Embracing God’s Zeal for His Truth: Be Loyal

As Paul nears the end of his earthly journey and consequently of his apostolic ministry, he gives both encouragement and admonition to his most consistent and dearly loved son in the ministry, Timothy. This short letter is remarkable for its fullness in theology, autobiography, affection for a friend, expression of lament for the fear and faithlessness of some, confidence in the perfection of the divine plan of revelation and redemption, and determination to be found working when the night finally falls on his labors.


I. Paul Reminds Timothy of Relationships

A. Relations that inform his [Paul’s] ministry

  1. To God as an apostle  (1).
  • His apostleship particularly concerns Christ Jesus. Throughout Paul’s ministry the whole movement of biblical theology comes to bear in his deep awareness that his task of proclamation has no object other than a display of the full riches that are in Christ. God’s message is a message about his Son.  God’s redemption finds manifestation in his Son.  The future Kingdom is brought to fulfillment in its specific character as a kingdom of the redeemed by his Son.  The work of angels is marked out by God’s redemption of fallen humanity.  The work of apostles continually unfolds layers of richness in Christ.
  • It is not a chosen profession, but God’s decree (cf. Gal 1:15, 16). In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also explores the implications of this call to apostleship. God designed him for the purpose to glorify the triune God in the proclamation and establishing of the gospel in a permanent written form.  God set him apart to this purpose even from his mother’s womb. Not only was Paul to serve as an example of the great patience of God in the redemption of his chosen ones (1 Timothy 1:16 cf with 2 Peter 3:9), but was to give the abiding verbal form to the message he once despised, considered blasphemy, and sought to destroy.
  • His apostleship was conformed to, “according” or “with a view to,” the promise of life. This goes beyond the promise embedded in the proclamation of the gospel that all who believe will receive eternal life (John 3:16, 36). Paul is pointing to the premundane promise that resided eternally in the persons of the triune God consciously as a manifestation of grace and mercy in God brought about within history by the work of the Son (“which is in Jesus Christ”). See Titus 1:1 for an expansion of this same idea.  Paul sees this promise particularly as the “faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth according to godliness.”  This is based on the “hope of eternal life which God who cannot lie promised” before the ages of time began.   This fulfilled the hope believed by the Pharisees. See Acts 26:5-8.  The promise of eternal life, therefore, involves the eternal covenant immutably established in which God sets aside an elect people that he determines that he will bring to repentance and faith (“knowledge of the truth according to godliness”)
  1. To Timothy as a Father in the ministry 2 –4
  • Paul had no natural son, but in Christ, he served as father to Timothy; “Beloved” (2). Paul alternates between very stern admonition andmelting tenderness. True love does not omit the tough issues of true discipleship. A love for the brethren does not necessarily mean that we desire to shield them from hardship. When this hardship is for Christ and the Gospel, Paul invites Timothy to partake of it. He sees it as for his good and the glory of God in the calling and sanctification of the people that are his own.
  • Timothy is the consistent object of his prayers, night and day.This could be stated times of prayer but probably indicates that Paul never is far from prayer throughout the day and in this context of prayer has Timothy and his ministry as a consistent item for intercession. As an element of Paul’s knowledge of the certainty of the accomplishment of God’s decree was his commitment to prayer without ceasing. As he explains in more detail later, God’s sovereignty and power in the service of his unchangeable character puts into motion all the means necessary for and consistent with the gospel. Prayer, as a restoration of knowledge of our dependence on God and as an expression of our delight in his excellence, manifests a love for the first table of the commandments summarized in the greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul,  and with all thy strength.” Our sin in Adam and in ourselves has obliterated that element of worship. The gospel in its underlying moral implications restores a love for prayer and a recognition that our supplications to him constitute an element of his just rule in our lives.
  • They shared a deep affection, “Your tears, . . .Longing to see you . . . filled with joy.” (4) Timothy loved Paul for his unvarnished devotion to the gospel that led to his own reception of a charge for gospel ministry, and now shared Paul’s concern for the glory of Christ. See Philippians 2:19-23 for Paul’s evaluation of Timothy’s heart for Christ and his people.
  1. To His forefathers as a true worshipper of God (3)
  • He probably is not speaking of his position as a Pharisee, which he repudiated in Phil 3 concerning the Law, but the position he affirmed concerning the resurrection Acts 23:6-9; 26:5-8. Paul knew that the Pharisee’s doctrine of resurrection was true, but they did not see it as connected with the redemption Christ effected through his death. Resurrection unto life comes only from Christ having paid the wages of sin.  Their hope of resurrection, therefore, was right, but their view of the necessity of the gospel made them deficient.  They did not grasp the nature of regeneration, [John 3, Romans 2], the necessity of atonement for forgiveness [Galatians 3], or of the need for an external righteousness imputed to them [Romans 4, 5, Philippians 3:9].
  • At least he has in mind Abraham [Romans 4:9ff; Gal 3:6, 7] and David [Rom 4:6-8]. In the general sense of having received the oracles of God and the covenants, Paul considered all the forefathers as in the truth. As Jesus told the woman at the well, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
  • Particularly though, he refers to the remnant that was the true circumcision, the elect of God that trusted in God’s provision for forgiveness of sin and righteousness. [Romans 9:6-9].


B. Timothy’s relations that should encourage his faithfulness

  1.  To Paul as a son and the object of his love and prayers 2-4 (See 2. above) There is hardly anything more encouraging in earthly relationships than a knowledgeable, devoted mentor giving himself to the usefulness of a younger person.
  2. To his Christian heritage and influences, a sincere faith that he himself shares 5 – see references also 3:14, 15. Calvin sees this as a pre-Christian faith in the promise; if so it is similar to what Paul says about himself in verse 3 about his “ancestors.” If so, again, it would have a bearing on how one interpreted 3:15. The language, however, does not seem to permit this, but is designed to speak of the Christian faith and how he was reared in its truth. According to Acts 16:1 his mother was “a Jewish woman who was a believer.”  Paul is convinced that Timothy is nowin this faith.
  3. To the ministerial task to which he was set aside 6, 7
  • The gift of God – an internal spiritual qualification for the external call of ministry. This could be the gifting that comes to every member of the body of Christ or an extraordinary gift such as Paul said not to quench in 1 Thess. 5:19.  Since Paul links it particularly to the laying on of his hands, it probably is the extraordinary gift of prophesying.  In the passage following, Paul is particularly interested in preserving a deposit that has been granted (13, 14).  The necessity of the preservation of special revelation for a truthful grasp of the gospel is on his mind and he wants Timothy to be fully aware of his own responsibility to receive and pass on this revelation. In addition, he needs to be able to discern when false teachers have entered and have begun to distort the truth revealed to Paul.  Along with the gift of prophecy comes the necessity to test everything in order to reject the false.  See this operative in Paul in 2 Thes 2:1-5. In that passage, we see that the “spoken word” of the apostles had revelatory authority and the churches were to judge other teachers by it. Also, we see that an apostolic “letter” would confirm the spoken message of revealed truth. Gifts of immediate revelation—whether apostolic utterance in preaching, prophecy in the church, or the interpretation of tongues—all were given in anticipation of the finalization of revelation in the entire corpus of Scripture (3:10, 16).
  • The command to “fan into flame” this gift shows that the gift of prophetic utterance of revealed truth must be pursued with boldness. It involves a deep sense of stewardship and an awareness that the mysterious symbiosis of human mind and divine Spirit results in a rationally constructed body of instructions, teachings, exhortations or warnings. The instruction about prophetic utterance in 1 Corinthians 14 assumes this relationship so that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32). One that was a true prophet would recognize Paul’s instruction as “a command of the Lord” and would obey it (1 Cor 14:37). He will also recognize the vital nature of such a gift for the glory of God, the manifestation if truth, and the consequent well-being of the church, and will therefore, pursue the usefulness of this gift granted him (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1).
  • “My hands” – His being granted the charge of pastoral ministry came through the laying on of the hands of the presbytery in which Paul might have been involved with others (1 Tim 4:14). In this text, Paul could refer to another occasion when an extraordinary charisma was given Timothy. These passages together indicate the seriousness with which the church should approach setting aside men to ministry.We affirm and enter into God’s call and gifting. With the passing of the apostolic age, and thus the authority of observing and hearing them in person, the prophetic gift, secondary to and under the authority of the apostolic ministry, ceased as far as its reception of immediate revelation is concerned. It continues now in the call to ministry and the necessity of rightly dividing, or handling, the word of truth (2:15). In both 2 Timothy and 2 Peter, the transition is being made from the combined authority of written word and charismatic revelation to the sole authority of written revelation as the apostles labor to ascertain the perpetuity of their written instructions for the health of the church and their knowledge of the truth. (eg. 2 Peter 1:12-21 and 3:1-3, 14-16)
  • “Not of fear” – Spirit empowers for open declaration, not reticence- cf. 4:17; Paul knew what it meant to have life threatened and to be strengthened by God’s Spirit on such occasions.    He found himself to be “burdened excessively, beyond our strength,” with the sentence of death within him.  In that condition, he could not trust in himself “but in God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.  Paul prayed for clarity and boldness in his gospel proclamation even in chains. Col 4:3, 4; Eph 6:18ff.  God does not cause us to shrink from danger, but to be bold for the cause of Christ in it. For confidence in the divine power combined with submission to divine purpose, see the testimony of the three Hebrews facing the furnace (Daniel 3:16-18). Love, that is the expulsive power of a new affectionto use the famous phrase of Chalmers, means a love for God and his glory above both the flattery and the threats of the world. A “sound mind” ( that is one that has gained self-control and is open to the instruction of good judgment and sound advice) means a mind healed of its corrupt submission to the world , the flesh, and the devil ( 1 John 2:15) and overwhelmed by the love of God, his truth, his purity, and his purpose.



II. Our stewardship is an extension of God’s faithfulness 8-14

A. Suffering is intrinsic to God’s plan of redemption by the Gospel (8)- Timothy needed the reminder that God did not give the spirit of fear, because Paul intended immediately to invite him to join in suffering.

  1. The Lord suffered as one rejected by the world. A part of early apostolic preaching was this element of rejection overcome by God’s acceptance (Acts 2:23; 3:13-18; 4:8-12; 7:51, 52; 13:26-30, 46).  “The testimony of our Lord,” can be either the testimony Jesus gave before Pilate as mentioned in 1 Tim. 6:13, or the testimony about Jesus given by Paul and the apostles.  On this occasion, Paul probably has in mind the testimony about Jesus that he received by special revelation and that he is responsible for proclaiming. This is the central element of the “deposit” to which Paul refers in 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:12 and 14 [below]. All of the revelation of God may be brought to summation as a testimony about Christ.
  2. “Nor of me his prisoner” – Paul suffers as one rejected by the world. Paul often was in chains and often wrote from prison. He had a high view of God’s providence and knew that God used even imprisonment to his glory.See Phil. 1:12-20.  One could not love worldly approval and court Paul at the same time.
  3. “According to the power of God” – As this is the normal course the world takes to the gospel, God empowers his saints in it. An extended expression of this confidence animates Paul’s great passage on the inseparability of the elect from the love of God in Romans 8:35-39.  The thought there informs Paul’s discussion here.  Since God already has removed us from the greatest danger, that is his wrath and just condemnation, how can it be that any earthly power will overwhelm the saint. If the creator will not accuse or condemn us, how can it be possible that a creature will succeed in removing us from God’s fatherly purpose as determined in Christ. When Jesus is with us in the boat, what can wind and wave do to us? We may thus be assured of divine power and purpose in situations that otherwise would strike fear into the most dauntless heart.

B. Salvation is of God’s initiative in time and in eternity (9) – Our ministry for the gospel comes with the assurance that God has enveloped it within an eternal operation of gracious purpose.

  1. “Saved us” – God alone is properly our Savior in his three-personed operation.
  • The Father — has “chosen you,” “chose us in him before the foundation of the world;” “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive” “He delivered us from the domain of darkness.”
  • The Son, “and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” “Who gave himself for us to redeem us;” “Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us,” “who loved me and gave himself for me” “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law,” “God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem those who were under the law.” “the righteousness . . . . which comes through faith in Christ;”
  • The Spirit, “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness;” “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God;” ”It is the Spirit who gives life;”
  • Because of the connection either as means or by symbol other things also are said to save us; they do not save us properly, by having any saving efficacy in themselves, but are connected with salvation either as fitting means or as vivid symbols that provide an opportunity for confession of the certain and saving efficacy of the death of Christ. “Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20) “Baptism, which corresponds to this [that is, the waters of the flood] now saves you, not as a removal of the filth of the flesh but as an appeal unto God of a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).
  1. God has set us aside to salvation by holy and effectual operations of the Spirit: “saved us and called us with a holy calling.” This calling is not a mere invitation but a consecration – NIV says “to a holy life” and while true in itself considered, and at least one of the results of this calling,  is not Paul’s point here. The ESV says “to a holy calling” also not quite to the point.  Paul is saying that God’s salvation is initiated experientially by a calling from him that operates effectually for all his holy purposes of joining us to Christ by repentance and faith. The calling the Christian receives comes not in “word only” (1 Thessalonians 1:5) but with the full and effectual intention of the new birth. Tis calling is an alteration of soul—the understanding and affections—so as to effect a turn from sin and open the eyes to the compelling attraction of Christ as displayed in the gospel.
  2. This call came in accordance with an eternal purpose [Rom 9:11; Eph 1:11 prothesin– Something established beforehand]. God pursues his own purpose in this salvation he has granted and does not operate in accordance with “our works” [presumably “works of righteousness” as in Titus 3:5] either observed or foreknown in the creature.  Paul removes the eternal operations of God so far from human endeavor in this text that it is impossible to say that he has made his actions of “grace” depend on anything foreseen in the creature, only that his decree of salvation is in light of a redemptive work to be performed by his Son. Paul emphasizes “His own purpose and grace” in direct contrast to “our works.”
  3. Christ, i.e. contemplating his work, is the sphere within which this purpose of grace takes place. Salvation can not be achieved apart from an adequate savior. Salvation is not given us therefore, even in eternity as a mere abstraction, but always in the sphere of a just and holy means of fully honoring the character and Law of God. When he views salvation, therefore, in eternity, he does so in wholeness—the nature of the offense of those to be saved, the demands of the standards that they violated, and a just means of granting them the grace of forgiveness, righteousness, adoption,, and eternal glory.  Such blessing can only be granted us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 1:3; Rev. 5:1-5
  4. It was granted to the ones he chose prior to the beginning of ordered time (“Before the chronology of ages”); NASB “from all eternity,”ESV “before the ages began”  None of this plan did God have to execute as a reaction to human activity. All of its parts in their individual complexity as concerns each event and person conceived as included in it as well as the whole of it as a simple reality rested within the decree. It was orderly and purposeful with all that God intended to accomplish as a manifestation of grace resident within it from before the beginning of chronological time.

C. The purpose revealed and accomplished in the person and work of Christ 10 –

  1. Incarnation – Because as contemplated and purposed in accord with God’s character and established as possible only through the incarnation of the eternal Son, the decree makes necessary the means of its accomplishment. Some represent a theology of decrees as rendering superfluous, even unnecessary, all the historic means of salvation.  Just the opposite is true.  The decree is that which in fact renders necessary the means. This eternal purpose, therefore, is “revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus.” The “appearing” refers to the incarnation, his being revealed in the flesh.  Only the eternal Son, taking to himself our nature in humiliation as one despised and rejected and finally crucified, could bring to pass this infinitely glorious eternal decree.
  2. The work is commensurate with the incarnation. The sentence of death, the legitimate wages of sin, was on all those he purposed to save, so Jesus abolished death by his death, he paid the wages and thus defanged the penalty. His abolition of death through the acceptable sacrifice opened the promise of eternal life. Eternal life could not be given unless its promise could be renewed through one whose righteousness met all the Law’s demands both in penalty and in perfect obedience. The resurrection shows the acceptability of his sacrifice, and raises us in Christ into heavenly places where his elect are seated with him. While we remain here, therefore, before “the day” we are to set our affections on things above where Christ himself is, even seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1-3

D. Proclamation and teaching, a subservient, but nonetheless necessary, means; (11) In the same way that the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ were necessary, so is the preaching of the gospel.  The fitting of the heart and mind to receive the verdict against us and to approve the glory of God’s plan of saving sinners, comes through preaching as the Spirit gives the “holy calling.”  Paul could not find words adequate to express both the joy and humility of being set by God’s decree as part of the grand and God-revealing purpose in the apostolic ministry.

E. The certainty of its success, in spite of opposition, is God’s ownership of the whole (12); it involves God’s deposit to Paul, not Paul’s to Him. The ESV translates the phrase properly as that that God entrusted to him. Literally, it says, “my deposit.” Most translations give the idea that Paul made a deposit of his life to God, which is in itself true.  But the context calls for understanding this as God’s deposit of truth with Paul, even as he calls the gospel “my gospel” in 2:8. Divine revelation in the apostolic ministry came through the confluence of several factors, all of which one sees operative in the multifaceted teaching of Paul, Peter, John and others.  One is contemplation on the meaning of the Old Testament text interpreted in the light of Christ’s appearance and his own words about his relation to the entire text [Luke 24:25-27].  Second, teaching from other inspired persons gave added truth as the picture began to fill out during the apostolic age.  Third, was special revelation to the Apostles and prophets [Ephesians 3:1-5; Galatians 1:6-12].  In this manner a fully truthful completed corpus of revelation was deposited during the apostolic era to regulate the faith and practice of the church until the day of Christ.

F. Consequently, our stewardship must mirror God’s purpose (13, 14). This places a stewardship of the deposit on its servants. Truly to realize that we deal with God’s deposit, not the mere opinions of pious men, means that we have liberty neither to subtract from nor add to what is said. The task of proper interpretation in light of the variety of literature still is legitimate as in any document of human language, but the credibility of the proposition once discerned cannot be questioned. Many perplexities about worship “style” and evangelism and discipleship could be answered if closer attention were paid to the truly regulative nature of the deposit.



III. Faithless and faithful Men 15-18

A. Phygelus and Hermogenes, and in chapter 4 Alexander the coppersmith, are joined later by Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Demas as names whose connections with the world would not permit them to embrace and suffer for the gospel. Sometimes Paul warns in general speaking of false teachers only in terms of their teaching (Philippians 3:1,2; Galatians 1:8, 9; 5:7-10) as do John and Peter. Other times he mentions names as he does here.

B. Onesiphorus, on the other hand, aggressively sought to be connected with Paul and his suffering. Notice the unrelenting energy he gave in finding Paul to give service to him–“refreshed me, not ashamed, searched earnestly, found me.”



IV. How should we then Live?

A. Instruction and faithfulness in family might be used for the salvation of children.

B. Opposition is not necessarily a sign that God is not blessing, but is inherent in the Gospel.

C. No amount of opposition will succeed against God’s decreed purpose, no amount of hatred will rob Christ of his glory, or the Word of its eventual rule (cf. Psalms 2 & 24).

D. The very words of Scripture as well as all its closely connected doctrines are granted by God for our edification and protected by him.

E. Those who value them and their messengers will receive mercy.


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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