“1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It would be unwise to immediately jump in to this second letter to Timothy without first understanding that much has changed. Paul wrote to Timothy the first time after his acquittal and release from house arrest in Rome (Acts 21-28). Upon his release Paul visited several churches in the immediate area (1 Tim. 1:3) and desired to plant new churches in the west (Rom. 15:24). How far Paul managed to get in his waterward expansion we do not know. Somewhere along the way he was arrested again, this time as a criminal against the Empire and imprisoned. He is not writing to Timothy from his own rented quarters, but from a Roman prison. He has already endured at least one trial (2 Tim. 4:16) and is not anticipating his release. In fact, he is anticipating his execution (4:6-8). This second letter to Timothy is something of Paul’s last will and testament. These are his final words.
The introductory verses to this letter reflect its content. Here we see a melding of Paul’s authority as an apostle mixed with his fond affection for Timothy. These initial two verses will set the tone for the remainder of our study.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus”
It may seem strange that Paul would address such a personal letter with such a beginning statement. Does Timothy not know that Paul is an apostle? Has he ever doubted Paul’s authority or ever balked at Paul’s commands? Why would Paul compose his introduction in such a manner?
While Paul and Timothy enjoyed a deep and loving friendship, it was always within the context of Paul’s primary mission as an apostle. To introduce himself in such a manner does not ignore their personal relationship. Rather, it frames it in the proper context.
Delegate of Christ – The word apostle (ἀπόστολος) indicates one who is sent out. The term came to describe those who were sent as a delegate or representative of an authority figure. It would be nearly synonymous with modern terms like ambassador, representative, envoy, or messenger. As an apostle of Christ Jesus, Paul has been commissioned and anointed to represent and speak for Christ.
When we read the words of Paul, we read the words of Christ. When we seek to understand Paul’s mind as he writes, we are seeking the mind of Christ. When we obey the commands of Paul, we obey the commands of Christ. We would do well to remember that Paul did not seek this high and holy office but was called to it by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9).
Designed by God – Paul adds that his apostleship is by the will of God. This is an interesting addition. The term will (θελήμοτος) speaks of one’s desire or wish. God the Son called and commissioned Paul to be an apostle, but this was well within and through the purpose, plan, and will of God the Father.
This is an interesting note to dwell on. Paul writes this line in prison knowing that he is likely to die within months if not weeks. He sits in prison because he is an apostle of Christ Jesus, yet this was God’s design. He sits awaiting death as ordained by God, and he is perfectly content in this! God designed Paul to preach the gospel and God designed that Paul would be imprisoned. His circumstances confirm his apostleship rather than cast shade upon it.
Determined for the Gospel – It may be helpful to translate the Greek preposition κατά as for the purpose of rather than according to. The “promise of life” refers to the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ and the life that He gives to all who confess, repent, and believe. Paul was called by Christ to serve as His ambassador for the purpose of proclaiming this good news; that in Christ there is life.
This divine authority punctuates much of the letter. Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him to remain faithful. He originally sent Timothy to the Ephesian church to confront heretics (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:1; 6:3) and restore order (1 Tim. 2:8-3:13; 5:1-6:2) by preaching and teaching the full counsel of God (1 Tim. 1:3, 5, 18; 3:14; 4:11, 16; 5:7; 6:17, 20). If the church is to survive, this must continue. Paul writes first with authority because Timothy must remain faithful.
What follows is a brief overview of Paul’s apostolic commands to Timothy.
- He is to not be ashamed of the very gospel that landed Paul in prison (1:8)
- Train up men in the same manner Paul trained Timothy (2:2)
- Watch out for false teachers (3:1-5)
- Preach the Word (4:1-5)
Paul’s passing marks a transition from the age of apostles to the 2nd generation. This is a perilous time. Never is the danger of compromise more prevalent than when there is a changing of the guard. Timothy is commanded by the apostle Paul, called by Christ, chosen by God, and purposed for the gospel to remain steadfast. But this letter is not only authoritative. Paul is also quite affectionate towards Timothy.
“To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord”
The Greek does not include the pronoun my but simply reads To Timothy a beloved child. The word τέκνον literally means child and is a more affectionate term than son. In his first letter, Paul called Timothy a true/genuine child, indicating the validity of Timothy’s faith (1 Tim. 1:2). Here Paul adds to the fact that Timothy is a genuine believer the notion that Timothy is beloved.
This manner of address is not simply sentential but is meant as an encouragement. As in the first letter, the focus is not that Timothy in some way belongs to Paul, but that he belongs to God through Christ. He is a genuine child of God and as such is beloved by God and therefore also beloved by Paul. To this beloved child Paul bestows a blessing that can only be given to a genuine child of God: Grace (unmerited and undeserved favor), Mercy (kindness shown to the desperate), Peace (well-being and prosperity unknown in this world). This blessing is not from or credited to mankind but comes from God the Father and also from the Lord Christ Jesus. Much of what Paul has to say to Timothy will hinge on this close affection he has for Timothy because of his status as a beloved child of God.
Here is a short list of Paul’s instruction and encouragement that hinge on his personal relationship and deep affection for Timothy.
- Encouragement to remain faithful based on his knowledge of Timothy’s spiritual heritage (1:5-7)
- Call to remember his time under Paul as an encouragement to remain faithful (1:13-14)
- Call to remember his suffering and the suffering of Christ as an encouragement to remain faithful (2:8-10)
- Concern for Timothy’s holiness as he gives advice and encourages him to remain faithful (2:14-26)
- Call to prepare for hardship in order to remain faithful (3:10-17)
- Encouragement of his own sacrifice as an acceptable offering so that Timothy might focus on remaining faithful (4:6-8)
- Concern to avoid a specific troublemaker (4:14)
- A plea for Timothy to come and visit him before he dies (4:9, 13, 21)
This is more than a personal letter to a friend, brother, fellow minister, or disciple; though it certainly is those things. This is an official letter from the apostle Paul to the single human being that he can trust most. Timothy is on the front lines as the next generation of church leaders. His ministry from this point forward will no longer have Paul’s backing and will rely on one thing only: the authority of the Scriptures. There is no time to lose in becoming faithful. If Timothy is to be found faithful in the end, he must gird himself now.
The overarching theme of this letter is faithfulness. Again and again Paul points Timothy to Christ and to His Word. He commands his dear brother to preach Christ and obey His Word. Again and again he reasons with him as one who knows and deeply loves him. There is simply too much at stake to take anything for granted. Paul knows that he is about to depart this world and be with his Savior. His work in nearly finished. But he wants to ensure that Timothy is well equipped to carry the torch and remain faithful. May our Lord Jesus Christ find us to be faithful when He comes. Soli Deo Gloria!