This is the last recorded letter that came from the apostle Paul. It was written from a Roman dungeon, which was devoid of every trace of comfort. From it, Paul was to go forth to his martyrdom. Its value and pathos are, therefore, tremendous indeed.
In both his letters to Timothy he writes as an apostle of Christ Jesus, called and appointed by Him as such on the Damascus road; see Acts 26. 16. He was not self-appointed. His apostleship was by the commandment and conforming to the wish of God our Saviour, and Christ Jesus our hope; cf. 1 Tim. 1. 1; 2 Tim. 1. 1. Both God and Christ Jesus are conjoined., in recognition of their essential equality. As the Messiah was the “hope" of the nation of Israel, so now Paul recognizes Him to be the hope of mankind, and his great work was to proclaim the promise that God would give eternal life to all who believe; see e.g., Rom. 6. 23.
"In Christ Jesus” is a key phrase of this letter; see 1. 13; 2. 1,10; 3. 12, 15. Timothy was no spurious convert. He was a “true (genuine) child in the faith”, 1 Tim. 1. 2 r.v., indeed a “beloved child”, 2 Tim. 1. 2 R.v. As always there were good and bad fish caught; wheat and tares grew together; but the genuineness of Timothy had been proven, and this endeared this “beloved child” to his spiritual father.
We have earlier suggested that this chapter might be labelled with the words “Be courageous”, and well we may. For in verse 12 Paul says “I am not ashamed”; in verse 16, referring to Onesiphorus, he says that he “was not ashamed”, and in verse 8 he enjoins Timothy not to be ashamed. One can listen to such exhortations when they come from a man who mani-festly is suffering because of his unabashed boldness in the gospel.
In verses 9-11 Paul sets out the work wrought by the gospel: God “saved us”, which was itself consequential upon His calling us with a holy calling, having had its roots in His eternal sovereign purpose which sprang from His sovereign grace. Thus he traces things back to their ultimate source: grace issuing in a purpose, resulting in a call, and that call resulting in salvation. That purpose and grace were given to us in the eternal past, and therefore could have had nothing whatsoever to do with “our works”. God acted altogether independently of any thought of merit in the objects of His purpose.
These abstract truths became manifest in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The “appearing (or epiphany) of our Saviour Christ Jesus” broke in upon man’s darkness and showed God now to be operative in effecting His eternal designs. Christ Jesus put death out of action, for He “death by dying slew”, Heb. 2. 14, and brought life and incorruptibility to light through the gospel. He Himself was raised from the dead in the power of an endless life, not having seen any corruption when in death. He was raised with a body of glory.
Of this Paul was appointed a “herald” (having to do with the message), v. n R.v. marg., and a “teacher’ (having to do with the persons whom he addressed). He uses the emphatic pronoun “I" in this verse, thus magnifying the grace of God that should place such an one as he had been into such an honourable position.
Because of his fulfilling his commission, he was at the time of writing this letter suffering persecution and imprisonment, and facing martyrdom. False accusations may have been lodged against him charging him with incendiarism or worse, but the real cause of his trouble was his loyalty to Christ and the gospel.
Nevertheless he was not ashamed. For he had an unfailing Saviour3 and of Him he could say, “I know whom I have believed”. His past experience of the faithfulness of His Lord assured him that He would not at this time fail him, however extreme his case might be.
Not that Paul was pre-occupied with himself or his own safety. He was, it would seem, pre-occupied with “the deposit*’, v. 14 R.v. marg., that body of truth which he had committed to Timothy, 1 Tim. 6.20, and which he again enjoins Timothy to guard, v. 14. No servant of God is indispensable. His work will continue even if His workman is removed. He is able to guard that deposit unto “that day".
The day of the Lord Jesus was constantly before Paul as his many references to it show, a day when the Lord Jesus and His gospel would be shown to be ultimately triumphant despite all the oppositions that it might encounter.
The R.v. in its text agrees with the a.v. and reads “that which I have committed unto him”. The marginal reading of the r.v. is “that which he hath committed unto me” and seems to be more in line with the context. Surely we may rightly say that there was a mutual transaction on the Damascus road, when Saul of Tarsus handed himself over unreservedly to the Saviour, and when that same Saviour appointed him as the official trustee of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In neither case would that Saviour fail either him or his trust.
Onesiphorus was an outstanding example of loyalty to the apostle despite the defections of others such as Phygellus and Hermogenes who, with all that were in Asia, had turned away from Paul. Nothing is known of these two persons, or of the cause of the defection in verse 15. Maybe those involved could not find courage to stand openly with this notable prisoner at that time. But Onesiphorus, who had oftentimes refreshed him, had made it his business when in Rome to search out this prisoner. Of course he would not have asked for “the apostle Paul" but for “Prisoner Number so and so”, and despite several rebuffs from the officials he did not give up his quest till he had found and contacted Paul. He was not ashamed of his chain nor to be identified with such an one. Now it would appear that he had passed away by death. Paul expresses a wish for mercy to be given to his house. And he expresses a wish that Onesiphorus will also find mercy in “that day”, for any rewards for faithfulness here will but magnify the mercy that takes knowledge of such things done by those who, but for the grace of God Himself, would have acted altogether otherwise. We must not construe verse 18 as if the eternal salvation of Onesiphorus were in doubt, nor that this verse authorizes prayers for the dead.
There are three couplets in this Epistle of great significance: Phygellus and Hermogenes are those who abandon the truth; Hymenaeus and Philetus, 2.17, corrupt the truth; and Jannes and Jambres, 3. 8, resist the truth.
Timothy. Having regard to the fact that Paul was not ashamed and that Onesiphorus was not ashamed, Timothy indeed should not be ashamed. He was the subject of Paul’s incessant prayers; he longed to see him, either by release and his being able to revisit Ephesus or by Timothy coming to Rome: the latter would be more likely as release seemed impossible. Paul refers to his having served God with a pure conscience from his forefathers, and he now recollects the forebears of Timothy, his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, both of whom were godfearing women and had taught young Timothy accordingly. They had an unfeigned faith in God; theirs was no hypocritical belief as was that of Simon Magus. The “faith" referred to in verse 5 is evidently the Christian faith; Acts 16. 1 would lead one to believe that Timothy’s mother was in the Christian faith before Timothy. Paul recalled the tears of Timothy when he was forcibly separated from him and had been left alone in such a place as idolatrous and fanatical Ephesus. He urged him to rekindle the gift of God which was in him, which gift had been imparted by the laying on of Paul’s hands. Paul was not the donor of the gift; it was the “gift of God”, some special charisma which he must not allow to lie unused or to die within him. He may indeed feel himself to be inadequate for the task, but God had not given him a spirit of cowardice but of power, and love and discipline. Any natural timidity must be overcome by faith. He must not be ashamed either of the testimony of the Lord or of Paul His prisoner. Paul did not regard himself as the prisoner of Nero, Timothy must endure hardship with the gospel not in his own strength but according to the power of God. He must hold fast the pattern of sound (health-giving) words which he had heard from Paul. This he must do in. faith (i.e., personal conviction of their truth), and love (bearing in mind that Christian doctrine was designed to disseminate the knowledge of God’s love to man and to promote it in man). The good deposit (that is, the truth committed to Timothy which is, veritably, a beautiful [good] thing) he must guard from the enemy’s onslaughts, not in his own strength, physical or mental, but by the Holy Spirit which had been given both to him and to Paul.