When we began to study 1 Timothy in September, I said that we were beginning a series on Paul’s Pastoral Letters. And the Pastoral Letters include not only 1 Timothy but also 2 Timothy and Titus. So, having finished 1 Timothy right before Christmas, we’re going to begin 2 Timothy today. It’s a short letter, containing only four chapters. And so, it might not take us very long to complete it. And today I want to take the whole of chapter 1 in one go, because I think all of it belongs together.
In terms of background, you might recall that Timothy was one of Paul’s co-workers in the gospel; and Paul had appointed Timothy to look after the church in Ephesus. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul gave him some instructions about the things he was to do and to teach in Ephesus. And he continues to do so in 2 Timothy. However, one of the things to keep in mind as we study 2 Timothy is that Paul is in prison and he doesn’t think he’s going to be released. He expects that he will be executed, killed because of his commitment to Christ. And so, later in the letter, he compares his life to a race and he’s now coming near to the finishing line. And, in fact, this second letter to Timothy is the last of Paul’s letters which we have. And so, this letter contains Paul’s final written words to Timothy. And the emphasis throughout the letter — and we see it here in chapter 1 — is on faithfulness. Ever since the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul devoted his life and all of his energy to serving the Lord by preaching the gospel. And now Paul knows he’s about to die. And so, he’s writing to Timothy to command him to remain faithful and to continue to do what Paul had done, which is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And rather than go through this chapter verse by verse in detail, let me focus on some of the things Paul tells Timothy to do.
Fan into flame
And the first thing he wants Timothy to do appears in verse 6 where he reminds Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. Back in chapter 4 of 1 Timothy, Paul referred to the gift which Timothy received when the body of elders — or when the presbytery — laid their hands on him. In both places, Paul is referring to the day when Timothy was ordained to the ministry. And still today, when a minister is ordained, or when an elder is ordained, members of the presbytery lay their hands on the new minister or elder to signify that the person being ordained has been set apart for this special work. From what we learn now in 2 Timothy, it seems that not only did members of the presbytery lay their hands on Timothy, but Paul also laid his hands on Timothy.
And when Paul referred in 1 Timothy to the gift Timothy received, he wasn’t referring to a financial gift, but to a spiritual gift. That’s why he can refer to it here in 2 Timothy as the gift of God. This is a gift from God to Timothy. Paul doesn’t specify what the gift was, but presumably it was a gift from God to equip Timothy for gospel ministry and to enable him to preach and teach God’s word, which is the work of a gospel preacher.
And back in 1 Timothy, Paul told Timothy not to neglect that gift. Here in 2 Timothy he tells Timothy to fan it into flame. So, he’s using the image of a fire, isn’t he? And we can all think of a fire in a fireplace at home, and how when you fan it, or when you blow on it, or poke it, it causes the flames to rise up higher. And just as someone who is leaving the room might remind those who are left in the room to keep an eye on the fire in the fireplace, so that it does not go out, so Paul is saying to Timothy to watch out lest his zeal for the ministry and his passion for preaching wanes after Paul has gone from this world. So, make sure your zeal for the ministry does not go out after I’m gone.
And then, in the very next verse, he reminds Timothy that God did not give us — he did not give Paul and Timothy and every other gospel preacher — a spirit of timidity or fear. And from time to time in this letter, there are little signs, little hints, that Timothy was a timid and fearful person and that the challenges he faced in the ministry were getting on top of him. Gospel ministry is never easy and every preacher faces all kinds of challenges and pressures and troubles. And it seems from some of the things Paul says that it was all getting too much for Timothy. And so, Paul was writing to encourage timid Timothy to remain faithful and to persevere and not to give up his ministry, but to keep preaching God’s word even when the people do not want to listen to God’s word.
So, remember this, Timothy: God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. He’s referring to the Holy Spirit, isn’t he? God gives us the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit gives preachers the power they need to proclaim God’s word powerfully and persuasively. And the Holy Spirit also gives preachers the love they need to love the people who are sometimes difficult. And the Holy Spirit gives preachers the ability to be self-disciplined, like a soldier or an athlete, who puts up with all kinds of hardships, without throwing in the towel, because it’s necessary that they keep going and don’t give up.
And since gospel ministry is often difficult, then it’s important for God’s people to pray for their preachers and to ask God to help preachers to fan into flame the gift they have received from God to preach his word; and to preach his word powerfully and persuasively and to do so with love and with self-discipline. There’s something for you to do. There’s a resolution for you for this new year. Pray for preachers, because we’re in continual need of God’s help to carry out our ministry and to carry on our ministry.
Do not be ashamed
Let’s move on to verse 8 where Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed to testify about our Lord or about Paul who was the Lord’s prisoner. When Christians hear the word ‘testify’ or ‘testimony’ they very often think of someone giving their personal testimony of how they were converted. But Paul is not referring to that. He’s referring to testifying to the world about what Christ has done for sinners by his life and death and resurrection.
And here’s another sign, another hint, that Timothy was not coping well with the challenges he faced and he may have been tempted to be ashamed to testify about the Lord in the sense that he may have been afraid and he may have been tempted to shrink back from proclaiming the good news of gospel. After all, an unbelieving hated the Lord Jesus and crucified him. And unbelieving world hated Paul and they threw him into prison. So, are you afraid, Timothy? Are you tempted to remain silent about Christ? But, Timothy, don’t be ashamed to proclaim the good news. And instead, join with me in suffering for the gospel. Do you see that at the end of verse 8? That’s the next instruction Paul gives to Timothy. Instead of being ashamed, join with me in suffering for the gospel.
It’s worth noting that preaching the gospel has always been difficult and costly. We look at the way things are in the world today and how the church in the west is small and its disregarded and despised and so many people are uninterested in the gospel and they will not listen to us. And we think things were different in the past. But it’s always been this way, because here’s the Apostle Paul, writing in the first century after Christ’s birth, and he’s writing about how he suffered for the gospel and he expects Timothy will suffer too. An unbelieving world hated the Lord Jesus and an unbelieving world hates the Lord’s people. That’s always been the case. But instead of remaining silent, the church must continue to proclaim the good news of the gospel, even if it means we will suffer for it. But God does not leave us on our own, because right after telling Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel, he adds the words, ‘by the power of God’. God gives his people the strength they need to endure all things and to put up with suffering for the gospel.
So, there’s something for you to do. You can pray for yourself and for your fellow believers asking God to give us the strength we need to endure all things for the sake of Christ and to persevere even when we’re called to suffer for Christ. And pray for preachers, asking God to keep them from being ashamed to proclaim the good news.
Follow and guard
Let’s move on to the next two instructions to Timothy and we’ll take them together. In verse 13 he commands Timothy to keep what he heard from Paul as the pattern for sound teaching. And in verse 14 he commands Timothy to guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him. So, keep it and guard it.
When he refers to sound teaching, he’s using a medical word which can be translated ‘healthy’. We came across this before in 1 Timothy. Certain foods are healthy foods, because they’re good for us; whereas other foods are unhealthy, because they’re bad for us. And the message Paul preached was a healthy message, because it was good for those who heard it and who believed it, because whoever believed his message received eternal life. And he has now passed on that message to Timothy and he wants Timothy to keep it. That is, he wants Timothy to keep it intact so that it’s not altered or changed in any way. You see, the preacher’s job is not to be innovative. The preacher’s job is not to think up something new. The preacher’s job is not to be creative. The preacher’s job is to keep intact the gospel message he has received; and he’s to proclaim it without changing it or altering it in any way. The word translated ‘pattern’ can refer to a sketch or drawing. So, think of an architect’s plan which he has carefully prepared and which he passes on to the builder. The builder is not to mess with the plan or change it. He’s to keep it and stick to it. And so, the preacher is to stick to the gospel message which has come to us from Christ and from his apostles.
And Paul also wants Timothy to guard the good deposit. When he refers to the ‘good deposit’, he’s referring to the gospel message. So, just as I might give you something I own and ask you to keep it safe for me, so Paul wants Timothy to keep safe the gospel message which Timothy has received. The emphasis again is on protecting it from corruption and not changing it or altering it in any way. Preserve it. Protect it.
And Paul tells Timothy to keep the gospel ‘with faith and love in Christ Jesus’ and to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit. And so, once again God does not leave us on our own, but he gives us his Spirit to help us to keep and to guard the gospel message. And the Holy Spirit not only helps us to keep it and guard it, but the Holy Spirit enables us to believe and to love the gospel message. When I was at school, God’s word was read every morning at assembly by one of the prefects. It was a very good practice and worth doing. However, I suspect that many, if not most, of those who read God’s word and many of the boys who heard God’s word did not believe or love what they heard. For many of them, this was just something we did, a long-standing tradition, which they suffered through every morning. And so, we need the Holy Spirit to come into our lives to enable us to believe what we hear and to love what we hear. And that’s why we also need to pray for the reading and preaching of God’s word here on Sundays, asking God to bless it so that everyone who comes here will hear it and receive it with faith and with love.
And preachers like Timothy need the help of the Holy Spirit to guard the message from corruption. The message of the cross is good news for those who believe, but it’s offensive to those who do not believe. And even those who believe can sometimes respond to God’s word in the wrong way. And so, preachers can be tempted to water down God’s word. Not to deny it, but to leave parts of it out of their preaching; or to pass over some parts of God’s word; and to remain silent about some doctrines which might offend. And perhaps Timothy was being tempted to do just that. And so, Paul wrote one last time to command him to keep it and to guard it, relying on the help that comes from the Holy Spirit of God.
And so, Paul wants to remind timid Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God which he had received to enable him to preach the gospel. And he wants Timothy not to be ashamed to testify to the gospel, but to join with Paul in suffering for the gospel with God’s help. And he wants Timothy to keep the gospel message intact and to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.
But before we finish today, we should spend some time on what Paul says about the gospel. He wants Timothy to preach the gospel and to testify to it and to keep and guard it. And in the middle of this chapter, Paul summarises the gospel for us. Go back to verse 9 where he tells Timothy that God has saved us and called us to a holy life. Isn’t that interesting? We get the impression that Timothy was afraid. He was timid Timothy. He’d seen what had happened to Paul. He himself faced false teachers in Ephesus. No doubt there were other things which were troubling him. The challenges he faced in his ministry were piling up and we get the impression he wasn’t coping well with it all. Perhaps he was looking for a way out and pleading for God to save him from his troubles. And Paul reminds Timothy that he has already been saved. And as we’ll see, the emphasis here is that we have been saved from death.
And God has called Timothy to life a holy life. So, he’s called Timothy to live a different kind of life from those who do not believe.
And Paul adds that God saved Timothy and called him to this new kind of life, not because of anything Timothy had done. None of us deserves to be saved. We haven’t done anything to deserve it, but God has saved us according to his own purpose and grace. And the word ‘grace’ underlines that we don’t deserve God’s salvation, because the word ‘grace’ refers to God’s kindness to us. We do not deserve it and we cannot earn it, but our salvation is the free gift of God, which we receive by faith.
And look at the end of verse 9 where Paul tells us that God gave us his grace in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. And that proves that our salvation does not depend on anything we have done, because God decided to be gracious to us and to save us by his Son before time began and before the world was made and before we existed and before we had done anything, whether good or bad. So, in eternity, before the world was made, God set his love upon us and he made up his mind to save us by his Son.
And when the time was right, his Son appeared on the earth as our Saviour who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who was raised to give us life. And by paying for our sins and by rising from the dead, Christ our Saviour has done what? He has destroyed death and he has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Think back to the Garden of Eden. God warned Adam that as soon as he eats from the Tree of Knowledge, he will surely die. And so, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and ate the forbidden fruit, death came into the world. They didn’t die immediately, but they would die eventually. And then we have Genesis 5 and that long list of men who lived long lives. In those days, they lived for hundreds of years. But still they died. And we all die. And those who die in their sins, without receiving God’s forgiveness, will suffer what the book of Revelation calls ‘the second death’, because when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again, he will judge every one who has ever lived and all those who did not believe in him and who did not receive his forgiveness in this life will be sent away from his presence to be punished forever and forever for a lifetime of disobedience. That’s the second death: eternal punishment away from the presence of God. But those who trusted in Christ in this life, will not be punished like that, even though it’s what we deserve, because we too have disobeyed God just as much as those who did not believe. But all those who trusted in Christ will be declared not guilty on the Day of Judgment, because Christ has paid for their sins with his life and he has shared with them his perfect goodness so that even though we may have done everything wrong, God will treat us as if we have done everything right so long as we’re trusting in Christ. And instead of being sent away to be punished forever, he will bring us in to enjoy everlasting life and perfect peace and rest forever. That’s why Paul says that Christ has brought life and immortality to light, because whoever believes in him receives the hope of everlasting life.
Now, if Christ has defeated death, why do believers still die? Believers still die, because this is the way God finally frees us from our sin and misery in this life; and it’s the way he brings us into his presence in glory. For those who believe, death is not the end, but it’s the doorway into God’s presence which is better by far than anything we might experience in this life.
And I think the reason Paul emphasises this here is because he himself was going to die soon. The Roman Emperor would soon give the order for Paul to be executed. But Paul was not afraid of death, because he knew Christ his Saviour had saved him from the sting of death; and death was now the doorway into God’s glorious presence. And, perhaps timid Timothy was afraid of death. And so, Paul wanted to remind him that there’s nothing to fear, because Christ our Saviour has defeated death. In fact, he has destroyed death. He has made it ineffective. It cannot hurt us now. And he has given us life and immortality.
And this is why preachers must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who was raised to give us life. That’s why Timothy needed to fan into flame the gift of God to enable him to preach the gospel. That’s why he couldn’t ever be ashamed to testify to the gospel. That’s why he had to keep the gospel intact. And that’s why I preach the gospel Sunday by Sunday. We must preach the gospel because this is how we prepare God’s people for death. We preach the gospel so that you won’t be afraid of death, because you’ll know that Christ has destroyed death; and though you will die one day, you will live with God forever and forever.