sins. Jehovah shows mercy to such sins. And more than that, peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. The wrath of a sin-hating god with you can have nothing to do. Being justified by faith you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has reconciled a holy God to us and made it possible for him to become our Father and help us – like loving fathers do help their children – making us new people, kind and loving and good. There is one way that such a glorious change can take place. It is through the grace, mercy and peace of God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, coming to us and changing us from the inside. Ask God to give you such grace, mercy and peace. He gives great gifts to everyone who feels how poor they are and believes that if they ask him for such help he will not say to us, “Nay!”
25th October 2015 GEOFF THOMAS