The Two Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy
(Part 13, last part)
Chapter 4 (contd.)
2- The approaching end accompanied by the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:6-8)
These are St. Paul’s concluding words at the end of his fourteen epistles. It would seem that he could see his last days on earth; the open gates of paradise appeared on the horizon, waiting to receive him, after his unique, selfless service, which spanned three decades, since his stormy encounter on the road to Damascus with the Lord Whom (Saul) was persecuting. Immediately following that encounter God appointed Paul a chosen vessel before kings and nations; his evangelism spread from the land of Israel to the four corners of the world of that time.
As Paul groaned under the burden of his scarred and worn-out body, which suffered pain, wound, thorn of disease, and ordeal of prison, while sowing evangelism throughout the land, he says: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” as a vessel voiding itself of all contents, eventually becoming completely empty, hence, “and the time of my departure is at hand.” Put differently, the time of his death was at hand, just as a sea-bound vessel casts off its anchorage to leave port, or as an earthly tent, housing an ailing body, is loosed (2Cor. 5:1-4).
At that point in time, Paul’s entire life flashes before his eyes; thus, he perceives himself racing in the field, to the extent permitted by God’s grace, aiming for the reward awaiting him. He fought the good fight unflinchingly, he wrestled the forces of evil in the world in order to save nations, and now he has finished the race and kept the faith. In other words, he kept the covenant between him and his Master Who sent him, namely, to obey the Faith and deliver it soundly to his successors, just as the torch is handed from one team member to the next in a relay race, to ensure an uninterrupted march of light. The hour of glory and reward follows, according to the Divine promise: “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mat. 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13) St. Paul sub_sequently continues, with full confidence: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, …” – like the laurel wreath which adorned victorious generals’ heads in olden times – “which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day, …” – our Lord Christ, the just Judge, Who compensates the living and the dead – “not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing,” those who have endured the hardships of the present age for the sake of that hour, and those who led a life in Christ, anticipating the Lord’s glorious appearance which concludes everything.
3- Final commandments concerning the service (2 Tim. 4:9-18)
We note that St. Paul’s words of farewell are loaded with sentiments and heart-felt emotions, reflecting the heaviness of his loneliness and suffering in prison; he thus pleads with Timothy to hasten to his side in jail to ease the burden of loneliness – since Luke was the only one left with him – having accompanied him at all times, throughout his journeys in Asia and Europe, recording the events of his great service which spanned almost a third of a century1.
St. Paul subsequently speaks of those who had been with him and left; he specifically mentions “Demas” (likely short for Demetrius) regretfully, who had forsaken him and returned to Thessalonica – clearly with no intention of preaching there, otherwise Paul would not have said “having loved this present world.” The reasons, rather, seemed personal, resulting from Demas’ change of heart, and his preference to escape persecutions. Paul also mentions the departure of two others: “Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia”2, albeit for different reasons, namely, to reach out to those two Churches, and to follow up on the ministry. St. Paul simply underlines the fact that they were not with him when he wrote his final epistle – which compounded his suffering. On the other hand, he mentions clearly that he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus to resume the service. The stature of “Luke” is singled out, since Paul refers to him as “only Luke is with me;” most likely, Luke is the intended brother to whom Paul referred in 2 Cor. 8:18. 19: “… the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind.” At this point St. Paul mentions the Lord’s suffering as He approached the Cross, and which He had foretold saying, “you … will leave Me alone” (John 16:32); this was fulfilled: “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” (Mat. 26:56) Out of the twelve, only John remained with Him, as well as a number of women, the foremost being His mother, the holy virgin.
This is indeed a message to all of us, believers. We should be mindful of those who are forsaken by all: especially the elderly, who suffer from the burden of loneliness, not to mention old age ailments and the harshness of disease. The elderly abound in our world, where life’s pressures tear families apart and separate children from their parents, to the extent that children are forced to place their parents in senior citizens’ homes, without even visiting them regularly. Blessed are children who remain by their parents’ side unto the end. Also, blessed are the believers who care for, and reach out to, those brethren of Christ, seeking to sow joy and hope in the lives of those who have no one to remember them, compensating them for the absence of their own flesh and blood. ****
+ St. Paul had thus far imparted the impression that his demise was impending, while looking forward to restfulness, especially being a prisoner anticipating death; however, he surprises us by asking Timothy to summon “Mark” [during Paul’s first journey, Mark had interrupted his trip and returned to Jerusalem – for this reason Paul had rejected his participation in the ministry during the second journey – Acts 15:37-40.] Never-theless, Paul reveals here that what had transpired in the past had not changed his high regard for Mark with respect to his capabilities in the service, saying, “He is useful to me for ministry.” At the same time, this demonstrates to us that Paul never allowed himself to be controlled by emotions so that, rather than formulating whimsical decisions, he bases his opinions on honesty and truthfulness in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, calling upon Mark for help shows Paul’s readiness for resumption of the ministry once released.
With winter approaching, Paul also requests Timothy to go to Troas (after entrusting the service to Tychicus) to bring him the cloak that he had left with “Carpus.” This is quite astonishing since Paul, having the stature of being the Gentiles’ apostle, apparently did not have the means of buying a coat to protect him from winter’s cold. Hence Paul, while living in Rome, asked Timothy who was living in Ephesus, to travel to Troas to recuperate the cloak that he had left there with one of the believers, and bring it to him in the Roman prison! Oh my God! What honesty, what devotion, and what selflessness! This, though, is perfectly consistent with the Lord’s instruction: “And He said to them, “… do not have two tunics apiece.”” (Luke 9:3) This is also consistent with Paul’s own assertion: “… as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (2 Cor. 6:10) Sadly, many of today’s servants compare very poorly with St. Paul!
+ In addition to his cloak, Paul asks Timothy to bring “… the books [meaning the papyrus scrolls], especially the parchments [the leather parchments].” Those parchments most likely contained the Old Testament Books and possibly some of the Lord’s sayings.
+ A warning to Timothy follows, to beware of opponents who resist the word of God, one of whom is specifically mentioned: “Alexander the coppersmit3 ,” who “did me much harm” and “greatly resisted our words.” Paul then submits his case to the just Judge, “May the Lord repay him according to his works.”
+ Paul mentions, once more, the hesitation and wavering faith of many, and their fear of persecution. Hence, during his “first defence” in prison, at the outset of his interrogation, “no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” Nevertheless, he forgives them, as his crucified Master had done – he thus says, “May it not be charged against them.” This shows that his heart accepts human weakness, rather than harboring revenge or grudges. However, he was not alone, since the Lord supported him everywhere, throughout his entire service, over land and sea, and before rulers and leaders, hence, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (one such example was his preaching Christ before Festus and Agrippas, Acts 25, 26). St. Paul goes on to say, “And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” that was ready to devour him. God, though, extended his life according to His plan to complete his ministry’s march; Paul was confident that God would rescue him from all future evils, deliver him from all hardships, and preserve him for “His heavenly kingdom.”
Paul’s confession with God’s support, grace, and ever-presence by his side, in all his trials, even when forsaken by all, is concluded by his favorite laud, “To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
4- Conclusion and salutations (2 Tim. 4:19-____22)
While imprisoned, during his last days on earth, Paul remembers those who had lent him a helping hand, and whose love and loyalty to him never waned: “Prisca and Aquila,” (also his wife Priscilla – both had returned from Rome and had hosted, and incurred risks, for him in Corinth – Acts 18:2, 26). Paul also remembers the “household of Onesiphorus” (he had mentioned him at the beginning of the epistle, 2 Tim. 1:16-18, expressing his gratitude for his having no shame to visit him in prison, and praying the Lord to show him mercy on the last day). It was clear that they had moved from Corinth to Ephesus under the guidance of Bishop Timothy.
Paul also refers to “Erastus” who had continued to serve in Corinth (Erastus had served with Paul in Corinth, then Ephesus, prior to Paul’s dispatching him to Achaia, Acts 19:22. Erastus was also mentioned in Paul’s epistle to the Romans as the “treasurer of the city” Romans 16:23.) As for Trophimus, Paul had left him in Miletus due to illness (Trophimus, who was from Ephesus, had accompanied Paul on his last visit to Jerusalem, and was seen with him in the temple, which had led to his imprisonment, Acts 21:29.)
Paul then resumes his discussion about Timothy’s visit to him, asking him to hasten his trip before winter, thus avoiding the hazards of travelling by sea during winter. The apostle was also uncertain with respect to the development of events surrounding his imprisonment.
Paul subsequently sends Timothy greetings from all the brethren, and some specific friends; hence, “Eubulus” and “Pudens,” (an elder who had converted at Peter’s hands), “Linus” (who succeeded Peter as bishop of Rome) and “Claudia” (Linus’ mother.)
Finally, Paul concludes his epistle with: “The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit [Timothy]. Grace be with you [the Church of Ephesus]. Amen.”
- Luke was Paul’s biographer and historian to whom are attributed two great biblical books: the Gospel according to St. Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles, narrating the Lord’s life and the apostles’ activities, respectively. ↩
- This lies to the northwest of Macedonia – presently, Bosnia, Croatia and Albania. ↩
- Mentioning the title “coppersmith” distinguishes him from others bearing the same name, mentioned in Acts 19:33 and 1 Tim. 1:20. ↩