The Two Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy
- Taking refuge in grace, and commitment to honesty, when faced with troubles of the service (2 Tim. 2:1-14)
The apostle Paul continues to exhort “his son” with respect to serving the Lord, alerting him to the service’s sources of strength. He thus asks him to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” the overflowing abundance of God’s free gift, which is indispensable to any believer or servant. In the interest of maintaining continuity of sound Christian instruction, it is incumbent on Timothy to commit all that he heard from his teacher Paul, before many witnesses, to faithful, competent, men who would be able to teach others also, faithfully adhering to the soundness and truthfulness of the instruction. Thus, we can be assured of the spread of pure, unadulterated evangelizing, as handed down from the Lord to our forefathers.
St. Paul urges Timothy to be ready at all times to endure the inevitable hardships, which are part and parcel of preaching the Gospel of Christ; as an example of his struggle he offers the example of a soldier defending his country, hence, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”1 A soldier fully occupies himself with his duties, not allowing distractions, such as civil chores or the like, in order to secure the trust and approval of his superiors. Similarly, Christ’s servant must be fully dedicated to his task; his labor must be committed to the Gospel’s commandments, modelled after the Lord Who “became obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8), and likened unto the Lord’s faithful disciples and apostles who adhered to the upright course out of their love for Christ the King. Only then, will the Lord be pleased with the servant’s labor, granting him the support of His Holy Spirit. Otherwise, the servant will not be crowned on Judgment Day, hence, “… if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:5)
Paul also likens the Lord’s servant unto a “hard-working farmer.” He reassures Timothy that, as this farmer is the first to partake of the crops, so would a faithful servant of the Lord, who serves cheerfully and selflessly, be the first to rejoice in the souls who were saved through his service and example. Paul asks Timothy to “consider” the words of the message, and to be diligent in understanding it; he also asks the Lord to grant Timothy “understanding in all things.” Furthermore, Paul asks Timothy to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom the blessings, which the Lord had promised to the seed of Abraham and David, were fulfilled; and Whose Resurrection had led to the completion of the work of the Cross and death, and the fulfillment of salvation of mankind. That was the Gospel of Christ which St. Paul preached; for the sake of spreading that Gospel of Christ to the entire world Paul endured suffering and hardships, including chains and imprisonment, as though he were guilty like all criminals. All that was insignificant, and would not impede the spread of the Gospel, since, “the word of God is not chained.” Paul endures everything in order for the word of God to reach everyone2 for the sake of those whom God had chosen “that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory [at the Lord’s coming].” (2 Tim. 2:10)
This section’s conclusion resembles an exhortation to comfort all those who struggle in the Lord’s service: “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.” The same meaning is conveyed in Paul’s epistle to the Romans (Rom. 6:4-8): as we died and were buried with Christ through baptism, so we will be also raised from the death with Him in the new life. “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” Patiently enduring suffering for Christ’s sake leads us to partnership of His glory in His kingdom. On the other hand, “If we deny Him, He also will deny us” as our Lord said also in Matthew 10:33. God knows His own, He grants them eternal life, they will never perish, and no one can ever wrench them from His hand (John 10:28). At the same time, He will deny and reject those who reject Him and deny His salvation. This latter group will never be His own, since, “those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14) The “called” and “chosen” are the object of God’s care: He blesses their struggle and repentance until the last hour, when they will abide with Him. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” Here there is a difference: humans may be treacherous and dishonest – but God remains faithful to His promises, “… with Whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) This is a guarantee to all believers that God’s promises can never fail.
The second part of the exhortation includes a warning to all servants and teachers to remain faithful to their cause, covered with grace, supported by the work of the Holy Spirit, and sanctified by the word of God. St. Paul subsequently instructs his beloved disciple to remind his helpers and com_panions of these points, and to entreat them before God not to be distracted by useless debates, and not to be lured by the desire to speak eloquently, since all that constitutes wasted time, and loss of those whom we serve – leading ultimately to their perdition.
2- Shunning profane and idle babblings (2 Tim. 2:15-21)
Once more, St. Paul turns to the teaching and its uprightness. As the leading shepherd of the Church, it was incumbent on Timothy to present himself appropriately to God; this meant that he had to be qualified and dedicated to “rightly dividing the word of truth” with all due care and diligence – just like a craftsman whose sole preoccupation is precision in his work. Consequently, Timothy should avoid all false biblical exegeses, which Paul labelled “profane and idle babblings.” Such babblings are propagated by false teachers, who had become increasingly forward and brazen: “And their message will spread like cancer.” Among those were “Hymenaeus and Philetus” [the first one was also mentioned in 1 Tim. 1:20]. Paul refers to them as among those who apostasized in Asia: “who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past …” This means that they deny the existence of Judgment Day, when everyone will be judged according to their deeds. Consequently, they deny the spirit’s im_mortality and the body’s resurrection. In his first epistle to the Corinthians Paul had said: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Cor. 15:19) Obviously, denying the resurrection negates one of Christianity’s fundamental tenets, not to mention the perplexity and doubts sown in many believers’ faith. However, this can never change “the solid foundation of God” which stands steadfast and unshaken, bearing this seal: 1) “The Lord knows those who are His.” Put differently, “For whom He foreknew … He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified …” (Rom. 8:29, 30). Those who are called and chosen believers, are distinguished among all others. 2) It is incumbent on each of those who are distinguished, “who names the name of Christ,” in other words, who bears the name of Christ and who preaches Him, to “depart from iniquity.” “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:14, 15)
In any case, both righteous and unrighteous continue to exist; hence, “in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay,” and the same parcel of soil may produce both wheat and tares (Mat. 13:25). Consequently, in the Church we will find vessels for honor and others for dishonor (Rom. 9:21), and anyone who desires to “be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work,” such as Timothy and other trustworthy servants, must purify his heart and mind from all iniquity, self-glorification, and quests for high places thereby stealing God’s glory.
3- Fleeing youthful lusts and avoiding foolish disputes (2 Tim. 2:22-26)
St. Paul did not overlook the fact that Timothy was still a young man, exposed to youthful lusts, which could be carnal or youthful impulsiveness. He therefore alerts him, as bishop of the Church of Ephesus, to prevent such impulses from offending his congregation or tarnishing his service. Consequently, the best avenue to pursue with respect to carnal lust, is that which young Joseph followed, namely, to flee this urge, thus blocking Satan’s foolish discussions in this regard, while seeking the Lord’s help, looking up to Christ, the Prince of faith, hence, “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace” with the pure believers among his congregation, “those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
Concerning foolish and ignorant disputes, Timothy should not permit himself to be lured into them; his youth and estrangement should not prevent him from quashing such disputes which lead to strife and divisions. As previously indicated, the ideal solution is to avoid such situations completely. This is especially true, given his position as servant of the Lord, who should not antagonize anyone – rather, be a loving, tolerant com_panion to all, qualified and knowledgeable for teaching, and dealing with, all levels and psyches, while demonstrating patience in trials and hardships. He should also correct opponents with meekness and long-suffering, entreating God to grant them repentance, in order to discover the truth and submission to the word of the Gospel; in this way “they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” Thus, the Church’s door remains open to all who repent and return to the truth.
(To be contd.)
- In his epistles, St. Paul often borrowed analogies from the Roman military, using expressions to describe a Christian believer’s struggle; hence, “the whole armour of God,” “we do not wrestle,” “spiritual hosts of wickedness,” “the breastplate of righteous_ness,” “the shield of faith,” “the fiery darts of the wicked one,” “the helmet of salvation,” “the sword of the Spirit,” (Eph. 6:11-17) and “two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12) ↩
- See the list of hardships that Paul endured for the sake of people’s salvation (2 Cor. 11:23-30). ↩