Please read 2 Timothy 1:1-7.
CONTEXT = 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter. It was written during his second imprisonment in Rome, a brutal ending to Paul’s life. His cell had only one hole in the ceiling to admit light and air. Worse, as 1:15-16 tells us, some of Paul’s associates had deserted him.
These circumstances would be enough to discourage anyone and you could understand if Paul struggled to accept the horrible things he was facing. In his loneliness, God turned his thoughts to Timothy, a young man – a Greek – who had been his mentor in ministry. Paul wanted to make certain Timothy received the full measure of instruction and support, everything Paul could put in a letter to this pastor whom he’d trained.
It is our blessing that these words have been preserved in Scripture for they provide a touching example of how essential it is that our faith be grounded in a heritage of sincere service. Normally we speak of “heritage” as something from our past. This passage obviously confirms that understanding of the word. However, I want to challenge your thinking to recognize that a heritage starts as something we receive from previous generations; it is part of our past. It is also something we are working on in each present moment. It is of immediate importance because it guides how we live each day. Finally, a heritage is something we’re creating for those who follow behind us. A faithful heritage is something found in all three time periods; past, present, and future. We see all three of these eras of heritage in Paul’s greeting at the beginning of this letter.
Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.
- The Apostle Paul’s heritage.
Paul held the status and ministry of an apostle (1). He was AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS. The word “apostle” means “one with a message.” It is similar to “angel.” A modern equivalent might be “missionary.”
It gets a little confusing because the first Apostles were the thirteen men whom Jesus chose to be His closest disciples. Later, the title would be used for preachers going into new areas of the world and leaders of the Church. I keep it straight by reserving capital “A” Apostles as designating the thirteen men whom Jesus chose directly. Everyone else – persons with this gift – gets a small letter “a.”
BY THE WILL OF GOD: Paul’s apostleship was unique; in Acts 9:15 the Lord told Ananias about Paul: “HE IS MY CHOSEN INSTRUMENT TO CARRY MY NAME BEFORE THE GENTILES AND THEIR KINGS AND BEFORE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.”
Or, to put it another way, Paul’s apostleship came about ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE OF LIFE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS. THE PROMISE OF LIFE is the Good News Paul would carry into the Gentile world. It is an exclusive message: the PROMISE OF LIFE is only kept IN CHRIST JESUS.
Paul exemplified the blessing of Christ-like character (2). This kind of character is not natural; it comes FROM GOD THE FATHER AND CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD. He offered three aspects of that kind of character.
GRACE = supernatural help to cover sins and other shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
MERCY = kindness above and beyond what might be considered “deserved.”
PEACE = inward tranquility that comes from trusting God will take care of you.
Paul referred to his family’s intergenerational service to God (3). I THANK GOD, WHOM I SERVE, AS MY FOREFATHERS DID. The word FOREFATHERS is quite general; it could refer to immediate generations or Paul’s ancestors all the way back to Abraham. In Romans 11:1 Paul proudly referred to himself as an ISRAELITE, A DESCENDANT OF ABRAHAM, FROM THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN. (He wrote more details in Philippians 3:4-6, where the Apostle established himself as a faithful Jew: a “Jew’s Jew.”)
He executed his service WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE: CLEAR meaning “pure;” not compromised with sin. This was important to Paul; he mentioned it two other times in 1 Timothy (1:5; 3:9) and once in a sermon in Acts (23:1). On the other hand, he went into some detail to show he was the WORST of SINNERS in 1 Timothy 1:12-16. This may sound contradictory, but Paul in these passages, the Apostle Paul contrasted his sin with his salvation. He wanted Timothy to understand how God had done so much to save him.
Service through prayer is indicated in the phrases I THANK GOD and I CONSTANTLY REMEMBER YOU IN MY PRAYERS. Prayer is the means of service by which things happen.
- Pastor Timothy’s heritage.
An important part of Timothy’s heritage was his heart-felt relationship with Paul. Verse two identifies Timothy as Paul’s SON in the faith. MY DEAR SON (agape teknon) is obviously an affectionate way to speak about Timothy. Relationships between believers are supposed to be characterized by love, but Timothy clearly had a special place in the Apostle Paul’s heart. Paul may have first met Timothy in the city of Lystra, in Asia Minor, on his First Missionary Journey (Acts 14:8-21). Paul took Timothy along on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:2-3).
Verse four speaks to a close relationship in two different phrases. RECALLING YOUR TEARS probably refers to the time they parted company last. Acts 20:37-38 reports the tears as Paul left the city of Ephesus (where Timothy pastored) for the last time. I LONG TO SEE YOU SO I MAY BE FILLED WITH JOY. How many relationships do you have where seeing that person fills you with JOY? I pray you have many. Indeed, the number of such relationships may be a mirror to your own character and the depth of Christ’s love in you.
Like Paul Timothy benefited from an inter-generational faith in God. In his prayers, Paul had been reminded of Timothy’s SINCERE FAITH. Timothy’s faith was received (his faith FIRST LIVED IN YOUR GRANDMOTHER LOIS AND IN [his] MOTHER EUNICE), but was also personal (I AM PERSUADED NOW LIVES IN YOU ALSO). Postmodern culture assumes that reality is however you define it and faith is something you need to make up for yourself. These are utterly false and harmful assumptions.
Instead, faith begins with a foundation on the past, on the teachings and traditions of the Church that have – ideally – been passed on by our own family members. Like Timothy, faith starts familial and becomes personal as we grow in maturity and understanding.
Paul was a caretaker of Timothy’s faith (6). The phrase FOR THIS REASON refers to Paul’s knowledge of Timothy’s faith as sincere and Paul’s encouraging Timothy to live in it fully. I REMIND YOU TO FAN INTO FLAME (“continue rekindling”) THE GIFT OF GOD. Paul does not explain this figure of speech, so we are allowed to speculate. We might relate it to the word TIMIDITY in verse seven. In which case, Paul is urging Timothy to use his gifts and exercise his office courageously. Based on the fact Paul thought this admonition necessary we might guess that Timothy had not been developing his gifts or not using them for leadership.
WHICH IS IN YOU BY THE LAYING ON OF MY HANDS = Paul may be accused of being a “proud spiritual papa” here, but I believe the emphasis is on Paul’s knowing for certain Timothy’s faith was SINCERE because Paul saw it for himself. Paul laid his own hands on Timothy in acknowledgement of his faith. The New Testament posits a number of different uses/meanings of the practice of laying on hands.
– In Acts 6:6, the Apostles laid hands on the first deacons, to commission them for service.
– In Acts 8:17, Peter and John placed their hands on believers in Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit. (cf 19:6)
– In Acts 9:12-17, Ananias put his hands on Paul and his blindness was healed.
– In Acts 13:3 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to be missionaries to the Gentiles by the laying on of hands.
– In Acts 28:8, Paul placed his hands on a man to heal his illness.
Whether Paul is referring to Timothy being healed, ordained, or receiving the Holy Spirit, it was a personal connection.
The phrase SINCERE FAITH is almost redundant. Anything called “faith” that isn’t sincere isn’t faith at all. This phrasing indicates Paul recognizing Timothy’s faith as real.
- Every believer’s heritage.
In the final verse, Paul developed two aspects of the spiritual heritage every believer enjoys. First, expressed negatively, GOD DID NOT GIVE US A SPIRIT OF TIMIDITY (7). TIMIDITY = “fearfulness.” “Timothy” and “timidity” have similar sounds. There is evidence that confidence may have been something Timothy lacked. In 1 Corinthians 16:10 Paul urged the Corinthians to do nothing to make Timothy fearful. In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul urged Timothy to not allow anyone to look down on him on account of his youth. The choice of “timidity” as a translation is unfortunate, because the Greek word has stronger emotion than that. “Cowardice” would be a better choice. In Revelation 21:8, the COWARDLY are named among the kinds of persons excluded from the New Jerusalem.
Of more immediate consequence, TIMIDITY saps our strength. It urges us to give up on God and each other, cutting off the source of true strength. The result is that we quit thinking about our heritage and focus on our shortage. This is a deception of the devil that isolates us and makes us easy pickings.
Expressed positively, we all have a heritage of power. God has given us A SPIRIT OF POWER, OF LOVE, AND OF SELF-DISCIPLINE. One might say these three qualities are essential for leadership in the church.
POWER = energy, the capacity for getting things DONE! The Greek word is dunamis; the basis for our English words “dynamite, dynamo, and dynamic,” three powerful words! Having POWER inspires confidence; timidity often occurs in the absence of POWER.
LOVE = agape; the kind of love that is supernatural in origin. Of the six words for love in the Greek language, agape is the most unselfish one. In 1 John 4:18 we are promised that agape love casts out all fear.
SELF-DISCIPLINE is the God-given ability to control our passions instead of being controlled by them. Four times in his three letters to young pastors Timothy and Titus, Paul urges them to possess SELF-DISCIPLINE. Especially in leadership positions, rash words and thoughtless actions can cause big problems. Self-discipline is a virtue that helps one avoid these problems.
Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.
Four times in verses three through six, Paul used words related to memory; REMEMBER, RECALLING, REMINDING, and REMIND. We can picture him alone in his cell in a frame of mind and with nothing better to do than to relive memories of his past. We can understand Paul being nostalgic, even grieving the fact that he will add nothing more to those memories.
I believe God used that understandable frame of mind to motivate Paul to record these final thoughts. The entire letter demonstrates what we have noted in these first seven verses: the need to be mindful of our heritage.
We need to review and memorialize the heritage we have received. The past is the time period over which we have no control – what is done cannot be done over. Yet it is still important because it is the foundational part of our heritage. It is the things we have received and created that define us in the present.
We need to be guided by our heritage, not by the fits of passion that enflame us in the present. When we’re too much in the moment, we are prey to peer pressure, passion, and fashion, making poor decisions. Choices create consequences and that is the stuff of life.
We need to be mindful of the future we’re creating; the heritage that is in the works; the life we will pass on to generations that follow us. We can’t just model it and hope they “catch on,” it must be taught to be caught.
Journey to a Faithful Finish, Tommy C. Higle
NIV Study Bible
Word Bible Commentary, William D. Mounce