By Zane C. Hodges
1:1. In Paul’s salutation to Timothy, the Apostle presents both the medium of his apostleship and its measure. The phrase by the will of God (dia thelēmatos Theou) is the divine medium, while according to the promise of life (kat’ epangelian zōēs) suggests the divine measure or standard to exercise the apostleship.
All spiritual ministry has significance only as it proceeds through (dia) the will of God and according to a divine purpose in grace. Every sphere of service may be scrutinized as to whether it originates by divine volition, and whether it accords with God’s offer of the life which is Christ Jesus.
Human wishes plus human programs equal human work.
1:2. Timothy is here addressed as a beloved son, whereas in 1 Tim 1:2 he is called a true son. A deeper warmth and more intimate tone pervade 2 Timothy. A genuine son of our faith must necessarily increase in his dearness to us, especially as others around prove disappointments. The Apostle’s love for this faithful helper is richer against the increasingly somber background of the desertion of others (cf. 2 Tim 1:15; 4:9–11).
1:3. As in so many of Paul’s epistles, the Apostle begins with thanksgiving. Here, however, an aura of priestly activity pervades his words. Serve (latreuō) is a verb which in Biblical Greek carries overtones of official religious activity, as of priests, or of the performance of prescribed acts of worship (cf. Heb 8:5; 9:9, 14; 10:2; 13:10).
The phrase as my forefathers (apo progonōn) is said by Moulton & Milligan to be common in inscriptions.1 Paul thinks of himself, as he ever did, as standing in the true mainstream of the worship of Israel (cf. Acts 24:14; 26:6; 28:20).
Shut up in prison and cut off from active ministry, Paul nonetheless finds joy in the priestly ministry of prayer—both in praise and in intercession. Indeed, in his prayers he thanks God for the unceasing remembrance he has of Timothy.
No circumstance of life (short of death) can cut us off from the elevated service of prayer. Though physically in prison, Paul was spiritually in the holiest of all, serving God even as his forefathers did in both tabernacle and Temple. We can, too, so long as we maintain, as did Paul, a pure conscience (kathara suneidēsei). We cannot enter the sanctuary if our conscience must always pause at the laver for cleansing.
The Apostle is grateful to God simply for an unfailing memory of his companion. Our frequent forgetfulness in prayer for those who need our prayers should likewise beget gratitude in us if the Spirit lays them constantly upon our hearts, for it is sustained and persistent prayer which yields the richest fruits. “Men ought always to pray …”
Night and day (nuktos kai hēmeras) may be taken with in my prayers (en tais deēsesi mou). But it does not seem necessary to add to it after the use of unceasing (adialeipton). The sentence seems better balanced if we connect it with what follows in v 4.
1:4. The Apostle remembers Timothy in prayer for the simple reason that night and day he yearns to see him. We need not suppose that our priestly intercession should be—or in fact can be—divorced from the most personal and intimate movements of our heart. We intercede best for those we love most, for “faith worketh by love.”
1:5. Paul’s longing to see Timothy is prompted even more by remembering the tears his companion had shed. It is also due to the anticipation of the joy a reunion would bring. But this longing is equally enmeshed with spiritual realities.
As personal as the Apostle’s attachment is, it is also spiritual, for he remembers Timothy’s faith. The phrase I call to remembrance (hupomnēsin lambanōn) probably implies deliberate recollection in contrast to the spontaneous memory suggested by mindful (memnēmenos) in v 4.
The bond of attachment is all the stronger because of the reality—the unhypocritical character—of Timothy’s faith. In a day of growing Roman pressure and the spreading of hypocritical faith, the Apostle feels drawn to one in whom he knows the reality of faith to exist. And indeed, what can draw two souls together more firmly than genuine common faith? By comparison, earthly bonds are loose.
At the same time, I call to remembrance (hupomnēsin lambanōn) may contain an implicit warning in that Paul must deliberately call this faith to mind. In Paul’s view, Timothy seems to need an inculcation of firmness. Though commentators sometimes wish to deny this—perhaps out of a desire to defend Timothy—the injunctions contained in this section seem to imply concern on the Apostle’s part.
Indeed, 1 Cor 16:10 seems already to hint at a touch of timidity in Timothy. And it would be no surprise if the sudden arrest of Paul, with the implied danger to all Christians, might, along with the sorrow of it, serve to dampen the spirit of this man. Paul, therefore, reminds him that this sort of faith had dwelt in both his mother and grandmother. Their example might nerve this young man, as so often a godly parent’s memory causes us to swerve away from what we feel would be unworthy of them. We also learn that a woman’s faith may find its home (cf. enōkēse) in a man and then multiply itself in public ministry (cf. 1 Tim 2:15). Give a child a home of faith so faith can make a home in the child.
1:6. Note the connection indicated by for this reason (di’ ēn aitian). The very presence of such faith stirs Paul to exhortation lest its outworkings be lost. The energy of faith needs to be maintained against any human inclination to withdraw from its exercise. Faith decays when unused.
In fact, we must be stirred to bold action. The verb to stir up (anazōpurein) properly means to “rekindle.” A spiritual gift ought to be as a flame burning to be expressed within us. When opposition or discouragement causes this flame to burn low, we must diligently rekindle it (cf. Jer 20:8–9).
1:7. Timothy is reminded by the Apostle that this gift—a charisma of the Holy Spirit itself—does not dwell in him alone. The Spirit Himself has been given, and the gift ought to be exercised in that true spirit which God imparts—not of cowardice (deilias) but of power, love, and sobriety (dunameōs kai agapēs kai sōphronismou). Note this spirit’s trinity of attributes.
It is a spirit of power, for our circumstances and difficulties as we use the gift; love toward the beneficiaries of the gift; sobriety for ourselves who have received it. With the gift, God gives the enabling power of the Spirit, the love of the Spirit, and the guiding sobriety of the Spirit.
1:8. Note the connective, therefore (oun). With such a provision of the Spirit, shrinking due to fear and shame was utterly inconsistent. Instead, there should be courage to suffer for the gospel, not according to a human ability to endure, but according to the ability God (kata dunamin Theou) would give. We can bear less than we think if we trust our own strength, and more than we think if we trust His.
1:9–11. The connection of these verses with the challenge to suffer for the gospel is evident. For one thing, so glorious a gospel as is displayed in these verses is worth suffering for. Paul can never resist an opportunity to enlarge upon the gospel of God’s grace. But more specifically, the restrictive attributive construction Who has saved us (tou sōsantos) defines for us the God by Whose power we can endure such suffering. Need we doubt that His power will be ours? This is the very God Who has thus saved us and called us in grace.
These verses not only sweep away questions of God’s power being made available to us; they also destroy any shame over “the testimony of our Lord” or of “His prisoner” (v 8). The grace with which God has called us is that which was given before “age times” (pro chronōn aiōniōn). Hence it is eternal.
But this grace bestowed in eternity past was then gloriously manifested in the Epiphany of the mighty Savior Whose great accomplishment is the annulling of death itself and the display of life and incorruption. And since fear of death would cause shrinking from witness, this fear is banished because the Lord Jesus Christ has nullified death and given us hope of incorruptibility and life.
Verse 11 adds that Paul, though “His prisoner,” was, in reality, a herald, an apostle, and a teacher of these great truths! Here and in the whole epistle, Paul’s triumph over death is magnificent. He is not Rome’s prisoner, but Christ’s! Facing death, he considers it annulled, and his eyes are captured by the resplendent light (cf. phōtisantos) of life and incorruption which lies immediately before him.
In the OT, death seemed to be a shadowy realm. It was not well known, hence feared.2 Compare even godly Hezekiah and the sentiments of Ecclesiastes. But now the Savior has brought to us the full-orbed revelation of the age to come, robbing death of its terror. As James Mozley wrote:
The Gospel first gave to a future world clearness and distinctness, shape and outline; the Gospel first made it a positive district and region on which the spiritual eye reposes, and which stretches out on the other side the grave with the same solidity and extension with which the present world does on this side of it. A future life was not an image before the Gospel: the Gospel made it an image. It brought it out of its implicit form, and from its lower residence within the bosom of the great fundamental doctrine of true religion, into a separate and conspicuous position as a truth. This was a bringing to light, and a species of birth, compared with which the previous state of the doctrine was a hidden and an embryo state.3
1:12. The Apostle continues his provocative challenge to Timothy not to be ashamed and to be willing to suffer affliction for the gospel. The challenge arises here out of Paul’s own suffering in which, however, he feels no shame (ouk epaischunomai). Paul’s example must have been distressing to Timothy if there was the slightest shrinking from holy boldness in his own heart. It is lovely, too, to see how the Apostle’s deep love for Timothy, united with the movement of the Holy Spirit within him, causes him to rise to a height of spiritual expression unsurpassed in any of his other epistles (though its equals may be found, perhaps). Verse 12 has rung down through the ages as a challenge to countless hearts. Such are the fruits of love.
The crux in the interpretation of v 12 lies in the word committed (parathēkēn). This can hardly refer, as sometimes suggested, to a deposit given by God to Paul (either his gift for ministry or the truth of the gospel), for the my (mou) is certainly most naturally taken to be the one who makes the deposit, rather than the one who receives it.
The usage of committed (parathēkēn) elsewhere seems to confirm this. Frequently the atmosphere of the circumstances surrounding the word is of one who has to take a long journey and who deposits his money and other valuables with a friend, trusting him to restore it on return. The duty of the friend would be easily expressed by the verbs phulassein and apodidonai. The story told of Glaucus who was condemned by the Pythian oracle for even wishing to retain such a deposit (cf. Hdt VI.86; Juv XIII.199-208) shows the importance attached to faithfulness in these matters.
This imagery is exceedingly appropriate here. The Apostle is about to journey out of this sphere of time, yet—with Christ—he will return in “that day” (eis ekeinēn tēn hēmeran). It is at the return of Christ to earth that rewards are dispensed for the kingdom which follows (cf. Luke 19:15; Rev 11:15, 18).
The Apostle’s deposit is his life and ministry. The thought of good works deposited with God in heaven is native to Jewish literature.4 The Apostle knows he can take courage in the thought that, despite the certainty of departure from the faith (cf. Chap. 3) and general unfaithfulness, God can be counted on to safeguard the fruits of a life poured out in service to Christ. He knows whom He has trusted.
How superlatively well-placed this confidence was, history now informs us. Can anyone measure the total effects of Paul’s life and work, the souls won, the Christians strengthened through the writings which all flowed naturally out of that life and have been preserved by God? The divine interest that has accrued on the deposit made two thousand years ago, defies the human mind to calculate or compute! Its worth in eternal glory will be awarded to this devoted servant in “that day.” Oh, the privilege of a consecrated life which—at death—can be left in the hands of a faithful God.
1:13–14. The pivotal word pattern (hupotupōsin) is best taken here in the sense of “summary” or “outline.” It carries a sense confirmed by Galen and also said to be repeatedly found in Sextus Empiricus. The reference may be our earliest explicit one to a doctrinal statement, of which 1 Tim 3:16 may be an actual example. (If so, the reading Theos finds additional support, for an explicit reference would be precisely what we would expect in a doctrinal summarization. Note homologoumenōs in that context.)
Trusting implicitly as he does to God, he nonetheless lays here upon Timothy his own responsibility in the matter. God would indeed guard the Apostle’s own deposit of life and witness, yet the truth itself, which was the heart and core of the Pauline life, is a deposit to be guarded by the Apostle’s protégé.
Moreover, it was not mere dead orthodoxy that was to be maintained, but a pattern of healthy (hugiainontōn) words in the midst of an atmosphere of faith and love (en pistei kai agapē is related grammatically to eche). The divine dynamic must never go out of our creed, or we will find we cannot hold it. And that dynamic ever has its source in a Living Person (note tē en Christō Iēsou).
In essence, the deposit (parathēkēn) which Timothy is to guard provides the key to the preservation of the deposit (parathēkēn) which Paul entrusts to God. Here divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet. The fact is that the work of the Apostle Paul has been perpetuated by a countless succession of “Timothys” who held the pattern and guarded the deposit by the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. esp. 2:2).
Paul arouses his weakening protégé with this sense of responsibility which is both toward God and toward his God-given instructor. Note that the Apostle speaks of the Holy Spirit in each of them (en hēmin), giving to Timothy a sense of participation with Paul by the selfsame Spirit Who had and could energize them both. The maintenance of the truth through the centuries has ever been the work of this same Holy Spirit who has dwelt successively in the warriors of faith down through the ages. What a privilege to stand in a true apostolic succession such as this.
The Background for Faithfulness: The Defection of Others (1:15-18)
1:15-18. With his introduction behind, Paul now launches into the body of his letter which is designed for the fortifying of Timothy to faithfulness in the gospel, by which alone the sacred deposit of truth may be effectually guarded.
The Apostle deals frankly with the present situation, for nothing is ever gained by pretending that the road is easier than it is. Apparently, the threat of persecution had caused an unwillingness on the part of those in Asia to identify with Paul. The aorist have turned away (apestraphēsan) may, and probably does, point to a specific situation when all had turned away from him—most likely at his arrest. Two names are especially culpable in this.
Even the household of Onesiphorus had, it seems, been tainted by this failure. Paul desires mercy for them, given past favors by Onesiphorus. It has been thought that since the household of Onesiphorus is so mentioned twice (here in v 16 and at 4:19) as to seem to exclude him, that Onesiphorus was therefore dead. Perhaps so, but he may also merely have been at the time separated from them on his travels. It is hard to decide which, but on the former hypothesis, his visit to Rome might have been during the first imprisonment. As has been pointed out often, a refinement of this nature (as to Onesiphorus)—implicit rather than explicit—is hardly likely to have been invented by a Pseudo-Paul and points to the historicity and authenticity of the epistle. In any case, v 18 does not give warrant for prayers for the dead, since it is not formally a prayer but simply a wish.
There is a challenge to faithfulness both in a background of defection as well as in one who has proved unashamed. We are often inspired by the shadows of moral defeat to shine forth in spiritual victory. The heroes of faith have always done so.
The Apostle touchingly wishes mercy upon one who has shown him mercy (Onesiphorus = “helpbringer”), a certainty indeed in the light of our Lord’s own pronouncement (Matt 5:7).
He also desires the same for a family which seems not to have lived up to the standard of its head (as also the Christian family has fallen so much below itsgreat Head and Lord). It is sad when previous faithfulness decreases in value through unfaithfulness (cf. 2 John 8).
Zane Hodges taught New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary.
1. J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1930, 2004), 538.
2. Editor: That is not to say that OT saints had no idea what the afterlife would be like, or lacked assurance of their salvation. Consider David’s confidence expressed in Ps 23 that “I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.” Or that his dead baby could not come to him, but he could go to his dead baby. Or Daniel’s declaration of the resurrection of the righteous to life.
3. James Bowling Mozley, Essays Historical and Theological in Two Volumes (New York, NY: E. P. Dutton, 1878), 2:173-74.
4. Israel Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels (London: Cambridge University Press, 1917), 148.