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(1) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.—As in the Epistles to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and Colossians, he ascribes his apostleship to the sovereign will and election of God. Apart from any merit or work of his own, God chose him for the office. He neither aspired to it nor wished for it. The reference to the Almighty will in this Epistle is singularly in harmony with the spirit of calm resignation which breathes through it. It was that sovereign will which chose him as an Apostle, which guided him all through that eventful life of his, and which brought him to the prison of the Cæsar, where, face to face with death, he wrote this last letter to his friend and disciple Timothy.
According to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.—The Greek word rendered “according to” should here be translated “for the promise of life.” This preposition here denotes the object or intention of his appointment as apostle, which was to make known, to publish abroad, the promise of eternal life. Almost the first words of an Epistle, written evidently under the expectation of death, dwell upon the promise of life—the life which knows no ending—the life in Christ. The central point of all Evangelical preaching was the true, blessed life eternal, that life which, in the person of the Redeemer, was revealed to man, and which, through the Redeemer, is offered to the sinner.
(2) To Timothy, my dearly beloved son.—More accurately, (my) beloved son. The words used in the address of the First Epistle were “my own son” (γνησίω̩ τέκνω̩). The change in the words was probably owing to St. Paul’s feeling that, in spite of his earnest request for Timothy to come to him with all speed, these lines were in reality his farewell to his trusted friend and more than son, hence the loving word.
Grace, mercy, and peace . . .—See Notes on 1 Timothy 1:2.
(3) I thank God.—The exact reference of these words of thankfulness on the part of St. Paul has been the subject of much argument. Although the sense is a little obscured by the long parenthesis which intervenes, it seems clear that St. Paul’s expression of thankfulness was for his remembrance of the unfeigned faith of Timothy and Lois and Eunice (see 2 Timothy 1:5). The whole passage might be written thus, “I thank God, whom I serve with the devotion of my forefathers with a pure conscience (as it happens that I have thee uppermost in my thought and prayers night and day, longing to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, in order that I may be filled with joy), when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith which is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and thy mother Eunice,” &c.
Whom I serve from my forefathers.—That is, with the devotion and love I have inherited as a sacred family tradition. St. Paul was here referring, not to the great forefathers of the Jewish race—Abraham, Isaac, and the patriarchs—but to the members of his own family, who, he states, were religious, faithful persons. Van Oosterzee strangely concludes: “Dass Paulus diese historische kontinuität der wahren Gottesverehrung in seinem geschlecht um so höher schätzt, da er selbst stirbt, ohne kinder zu hinterlassen!”
With pure conscience.—Literally, in pure conscience. The spiritual sphere in which St. Paul, as a Jew first, then as a Christian, served God. (See Notes on 1 Timothy 1:5.)
That without ceasing I have remembrance of thee.—Better rendered, as unceasing is the remembrance which . . . This long parenthetical sentence leads up to the point for which St. Paul was so deeply thankful to God; namely, the true faith of Timothy himself. These unstudied words tell us something of the inner life of such a one as St. Paul, how ceaselessly, unweariedly he prayed, night as well as day. The object, too, of those constant prayers of St. Paul was not St. Paul but Timothy.
(4) Greatly desiring to see thee.—In view of that violent death which, at this time a close prisoner, he saw was imminent, the memory, too, of the tears of his friend made him long yet more earnestly to see him once again on earth.
Being mindful of thy tears.—Shed probably by Timothy when his aged master had last taken leave of him. It is likely that the clouds of danger which were gathering thickly round St. Paul towards the close of his career had oppressed the brave-hearted Apostle with a foreboding of coming evil, and had invested the last parting with Timothy with circumstances of unusual solemnity. St. Paul had affected others besides Timothy with the same great love, so that tears were shed by strong men when he bade them farewell. (See the account of the leave-taking of the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Acts 20:37-38—“And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.”)
There is no necessity for Hofmann’s singular, but rather far-fetched, theory here that the tears were simply an expression for Timothy’s intense sorrow at hearing of the Apostle’s arrest and close imprisonment, which sorrow St. Paul was made acquainted with in a letter. The tears, according to Hofmann, were those “welche Timotheus brieflich geweint hat.”
That I may be filled with joy.—When he meets Timothy again.
(5) When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee.—It is for the “unfeigned faith” which he was confident dwelt still in his dearest and best loved companion, whom he had intrusted with the care of the Ephesian church, that he thanked God. (See 2 Timothy 1:3.)
It is more than probable that some special instance of this unfeigned faith on the part of the chief pastor of Ephesus had come to the Apostle’s knowledge, and cheered that great loving heart of his while he languished in prison.
Which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice . . .—We know, in the course of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3) St. Paul was brought into contact with this pious family at Lystra. It has been suggested that Lois, Eunice, and Timothy were kinsfolk of St. Paul, hence his intimacy with the family, and his knowledge of their faith; hence, too, perhaps, his devoted and unbroken friendship for Timothy. We are told (Acts 16:1) that this Eunice was a Jewess, married to a Greek. Lystra is no great distance from Tarsus—whence St. Paul came. The supposition is just possible; but it is only an ingenious thought, there being no data to support it. Of the names—Lois is the same with the more familiar Lais; Eunice is an equivalent of the Latin Victoria.
(6) Wherefore I put thee in remembrance.—Wherefore (seeing that I am so thoroughly persuaded of thy faith) I am determined to put thee in remembrance . . . It seems, from the general tenor of the Epistle, that Timothy was deeply cast down by the imprisonment of St. Paul. Timothy, as well as the martyr himself, was conscious that the end of that great and glorious career of his old master was at last come; and the heart of the younger man sank—as well it might—under the prospect of having to fight the Lord’s battle at Ephesus—that famous centre of Greek culture and of Oriental luxury—against enemies without and enemies within, alone, and without the help of the great genius, the master mind, and the indomitable courage of the man who for a quarter of a century had been the guiding spirit of Gentile Christianity, and his dear and intimate friend. So St. Paul now, persuaded that faith burned in his disciple’s heart with the old steady flame, but knowing, too, that he was dispirited and heavy-hearted, was minded, if possible, to cheer up the fainting heart, and to inspire it with fresh courage to fight the Master’s fight when he (St. Paul) had left the scene.
That thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.—The Greek word rendered “stir up” literally means to kindle up, to fan into flame. Chrysostom brings home the great lesson taught by this word, which belongs to all Christ’s people alike, when he quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Quench not the Spirit;” for it is in our power both to quench this Spirit and also to fan it into flame. The “gift of God” here alluded to is that special gift of the Spirit conferred on Timothy at his ordination, and which included, in his case, powers necessary for the performance of the many and important duties to which he was in the providence of God called, especially those gifts of ruling and teaching which are necessary for the chief pastor’s office. This “gift of God” was conferred through the medium of the hands laid on Timothy’s head at his ordination at Lystra. In this act the presbytery at Lystra were joined with the Apostle. (See 1 Timothy 4:14.) We know that St. Paul frequently uses for his illustrations of Christian life scenes well known among the Greek heathen nations of the Old World, such as the Greek athletic games. Is it not possible (the suggestion is Wordsworth’s) that the Apostle while here charging Timothy to take care that the sacred fire of the Holy Ghost did not languish in his heart, while urging him to watch the flame, to keep it burning brightly, to fan the flame if burning dimly—is it not possible that St. Paul had in mind the solemn words of the Roman law, “Let them watch the eternal flame of the public hearth”? (Cicero, de Legibus, xi. 8.) The failure of the flame was regarded as an omen of dire misfortune, and the watchers, if they neglected the duty, were punished with the severest penalties.
(7) For God hath not given us the spirit of fear.—Or better, perhaps, the spirit of cowardice—that cowardice which manifests itself by a timidity and shrinking in the daily difficulties which the Christian meets with in the warfare for the kingdom of God. (Comp. John 14:27, and Revelation 21:8.) “Hath not given us,” in this particular case, refers to the time when Timothy and St. Paul were admitted into the ministry. The Holy Spirit is no Spirit, be it remembered, which works cowardice in men. But the reference is also a far broader one than merely to the Holy Spirit conferred on ministers of the Lord at ordination. It is a grave reminder to Christians of every age and degree that all cowardice, all dread of danger, all shrinking from doing one’s duty for fear of man’s displeasure, proceeds not from the Spirit of God.
But of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.—Instead of rendering the Greek word by “a sound mind,” it were better to substitute the translation, self-control. The Holy Spirit works, in those to whom it is given, power, or strength, to fight the fight of God, power, not only patiently to endure, but also to strike good blows for Christ—the power, for instance, of steadfastness in resisting temptation, the strong will which guides other weaker ones along the narrow way “of love.” It works, too, in those to whom God gives the blessed gift, that strange, sweet love for others which leads to noble deeds of self-surrender—that love which never shrinks from a sacrifice which may benefit the friend or even the neighbour. And lastly, the Spirit works in us “self-control”—selbst-beherrschung—that power which, in the man or woman living in and mixing with the world, and exposed to its varied temptations and pleasures, is able to regulate and to keep in a wise subjection, passions, desires, impulses.
(8) Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.—Seeing, then—remembering, then, that God gave you and me (notice the beautiful courtesy of the old martyr waiting for death, death the human guerdon of his fearless life, coupling, as he has been doing, his sorrow-stricken, dispirited friend with himself, whom no danger, no failure had ever affected)—remembering, then, the spirit of power, love, and self-control given to us, do not thou be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord. This “testimony” of which Timothy was not to be ashamed, of course includes the sufferings and the shame of Christ. In these, before mocking, scornful men, must Timothy, as an example to the flock, rather glory; but “the testimony” signifies much more than what relates only to the Passion story. The Christian, instead of being ashamed of his “profession,” must before the world show fearlessly that its hopes and its promises are his most precious treasure.
Nor of me his prisoner.—Nor must Timothy either then, or in days to come, be afraid of confessing before men that he had been the disciple and friend of the prisoner St. Paul, who had paid so dearly for the courage of his opinions. Nor Timothy, nor any Christian must shrink from openly espousing the unpopular cause of the Crucified, or from publicly declaring their sympathy with its hated martyrs.
But be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel.—More accurately rendered, but rather suffer afflictions for the gospel. But, on the contrary, instead of injuring the good cause by faint-hearted conduct, should Timothy rather be ready to suffer, if need be, with St. Paul, ready to bear some shame with him, ready to incur, perhaps, sore danger for the gospel’s sake; and then St. Paul, emphasising his words, and strengthening with a new strength his argument and his exhortation, adds, “in accordance with the power of God”—yes, join with me in suffering, if needs be, for the gospel. Mighty and pitiful was God’s power towards us: great, surely, in proportion should be our readiness to suffer in return, if He asks this—as He is now doing from you and me—at our hands.
According to the power of God.—What power of God? has been asked. Not according to the power we get from God, but according to the power which God has displayed towards us in our calling and in our marvellous salvation. In other words, God, with great power, has succoured us; surely we may be confident that He will never leave us, never desert us, but in the hour of our sorest trouble incurred for Him will help us, and will bring us safely through it. So Chrysostom, who, while asserting that suffering will be borne, but not in our strength but in God’s, says, “Consider how thou hast been saved, and how thou hast been called;” inferring that He who has done so great things for man, in his calling and in his salvation, will never let him want for strength.
(9) Who hath saved us.—St. Paul now specifies the manner in which the power of God has been displayed towards us. This is an inclusive word, and comprehends all God’s dealings with us in respect to our redemption. (See Notes on Titus 3:5.) Again, as so frequently in these Pastoral Epistles, is the First Person of the blessed Trinity referred to as the Saviour.
Us.—Paul and Timothy, and all who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus, are included under “us.”
And called us with an holy calling.—This explains the means by which God was pleased to save St. Paul and Timothy. He called them. He—God the Father, to whom the act of calling is regularly ascribed (Galatians 1:6); and the calling is said to be “holy,” because it is a summons to share in the blessed communion of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9). There is an inner as well as an outer calling; the “outer” comes through the preaching of the word, the inner by means of the voice of the Holy Ghost in the heart.
Not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.—We are told in the next clause that “the grace” was given before the world began; therefore “our works” could have had nothing to do with the divine purpose which was resolved on by God. As Chrysostom observes, “No one counselling with Him, but of His own purpose, the purpose originating in His own goodness.” Calvin pithily remarks, “If God chose us before the creation of the world, He could not have considered the question of our works, which could have had no existence at a period when we ourselves were not.” “But according to” (in pursuance of) “His own purposes,” with emphasis on “own”—that purpose which was prompted by nothing outward, but which arose solely out of the divine goodwill, or goodness, or love. (See Ephesians 1:11.) The “grace” here is almost equivalent to the “mercy” of Titus 3:5, “according to His mercy He saved us.”
Which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.—This grace was “given,” not “destined,” to us. It was given to us, in the person of Jesus Christ, before time was, and when our Redeemer, in the fulness of time, appeared, then was it made manifest. “Before the world began”—quite literally, “before eternal times;” the meaning here is “from all eternity,” before times marked by the lapse of unnumbered ages.
(10) But is now made manifest.—The grace, a gift given to us in Christ from all eternity, but hidden during unnumbered ages, till the fulness of time—the appointed time—arrived; the “now,” when it was made manifest.
By the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ.—The simple act of the Incarnation by no means covers the “appearing.” The “appearing” (Epiphany) here includes not only the birth, but the whole manifestation of Christ on earth, including the Passion and the Resurrection.
Who hath abolished death.—More accurately, when he abolished, or, made of none effect. The Greek word thus rendered, signifies that by the action of the Lord, death was rendered inoperative, comparatively harmless—its sting was removed. The “death” thus made of none effect has a far more extended meaning than that separation of soul and body we are in the habit of calling death. It signifies that awful punishment of sin which is best described as the exact opposite to “eternal life.” The death we are acquainted with by sad experience here is only the forerunner of the death eternal. Already to the believers in Jesus this death of the body counts for nothing; the time will come when it will even exist no more.
And hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.—The Greek word rendered “immortality” is more accurately translated by incorruption. “Life” here is that true life, in its highest and completest sense, which includes the most perfect happiness—a happiness a foretaste of which is enjoyed on this side the grave; over it (this bliss) death now has no power—indeed, death is the gate, so to speak, through which we pass to its complete enjoyment. St. Paul says Christ “brought to light” life and incorruption, not only from having imparted to His own these glorious and divine attributes, but chiefly because He has displayed (or manifested) the life and incorruption in His own resurrection body before our very eyes. When St. Paul wrote to Timothy, we must remember, many an eye-witness of the resurrection glories still walked on earth; with these must St. Paul, and Timothy too, often have conversed. Thus it can, with all literal truth, be predicated of Jesus Christ that He brought life and incorruption out of that darkness in which, as far as men were concerned, these things lay, into the clear and bright light of day. And as the hearers of Christ and the eye-witnesses of His resurrection were, when we consider this great mass of mankind, comparatively few, the medium by which these glorious truths were made known to men was the preaching of the gospel, in which gospel the Holy Ghost had enshrined both the words and the story of Christ.
On the Greek text of this grand verse Ellicott observes that it is remarkable that “Death,” being then a known and ruling power, has in the original the article, while “Life” and “Incorruption,” being then only recently revealed and unknown powers, save to few, are written without the article.
(11) Whereunto I am appointed a preacher . . . .—Whereunto—that is, to preach the gospel referred to in the previous verse. (On these titles see 1 Timothy 1:12; 1 Timothy 2:7.) In all his deep humiliation, a solitary prisoner awaiting death, deserted by his friends, St. Paul, with solemn emphasis, rehearses the titles of dignity which, by his Master’s appointment, he possessed in the Christian Church. The poor prisoner, waiting his summons to a painful death, wished his last charge to go forth with all the authority of an Apostle, adding, however, in the next verse, that his present sufferings were entailed on him, owing to this very position in the Christian community to which his Master had called him.
(12) For the which cause I also suffer these things.—Because he had been the teacher and apostle, had all these sufferings—the prison, the chains, the solitude, the hate of so many—come upon him. There was no need to refer to them more particularly. Timothy knew well what he was then undergoing. The reason of the Apostle’s touching at all upon himself and his fortunes will appear in the next clause, when, from the depths, as it would seem, of human misfortune, he triumphantly rehearses his sure grounds of confidence. Timothy was dispirited, cast down, sorrowful. He need not be. When tempted to despair, let him think of his old master and friend, Paul the Apostle, who rejoiced in the midst of the greatest sufferings, knowing that these were the sure earthly guerdon of the most devoted work, but that there was One, in whom he believed, able and, at the same time, willing to save him for yet higher and grander things.
Nevertheless I am not ashamed.—Not ashamed of the suffering I am now enduring for the cause of the Lord. He then, by showing the grounds of his joyful hope, proceeds to show how men can rise to the same lofty heights of independence to which he had risen, whence they can look down with indifference on all human opinion and human reward and regard.
For I know whom I have believed.—Better rendered, whom I have trusted; yea, and still trust. “Whom” here refers to God the Father.
That which I have committed unto him.—More exactly, my deposit. Considerable diversity of opinion has existed among commentators of all ages as to the exact meaning which should be assigned to the words “my deposit.” Let us glance back at what has gone before. St. Paul, the forsaken prisoner, looking for death, has been bidding his younger comrade never to let his heart sink or his spirit grow faint when oncoming dangers threaten to crush him; for, he says, you know me and my seemingly ruined fortunes and blasted hopes. Friendless and alone, you know, I am awaiting death (2 Timothy 4:6); and yet, in spite of all this crushing weight of sorrow, which has come on me because I am a Christian, yet am I not ashamed, for I know whom I have trusted—I know His sovereign power to whom I have committed “my deposit.” He, I know, can keep it safe against that day. St. Paul had intrusted his deathless soul to the keeping of his Heavenly Father, and having done this, serene and joyful he waited for the end. His disciple Timothy must do the same.
“That which I have committed unto Him, my deposit,” signified a most precious treasure committed by St. Paul to his God. The language and imagery was probably taken by the Apostle from one of those Hebrew Psalms he knew so well (Psalms 31:5)—“Into thy hand I commend my spirit,” rendered in the LXX. version (Psalms 30:5), “I will commit” (parathçsomai). In Josephus, a writer of the same age, the soul is especially termed a parakatatheke—deposit. The passage is one in which he is speaking against suicide (B. J. iii. 8, 5). Philo, also, who may almost be termed a contemporary of St. Paul, uses the very same expression, and also calls the soul “a deposit” (p. 499, ed. Richter). Both passages are quoted at length by Alford, who, however, comes to a slightly different conclusion.
Against that day.—The day of the coming of Christ—“that day when I (the Lord of Hosts) make up my jewels.” He will keep my soul—“my deposit”—safe against that day when the crown of life will be given to all that love His appearing.
(13) Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me.—It was not sufficient for Timothy to renew his fainting courage and to brace himself up for fresh efforts; he must do something more—in his teaching he must never let those solemn formularies he had once received from him be changed. Perhaps in the heart of St. Paul lurked some dread that the new glosses and specious explanations which the school of false teachers, so often referred to in these Pastoral Epistles, chose to add to the great doctrines of Christianity would be more likely to be listened to by Timothy when the hand of his old master was cold and the heart had ceased to beat; so he urged upon him to hold fast those inspired formularies he had heard from St. Paul’s lips—such, for instance, as those “faithful sayings” which come before us so often in these Epistles to Timothy and Titus.
In faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.—Timothy, in days to come, must mould and shape his teaching after the pattern of the teaching of his master St. Paul, and he must do it in that faith and love which alone comes from a life passed in communion with Christ.
The very frequent reference to the “sound, healthy words” in these Epistles by St. Paul, and from which he urges his disciples and successors never to depart, indicate to us the deep importance St. Paul and the first generation of believers attached to the very words and expressions used by the apostles and those who had been with the Lord.
False doctrines so easily might creep in, and loose forms of expression respecting great truths were an ever-present danger; a lax life, too, St. Paul knew, was the almost invariable accompaniment of false doctrine, hence these repeated exhortations of his to these representative teachers, Timothy and Titus, of the second generation of Christians, to hold fast the form of sound, healthy words—such words as these had again and again been heard from the lips of apostles and hearers of the Lord—“words which thou hast heard of me,” St. Paul.
(14) That good thing which was committed unto thee.—“The good thing committed unto thee,” or the deposit, differs from the “deposit” of 2 Timothy 1:12, inasmuch as the “deposit” of 2 Timothy 1:12 was something committed by St. Paul to God; while, on the other hand, in 2 Timothy 1:14 a trust committed by God to Timothy is spoken of. But the Apostle, remembering the solemn meaning of the word in the first instance, uses it with especial emphasis on this second occasion. Yes, he seems to say, God will keep the most precious deposit you or I shall intrust to Him—our soul—safe against that day; do thou, in thy turn, keep safe, unharmed, the deposit He, through me, has intrusted to thee. In what God’s deposit with men like Timothy and St. Paul consisted has been discussed in the Note to 1 Timothy 6:20. “The treasure of the Catholic faith”—that was to be kept unchanged, unalloyed. The epithet “good,” which is here applied to this most sacred trust, we find joined to “the doctrine” (“the good doctrine,” 1 Timothy 4:6), and to “the fight” (“the good fight,” 1 Timothy 6:12).
Keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.—But this glorious deposit of the Catholic faith must be preserved, let Timothy and others holding a like position with Timothy mark well, by no human agencies. He indicates here the only means that must be employed to preserve this sacred charge safe and pure, when he bids us keep the deposit by the Holy Ghost—the Holy Ghost which, St. Paul adds, dwells in us.
It would seem that the Apostle here was warning Timothy, as the representative Christian teacher, that the sacred deposit of the Catholic faith was to be preserved by no weak compliance with the scruples of false teachers or of doubting men, by no timid accommodation, by no yielding a little here and a little there to prejudice or vanity. By no such or any other short-sighted human arts of defence was the deposit of faith to be guarded. But the Holy Ghost will keep His own, and will show His faithful teachers in every age how to hand down the lamp of holy Catholic doctrine still burning brightly, with flame undimmed, to their successors in the race of life.
(15) This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.—This sad desertion of friends is well known to thee. Instead of being dispirited by it, and by my arrest and close imprisonment, rather shouldest thou be stimulated to fresh and renewed exertions for the cause for which I suffer this desertion, these bonds.
All they which are in Asia.—It has been maintained by many, even by great Greek expositors such as Chrysostom, that “they which are in Asia” refers to certain Asiatic Christians who happened to be in Rome at the time of the Apostle’s arrest and imprisonment. Others have even suggested that these Asiatics had gone to Rome for the purpose of bearing witness in St. Paul’s favour, and finding that St. Paul’s position was one of extreme danger, terrified for themselves—like others once before had been in the Christian story—lest they too should be involved in a like condemnation, forsook him and fled. But the simple and more obvious meaning is here to be preferred, and we assume as certain that the forsaking, the giving up St. Paul, took place in Asia itself. Large numbers of Christians, if not whole churches, repudiated their connection with the great father of Gentile Christianity, and possibly disobeyed some of his teaching. What, in fact, absolutely took place in Asia while St. Paul lay bound, waiting for death in Rome, had been often threatened in Corinth and in other centres. Party feeling ran high in those days, we know; and one of the most sorrowful trials the great-hearted St. Paul had to endure in the agony of his last witnessing for his Lord, was the knowledge that his name and teaching no longer was held in honour in some of those Asian churches so dear to him. The geographical term Asia is rather vague. It may—and indeed, strictly speaking, does—include Mysia, Phrygia, Lydia, Caria; but such a wide-spread defection from Pauline teaching seems improbable, and there is no tradition that anything of the kind ever took place. St. Paul probably wrote the term more in the old Homeric sense, and meant the district in the neighbourhood of the river Cayster;
“In Asian meadow by Cayster’s streams.”
—Iliad ii. 461.
Of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.—These names would at once suggest to Timothy the men and the congregations of “Asia” to whom St. Paul was alluding—names well known, doubtless, then, and especially to persons in the position of Timothy; but no tradition has been preserved which throws any light on the lives and actions of these traitorous friends of St. Paul.
(16) The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus.—In striking contrast to those false friends who turned away from him was one, also well known to Timothy, probably an Ephesian merchant. Onesiphorus, to whose house the Apostle prays the Lord to give mercy, had, early in this last imprisonment of St. Paul, arrived in Rome on matters connected probably with business. There he heard of the arrest of that great master whom he had known well in Asia, and sought him out in his prison. There is but little doubt that when St. Paul wrote this Epistle Onesiphorus’ death must have recently taken place, both from the terms of this verse—where mercy is prayed, not for him, but for his house—and also from the expression “in that day,” used in 2 Timothy 1:18. There is something strangely touching in this loving memory of “one” who, in his trouble, did not forsake him, but whose devotion was rather increased by his danger, and this one faithful friend would never be able again to show his love to the prisoner, for God had called him home.
For he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.—“He oft refreshed me” does not imply that he ministered only to the Apostle’s bodily needs when he was in prison, though the word, no doubt, includes this. But “he refreshed” him by frequent visits, by, no doubt, much anxious forethought in the matter of St. Paul’s deliverance from prison and bonds, by a noble disregard of the personal danger which he incurred by his open intimacy with a prisoner charged, as St. Paul must have been, with treason against the empire. “He was not ashamed of my chain.” (See Acts 28:20, where “the chain” of another captivity is mentioned.)
(17) But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.—But, on the contrary, instead of fear—far from being ashamed—he, when he arrived in Rome, sought me out. This must have been a much more rigorous captivity than the one alluded to in the last chapter of the Acts when St. Paul dwelt in his own hired house with the soldier who guarded him. Now he was rigidly imprisoned, and the very place of his captivity was not, apparently, easily found.
(18) The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day . . .—The Greek should be rendered here, favour of the Lord, instead of by “mercy of the Lord.” Some commentators, who have found a difficulty in this unusual repetition of “the Lord,” explain it thus: The expression, “the Lord grant,” had become among Christians so completely “a formulary,” that the second use of the word “Lord” was not noticed; and the prayer is thus-simply equivalent to “O that he may find mercy of the Lord.” It seems, however, better to keep to the strict. literal meaning, and to understand the first “Lord,” in the sense in which the term is always found in the Epistles of St. Paul, as a title of Christ; and the second “Lord” as used of the Father, to whom here (as in Romans 2:5; Romans 2:16; Hebrews 12:23), judgment at the last day is ascribed.
In that day.—The Apostle can never repay now—not even with thanks—the kindness his dead friend showed him in his hour of need; so he prays that the Judge of quick and dead may remember it in the awful day of judgment. It is worthy of note how St. Paul’s thoughts here pass over the interval between death and judgment. It was on that day when the great white throne would be set up that he thought of the good deeds done in the body being recompensed by the righteous Judge. No doubt the expectation of the early Christians—in which expectation certainly St. Paul shared—of the speedy coming of the Lord influenced all thinking and speaking of the intermediate state of the soul between death and judgment, and almost seems to have effaced the waiting time from their minds.
And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.—These services rendered to St. Paul at Ephesus are placed side by side with those things he had done for him at Rome, but as they are mentioned after, they perhaps refer to kind offices undertaken for the prisoner by Onesiphorus after his return from Rome to Ephesus. These things Timothy, the presiding pastor at Ephesus, would, of course, know in their detail better than St. Paul. The Greek word διηκόνσεν, rendered “he ministered,” has given rise to the suggestion that Onesiphorus was a deacon at Ephesus. Although this is possible, still such an inference from one rather general expression is precarious.
This passage is famous from its being generally quoted among the very rare statements of the New Testament which seem to bear upon the question of the Romish doctrine of praying for the dead.
It may be well very briefly to touch on two points which suggest themselves as to the bearing of this passage on the doctrine in question. (1) Although we here, in common with Roman Catholic interpreters and the majority of the later expositors of the Reformed Church, assume that Onesiphorus was dead when St. Paul wrote to Timothy, and that the words used had reference to St. Paul’s dead friend, still it must be remembered that others, well worthy of being heard, writing many centuries before any doctrinal controversy on this subject arose, have held quite another opinion. Theodoret and Chrysostom (quoted by Alford) understood that Onesiphorus was with St. Paul at this time. (2) The prayer, whether it be taken as a prayer or an ejaculation, is simply the expression of an earnest desire, on the part of St. Paul, that the kind act of the dead—assuming, contrary to the opinion of the above quoted Fathers, that he was dead—Onesiphorus towards himself may be remembered on that day when the books are opened before the Judge of quick and dead. It, indeed, only asks—looking fairly at the context—that an act of unrequited and devoted love shown in this life may be remembered in the final judgment. Without touching upon the controversy itself, it seems only just to point out the extreme precariousness of pressing this text—the only one in the New Testament really touching on this subject, and as to the interpretation of which expositors, as we have seen, are by no means in agreement—in support of a controverted doctrine.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany