Introduction to 2 Timothy and Appeals to Faithfulness


2 Timothy 1:1-18


Date and Setting

Although Paul is in prison when he writes 2 Timothy, it appears that he is in a different situation than when he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians (letters he wrote while in prison in Rome). According to extrabiblical sources and the tone of 2 Timothy, it appears that Paul spent 2 different terms in prison in Rome. During the first Roman imprisonment (59-61 AD), Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. According to these letters and according to Acts 28:30, it seems that Paul was released after 2 years. Apparently the Roman officials realized that Paul was on trial because of trumped-up charges. The Jews had accused Paul of violating their Law, a charge the Romans would not have taken seriously since Paul did not threaten Roman rule. At the end of 2 years, Paul most likely was released and allowed to continue his ministry. If we have read Clement of Rome correctly, Paul most likely fulfilled his dream of evangelizing modern-day Spain (Rom. 15:24).

In 64 AD though a new crisis confronted the Roman Christians. For some unknown reason Rome went up in flames. At that time Rome had existed for hundreds of years and was composed in large part of wooden buildings. Fire swept through the city. The pain was so great that the Romans needed someone to blame. Suspicion fell upon Nero first because it was rumored he played his lyre while watching Rome burn and second because he used it as an opportunity to launch a massive building program. To deflect these accusations, Nero placed the blame at the feet of Christians. Although persecution against Christians was limited to the city of Rome, it nevertheless was intense. Christians were dipped in pitch and oil, crucified in Nero's gardens, and set on fire to provide light for his gardens at night. It was during this period that Paul and Peter were put to death: Peter by crucifixion (upside down?) and Paul by beheading. By the tone of 2 Timothy, it appears that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy while awaiting a final trial and execution. It is most probable that Paul died in 65-66 AD.


Why did Paul write this letter to Timothy? Although the letter is highly personal, it also has a timeless appeal. We never know when persecution is going to confront us. When it does, Paul's appeals to Timothy to stand firm apply to us as well. Moreover, no generation of Christians is permanent. One of the biggest shocks to me has been to see a whole generation of godly people pass away here at First Baptist. I guess I just thought that Christine Bristow would live forever. Wanda Westmoreland was here one day and gone the next. No generation is permanent; therefore, succeeding generations must be prepared and challenged to take up the mantle previous generations have handed down to them. Both these situations appear to be operating in 2 Timothy: appeal to faithfulness in times of persecution and the challenge to take up the mantle being handed down.


Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus (1:1).

Paul begins 2 Timothy the same way he begins all his letters--with a brief salutation. Notice though 2 elements in this salutation. First, he reminds Timothy that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. This seems strange when you remember to whom Paul is writing. Why does Paul need to remind Timothy that he is an apostle? Surely their relationship was so close that he could speak to him as a son, not as a disciple. As close as we can get to one another, we must always remember that our relationship with Christ dictates and determines all our relationships. If we don't remember this, our relationship with each other can become more important that our relationship with Christ. If Christ were not dictating Paul's relationship with Timothy, Paul might wink at some of Timothy's failures. He might try to justify or explain away Timothy's shrinking back from standing up for Christ. Paul's response to Timothy would be based on personal feelings and not on Christ's word.

Second, Paul points out that he is God's apostle based on the "promise of life." This would especially appeal to Paul since he is facing certain death. He will remain true to Christ because Christ has promised eternal life to those who follow Him, even if it means following Him to the point of death. Too often we view following Christ as being led to greater riches, better health, a happier life, etc. That's not necessarily true. Following Christ sometimes means we follow Him to the cross. We want life; it's just that we fail to realize that Jesus gives resurrection life, that is, life that is produced only by dying. Paul does not suffer because he is a masochist. He is willing to suffer because he knows that in God's economy, suffering is the necessary means to experience true life.


As is customary in first-century letter writing, Paul follows his salutation with a brief thanksgiving to God for Timothy. Notice how Paul tailors his thanksgiving so that it relates to Timothy's situation. Paul thanks God whom HE SERVES WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE THE WAY HIS FOREFATHERS DID . When Paul stands before God on Judgment Day, he will be able to stand before Him with a perfectly clear conscience; he has consistently followed God. The question facing Timothy is whether or not he too will stand before God with a clear conscience. The way he responds to the present situation will help determine whether or not he will have that clear conscience on that day.

Next, Paul says that he is faithful to God just as his forefathers were faithful to God. Most likely Paul is referring to his father, grandfather, etc., who had been devout men of Judaism. Paul had been blessed to have been raised in a God-fearing home. He had responded positively to this blessing which God had given him. The question facing Timothy was whether or not he was going to respond positively to the godly heritage he had inherited from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Both these ladies most likely had been believing Jews who responded positively to the gospel when Paul preached it at Lystra. [Luke is aparently implying that Timothy's father was not a Christian since he calls Timothy's mother a believing Jew but his father simply a Greek (Acts 16:1).] God is going to hold Timothy accountable for the godly heritage handed down to him.

It is true that a person does not need to be reared in a Christian home in order for him or her to become dedicated Christians. One of the most effective evangelists for Texas Baptists, C. Wade Freeman, was raised over a brothel in St. Louis, MO. Yet it just seems that people tend to gravitate more naturally to Christianity whenever they have been raised in a Christian home. I don't know where my godly heritage starts; however, I know that it goes back at least as far as Molly King, my great-grandmother. She had been raised an orphan, tossed from one home to another; yet at some point she gave her life to Christ. She remained true to Christ even though she was later widowed with 2 small children. That heritage was passed on down to my grandmother Ora Turner who with a few others kept the light shining at Mildred Baptist Church so that now a wonderful congregation is functioning there. She in turn passed on this heritage to my mom, who passed it on down to me. I will have little excuse on Judgment Day if I do not turn out half-way decent.

Paul thanks God second because of their relationship. Paul's relationship with Timothy was so special that Timothy had actually wept the last time they had parted. Paul is pulling out all the stops in reaching out to Timothy. He will appeal to Scripture, to Judgment, to the examples of others, and even, as here, to their own relationship. Paul does not dismiss this situation lightly. What is at stake here is (1) the future of the gospel and (2) Timothy's own future spiritually. If appealing to their relationship is necessary to keep Timothy faithful to the Lord, Paul will appeal to that relationship.

On the basis of Timothy's godly heritage and of their relationship, Paul reminds Timothy to "kindle afresh the gift of God" which was bestowed upon him through the laying on of hands. The gift referred to here is most likely Timothy's spiritual gift of pastor/teacher/evangelist. Although the Spirit has given Timothy this gift, the fire in that gift has been reduced to embers. Paul exhorts Timothy to throw some gasoline on those smoldering embers and turn the mere flicker into a roaring fire.

Why? Because the Spirit who lives within us giving us these gifts is not a timid, fearful Spirit. He is a Spirit of power, love, and discipline. Because the Spirit lives within me, no force on earth can stop me from being faithful in my witness to Christ. In spite of persecution, the Spirit can love others through me. Even though we might face death, the Spirit gives us the discipline to keep focused on doing the things God would have us do.


In this passage Paul urges Timothy to be faithful to Jesus and Paul, His prisoner, (1) because of the glorious nature of the gospel (1:8-11), (2) because of whom Paul is suffering for (1:12), (3) by promoting the teachings of Jesus, (4) by guarding the gift entrusted to him, and (5) by pointing to the example of Onesiphorus who was faithful to Christ and to Paul.

Appeal to Faithfulness Based upon the Glorious Nature of the Gospel (1:8-11)

One of the reasons many believe that Timothy may be on the verge of shrinking back from his commitment to Jesus is that 3 times in this chapter alone Paul mentions the word "ashamed": (1:8) Therefore, do not be ashamed . . ., (1:12) For I am not ashamed . . ., and (1:16) [Onesiphorus] was not ashamed of my chains. Why mention "ashamed" 3 times if shame is not an issue here?

Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed first of the testimony of the Lord Jesus and second of Paul His prisoner. The glorious nature of the testimony of Jesus should dispel any feelings of shame: Jesus "has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus who both brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (1:8, 9). There was nothing I had to or could do in order to obtain this salvation. It is given to me as a pure gift from God. Moreover, this salvation was not simply handed down to me from heaven; God Himself in Jesus personally brought me this gift by suffering scourging and abuse, and by dying the ignominious death of the cross. Why would we ever be ashamed of someone who loved us this much?

Notice that Paul commands Timothy not only not to be ashamed of the Lord Jesus but also not to be ashamed of Paul, Christ's prisoner. The only reason that Paul was in prison was that he was working for Christ. Rejecting Paul constituted nothing less than rejecting Jesus.

Once while I was serving a certain church, I was asked to address a local civic function. It was interesting to see the way church members responded to me out in public. Many were just as kind and friendly to me out in public as they were to me at church, while others who had been kind to me at church and even in their own homes avoided me when I was around their friends. I knew that this did not reflect on me. Rather it reflected on their relationship with Christ; they feared that their friends would look down on them if they appeared to be religious. In the same way here Timothy could not reject Christ's prisoner and yet claim to accept Christ.

How was Timothy to show that he was not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord or of Paul Christ's prisoner? By suffering along with Paul for the sake of the gospel. Note that Timothy is not required to muster up enough strength and courage to suffer for Christ. Rather he is to rely upon the power that Christ Himself extends to us.

Appeal to Faithfulness Based the Person for whom Paul is Suffering (1:12)

On the basis of all that Paul has just said, he appeals to Timothy to remain faithful to Christ during this time of persecution. "For this reason I also suffer these things but I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him against that day" (1:12). When a person truly comes to know Jesus, he is not going to be ashamed of Him during days of persecution. The problem is that too many of us only know about Jesus. We know His Word and we attend His church; yet our actions show that we don't know Him. When I view the actions of some Christians, I know that they are operating that way because they don't know Jesus. How can anybody deny Him after they have truly met Him. Knowing Nancy, Nathan, and Molly is one of the greatest things in my life. To deny them as my wife and children is incomprehensible to me. The same should apply to a greater degree with regards to our relationship with Jesus.

Not only knowing Him should keep me faithful to Him, knowing what He is doing for me should keep me faithful to Him: "He is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him . . ." Most likely Paul is referring to promise of eternal life Jesus is keeping in heaven for him. What we have to decide is whether or not eternal life is worth suffering for. Remember that eternal life is resurrection life. Resurrection life is the only kind of life Jesus is interested in giving us. It is obtained only by dying. I have got to decide at times whether or not being faithful to Christ at the expense of my own life is worth eternal, resurrection life.

Faithfulness to Christ Shown by Promoting Jesus' Teachings (1:13)

One of the ways Timothy is to remain faithful to Christ during times of persecution is by retaining "the standard of sound words which you have heard from me in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (1:13). Although the standard of sound words will undoubtedly include the OT and the words of Jesus and Paul transmitted to Timothy, the standard of sound words will especially refer to the commands to remain faithful to Christ during times of persecution.

Faithfulness to Christ Shown by Guarding the Spiritual Gift Entrusted to You (1:14)

Next, Timothy is to show his faithfulness to Christ by "guarding the treasure" entrusted to him. Most likely Paul is referring to spiritual gift entrusted to Timothy, the gift of pastor/teacher.

Finally, Paul reminds Timothy that he is not expected to remain faithful to Christ in his own strength and power. Note that Paul once more mentions the need for the Holy Spirit. It is only by the power of the Spirit that we can enjoy a victorious life. There is no way the Roman Christians remained faithful to Christ in their own strength and power while they were burning in Nero's gardens. Such faithfulness can only be produced by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Example of the Faithful Onesiphorus (1:15-18)

Finally, Paul appeals to Timothy by pointing out to him the example of Onesiphorus, a member of the congregation Timothy served at Ephesus. Onesiphorus contrasted sharply with the rest of the congregation at Ephesus, in fact with all the Christians who lived in Asia, the province in W. Turkey of which Ephesus was the capital: "You are aware of the fact that all lived in Asia turned away from me . . ." (1:15). This is quite stunning in light of the fact that Paul had spent no less than 3 years ministering to the church at Ephesus (Acts 19). In addition to this, the churches of Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea had been formed during his ministry there. It might not be a coincidence that the church at Ephesus turned away from Paul since its leader Timothy had either turned away from Paul or had been reticent to speak out in Paul's defense.

On the other hand, Onesiphorus had proved faithful to the Lord by being faithful to His servant Paul. He had not only come all the way to Rome from Ephesus to find Paul, he had also eagerly searched for him until he found him. In addition to this, Onesiphorus often refreshed Paul when he finally hooked up with him.

Paul prays a blessing upon the household of Onesiphorus because of his kind treatment of Paul. He prays that as Onesiphorus mercied him, so the Lord would mercy him on the day it mattered most--the Day of Judgment. Mercying somebody is more than forgiving them when they have wronged us. It also involves extending help to somebody during times of need. (Note that this is not just a wish. Paul expects the Lord to honor this request. He expects Onesiphorus to receive additional mercy on Judgment Day because of the mercy he had extended to Paul.)