2 Timothy 1:1-7
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (vv. 1-7)
This Second Epistle to Timothy was written from a dungeon death cell. It is the last of Paul’s letters, as 1 Thessalonians is the first, which God has preserved for the edification of the church. Paul, of course, may have written, and probably did write, a great many more letters than the fourteen (including Hebrews) that we have in the Word of God. But these are the only ones which the Spirit of God both inspired Paul to write, and also which He included in the canon of Scripture.
The circumstances in connection with the writing of this last letter are very interesting. We do not get much information from the Scriptures themselves, except what we glean from that which Paul tells us in these Epistles and in that to Titus. Much has come down to us, however, from some of the earliest Christian writers which enables us to piece things together, and so to know something of the actual conditions under which the letter was penned.
We learn from the book of Acts that Paul was sent to prison in Rome, charged with endeavoring to incite an insurrection against the Roman government. For two full years he remained a prisoner under guard in his own hired house until he appeared before Caesar, and then he was set free because the charges which the Jews had brought against him were not sustained. He was permitted to take up again his work of ministering the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as we can learn from these early records, he then went on to Spain and preached there for a time. There is a legend—I think it is only a legend—to the effect that he crossed over to the British Isles and that he was the first to preach the gospel in Britain, but there is no proof of this which careful historians accept. From Spain he retraced his steps and went back to the region of Illyricum, along the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. He visited a number of churches where he had preached before, and went to Crete and other places not visited previously.
He was arrested again at a time when there was a great persecution against Christians. During the first imprisonment Christianity was looked upon as a sect of Judaism, which was a legalized religion. But shortly afterward the city of Rome was burned down, and by many this was attributed to Nero’s own order. Finding that he was greatly blamed for such iniquity he attempted to turn the onus from himself by putting it upon the Christians. He issued an indictment demanding that all Christians should be sought out everywhere in the empire as enemies of Rome and put to death. It was during this persecution that Paul was arrested again, and taken back to Rome and confined in the Mamertine dungeon.
If you visit the city of Rome today you can see that dungeon. You can go down into it, and as you look around at those bare walls and gaze up at the ceiling, where there is just a little hole in the center from which food was dropped down to Paul and water passed through in some kind of vessel, you get an idea of the suffering that he must have endured. There is no window whatsoever through which to look to the outside world. A river passes underneath, and there is a cleft in the floor where you can look down and see the water running. It must have been cold and damp in there at all times of the year, particularly in the winter. As I stood there I had some little realization of what it must have meant for God’s servants in early days to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word of God. Surely in comparison the lines have fallen unto us in pleasant places.
Just how long Paul remained in that dungeon we do not know. Nero died in the sixty-eighth year of our era. So sometime before that, possibly about a.d. 66 or 67, Paul was led out from his prison one day to the place of execution on the Ostian Road. There he laid down his gray head upon a great stone, and in a moment the executioner’s axe had decapitated him. Paul was absent from the body and present with the Lord.
Some time during those months he wrote this letter—the last letter of his that has come down to us. There is always something tender about the last message from one whom we have learned to love. How we thank God for the apostle Paul’s ministry. How delighted we would have been if we might have known him and heard his message delivered from his own lips. Here is his last word to his son in the faith.
As we read this epistle we shall find again and again that it is a triumphant message, though it came from a dungeon death cell. The great outstanding theme of the letter is the importance of faithfulness to Christ in a day of declension. First Epistles are, almost invariably, given to teaching; the Second Epistles are given more to prophecy. Now prophecy is not simply foretelling, but it is forth telling—stirring up the hearts and minds of God’s people by proclaiming the ministry suited to the times. As we read this letter we hear not simply the voice of the teacher, as in the First Epistle, but we hear the voice of the prophet calling us to increased devotedness to Christ as the days become darker.
We have the salutation in the first two verses: “Paul, an apostle [that is, a sent one, an official messenger] of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.” In the letter to Titus, Paul uses a similar expression, but adds these words, “which was given before the ages began.” What promise of life in Christ Jesus was given before the ages began? The probationary ages which began after the fall of man. The promise of life was given in connection with the curse put upon Satan when God said to him, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
After their sin was committed, Adam and Eve had no reason at all to expect to live. They had every reason to expect that they would be destroyed immediately, but instead of that, in infinite grace, God gave the promise of life in Christ Jesus. He said that the Seed of the woman who should yet be brought into the world “shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Adam immediately accepted this as a promise of life, and we read that he changed his wife’s name. He called her “Eve.”
You will notice she is never called Eve until after the Fall. We read that in the beginning “God created man in his own image, … male and female created he them”(Gen. 1:27), and He called their name “Adam.” When the man first beheld the wife God had given him, he called her Ishah (lady) because she was taken out of Ish (man). But after God gave the promise of life in Christ, Adam called her “Eve,” for Eve means “the mother of all living.” So Christ came and through Him God offers life to the world. Paul had gone through many lands proclaiming this message of life for all who believe the gospel.
“To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” We have noticed in looking at the previous epistle that when the Apostle addresses a church he simply says, “grace and peace,” when he addresses individuals it is “grace, mercy, and peace.” It is so in 1 Timothy and in that to Titus. In the case of the letter to Philemon he does not insert the word mercy, because he is addressing not only Philemon but also “the church in thy house.” The church, as such, does not need mercy, but individuals do because individuals fail and, therefore, are in need of constant mercy.
The introduction to the letter is found in verses 3-7 The great thing which this introduction emphasizes, it seems to me, is the blessing of a godly heritage. Now grace is not inherited. Every individual has to be born again, no matter how pious and devoted his parents may have been. But on the other hand, it is a great thing to have a godly heritage, to have parents who have known and loved the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have in my desk an old, old photograph. It is a photograph of my greatgrandfather, just a farmer in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The photograph is almost faded out with age, though I have tried to keep it covered from the light because I wanted to have it as long as I might live for this reason: I have been told many, many times by those who knew my great-grandfather (people who have long since gone home to heaven but used to know me, and whom I knew as a child) they told me how that great-grandfather of mine, at the close of every day, used to gather all his family—and it was a large family—and all his farmhands—and he had a large farm—about him and have family worship. He always prayed for the salvation and the blessing of his children and his children’s children unto the third and fourth generations—and I come in there. As I look at the grizzled face of that old Scottish farmer I thank God for a godly heritage, and I thank Him for the way in which He has answered prayer.
Oh, young men and young women, never undervalue the piety of your dear father and mother. If they know Christ, thank God for it. Thank Him that you have Christian parents. Do not imagine you belong to a generation better instructed than they. You may know a little more about the sciences of today, but I fear few of us know nearly as much as many of our Christian parents knew of the things of God and eternity.
Now Paul himself was indebted to a godly heritage. “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience.” His mind went back over the centuries, and he realized that he came from a line of godly people who loved the Lord and loved the truth of God. Even though, as Saul of Tarsus, he misunderstood and was zealous in his effort to destroy all who were followers of Jesus of Nazareth, doubtless his conversion was in answer to prayers which were made long before the time came when he was brought to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
“That without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day.” Paul valued Timothy because of his love for Christ, and he adds, “Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy.” Evidently Timothy was very tenderhearted and affectionate and wept over sinners and over his own sins. Paul delighted to think of this because Timothy was his own convert and later his companion in the ministry.
He reminds Timothy of his early training. He says, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee.” We know from another passage of Scripture that Timothy’s father was a Greek, and perhaps he was not a believer at all (Acts 16:1), but Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Jewesses. They were pious women who loved the Word of God and taught it to Timothy. We are told in this same letter that, “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Now when the Apostle says that, he does not mean that Timothy knew the New Testament, for it had not been written at that time. When he was growing up in that home yonder in Lystra or Derbe, there was no New Testament, but his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois taught him the things of God out of the Old Testament. No doubt many times as a lad he sat at their feet as they read those marvelous Messianic Psalms and prophecies of the coming Redeemer. One can imagine him asking what this meant and what that meant as the Scriptures were explained to him. So when the day arrived that Paul came to that region preaching the gospel, Timothy listened to the message, and the Spirit of God created faith in his heart, for “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). So Timothy was saved by faith in Christ Jesus.
I repeat what I said in the beginning, grace is not inherited. It is not necessarily true that because your parents are Christians you will be saved. But unless a spirit of rebellion is developed against the things of God, the children will follow on in the steps of godly parents and be led on in the ways of God. As Christian parents we have a right to expect that our children will be saved if we bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But we need to be careful that we walk before them so that they may see in us just what a Christian ought to be.
“Which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” The faith dwelt first in the grandmother, then was manifested in the mother, and finally in young Timothy who, when he heard the gospel, was ready to believe and confess Christ as his Savior.
Timothy was still out preaching the Word. Paul says, “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” When Timothy was leaving Lystra to go out into the work of the Lord, the elder brethren met together—the Presbyters as they are called—and placed their hands in loving fellowship upon his head. Paul was with them. And they prayed that God would give Timothy some special blessing, and in answer to prayer there was a definite gift bestowed upon him. Notice again the words here: “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” In response to Paul’s prayer of consecration as this young man went forth to preach the gospel, God gave him a special gift in order that he might be more useful in Christian service.
Then Paul urges him not to become lax, not to become careless, but to stir up the gift of God thus given. He says, as it were, Do not forget your responsibility, and do not let anybody terrify you. Do not be afraid of others, no matter how great the persecution may be and how great the hatred. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” These are the indications that one is really controlled by the Holy Spirit of God. These things will be manifest in the life. There will be power over sin. There will be power as we go out to win others to Christ. There will be power as we preach the gospel. There will be love for all men, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). Then he speaks of a sound mind. The Spirit of God will not lead into fanaticism. I have heard a great many people talk about being filled with the Spirit who, as far as I could see, gave every evidence of an unsound mind. They were taken up with all kinds of queer, fantastical, emotional experiences. Where the Holy Spirit controls there will be a sound mind. The Spirit of God will guard our intellect so that we will serve God in a reasonable and intelligent way. In this Christ Himself is our example.
In closing may I stress again the blessing and responsibility of a godly heritage? If I am addressing any who are still out of Christ and yet have had a true Christian home, who have had the blessing of faithful parents whose prayers went up to God daily on your behalf, and who read the Word of God in that home, remember that a tremendous responsibility rests upon you. You can be sure that God will never overlook your indifference and your carelessness as to the privileges you have enjoyed as a boy or a girl raised in such an atmosphere. I plead with you, therefore, to determine early in life that you are going to belong to the Christ of your father, that your mother’s Savior will be your Savior and your God, that the Bible they loved will be treasured by you, and that your life will answer to the prayers that they have offered on your behalf.