By Charles R Erdman
The Second Epistle written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy is the most personal of the Pastoral Epistles. Possibly no other of the New Testament letters makes so tender and so pathetic an appeal. Every paragraph is suffused with emotion, every sentence throbs with the pulse beats of a human heart. Paul, the dauntless missionary hero, the founder of the Church in Asia Minor and in Europe, is now an aged prisoner in Rome, suffering, deserted, despised, condemned, and soon to be led forth to a cruel death. In his previous captivity he had been allowed to dwell in his own hired house, to converse freely with his friends, and to direct his wide missionary work; now he is chained in a dark dungeon, he is distressed with the cold, he is absolutely alone save for one faithful friend, Luke, "the beloved physician," to whom, probably, he is dictating this moving message of farewell.
Yet in another sense Paul is not alone. To the eye of imagination his prison cell is crowded with a throng of saints and heroes and sufferers of all the ages down to the present day. The number is almost countless of those who know what it is to suffer imprisonment, or to be racked with pain, or to be discouraged and lonely and shadowed by the approach of death; but their faces grow bright with cheer and their hearts bound with new hope and their fears are dissolved as they hear the apostle speaking, not to Luke alone but to all who are in distress and who in the darkness put their trust in Christ; and the gloom disappears and the scene is flooded with glory as Paul utters his triumphant words: "I know him whom I have believed. . . . I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day. . . . The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom."
The immediate purpose of the letter is to summon to his side Timothy, his beloved friend and the companion of his long missionary journeys. In the darkness and dreariness of his imprisonment, Paul not unnaturally longed for the comforting fellowship of one who was as dear to him as his own soul, his beloved, and faithful child in the Lord, one who so long had served with him as a son with a father.
For Timothy, as well as for Paul, these are times of trouble and testing, of deep anxiety, even of discouragement and of fear. He has been appointed by Paul as the superintending pastor of the great 'mission at Ephesus. By nature he is timid and sensitive, and he is painfully conscious that he is unequal to the difficult work to which he has been sent. The days are growing even darker; not only are there false teachers within the Church who are seeking to corrupt its doctrine, but from without, persecutors and bitter enemies are threatening the very existence of the infant society. The cruelties of Nero are at their height. The heartless emperor has set fire to Rome and has turned the popular suspicion and anger against the Christians who are everywhere spoken against, suspected, hated, and oppressed. At such a time we can imagine how Timothy would rejoice if he could have the presence and counsel and encouragement of Paul; but on the contrary he learns that the friend he adores has been seized by enemies and imprisoned and is about to die.
However, we may imagine what comfort and new strength come to Timothy as he reads the promises and the affectionate exhortations of this little letter. We can also realize in part how far this letter now has come and to how many pastors distressed by distracting cares, to how many missionaries surrounded by unsympathetic multitudes and sinking beneath crushing burdens, to how many other faithful Christians torn by anxiety for the welfare of their work, have these chapters come to dispel the clouds, to strengthen faith, to stimulate zeal, to give peace and confidence in hours of trial and even in the face of death. To them, also, as well as to Timothy, comes the exhortation to suffer hardship as good soldiers of Christ and the promise that " if we endure, we shall also reign with him."
However, as we read this letter, it becomes evident that Paul is not concerned for himself alone, nor yet for Timothy, his beloved friend, but for the Christian Church which is so dear to their hearts and for which Paul was ready to pour out his life. The apostle feels deep anxiety for its pure doctrine and for its consistent life, and therefore as he writes he urges Timothy to perfect its organization and to commit its beliefs "to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also," and this with a view to withstanding the influences of false teachers whose corrupt doctrines are resulting in unholy lives and are indicating that for the Church even more grievous times are to come.
Therefore, to all who love the Church of Christ, the message of this epistle will be precious, for it contains the last will and testament of the apostle; it conveys his farewell warning and advice. It indicates the need of appointing, as official witnesses, men who proclaim a pure gospel, in order that consistent character may be developed and that the coming and Kingdom of Christ may be hastened. "The substance of the epistle is just this: Be not ashamed-; be brave, be faithful to the truth as I have been. Oppose the false teachers. Come to me, for I am alone and soon to die." The exhortations are at once too informal, too diverse, and too fervent to admit of any rigid classification, but the following outline may aid somewhat in appreciating the message of this the last letter which has come from the Apostle Paul:
I. INTRODUCTION. II Tim. 1: 1-5
A. SALUTATION. Ch. 1:1,2
Thus for the last time Paul addresses his dear young friend, Timothy; thus he begins that matchless farewell which has cheered countless readers in all ages of the Christian Church.
To us of the present day, and in the Western world, there may seem to be something of formality and of coldness in a greeting which the writer begins with the mention of his own name. We remember, however, that this was as fixed a custom in the days of Paul as it is for us to place signatures at the close of our letters. No name of more thrilling significance could have been written. Its mere mention summons before us vividly one of the most striking personalities in the history of the world, a master mind, a soul of almost infinite capacity for joy and grief, for hope and pain, for friendship and for faith.
So well do we know him, so familiar are we with the fact that he is now opening his last message, that we instinctively feel he is here calling us to listen to his words.
There is something official in the title by which he describes himself: "Paul, an apostle"; he intends to convey an intimation of authority; he is about to write a pastoral epistle not a personal note, but a letter to a minister who is in charge of an important church, who needs encouragement and counsel and, also, a deepening conviction of the dignity and importance of his task. However, the personal element in the letter is to be supreme, and this is foreshadowed by the phrase which Paul adds to the name of Timothy, to whom he is writing. He calls him his " beloved child." It is this phrase which gives a special note of tenderness to the salutation and prepares us for the messages which follow, as Paul .pours out his whole heart to the companion who had not only shared his greatest trials and triumphs, but also long had enjoyed such affection as a father bestows upon a son; and now Timothy is being summoned to the side of the great apostle, to whom he owes his spiritual life, that he may bring comfort and cheer and receive from him a tender last farewell.
The name, however, which makes this salutation differ from those of most letters, ancient and modern, and which gives it at once its significance and its dignity, is that neither of Paul nor of Timothy but of "Christ Jesus." We note the order of the words. Other apostles speak of " Jesus Christ ' '; Paul alone, and usually, speaks of ' ' Christ Jesus." Just what this difference implies, it may be unwise to insist. Originally the word "Jesus" was a personal name, and "Christ" an official title; in the course of time, these terms were interchanged rather freely; Jesus had proved to be the Christ, and the Christ had been known among men as Jesus of Nazareth. However, while the other apostles had known their Master first as a man and later as a Messiah, it may be that for this reason they called him Jesus Christ, while Paul, whose first vision was of the glorified Lord, always thought of him as the divine Christ who had borne the human name of Jesus, and whom Paul loved and adored as Christ Jesus.
Whichever term we may employ, the lesson for us is plain: that we should never regard our Master merely as a man, but, first and last, should reverence him and love him as the Christ, crucified, risen, glorified, divine.
Three times in the brief compass of this salutation Paul repeats the blessed title. He calls himself "an apostle of Christ Jesus"; he speaks of "the life which is in Christ Jesus"; he prays for grace, mercy and peace "from God the Father and Christ Jesus." Possibly as we begin our letters or address ourselves to the various tasks of life, it would be helpful for us likewise to remember that we are servants of Christ, that our lives are linked with Christ, and that all our blessings flow from Christ. Surely this would give a new gladness to our most dreary days.
In the very phrase, "the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus," there is a wealth of meaning. Paul here indicates that the apostleship is due to divine appointment, for he calls himself an apostle "through the will of God," and he further declares that this appointment is in order that he may proclaim the gospel which he here calls the promise of life. This is the very essence of the good news. It offers life in all its fullness to those who submit their lives to Christ, to those who can use the word which Paul adds when for the third time he refers to "Christ Jesus" and calls him his "Lord." If Christ Jesus is our Lord, if we truly belong to him, then he imparts to us the life which is life indeed.
Much of the blessedness of this life is summed up in the prayer which Paul offers for Timothy, and which forms the real substance of this salutation: "Grace, mercy, peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." Only in his letters to Timothy does Paul unite these three luminous terms. Elsewhere he speaks of "grace" and "peace," but here he adds "mercy," and these three together appear to include all that Paul could wish for Timothy in this world and the next; and yet, the enjoyment of all that they signify is for everyone whose hope and trust are in "God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."
B. THANKSGIVING. Ch. 1:3-5
As is usual in beginning his letters, Paul follows the opening salutation with a thanksgiving and a prayer. Here the thanksgiving is for the faith of Timothy, and the petition is that Timothy may be restored to Paul. The thanksgiving and the prayer, as in other letters, are closely entwined, and they are expressed in a sentence which is somewhat difficult to understand because the phrases are so condensed and because their exact relation is not easy to discover. The meaning is in substance as follows: "I thank the God of my fathers, whom I also worship with a pure conscience, that I unceasingly remember you in my prayers. When I remember the tears you shed at our parting, night and day I long to see you again, that I may be filled with joy. I am grateful at receiving a reminder of your sincere faith, a faith which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother Eunice, as it dwells, I know, in you."
In these words Paul indicates the preciousness of Christian faith and the pricelessness of Christian friendship. He feels that this faith is the same as that which animated his fathers before him, the same which dwelt in the heart of Timothy and had inspired his grandmother and his mother. Christianity and Judaism in the mind of Paul were not distinct religions; the former was an outgrowth of the latter. It was its fulfillment, its culmination, its glory. The faith of their Jewish parents, Paul regarded as not different in kind from that which was exercised by Timothy and by himself. Faith is submission to God and dependence upon him and love for him. Faith accepts what God reveals and the revelation through the prophets finds its climax and its completeness in Jesus Christ.
However, when Paul uses the words, "from my forefathers," in connection with his worship and religious service, he means not only that he worships the God of his ancestors and worships as they worshiped, but also that it is to them that he owes his religious faith. He is intimating the same in reference to Timothy. He intimates that Timothy's faith is due to the influence of Lois and Eunice, his grandmother and his mother. He is thus reminding us that faith can be communicated, that family religion is a matter of supreme importance, and that an inheritance of godly traditions and religious. instincts is a blessed possession. Paul tells us both of the responsibilities and of the privileges of parents. He points us also to the grounds for gratitude in the hearts of children. He intimates that our faith is usually a gift which we owe to others. Most of all, he emphasizes the value of this gift. It was because of the faith of Timothy that Paul was thankful to remember him, was thankful that he remembered him unceasingly. It was because of the faith of Timothy that Paul so longed to see him. It was the manifestation of this faith that had made Timothy so dear to the apostle- and that made Paul certain that the presence of his friend would bring cheer and comfort even in the dreary dungeon at Rome.
It is thus the picture of a Christian friendship which is presented to us in these touching words, as the epistle opens. The aged apostle intimates that even those who differ far in age, in attainment, and in disposition, can be closely knit together in the indissoluble bonds of true love. It was this affection that made Paul long, night and day, for the presence of his young friend. He knew that his love was returned; he remembered how Timothy had wept when they had been torn apart, possibly on the occasion of Paul's arrest; and now that the shadows of death are deepening around him, Paul sends this tender message to express his devotion, to cheer Timothy in his difficulties, but supremely, to summon Timothy to his side.' It was a Christian friendship which gave to the world this matchless letter of farewell.
II. EXHORTATIONS TO STEADFASTNESS IN SERVICE. Chs. 1: 6 to 2: 13
A. TO ZEAL AND COURAGE: THE EXAMPLE OF PAUL. Ch. 1:6-12
The immediate purpose of Paul in writing this epistle is to summon Timothy to Rome; however, his larger design is to prepare Timothy for the approaching death of his beloved leader and to encourage Timothy to be faithful to his task as pastor of the great church at Ephesus.
Accordingly, when he has expressed his gratitude for the sincerity and devotion of Timothy and his own longing to see him, Paul opens his message with a comprehensive charge, urging Timothy to zeal in his pastoral work and to the fullest use of that spiritual equipment which has been given him for public service, or as Paul expresses it, "Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee."
He bases this appeal on the double ground of the faith Timothy has shown and of the gift he has received. The reality and purity of that faith Paul never doubts or questions. He knows that it has been transmitted to his young friend from a godly mother and grandmother, and that this faith has only grown more firm and clear since it has centered upon Christ as a Saviour and Lord.
The usefulness of Timothy is not endangered by doubt; his peril lies in timidity and self-consciousness and fear. This has always been his temptation, and now it will become the more serious when death has robbed him of his inspiring leader, when opposition to the Christian sect has grown more bitter, when false teachers within the Church have become more bold.
For this reason Paul reminds Timothy not only of the faith which has never failed him but also of the special grace for service that God has given him. The reception of this gift Paul connects with the time when Timothy was ordained to the ministry. From the references here and in the former epistle, it would seem that in view of the high qualifications possessed by Timothy and of his predicted usefulness, Paul had united with the members of the presbytery in laying hands upon Timothy and in thus appointing him to his sacred office. It seems, further, that as Timothy yielded himself to the service of Christ, the Spirit of the Master imparted to him special equipment for his task. The result of this divine influence, as Paul here declares, was not a spirit of timidity, but of strength and of love which casts out fear, and of the self-discipline which overcomes weakness and gives confidence in action.
Therefore, in face of new difficulties, being reminded of the experiences of his ordination hour, Timothy is encouraged to draw upon those stores of grace which by the power of the Holy Spirit ever were at his command.
Timothy was not the last Christian minister by whom this exhortation has been needed. Many of his successors to-day should heed the exhortation to "stir up," or to rekindle, or to fan into a flame, the gifts that are in them. Lack of zeal in the Christian ministry may be due to discouragement, to doubt, to the dull monotony of toil, or to timidity and fear. However, such zeal may be aroused by appealing to the same fact which Paul here mentions. Every public servant of Christ may be reminded helpfully of the faith which he has inherited from a godly ancestry, and which has to the present dwelt in his soul. He may also remember the ordination by which he was set aside for his sacred work.
For we regard this service both as a recognition of inherent gifts, and also as appointment to an office; but further, we believe that in this solemn hour, as a candidate yields himself anew to the service of Christ, he is granted by the Holy Spirit a special equipment for his high calling. The gift is not magical, not miraculous, not mystical, but it is none the less real, and in many future hours of difficulty he can gain new heart as he remembers that the Spirit who is ever with him will grant him all needed grace.
However, this message as to the need of using the gifts which God grants is for all the followers of Christ, whatever their special task or sphere in life. There is always a danger of neglecting opportunities, of burying talents, and of allowing spiritual fervor to be quenched. Much more would be accomplished for Christ and for those about us if we were not held back by fear of failure, by timidity and dread of criticism; but our hearts can ever be strengthened as we remember that Christ who summons us to his service is ever ready to grant us by his Spirit the wisdom and the strength which we need.
In view of the spiritual equipment which God has given him, Timothy is urged not to be ashamed either of his testimony for Christ or of Paul who has been imprisoned for his loyalty to Christ; but rather to endure bravely the hardships which may be involved in preaching the gospel.
For such endurance Timothy can rely upon the power of God who has revealed his grace in the great salvation which he has provided through Christ Jesus. He has secured deliverance from the guilt and power of sin and has brought us into a holy life, not in view of any merit of our own, but because of his gracious purpose formed in eternity and manifested in time "by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
This, then, was the assurance given to Timothy that if God, in absolute grace, has called us to a new life of consecration, and has promised us a future life of glory, he certainly will give us power and protection in our present acts of service.
The declaration that Christ Jesus has "abolished death" means not only that he overcame death and made it of no effect in his own resurrection, but also that for his followers he has taken from death its "sting," its "fear," and its "power." The sting of death consisted in the consciousness that it was the consequence of sin. The Christian knows, however, that he is not under condemnation and that for him death is not the penalty for personal guilt. The fear of death had kept all the human race in a bondage of dread; but for the Christian the king of terrors has become a slave; he is clad indeed in a livery of black, but he is sent to draw back the curtains ot mystery and to lead the follower of Christ into the spacious chambers of the Father's house.
Death once had the power of hopeless destruction; now it is known that death some day must relinquish all that for a time he is allowed to claim, and that even the grave is to lose its temporary victory.
As Paul adds, "life" in all its fullness, life for time and eternity, and an "immortality" of deathless "incorruption " have been brought to light through the gospel. Paul does not mean that such "life" and "immortality" were unknown before; they had been vaguely discerned; but upon them the gospel has thrown a flood of light. Before, they were dim hopes, but now the gospel of Christ has made them stand out in all the splendor of bright realities.
Surely no one needs to be ashamed of such a gospel, and thus Paul further encourages Timothy by declaring how gladly he himself is suffering as a bearer of such good news, and with fearlessness is now looking into the face of death.
"For which cause," that is, because of my loyalty to the gospel, " I suffer also these things" these chains, this dungeon, this darkness, this desertion, this loneliness, this hatred: "yet I am not ashamed; for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day."
The sacred "deposit " to which Paul refers is taken sometimes as a reference to the gospel which God has entrusted to him and which Paul believes will be divinely guarded until Christ himself returns. Such is the meaning of the same Greek word in the next verse but one, and also in the next to the last verse in the preceding letter; and such an interpretation is full of significance.
More commonly, however, this "deposit" is taken as indicating the soul of Paul, his life, all that he has and is. In the light which the gospel throws upon life and immortality, even as he stands under the very shadow of approaching death, Paul has no fear; he knows that he will be safely guarded even unto the day of the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ.
Such a blessed assurance belongs to all the followers of Christ; they share it. with Paul, and because of this confidence, they too rejoice in the gospel and are inclined to steadfast service, and are triumphant over fear, and live in the light of deathless hope.
B. TO FIDELITY AND LOYALTY: THE EXAMPLE OF ONESIPHORUS. Ch. 1:13-18
In opening this letter, Paul has already warned Timothy against being ashamed either of the gospel he is preaching or of his friend who for the sake of the gospel is now a prisoner at Rome. This warning forms the substance of the two paragraphs with which this first chapter closes. The first of them, vs. 13, 14, urges Timothy faithfully to preserve the truth of the gospel, and the second, vs. 15-18, encourages him to be loyal in his friendship for Paul.
The former of these is in substance a double exhortation. It consists of two parallel commands. In the first, it is insisted that Timothy must hold carefully, as a pattern or outline of the Christian faith, the sound teaching which he has received from Paul. In the second, he is told to guard the sacred treasure of the truth which has been committed to his trust. In the first case, this fidelity is declared to be possible by maintaining the "faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." In the second case, the deposit is to be guarded in the power of "the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us."
As Paul uses the phrase, "pattern of sound words," he implies that his own teaching has been merely an outline, or brief summary, of the truths which the gospel contains, but that this outline is free from error and must be faithfully held and proclaimed. He further indicates that such an outline may be expanded and that other statements of the truth will be helpful, but they must be in accordance with the beliefs which Paul himself has set forth in the gospel message committed to Timothy. Still further he indicates that this revealed truth must be held "in faith and love." That is, it must be accepted with the heart and expressed in life and conduct; and, further, must be proclaimed and defended with the charity and gentleness which become a follower of Christ.
In his parallel command, Paul describes the gospel as a "deposit," a treasure which has been committed to Timothy as a sacred trust. It is neither to be lost nor destroyed, nor is its beauty to be marred by hostile hands. In the presence of false teachers and in view of the prevalence of unsound doctrine, Timothy is assured that to safeguard the gospel he needs divine aid. He must depend upon the grace and strength which will be afforded him by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
The need of such commands has never ceased. In all ages of the Church the gospel has been endangered both by false friends and by open enemies. The form of its statement may sometimes differ, but its every proclamation should conform to "the pattern" given to the Church by the apostle. At times it must be stoutly defended; and this can best be done by those whose faith is accompanied by love; and surely these virtues are gifts of "the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us"; only by his power and wisdom shall we be able to guard "that good thing" which has been committed to us by Christ Jesus. To-day he is calling not only his ordained ministers but also all of his followers to guard the sacred treasure of revealed truth "in faith and love."
In order that Timothy may be strengthened in his loyalty, Paul gives two examples, one of warning and the other of encouragement. The first is that of the false friends who have deserted him; the second is of Onesiphorus, whose devotion Timothy well knows. There is something pathetic in the words of the lonely apostle, "all that are in Asia turned away from me." Just who these were, it is impossible to learn. There is something of pardonable exaggeration in the term, "all . . . in Asia." Paul is referring to former friends in Roman Asia, in the small province which occupied only a fraction of what is now known as Asia Minor; but even there Paul still has loyal friends; for it was in Ephesus, the capital city, that Timothy, to whom this letter is written, is presiding over his important church. It is evident, however, that many of these professed Christians have proved false to Paul in the hour of his need. Some have thought that this desertion was at the time when Paul was arrested; others have felt that the apostle must have written from Rome asking in vain for sympathy and help from these former followers. The circumstances are obscure, but the fact is clear, that the heart of the aged apostle was saddened by the consciousness that those upon whom he had relied proved faithless when their friendship was most needed. Among these Paul mentions two, Phygelus and Hermogenes. They are not named elsewhere in the New Testament, but they have attained an immortality of disgrace by their defection from the great apostle of Christ.
In striking contrast Paul names Onesiphorus, evidently another member of the Ephesian church, a man who, while Paul was still in that city, rendered to him repeated services of love, and who later, when Paul had been imprisoned in Rome, made a diligent search until he discovered the apostle in his dungeon; and then, instead of being ashamed of the deserted and despised leader, frequently "refreshed" him, both in relieving his necessities and by comforting him with his companionship and love. As Paul reminds Timothy of this devotion and loyalty, he utters the hope that the Lord will grant mercy to the family of this faithful friend, and that to the friend himself mercy would be shown in the day of the Lord's return. This latter hope as expressed by Paul has been taken by a large portion of the Christian Church as a warrant for the practice of offering "prayers for the dead." The latter is a subject which must be approached with caution and with reverence; yet it would seem that the custom has no firm support here, nor elsewhere in Scripture. In the first place, it is by no means certain that Onesiphorus was dead. He was separated from his family; he had recently been in Rome, but quite probably he was at this time on his homeward journey to Ephesus. Then, in the second place, the hope or desire expressed by Paul, even if regarded as a prayer, was by no means of the character of those petitions which are commonly offered for the dead. It did not regard the present condition of his friend, nor his experience in the mysteries of the life which lies beyond our human vision. It concerned only the time of the return of Christ, and expressed- the hope that the loyal friend of the apostle would then be fully rewarded for his fidelity and his care. We are certain that our loved ones depart to be with Christ, and in the perfect blessedness of his glorious presence they can hardly be in need of our petitions; and, further, if to pray for the departed were our task, or even our privilege, it seems probable that Scripture would contain some more definite encouragement, some more clear command.
While this paragraph may not encourage prayers for the dead, it surely must have warned Timothy against the false friendship which endures only in times of prosperity and popularity, and then withers before the first breath of hardship or suffering or disgrace. It further reminds us of the value of true friendships as we see how dependent upon the ministry and sympathy of those who were dear to his heart even the great apostle felt himself to be.
C. TO TRANSMIT THE TRUTH, AND TO ENDURE HARDSHIP FOR ITS SAKE. Ch. 2: 1-13
Paul is still encouraging Timothy to steadfastness in his Christian service, as here in the first and second verses of this chapter he gives a comprehensive exhortation and also a specific command.
This exhortation is based upon the motives to which Paul has been appealing in the first chapter of the epistle. In view of the faith of Timothy, and of his gift for service, and of the glory of the gospel, and of the encouraging example of Paul, and of the heroic devotion of Onesiphorus, Timothy is urged to be strong, to be brave, to be steadfast: "Thou therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Thus Timothy is turned to Christ and directed to seek from him the divine help which he is ready to bestow. If Timothy will depend upon Christ, he will gain all needed grace, a gift unmerited but also unlimited. Thus for all the followers of Christ, both those who bear the responsibility of public service and those whose spheres of labor may be most obscure, there is offered an exhaustless supply of grace. By it they can be strengthened, not merely as passive recipients, but as they eagerly seek divine help and earnestly appropriate it to meet their needs.
This exhortation is followed by a specific command to commit the gospel as a sacred trust to reliable teachers, who in turn will hand it on to others, and thus secure its preservation and its proclamation for succeeding generations. In describing this sacred trust which he is to hand on to others, Paul reminds Timothy that he himself had received this trust from the apostle in the presence of "many witnesses." The reference seems to be to the time when Timothy was ordained to the ministry. Then, in the presence of the presbyters and others who may have been present, this treasure had been committed, in a solemn service, to the care of the young messenger. Paul is now reminding him that it is his duty to select faithful men, who under the direction of Timothy will likewise be ordained to the gospel ministry.
The "faithful men" to whom the truth is to be thus entrusted are evidently the "bishops" or "elders" or "presbyters" whom Paul has described in the previous epistle as the permanent officers of the church. This definite reference to Church organization is in accordance with the other Pastoral Letters. In First Timothy and also in Titus, as in this letter, three great themes occupy the thought of the writer. These are Church government, sound doctrine, and consistent living. The connection in which the first of these themes is mentioned here, intimates the view of Church government continually emphasized by Paul. He regards it as a matter of great importance, but it is never an end in itself. It is designed to secure the safeguarding of the sacred deposit of truth with which the Church is entrusted. It is for this reason that he commands Timothy to select men who are not only trustworthy, but well-qualified " to teach others also." This solemn responsibility of maintaining a strong organization which will ordain faithful men to the ministry rests upon all the officers of the Christian Church, but it concerns the members as well. It is necessary that all should insist that only those men who accept the inspired teachings of the apostle and are qualified for the sacred ministry should be selected as expounders of divine truth.
As Paul continues to urge upon Timothy faithfulness in the ministerial office, he declares that hardship will be inevitable, but that reward is certain. These are the thoughts that form the substance of the verses which follow, from the third to the thirteenth. Paul indicates that every gallant achievement demands fortitude. Therefore Timothy is urged to suffer hardship " as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." He is reminded that one who is of real service to his commanding officer must be willing to disregard all ties of home or of business and to do and to dare whatever military service may demand. Paul further illustrates the necessity of self-denial and of earnest effort from the case of the athlete, who cannot win the prize unless he submits to the training, and the discipline, and the strain, which the contest involves. So, too, \vith the laborer who toils in the field; as a reward for his patient service, he may rightfully expect the first share in the harvest.
These three illustrations bear a message for every follower of Christ, but they have a special meaning for the Christian minister. Much is said to-day of " the strenuous life," but we do not always realize that this phrase is a fair description of a true religious experience. Some seem to forget that to follow Christ involves ceaseless effort, and struggle, and sacrifice. It is also true, however, that the compensations are incomparable and the rewards are eternal.
Most of all, is it true of the Christian minister that he is called to a life which is well pictured here in the striking parables of the apostle. He must be a soldier who is ever eager to please the Captain of his salvation, and who with this in view keeps first things first and makes no entangling alliances which may distract his thought and demand his strength, who regards himself as having enlisted for life and as engaged in a glorious but absorbing campaign. He must regard himself as an athlete, ready to subject himself to sacrifice and discipline and to endure an agony of effort, but he may be encouraged as he remembers that he is striving not for a fading wreath of olive or of pine, but for a crown of glory and of life " that fadeth not away." Then, too, he is like a farmer who is engaged in monotonous toil. Unlike that of the soldier or the athlete, it has no glamour of peril or applause; and yet, no matter how obscure the task and how dreary the time, even though he "goes forth with weeping," he is certain at last to know the joy of harvest. He cannot fail of his reward.
The principle illustrated by the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer is one which Timothy will be sure to understand and which, as he thinks upon this message, will be made increasingly plain to him by the Lord, namely, that without a cross there can be no crown. Of this principle the Master himself is set forth as the supreme Exemplar, for we see in his case, as in no other, how truly suffering is succeeded by glory: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David." Here Paul refers to the resurrection, not as a point of doctrine, but as an experience in the life of One who, though as a man, "of the seed of David," he suffered a shameful death, was raised in triumph and crowned with glory and honor.
This experience of Christ was a familiar feature of the gospel Paul proclaimed, and of the great principle of suffering issuing in blessing.
Of this same principle Paul mentions himself as a further example. His suffering has been due to his faithful preaching, and his recompense consists in the result of this ministry. "I suffer hardship unto bonds," writes the apostle; he is confined as a criminal; "but the word of God is not bound"; no opposition of man can limit the range or the glorious results of this gospel. It is the knowledge of these results which constitutes his reward. Paul is willing to endure the hardship and the shame, because thereby, in the providence of God, believers are being saved by faith in the Christ whom Paul proclaims, and, having been chosen of God in time past, are being made heirs of eternal glory.
Thus countless followers of the great apostle have felt; they, too, have been willing to suffer and to weep and to die, because they have had "souls for their hire."
Paul brings to its climax his argument as to the sure reward of steadfast service by quoting a "saying" which, because of its rhythmic and balanced arrangement, seems to be a portion of an ancient hymn:
The first two lines place in striking contrast death and life, submission and sovereignty. Those who have suffered and died for Christ have shared his sufferings and death in all reality, and they will surely share his heavenly life and his glorious reign. The death to which Paul refers is not merely the act of self-dedication which unites us with Christ when we accept him as Lord and Master and seal our vows by baptism; rather, here the reference is to Christian martyrdom; for the whole passage is an encouragement not only to a spiritual experience, but to courage and endurance even to suffering and death in the service of Christ.
The third line contains a warning which is phrased in the very words of the Master. We are reminded of what he said to his disciples: "Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven." Thus, this hymn declares, if we disown him in the face of peril or of scorn, he also will disown us in the presence of his Father on the day of his glorious return.
The fourth line breathes a note of hope; even though our faith may waver, and we may distrust the power and care of our Lord, he ever abides faithful; he cannot be untrue to himself. Of course, if we abandon the faith, we face darkness and doom, but not every act of unfaithfulness is willful apostasy. The courage of Peter failed, but he was restored; even in advance his loving Master had prayed for him. Some honest doubts trouble even those who are devoted to Christ. He continues faithful, and while he is certain to disown those who finally are faithless, yet "he is faithful and righteous to forgive"; he is true to his promises and is certain to pardon, to strengthen and to reward. Thus across the long ages and the vast silences float the cadences of this sweet Christian song, calling us to be earnest, to be zealous, to be brave, and encouraging us to believe that without the cross there is no crown, and that "the way of the cross is the way of light."
III. EXHORTATIONS TO SOUND DOCTRINE. Ch. 2: 14 to 4: 8
A. THE EVIL INFLUENCE OF FALSE TEACHING. Ch. 2: 14-26
In the first half of this epistle, as commonly divided, Paul dwells more particularly upon the need of steadfastness in Christian service; in the second half, which begins with the fourteenth verse of the second chapter, his emphasis is more continually upon the need of sound doctrine. There is, however, a third theme in all three Pastoral Epistles. It is that of Church organization, and as in the opening of this chapter, Paul has urged Timothy to appoint well-qualified and faithful men who may serve as the official teachers of the gospel, so here he exhorts him to put these officers in remembrance of the hardship involved in ministerial service, but also of its rich and abiding reward. Timothy further is most solemnly to charge these teachers "that they strive not about words, to no profit, to the subverting of them that hear." This is an injunction full of meaning to the Christians of all ages. There are many religious discussions which are profitless, in fact, injurious. Paul does not mean that words are of no value or significance. Sometimes a religious term is precious and must be guarded as a sacred trust, even as a casket containing a precious jewel of truth; but too frequently these discussions are for forms of words, for which men are contending in pride, in stubbornness, and in selfconceit. Too frequently these disputes result in loss of temper and even in the weakening of faith.
Timothy is urged to enforce his teachings by his own example; he is incited to eager effort that he may be approved of God as "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed," that is, as one whose work will stand the test of divine judgment and be approved even when inspected by his Lord. The particular work in which Timothy is engaged is described as "handling aright the word of truth." The exact meaning of the original is a little difficult to determine. "Handling aright" is sometimes translated as "rightly dividing," and is supposed by some to refer to the act of a priest in dividing the flesh of a sacrifice, or to the work of cutting straight paths, or even to making a straight furrow; but whatever the original meaning of the term, when the word is connected with "the word of truth," it means the task of the teacher, who with loyalty and devotion is setting forth the true gospel of Christ. This is the task of Timothy. It is to be the supreme work of those officers whom he is to appoint to serve the Christian Church.
On the contrary, Paul indicates that there are already in the Church false teachers whom Timothy is to avoid. Their teachings are described as "profane babblings"; that is, they are not merely worthless and empty; they are injurious and irreligious. The evil influence of these teachers, Paul declares, will become more powerful and more dangerous: "Their word will eat as doth a gangrene." This is a striking figure of speech which Paul employs. It suggests how the influence of false teaching eats its way into a life and character like a deadly cancer. The thought of this evil influence forms the very center of the paragraph which Paul is here writing. Two of the teachers whom he mentions as examples are Hymenaeus and Philetus. The first has been named in his previous letter; of the latter nothing further is known other than the mention here, which gives him an immortality of shame, as he is listed among those who, while professing to follow Christ and boasting themselves to be teachers of his truth, are really so far corrupting his doctrine as to be sources of spiritual disease and death.
The particular truth in reference to which these men "have erred" is that of the resurrection. The exact nature of their false teaching is defined only as "saying that the resurrection is past already." It is probably parallel to the theories of those who, in modern days, regard resurrection as a mere figure of speech, denoting only the experience of those who "on stepping-stones" of their "dead selves" have risen to "higher things"; or of those who deny any future, bodily resurrection and consummation of glory at the return of Christ, and insist that, at the time of death, the souls of believers are clothed with "spiritual," "astral," or "immortal" bodies.
The serious influence of these errors may not be realized until one reads the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, in which Paul shows that a belief in a future resurrection of believers is inseparable from a belief in the resurrection of Christ, which Paul declares to be the very foundation stone of the Christian faith; and in this chapter he shows further the perilous results of abandoning these beliefs.
Thus Paul here declares that the effect of "saying that the resurrection is past already," is to "overthrow the faith of some."
Nevertheless, in spite of false teachers and of defections from the faith, Paul tells Timothy not to be dismayed. The faith of some may be overthrown, but the Church cannot be overthrown. Paul describes the Church as a great house, the foundation of which is firm; in fact, he designates the Church by the very phrase, "the firm foundation of God," describing the whole by a part; and he declares that it is unshaken.
Upon this "firm foundation" Paul imagines two inscriptions, one written from the divine side and one from the human: "The Lord knoweth them that are his," and "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness. ' '
The first tells us that we need not be too much distressed by false teachers; we must not fear that they can destroy the Church; the Lord distinguishes between the false and the true; he will discover, he will punish and reward: "the Lord knoweth them that are his."
On the other hand, if we profess to be Christians, we must separate ourselves from all that is wrong and sinful either in belief or in practice. We must "depart from unrighteousness. ' '
It is evident, then, that in the Church there are always false teachers as well as true. Paul pictures these two classes by comparing them with the different vessels or utensils which are found in a great house; some are put to distasteful and unpleasant uses, and others are vessels of honor, which are associated with dignity and delight. Thus some men in a professing church can be used only as warnings and as examples of the perils of apostasy; but, on the other hand, a man who will keep himself uncontaminated by false teachers and by error, will be like a vessel of gold or silver, "a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work." Nothing in the world is so pitiful and dishonorable as to be a teacher of error; and no person can be of such noble and continuous service in the Master's cause as one who is an intelligent and loyal exponent of his truth.
However, even the conscious possession of truth in the face of abounding error has its temptations, particularly for a young man who has enjoyed such peculiar opportunities for learning as had Timothy under the tuition of Paul. Therefore, when the apostle here urges Ti'mothy to "flee youthful lusts," we may conclude from what precedes and what follows that he refers not so much to bodily appetites as to the temptations of a young pastor to pride, to conceit, to dogmatism, to contentiousness, and to the display of his own wisdom, either in exploiting false theories or in defending the faith. Therefore Timothy is admonished to "follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
Furthermore, Timothy is warned against "foolish and ignorant questionings." There are many such. A mind which is well instructed and disciplined realizes that there are limitations to human knowledge and to divine revelation, and that it is foolish to argue about subjects which are merely matters of speculation, and also that the bitter discussion of less obscure themes can result only in stirring up strife.
"The Lord's servant must not strive," writes Paul. This is true of all Christians, but especially of the Christian minister. No man more rightfully may be expected to win confidence by his sweet reasonableness, or to disarm opposition by his gracious courtesy. He must be "gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing." Even when unbelieving and exasperating men oppose him, he must seek with all meekness to lead them back to the truth.
It is significant that Paul does not say that the men who oppose the truth are merely to be answered or to be convinced; they are to be brought to "repentance." Paul indicates, as did Christ, that there is a moral element in faith and unbelief. When the gospel has been clearly presented, when its message has been fully stated, then to turn from divine Love and Holiness and Light, is to convict oneself of having something evil in the heart or in the life.
So Paul here declares that the false teachers who have erred from the truth have really fallen under the power of the Enemy of their souls. They have been ensnared by the Evil One; they have been "taken captive by him unto his will." It even is implied, further, that their unbelief itself has resulted in wrong living and that by an acceptance of the truth "they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil." This deliverance, however, can be only by divine power. It is for the Christian messenger to present the truth clearly and kindly; but it is God who "may give them repentance"; he will honor his own truth, and he will give his faithful servant the joy of seeing souls delivered from powers of darkness and of death.
B. THE DIFFICULT DAYS AHEAD. Ch. 3
In urging Timothy to maintain sound doctrine, Paul has pointed out the evil influence of false teaching, and he now warns Timothy that opposition to the truth will continue and will grow even more intense; but Timothy is neither to be surprised nor dismayed. He is not to be surprised, because Christ and his apostles have made it clear that we live in an age of continual conflict between evil and good; he is not to be dismayed, because truth will ultimately triumph and its enemies will be put to shame.
Here Paul seems to refer more especially to the close of the era in which we now live, "the last days" of the age between the ascension of Christ and his return. This return, contrary to the opinion of many, Paul does not regard as immediate or imminent; for in these Pastoral Epistles, Paul is making definite provision for the permanent organization and the continuing ministry of the Church. He does affirm, however, that in the period between the departure and the return of his Lord, "grievous times" must be expected. These times are to be grievous because of conditions not only in the world at large, but even in the Church. It is of the latter that he here is speaking. These times are to be difficult for those who would be faithful to Christ; they will be seasons of trial, in which the path of duty will not always be plain, nor the demands of duty easy to perform. In describing the men who are to make these "last days" so full of peril, Paul declares that the teachers of the present time are similar to them in character and conduct, and it is against such impostors that he is here warning Timothy. In short, the entire chapter might be summed up in two exhortations: the first, to "turn away" from such teachers as are here described; and the second, to abide in the truth which Timothy has been taught.
As he characterizes the men of the "last days," Paul employs a long series of striking terms. In these it may be difficult to find any special arrangement or division. However, they begin with two Greek words which are closely associated, "lovers of self" and "lovers of money," and they clost with two words which are strikingly contrasted, "lovers of pleasure " and " lovers of God." Between these four words are five groups of three terms each, comprising an appalling list of evil characteristics.
The first group includes the term "boastful," that is, glorying in self and endeavoring to pass for a" man of greater consequence than one really is; "haughty," that is, contemptuous of others; "railers," which denotes those who actually abuse and revile their fellow men. So these terms indicate sins against both truth and love.
In the second group of vices, "unfilial," " unthankful," "unholy," are terms which denote a wrong relation to parents, to benefactors, and to God himself.
The third group, "without natural affection, implacable, slanderers," stands in striking rebuke to the words of our Lord, "Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you; bless them that curse you."
The fourth group, "without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good," describes the libertine, the churl, the worldling.
The last group, "traitors, headstrong, puffed up," describes those who are treacherous to their fellow men, reckless, and marked by self-conceit. The most distressing feature of all is found in the closing phrase of these descriptive terms, "holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof," which indicates that the men described belong to the professing Church. They affect piety, but they repudiate the power of Christian faith, keeping up a pretense of religion, but manifesting characters which show that they are utterly ignorant of that salvation which finds its essence in full surrender to a risen and glorified Christ.
As we read this direful description at the present time, we become painfully conscious that the apostle made no mistake in predicting that such men would be found during future days, even among the .followers of Christ. Unhappily none of these men are strangers to us; we have met them all. Their forms are so familiar that they cause us no surprise. Most distressing of all, they are found in the Christian Church and their influence is such that we surely do well to be on our guard against them, and to heed the word of the apostle, "From these also turn away."
Paul indicates that the false teachers of his day were like in nature to the men he has just pictured; and he further characterizes them as those "that creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Exponents of religious error always find their easiest victims among a certain class of neurotic and sentimental women, who love secret instruction and occult solutions of the problems of sin and of sorrow, especially such as are disturbed by guilt of conscience, such as allow their emotions to control their reason and to determine their morals, and such as are so flattered by being offered "new thought" that they are blind to revealed truth.
Paul finally compares the teachers of error, against whom Timothy was warned, with Jannes and Jambres, the Egyptian magicians who withstood Moses when he was attempting to convince Pharaoh of the power of God, and to incline him to yield to the will of God. "So do these also withstand the truth," declares Paul, and he further describes them as "men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith," that is, men who are morally depraved and devoid of all real knowledge of the gospel. However, their defeat is certain, for as Moses discomfited those ancient impostors, so of these modern enemies of God Paul declares, "They shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be evident unto all men."
In absolute contrast with these false teachers, Timothy is given the inspiring example of Paul, and is reminded that he has, in the sacred Scriptures, a safeguard against all the influences of unsound doctrine.
The opposition of unscrupulous heretics is never easy to endure, but Timothy is reminded of Paul's sufferings and deliverance with which he has long been acquainted: "Thou didst follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience, persecutions, sufferings"; he is able to recall how the faithful apostle had been driven out of Antioch and Iconium, and how he had been stoned at Lystra and left as dead; but also how the Lord had rescued him and had preserved him amidst all these perils.
Timothy is warned that he must expect similar experiences if he is to be loyal to the truth; suffering is the common experience of all faithful ministers of the gospel; Paul even adds, "Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Timothy need not expect times less difficult than those in which Paul has lived: "Evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." However, Timothy need not be swerved from the truth. He is exhorted to remain steadfast to the great religious verities which he has been taught, and he is encouraged to such fidelity by the remembrance of the mother and grandmother, by whom, during his childhood, he had been instructed in the sacred writings. He has further been taught the gospel message by his beloved teacher, Paul. The memory of those who have led him into the full knowledge of the truth should make it seem to him more and more sacred. Thus Paul reminds Timothy that "from a babe" he has known "the sacred writings" which pointed him to Christ, through faith in whom Timothy is saved. In the face of all false doctrine and in spite of the influence of false teachers of religion, Timothy need have no fear, for he is in possession of the sacred Scriptures which are designed to equip him for life and service. These Scriptures, Paul declares, are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.'* They are designed, indeed, fully to equip the man of God for every good work.
In these last verses many readers prefer the translation of the Authorized Version for the phrase, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for . . . instruction," instead of the rendering of the Revision, "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching," and they fear that the latter translation impairs the evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. However, while according to the former translation, inspiration is affirmed, according to the latter, it is assumed. Here Paul is discussing the value and the use of the sacred writings. Their inspiration is not called in question. He has been saying that Timothy, from childhood, has known these sacred writings which can make him "wise unto salvation." He then adds that every one of these writings, by which he means every part of these inspired Scriptures, is also profitable for such moral and spiritual discipline as will make the minister of the gospel completely furnished for his difficult task. Parallel to the word "writings" is the word "scripture," and corresponding to the word "sacred" is the phrase "inspired of God"; and as in the former sentence, the sacred writings are said to be able to make one "wise unto salvation," so here they are declared to be profitable for "teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness."
The message is primarily for the "man of God," the Christian minister, but the Scriptures are likewise profitable for all the followers of Christ; arid if Paul could make such statements in reference to the influence of the Old Testament, how much more gladly should we regard the possible influence of the sacred Scriptures which have come to us, not only from the ancient prophets but also from the apostles of our Lord.
C. PAUL'S APPROACHING DEATH. Ch. 4: 1-8
Probably no passage in all the epistles of Paul contains so stirring an appeal as does this final charge to Timothy, his friend. It has all the seriousness of a last farewell, and it is made even more solemn by the phrases with which it is introduced, as the apostle charges Timothy "in the sight of God," and also "of Christ Jesus," of whose unseen presence both Paul and Timothy are conscious, to whom both must give account in the great day when he comes to "judge the living and the dead." At the time of that coming Timothy possibly may be living, but Paul realizes that he himself will then be among "the dead." By that glorious "appearing," and by the perfected "kingdom" which will follow, Paul adjures Timothy to heed this last command.
It is a twofold charge with which Paul completes this letter, and each part of it is enforced by the consideration of events which are to come. The first group of commands is found in the second verse of the chapter; it is summed up largely in the clause, "Preach the word," and it is related to the difficult times predicted in the chapter which precedes.
The second part of this final charge is found in the fifth verse. It reaches its climax in the command, "Fulfil thy ministry," and it is strengthened by definite mention of the approaching death of the apostle.
The first group of commands is especially related to the last half of the epistle, in which Paul has been urging Timothy to teach sound doctrine. Thus he here continues, "Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."
These five imperatives ring out with the directness of military commands. Their injunctions must be obeyed by every loyal minister of Christ in every age and land. The tense in which these words appear in their Greek original implies that these activities are to continue right up to the coming of the Lord.
"Preach the word," that is, "the word of God," the gospel of grace, the good news of his redeeming love, the truth recorded for us in the sacred Scriptures; this, and not human speculations, is the great message which every herald of the cross is commissioned to proclaim.
"Be urgent in season, out of season"; Paul does not mean that the messenger, in the urgency of his appeal, is to be inconsiderate and tactless, but he is not to consult merely his own convenience, not to preach at set times only, not to await occasions that are obviously opportune. At every possible season he must be eager to present the Word of life.
His purpose must be to "reprove, rebuke, exhort," but his spirit must be that of great forebearance and "longsuffering," and his method must be that of "teaching," which means that he will give grounds for correct belief and principles for right action.
Such teaching in accordance with "the word" is urged in view of the difficult days concerning which Paul previously has spoken, and to which he here again refers: "For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables."
Thus the reasons why sound doctrine will not be tolerable are, that it will not satisfy the craving for novelty on the part of the hearers, or flatter their vanity, or condone their faults; therefore, they will welcome a host of teachers who will offer to meet their religious needs without insisting upon morality; consequently, they will refuse to listen to the presentation of truth, and will turn aside to fantastic fables. Those who willingly reject the realities of revealed religion, are always most apt to become the dupes of impostors and the victims of frauds.
In view of such coming days of peril, Timothy is urged to be alert and watchful; he must be ready to suffer hardship for the sake of the gospel, as Paul in the earlier part of the letter has warned him. First, he is to do " the work of an evangelist"; from the story of Philip who alone in the New Testament is called "the evangelist" we may conclude that the term did not imply a special order of the ministry, but a definite kind of work, particularly preaching to the unconverted; so that this exhortation is much like saying that Timothy and his fellow ministers are not to be satisfied with mere pastoral duties among members of their own flocks, but should continually be seeking for the salvation of other souls.
Last of all, Paul urges Timothy to "fulfil" his "ministry," that is, to accomplish completely his sacred task, to perform all its functions, to accept all its duties, to realize all its possibilities, to be faithful to all its demands.
Such is the last charge of the apostle and it is enforced by the solemn announcement of his approaching death. "This," says the apostle in effect, "is the special reason for your being faithful, namely, that I am laying down the work; I am leaving it to you, by whom it must be carried on and upon whose fidelity its success must depend."
"For I am already being offered," writes Paul, indicating that his blood is about to be poured out as a libation.
"The time of my departure is come;" here one is tempted to dwell upon the picture which the word "departure" often is supposed to paint: either the "loosing" of the cords as a tent is taken down, or the "loosing" of a ship from her moorings as she sails homeward over the sea; but in the time of Paul, this word seems to have been used with the mere meaning of a "going away." However, this is significant enough as we remember what this "departure" signified to Paul when he wrote to the Philippians of his "desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better."
To Paul death did not mean the cessation of consciousness, nor the sleep of the soul, but "to be absent from the body" was to be "at home with the Lord."
In familiar and vivid phrases Paul further impresses the fact that his earthly career is ended; and he refers to that career, not merely to express his rightful satisfaction, but to encourage Timothy to follow his worthy example. "I have fought the good fight"; here the figure of speech is drawn from the Greek games. Paul is saying,"! have fought through the glorious contest; my life has been a brave struggle, but I have never been daunted by opposition."
Or, if the meaning is somewhat more general, he is saying, "I have striven in the noble contest," and his next allusion is specifically to one stirring event in the games, namely, the foot race, as he declares, " I have finished the course." Paul surety had known what it was to "lay aside every weight" and " to run with patience the race" that was set before him. During all his long life of effort there had been no flagging because of weariness or faintness of heart.
"I have kept the faith"; he is here stating that he had received the gospel as a sacred deposit, he had guarded it with ceaseless care, and now he is entrusting it to Timothy who is thus encouraged not only to fight manfully and to run eagerly, but also, as the figure of speech changes to one which Paul had used earlier in the letter, to guard "that good thing which was committed" to him.
Then as Paul turns from the past to the future, he does so with the confidence of a conscious victor and with the assurance of one who knows he has merited a reward: "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day." He had alluded to the Greek games in which the athletes contested for crowns of laurel or of pine. They were wont to strive for these corruptible crowns, but Paul w r as assured of one which would never fade away. It was a "crown of righteousness" by which many understand "a crown for being righteous," a crown as a reward for zeal and for fidelity.
It may mean, however, a crown which will consist of that perfect "righteousness" which Paul so earnestly had been striving to attain. This meaning would be in accord with the common New Testament usage, the "crown of thorns," the "crown of life," the "crown of rejoicing," the "crown of glory;" and the first meaning would leave this "crown " alone without any description as to its character.
It might be possible to combine these two ideas as is done by a quaint old commentator when he says, " It is called a crown of righteousness, because it will be a recompense of our services which God is not unrighteous to forget; and because our holiness and righteousness will then be perfected, and that will be our crown."
Paul mentions this crown, however, not in the spirit of selfish exultation; like all the preceding statements, this, too, contains encouragement for Timothy to live as Paul has lived, to serve as he has served, and to regard death as he regards it; for the apostle adds that this crown is not for himself alone, not only for great saints and apostles and martyrs, but also for "all them that have loved his appearing." This last phrase does not describe any one class of Christians or any single group w r ho hold special views as to the return of Christ. Rather Paul indicates that to love the thought of the glorious appearing of our Lord is a natural characteristic of all Christians. His spiritual presence is to them a blessed reality, but his visible appearance in glory is their constant hope. Paul has reached a time when he knows that he must pass through the darkness of death; but he encourages his friends to believe that they might live until the Lord returns.
IV. CONCLUSION. Ch. 4: 9-18
A. PERSONAL MATTERS. Ch. 4:9-18
These closing sentences paint a picture in view of which the meaning and pathos and power of the whole epistle stand out in clearer light. They disclose the dank, dark, cheerless dungeon in which the letter has been composed. They reveal the great apostle, despised, deserted, yet undaunted even by the shadow of approaching death, and still sustained by his unconquerable faith.
They introduce characters whose familiar forms are so associated with heroic missionary efforts that their appearance enforces the great exhortations of the epistle to be steadfast in service and to be loyal to the truth. The names of the heroes who were among the closest companions of Paul and the mention of Thessalonica, Galatia, Ephesus, Troas, Corinth, and Miletus, places where much of his most notable work was done, open up great vistas of memory and make these closing words of his last letter almost a compendium of his life.
Then, further, these personal references are so definite and significant as to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that these Pastoral Epistles are authentic letters of the Apostle Paul.
First of all, he states the immediate occasion of this letter: it is his desire for the presence of Timothy: "Give diligence to come shortly unto me"; or, as he says a little later, "give diligence to come before winter." Paul was lonely. In the darkness of his dungeon he longed for companionship. No doubt he desired the help of Timothy, in his care for the churches and in the furtherance of the work which neither bonds nor imprisonment ever stopped; yet there need be no question that the tender heart of the great apostle yearned for sympathy and Christian fellowship. If some men can be happy without friends, surely Paul was not one of these. He was not merely a man of mighty intellect, but a man of deep affection and of tender emotions, and in the light of these closing sentences we realize that this last letter is a monument of his love.
He explains his loneliness and the urgency of his summons by telling Timothy of the dispersion of that circle of friends who for a time had cheered the darkness of his dungeon. One has deserted him; two have left him for reasons which he does not name; one has been sent by him to Ephesus. "Give diligence to come shortly unto me: for Demas forsook me, having loved this present world, and went to Thessalonica." Only once before in the life of Paulhas Demas appeared. Then he was sharing an earlier imprisonment and he was described as a loyal fellow worker; in two epistles, then written, his name was honorably linked with that of "Luke, the beloved physician."
That Demas had become an apostate from the Christian faith, is by no means certain, although tradition so indicates. Probably he had become discouraged by hardships and had fled from Rome at a time when the persecution under Nero was becoming more perilous. 1 1 is enough of disgrace that he deserted Paul in the hour of direst need.
Paul next mentions the departure of " Crescens to Galatia" and of "Titus to Dalmatia." Whether they had been dispatched upon honorable missions, or had decided that it would be wise for them to labor in fields where their lives would be safer than in Rome, Paul does not state. It is not to be supposed, however, that he means to rank them with Demas as deserters. Of Crescens nothing else is known; but Titus is remembered as the faithful delegate who accomplished for Paul most delicate tasks in Corinth and in Crete. "Only Luke is with me." It might be difficult to determine whether this phrase depicts more vividly the loneliness of Paul or the heroism of Luke. The apostle did have other friends in Rome whom later he mentions; but no one else was willing to share the rigor and peril of his imprisonment. However, there was no one whom Paul would have preferred to Luke. Probably no lovelier character lived in those days of early Christianity than this "beloved physician" whose gospel is regarded as "the most beautiful book in the world," whose book of The Acts constitutes the most fascinating and important portion of Church history, whose care for the great apostle seems to have made possible the continuance of Paul's incomparable work as they shared the perils of travel, the gloom of dungeons, and the glory of composing masterpieces of literary art. In this last scene of Paul's life nothing could be more fitting than this sketch of Luke, amid the deepening shadows, standing steadfast by his side.
To the name of Luke, Paul now adds that of another Evangelist: "Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is useful to me for ministering." This name has become an inspiration to those of us who have known the bitterness of failure in the service of Christ. Here is a man whose early life had been marred by a grievous fault, whose companionship Paul consequently had spurned as that of a coward and a deserter, but a man who had so redeemed his reputation and so convinced the apostle of his sincerity, his devotion, and his worth, that he is now summoned to aid Paul in an hour of supreme danger, and in circumstances from which other friends were ready to flee.
One other member of the broken circle of fellow prisoners is mentioned: "Tychicus I sent to Ephesus." Tychicus belonged to the province of Asia in which Ephesus was located; he had accompanied Paul on his last journey to Jerusalem; he had shared his earlier imprisonment in Rome, and from thence had carried the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. It is not impossible to conclude that he was to bear this letter, traveling by routes which had become familiar to him in the service of his famous friend.
The request of the apostle which follows, namely, that when coming, Timothy should bring with him the heavy "cloak" which had been left at Troas, and also the papyrus "books " and the leather "parchments, " sounds a note of reality, for no forger would have inserted here such a request; it adds a tender touch of human interest and enables us to see the aged sufferer in the damp prison cell, shivering in the chill of an approaching winter; but it flashes a further light upon that indomitable spirit who, in circumstances of deepest distress, was eager to continue work with his manuscripts and books.
Whom Paul had in mind as he turned to warn Timothy against "Alexander the coppersmith," it is impossible to learn; nor can we conjecture the particular character of the offense which is denounced. Evidently this Alexander was an enemy of the gospel, and yet seemingly one who was disguised, for Timothy is put upon his guard against him. Of his ultimate defeat Paul has no doubt: "The Lord will render to him according to his works." The great apostle never entertained any doubts as to the sovereignty of the Lord, and of his final adjustment of penalties and rewards.
The apostle next describes for Timothy the experiences of his first public trial. He had defended himself before, in the presence of august courts and powerful rulers, but here at Rome he has been arraigned before an imperial tribunal at the very capital of the world, and at this time of peril and need he has been made to stand absolutely alone. Those upon whose support and aid he naturally might have relied, have forsaken him and fled. At that time even Luke may not have been in Rome. Why his friends in the city furnished him no help we cannot conjecture. However, in this supreme crisis of his life, in his hour of greatest need, the apostle finds himself unbefriended, deserted, with no comrade or helper to sympathize, to comfort, or to sustain.
Yet he was not alone. By his side, unseen by the throng of curious spectators, unperceived by his malignant foes, unimagined by his imperial judges, there stood One as real to Paul as his very self: "The Lord stood by me." Nor was this Presence a mere inactive spirit; he manifested his power in two ways. First, he so strengthened Paul that the apostle gave a full and moving proclamation of the gospel of Christ, a message delivered before so representative an audience, and in the heart of the imperial city, that Paul could say truthfully, he had been strengthened so that "the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear." Instead of being intimidated and silenced as he stood before the judgment seat of Nero, Paul was enabled to give a message to the whole world.
There was a second result: "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." No special enemy is here denoted. Paul means merely that he was delivered out of his imminent peril; he was neither acquitted nor condemned, but death was for the present averted.
Such past deliverance gave him hope for the future, a hope expressed in words of far-reaching import: "The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom." Paul does not believe that no physical ill can befall him, but he is confident that his enemies can inflict no abiding harm. His description of deliverance widens out to the statement of a sublime Christian confidence. Nothing can permanently injure one who belongs to Christ; even death will only deliver him from suffering and bring him into eternal bliss. No wonder that in the presence of such a Lord, Paul adds this doxology: "To whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
B. SALUTATION AND BENEDICTION. Ch. 4: 19-22
Paul sends a closing salutation to Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila, and to, "the house of Onesiphorus." The latter Christian household has been mentioned by Paul with deep affection in an earlier part of his epistle; it is only natural that in dispatching the letter to Ephesus he should include this loving farewell.
As for Prisca and Aquila, they had been his fast friends since those days he lived with them in Corinth, days of discouragement and ultimate triumph when he was founding the Christian Church in that great commercial capital. It may have been then, under his influence, they first accepted Christ. They were Jews by birth and came from Pontus. More than once they had resided in Rome, where, as at Ephesus, they had been of great help to Paul. As at this time they again were in Ephesus, Paul gladly accepts the opportunity of sending them an affectionate remembrance.
From two other companions of the apostle, Timothy might have expected salutations, and therefore Paul explains: "Erastus remained at Corinth: but Trophimus I left at Miletus sick." It cannot be determined whether this Erastus is to be identified either with the treasurer of Corinth, Rom. 16:23, or with the messenger sent by Paul to Macedonia, Acts 19: 22.
Trophimus was probably the Ephesian who had traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey. That Paul was compelled to leave him "at Miletus sick" would seem to indicate that even Christians cannot always claim by faith deliverance from disease, and that even the chief apostle could not cure a suffering friend. In sickness and in health our prayer must be, "The will of the Lord be done."
After these personal greetings Paul again states the prime purpose of his epistle, which is to summon Timothy to Rome: "Give diligence to come before winter," that is, "before you may be prevented by storms, before I may be in greater need of the cloak you are to bring, before my next summons to stand before the judgment seat of Nero." It is a pathetic appeal, but its chief interest lies in the question which it naturally raises, namely, did Timothy reach Rome, in reply to this appeal, before Paul was condemned and executed? So it would seem; for otherwise Timothy might not have suffered the experience of imprisonment to which reference is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Heb. 13: 23. His visit to Paul may have been the occasion of his arrest. He probably shared with the apostle that captivity from which other friends shrank. Thus we may believe that during his last days Paul was solaced by the sympathetic presence of the two men he most truly loved, Luke and Timothy, and also by the faithful and efficient service of Mark.
There were other friends, too, who on occasion found access to his dungeon, residents of Rome and representatives of that large circle of Christians who held Paul in reverent regard. From them he sends greetings through Timothy: "Eubulus saluteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren." Of the persons here named nothing further is known, unless this Linus is he who, according to tradition, was appointed as bishop of Rome in the days of the early simplicity of that sacred office. The mention of his name and those of his associates gives another proof of historic reality to this letter; and the absence of all mention of the official position of Linus indicates that these words must have been written at the early date commonly assigned to this epistle. We are, therefore, still further assured that we are reading here the last authentic words of the Apostle Paul.
The closing benediction, "The Lord be with thy spirit. Grace be with you," is an example of the wealth of meaning hidden from such readers of the English Bible as fail to understand its careful use of pronouns; for as "thy" is of course singular and denotes only one person, "you" is always plural, and here indicates the whole Christian congregation at Ephesus. Thus we are reminded again that these Pastoral Epistles were not mere personal letters to individuals but conveyed messages through representative ministers, to the Christians under their care.
For Timothy, Paul invokes the blessings of his ever-present Lord, and prays that divine grace may be granted to sustain and keep the whole congregation of believers. This grace supported Paul, as a little later he was led forth to die, and it surely will suffice for all who serve and trust his Master and his Lord.