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2 The Consolations of the Godly in a Day of Ruin
( 2 Timothy 1 )
The Spirit of God is about to set before us the ruin of the house of God and the increasing failure of the Christian profession throughout the dispensation with its culmination of evil in the last days. Such a terrible picture of the hopeless breakdown of Christendom may well dismay the stoutest heart. The apostle, therefore, before delineating the ruin, seeks to establish our souls and strengthen our confidence in God by setting before us our abiding resources in God. In this first chapter there pass before us the life which is in Christ Jesus (verse 1); the things which God has given to us (verses 6, 7); the testimony of our Lord (verse 8); the salvation and calling of God (verses 9, 10); the day of glory, referred to as “that day” (verses 12, 18); and the sound words of truth that no error can affect (verse 13).
(V. 1). Paul opens the Epistle by presenting his credentials. He writes with all authority as “apostle of Jesus Christ”. Good for us then to read the Epistle as bringing a message to us from Jesus Christ by His sent one. Paul's apostleship is not by the ordination or will of man, but “by the will of God”. Moreover, Paul was sent by Jesus Christ to serve in this world of death having in view the fulfilment of the promise of life, the life which is seen in all its fulness in Christ Jesus in glory. As so often with the apostle Paul, “life” is viewed in its fulness in glory, and, in this sense, can be referred to as a promise. No ruin of the church can touch this life that is in Christ Jesus and that belongs to every believer.
(Vv. 2-5). The apostle can address Timothy as his “beloved child”. What a comfort that in a day of ruin there are those to whom we can unreservedly express our affection, and to whom in all confidence we can unburden our hearts. Two leading characteristics in Timothy drew forth the love and confidence of Paul. Firstly, he was mindful of his tears; secondly, he remembered his unfeigned faith. The tears of Timothy proved that he was a man of spiritual depth and affection who felt the low and broken condition of the Christian profession; his unfeigned faith proved that he was able to rise above all the evil in obedience to, and with confidence in, God.
Timothy may indeed have been of a timid nature and in danger of being overwhelmed by the evil that was coming into the church; as he was marked by tears and faith, the apostle was encouraged to instruct and exhort him, knowing that he had qualities which would enable him to answer to his appeal. Nor is it otherwise today. The instructions of this touching Epistle will find little response unless there are the tears that tell of a tender heart that can mourn over the sorrows of God's people, and the faith that can take God's path of separation in the midst of the ruin.
Paul delighted to remember in his prayers this man of tears and faith. What a cheer to any saint, broken hearted by the condition of God's people, to know that there are devoted and faithful saints by whom he is remembered in prayer. Faithfulness in a day of desertion binds hearts together in the bonds of divine love.
(V. 6). Having expressed his love for and confidence in Timothy, the apostle passes on to exhortation, encouragement and instruction. Firstly, he exhorts him to stir up “the gift of God” which had been imparted to him for the service of the Lord. In his case it had been bestowed through the apostle. In the presence of difficulties, dangers and general unfaithfulness, when there would appear to be little result from the ministry, there is the danger of thinking it is almost useless to exercise gift. Therefore we need the warning against letting the gift fall into disuse. We are to stir it up; and, in a day of ruin, to be all the more insistent in its use. A little later the apostle can say, “Proclaim the word; be urgent in season and out of season” ( 2Ti_4:2 ).
(V. 7). Having spoken of gifts that are special to the individual, the apostle passes on to remind Timothy of the gift that is common to all believers. To some, God gives a special gift for the ministry of the word; to all His people He gives the spirit of power, and of love, and of wise discretion. It would hardly seem that the reference is to the Holy Spirit, though the gift of the Spirit is implied. It is rather the state and spirit of the believer that is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and therefore partakes of the character of the Spirit, as the Lord said, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” By nature Timothy may have been timid and retiring in disposition, but the Holy Spirit does not produce the spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. In the natural man we may find power without love, or love degenerating into mere sentiment. With the Christian, under the control of the Spirit, power is combined with love, and love expressed with a wise discretion.
Thus, however difficult the day, the believer is well equipped with power to do the will of God, to express the love of God, and to exercise a sober judgment in the midst of the ruin.
(V. 8). Having reminded us of the spirit of holy boldness that has been given to us, the apostle can at once say, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner.” The testimony of our Lord is the testimony to the glory of Christ set as Man in supreme power after having triumphed over all the power of Satan. Peter was not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, for he boldly testified, saying, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” ( Act_2:36 ). As one has said, “After the devil has led man on to do his utmost against Christ, lo, Jesus is crowned with glory and honour after all. Now that surely is victory!”
So, in this day, when ruin has come in amongst the people of God, when the triumph of Satan is such that Paul is in prison, the saints have deserted him and evil is increasing, the apostle, though deeply feeling all the failure, is sustained through it all and lifted above it all by the realisation that the Lord Jesus is in the supreme place of power above every influence of Satan. The Lord in glory is his resource. He therefore says, “The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me ... The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” ( 2Ti_4:17 ; 2Ti_4:18 ).
We rightly speak much of Christ in His earthly pathway, of Christ on the cross, and of Christ coming again, but how rarely we speak of Christ where He is at the present moment in the glory of God, and yet this is the testimony of the Lord - the great testimony that is needed for the moment, the testimony of which we are warned not to be ashamed.
However great the ruin, whatever the failure amongst God's people, whatever difficulties we may have to meet, whatever the desertion of the saints ( 2Ti_1:15 ), the self-will of those who oppose themselves ( 2Ti_2:25 ; 2Ti_2:26 ), or the malice of those who may seek to do us evil ( 2Ti_4:14 ), our unfailing resource is to be found in the Lord Jesus at God's right hand. Looking to Him we shall, like the apostle, be lifted above all the failure whether in ourselves or others. Alas! in our difficulties we may make matters worse by seeking to put them right in our own strength, whereas if we turned to the Lord we should find, even as Paul, that the Lord is with us to strengthen us and to deliver from every evil work.
How necessary then that we should render a clear testimony to the present position of the Lord in the place of supremacy and power as a Man in the glory, in whom is every resource to sustain us in the darkest days.
Moreover, let us beware of being ashamed of those who, in a day of departure, boldly seek to give the Lord His place; and let us be prepared to suffer evil, if need be, in the maintenance of the gospel, knowing that we can count upon the power of God to support us.
(Vv. 9, 10). Having warned us not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of the one who witnesses to His supreme place as Lord and suffers reproach for his witness, and having encouraged us to share in the afflictions of the gospel, the apostle proceeds to remind us of the greatness of that gospel, which is the power of God to them that are saved and called ( 1Co_1:18 ; 1Co_1:24 ). The realisation of the glory of the Lord and the greatness of the gospel will keep us from being ashamed of the testimony and prepare us to suffer affliction with the gospel.
It becomes clear from these verse that the two great themes of the gospel are salvation and calling. On the one hand the gospel proclaims the way of salvation; on the other hand it presents to us the purpose of God for which we are saved. We are apt to limit the gospel to the important question of our salvation, but so doing we miss the far deeper blessing connected with God's eternal purpose, and thus fail to enter into the heavenly calling. It is plain that the first great object of the gospel is our salvation, and God would have the believer to be in no uncertainty as to this salvation, as we read in this Scripture, He “hath saved us.” The blessed effect of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is to set the believer beyond the judgment due to him on account of his sins, and to deliver him from the course of this world. So we read, He “gave Himself for our sins, so that He should deliver us out of the present evil world” ( Gal_1:4 ). Though for the time we are actually in the world, we are, as set free from its power and influence, morally not of it.
This is the first part of the gospel, and with this the mass of God's people would seek to be content. Nevertheless, the gospel proclaims far greater blessings, for it tells us of the calling of God. Not only has God saved us, but we read He has “called us with an holy calling.” In this passage the calling is referred to as “an holy calling”; it is also spoken of as “the heavenly calling” ( Heb_3:1 ) and “the calling on high” ( Php_3:14 ). Salvation sets us free from our sins and the judgment-doomed world: the calling links us with heaven and all those spiritual blessings which God has purposed for us in the heavenlies in Christ. Therefore the blessings of God's calling are “not according to our works”, nor our thoughts, nor our deserts, but “according to His own purpose and grace”.
It is not only that all our debts have been paid, and that we have been delivered from the influence and power of the scene in which the debts were incurred, but we learn to our wonder that according to the purpose of God there are things prepared for those who love Him which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” ( 1Co_2:9 ). In the calling of God there is revealed to us the secret of His heart as He unrolls before us a vast vista of heavenly blessing, and assures us that all this blessing was purposed for us in Christ before the foundation of the world. We thus learn that long before we had sinned, or incurred a single liability, God had a settled purpose for our eternal blessing. No evil that we have done, no break down in the church in responsibility, can alter God's purpose, even as no good that we can do can procure it.
This eternal purpose has now been made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath annulled death, and brought life and incorruptibility to light through the gospel. By going into death Christ has, for the believer, met the judgment of death that rested upon us, and opened up to us a new scene of life and incorruptibility. Death can no longer prevent the believer entering in to this scene of life and blessedness according to the purpose of God. It is not only that the soul passes from death unto life, but the body will put on incorruption. Thus, by the gospel, there is brought to light a sphere of life and incorruptibility which nevermore can be marred by death or corruption. In the power of the Spirit this new scene can be enjoyed even now.
(V. 11). Furthermore, this gospel in all its fulness has been made known to us by a specially appointed vessel - one who comes to us as apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. It comes therefore on adequate authority through an apostle who speaks by revelation and inspiration.
(V. 12). Moreover, it was because of his faithful testimony that Paul had to suffer. It was no wrongdoing that brought him into suffering and reproach. His zeal as a herald, his devotedness as an apostle sent by Christ, his faithfulness to the church as a teacher, enabled him to say, “For which cause I also suffer these things.” Imprisonment was only one of “these things” that this faithful servant had to suffer. There were other sufferings more keenly felt by his sensitive heart, for “these things” included the desertion of those he loved in Asia and amongst whom he had laboured so long. Then, too, he suffered from the opposition of professors who opposed the truth ( 2Ti_2:25 ), from the persecution of evil men ( 2Ti_3:11-13 ), and the active malice of individual professors who, like Alexander, did the apostle much evil ( 2Ti_4:14 ). Nevertheless, seeing he was suffering for his faithfulness as a servant of Jesus Christ, he can say, “I am not ashamed.” Further, not only was he not ashamed, but he was not cast down, nor does one word of resentful anger escape his lips because of the unrighteousness of the world, and the desertion, ingratitude, and even opposition, on the part of many Christians. He is lifted above all depression, all resentment and all rancour, inasmuch as he is persuaded that Christ is able to keep that which he has committed unto Him against that day. When Christ was reviled He reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously. In the spirit of his Master, Paul, in the presence of suffering, desertion and insults, commits everything into the hands of Christ. His honour, his reputation, his character, his vindication, his happiness, all are committed to Christ, knowing that, though the saints may desert and even oppose him, yet Christ will never fail him. He is persuaded that Christ is able to care for his interests, vindicate his honour and right every wrong in “that day”.
In the light of “that day” Paul can pass triumphantly through “this day” with all its insults, scorn and shame. We may wonder why the devoted apostle was allowed to be deserted and opposed even by the saints; but we shall not wonder in “that day” when every wrong will be righted, and when all the shame and suffering and reproach will be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. The faithful in this day may indeed be a small and insignificant minority, even as the apostle Paul and the few who were associated with him at the close of his life; nevertheless, in “that day” it will be found to be far better to have been with the despised few than with the unfaithful mass.
The vanity of the flesh likes to be popular and self-important and make itself prominent before the world and the saints, but in view of that day it is better to take a lowly place in self-effacement rather than a public place in self-advertisement, for then it will be found that many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
We may indeed suffer for our own failure, and this should humble us. Nevertheless, with the example of the apostle before us, we do well to remember that, had we walked in absolute faithfulness, we should have suffered still more, for it ever remains true that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” ( 2Ti_3:12 ). If we are faithful to the light that God has given us, and seek to walk in separation from all that is a denial of the truth, we shall find, in our little measure, that we shall have to face persecution and opposition, and, in its most painful forms, from our fellow-Christians. And well for us, when the trial comes, if we can, like Paul, commit all to the Lord, and wait for His vindication in that day. Too often we are fretful and impatient in the presence of wrongs, and seek to have them righted in this day instead of waiting for “that day”. If, in the faith of our souls, the glory of that day shines before us, instead of being tempted to rebel at the insults and wrongs that may be allowed, we shall “rejoice and be exceeding glad: for”, says the Lord, “great is your reward in heaven” ( Mat_5:12 ).
(Vv. 13, 14). Seeing, then, that this great gospel, with its salvation and calling, comes to Timothy through an inspired source, he is exhorted to “have an outline of sound words”, which he had heard of the apostle. The truths communicated to Timothy in “sound words” were to be held by him in an orderly form, or outline, so that he could state clearly and definitely what he did hold. Having this outline, the truths conveyed by the “sound words” would be seen in right relation to one another. For us this outline is found in the written word, and very especially in the Epistles of Paul. Thus, in the Epistle to the Romans, there is an orderly presentation of the truths concerning our salvation, while his other Epistles give an outline concerning the church, the coming of the Lord, and other truths. In Christendom this outline has been largely lost through the use of isolated texts apart from their context. This outline, as presented in Scripture, is to be jealously guarded. Sincere men may seek to formulate their belief in religious confessions, articles of religion, and theological creeds. Such human expedients, whatever use they may have in their place, ever fall short of the truth and cannot take the place of the inspired outline presented in Scripture.
Moreover, this outline of sound words received from the apostle is to be held, not as a mere creed to which we can give our assent, but in faith and love in Christ Jesus, the living Person of whom the truth speaks. It is not enough to have an outline of sound words. If the truth is to be effectual in our lives it must be held “in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus”. The truth that, when first presented to the soul, is received with joy will lose its freshness unless held in communion with the Lord.
Moreover, if the truth is to be held in communion with Christ, it can only be in the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the whole range of truth contained in the outline of sound words which had been given to Timothy was to be kept by the Holy Ghost which dwells in us.
(V. 15). The immense importance of holding the outline of the truth in communion with Christ by the power of the Spirit is emphasised by the solemn fact that the one by whom the truth had been revealed was deserted by the main body of saints in Asia. The very saints to whom the heavenly calling and the whole range of Christian truth had been revealed had turned from Paul. It is not that these saints had turned from Christ, or given up the gospel of their salvation, but the truth of the heavenly calling unfolded by the apostle had not been held in communion with Christ and in the power of the Spirit. Hence they were not prepared to be associated with him in the outside place of rejection in this world that the full truth of Christianity involves.
It is evident, then, that we cannot trust the most enlightened saints for the maintenance of the truth. It is only as Christ commands the affections in the power of the Spirit that we shall keep that good thing which has been committed unto us.
(Vv. 16-18). The reference to Onesiphorus and his household is very touching. It proves that the indifference and the desertion of the mass did not lead the apostle to overlook the love and kindness of an individual and his family. Indeed, the desertion of the mass made the affection of the few all the more precious. When the great mass grieved the heart of Paul, there was at least one of whom he can say, “He oft refreshed me.” Others may be ashamed of him, but of this brother he can say that he “was not ashamed of my chain.” When others deserted him, there was still one of whom he can write, “He sought me out very diligently, and found me.” When others neglected him he can own with pleasure of this brother that “in many things he ministered unto me.”
How gratifying it must have been to the heart of the apostle, in the day of his desertion, to realise the sympathy and consolations of Christ finding their expression through this devoted brother. If Paul does not forget this expression of love in the day of his desertion, the Lord will not forget it “in that day” - the day of the coming glory.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 1". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25