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Paul's Last Letter
2 Timothy 1-4
"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God" ( 2Ti 1:1-8 ).
"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory"( 2Ti 2:1-3 , 2Ti 2:7-10 ).
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" ( 2Ti 4:7-8 ).
This is the last letter, by general consent of all Christian students, that the Apostle wrote. It has been called his last will and testament. To read the will of Paul! what an advantage, what an honour, what an opportunity! This is our privilege to-day. How will Paul conclude? cannot but be an exciting question. What will Paul do at the close of his last letter? will he be weary? will he write like an old man? will he modify any of his doctrinal positions? Will he say, If I had my time to live over again I would not be so bold, so self-sacrificing; I would take more care of myself; I would live an easier life? Or will he at the last be as ardent and soldier-like and tremendous as ever? Paul was always great. He could not help this quality. There was something in him which he did not create and which he cultivated and studied to express on the largest lines with the most graphic definiteness. Perhaps Paul could not write like an old man, because he was writing to a comparative child. It is wonderful how he loved the young. Because of his love of the young he himself was never old, except in years: never in feeling. The man who knows that he is going to be born into heaven at any moment cannot be old. This is the spirit of the New Testament. There is not an old thing in it; it is verily New new because it is old: a contradiction in. words but a fact in experience. Old, old time always has had and always will have a new morning. No man ever saw this day before, and it is just as bright and sweet a flower as the Lord ever grew on the acres of time. So the New Testament is always up to date. You cannot out-pray it. Though you bribe genius to write some new supplication it falls back from the effort, saying, It was all done before I was born. No man can add anything to the New Testament that is of the same quality. He can expand it, but the plasm must be found in the book. Men can grow flowers, but they must grow them out of something they had to begin with. So this Paul and his Testament are always writing to oncoming Timothies: it is a great speech to the coming men, a mighty military charge to the infant soldiers of the world. To read the last will and testament of Paul! Let us hasten to it; every word will be music.
After the "Amen" of Timothy, tradition, not history, follows Paul away, sees him fall down before the execution, sees the uplifted flashing sword, sees the venerable head rolling in the dust. It was a grand Amen "it may be that only in heaven we shall hear the grand Amen." How stood the old man at the last? Bravely? Tell us, ye that saw him, how he looked: did he tremble, did he apologise, did he ask for mercy? The account is before us. It never could have been such an ending, but for the great ribwork of principles round about the man, and in which he lived. This Epistle is full of doctrine, great ideas, solemn principles, burning convictions. He is not drinking out of some silver goblet of scented sentiment; he refreshes himself at the fountains of divinest blood. Oh, ye white-faced, weak-kneed, believers! believers in what? ye shifty speculators, stealers of prophetic mantles! go, drink yourselves to death, and go to your proper devil: ye are not the Church of Christ, might well be the speech which ascended Pauls might deliver to us, as we re-shuffle the theological cards, and rearrange our credenda, and modify and dilute our doctrinal positions and enthusiasms.
We have Paul in this Epistle in all the wondrous undulation of his personality. How he rises, falls, rises again; and again, like waves, falls and breaks and returns! all the while in the sublimest action. He will write a letter to Timothy, "my dearly beloved son"; he will have a family page in the letter. Paul was no loose thinker; all his thought, how tumultuously soever it was expressed, went back to centres, to fixed points; tethered to these fixities, he allowed himself almost eccentric liberty. He is an unhappy man who is not fixed anywhere. Paul turned over Timothy's history, and he remembered Timothy's grandmother, and Timothy's mother, and said, you are as good as both of them put together: you seem almost to be an inheritor of faith. Some men are born in libraries: what if they should turn out learned students? Some of us were not born in a library, we must not be blamed because we have not any literature; we would have read, but we had no books to read. Some men are born in gardens: what if their raiment be odorous with the fragrance of choicest flowers? Some were born in the wilderness, and never saw a flower until they were quite grown men. The Lord will judge us accordingly. Do not be downhearted because you had no grandmother and mother in Christ. You may start the new generation. God knows where you began and how, and he will reckon it all up at the last, and many are last that shall be first, some are first that shall be last. Yet Paul will have a hand in this family history. Our pastors come into our houses; our bishops are part of our family genealogy. The pastor is a member of every family; no family is complete until its bishop is there; if not in person, yet in remembrance and in love. This is the wonderful charm of the true ministry, that it is free to every honest house Paul says, "Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands." Literally, Fan the flame; or, fan the little spark: it is only a little red spark indeed, but breathe upon it, softly, more quickly, very carefully; blow again yes, see how it brightens, whitens, glows! blow again stir up the gift that is in thee. All fire is of God. There is no earthly Pentecost; the earth will not grow fire. How was the gift communicated? "by the putting on of my hands." Dear hands! speaking hands! clean hands! There is a touch that makes us men: there is a handshaking that haunts us as a misery, cold, pithless, soulless, and we say, Would God we had never seen that man! There is another that makes us forget ten years in a moment, and recover all our lamps and lights, and makes us strong. There is a magnetic touch: every bishop ought to have it; every minister of God truly called and divinely elected has it.
The mystery of touch has never been explained. Jesus touched the leper; Jesus touched the sightless eyes: Jesus touched the little child: Jesus touched the bread which he broke. In his touch was life. We can so touch the Saviour as to get from him everything we want. He said, "Somebody hath touched me." The disciples said, "Seest how the people throng around thee, and sayest thou, Who hath touched me? why, we are all touching thee." No, said Christ, you are not: somebody hath touched me. Do not imagine that approximation to Christ is enough. Do not imagine that formal prayer is sufficient. Never give way to the sophism that because you have been to church, therefore you have been pious, or good in any sense. A man may go to church, and get nothing there, and in the proportion in which he gets nothing will he blame those who minister in the church! it will never occur to him that he is a dead dog, and even the lightnings would not touch him.
What is Timothy to do? He is, in the first place, not to be "ashamed." Appearances are against him and against Paul. Virtue is in gaol, Nero is on the throne, Rome is alive with the devil: Paul says, this is a time, my son, when we must look up in confidence and love and hope. In the next place, Timothy is to "Hold fast," grip well, make every finger serve, "keep" something. What? "That good thing which was committed unto thee." The action is that of a child who having a very precious toy or treasure is going to rest or is going from home, and says to the strong father or mother or friend, Take this and keep it for me. What has the child done? The child has committed the treasure to the custody of tested strength. Paul says to Timothy, "Hold fast... that good thing which was committed unto thee by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us," for if we can commit our souls to God, God can commit his truth to us: what we have to do is to "hold fast." It would be a poor account to give, if we told the Holy Ghost at the last that we were busy here and there, and some thief came and took the casket with the jewel. The Apostle was an eccentric writer; his was a rough-and-ready style in many instances. He came down from the mountain at a bound, and went back again at one stride. Nobody could ever tell where he was. He is no favourite with the critics. So Paul comes down now from all these high charges, and says, I do not only remember those who have gone away from me, but I remember one who was always kind to me, an Ephesian merchant, Onesiphorus by name "he oft refreshed me": literally and singularly, he often poured cold water on me. That is to say, the Apostle was footsore, and Onesiphorus came to him with the cold refreshing water and bathed his feet, or the Apostle's head was burning with fever, and Onesiphorus dipped his generous hands into the cool stream, and bathed the throbbing temples. "He oft refreshed me, and was not afraid of my chain;" some of his kind water fell upon the iron. "When he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently," therefore he wanted to find me, "and found me." We can always find our friends if we want to. You went out to give some dole to the poor, and the impression was made upon your mind that the poor soul was out, and therefore you went no farther. You could have found him if you wished. What would Paul have done to this merchant of Ephesus? "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day:" he found me may the Lord find him! This was not an occasional attention "in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well." Why, Paul, hadst thou such a memory of detail? What about saintly passion, apostolic enthusiasm, the holy fury that absorbs the soul? All that, saith Paul, is perfectly consistent with remembering every cup of cold water that was given to me. If so wondrous a thing to serve Paul, what must it be to serve Paul's Master?
What more is Timothy to be or to do? "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." A wonderful, double expression: "strong in the grace" mighty in the beauty valiant in the gentleness: grow flowers on the rock. And not only so thyself, Timothy, but keep up a good succession of men: "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also," a very delicate business; quite a refined profession. No. What, then? This: "Thou, therefore, endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." This was a wonderful ministry in the matter of complexity: now so severe, now so gentle and enjoyable; now a ride behind fleet horses on a summer day, now a climbing of rocky mountains where there is no path, and where one has to be made by the poor toiling climber himself. "Endure hardness:" what right had Paul to say that? The right of chapter 2 Timothy 2:10 "Therefore I endure." This was Paul's right. We have no right to say, Go: we have some right, where we can use it, to say, Come. Timothy was young; Timothy therefore was exposed to intellectual ambition and temptation. Paul knew all this, and he said, "Shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness": shun old wives' fables; have nothing to do with mere word-splitting, it tendeth to more and more ungodliness: keep to great principles. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his:" Timothy, keep to that which is sure. The word "sure" has been etymologically traced to a Hebrew word which means rock; therefore Paul would say to his dearly beloved son Timothy, Stand on the rock: I do not say do not sometimes launch out into the deep, and see what is beyond the rolling waves, but have a rock to return to.
Now he passes on through various exhortations, almost military, always episcopal, always noble and generous, and then he says at last, Now hear me: I want you to come; I would like to see some young life. An old man gets sometimes almost tired of his own shadow. "Do thy diligence to come" put off anything that can be put off, and make haste to come to me: I want to shake hands with young life, one look at thy young face would make me forget my old age. "Come before winter;" winter is bad almost anywhere, but oh! how wintry is winter in gaol a great fortress like this. And bring the old skin with thee, the cloke; it gets cold about the time of the year when I expect thee: I like the old skin, it is an old friend of mine; it has stood me in good stead; I do not know that I should care for a new coat: bring the cloke. And the few books: a man like me cannot do without something to read; bring the parchments, the notebooks, the student's memoranda. To have these to-day! Paul's very notes, Paul's lines written by his own hand. He never did much with his own hand in the way of writing, for he was a man who suffered much with an affliction of the eyes; but he did write some little pieces of parchment, and nobody perhaps could read them but himself. He wanted them all with him. It was not much young life, poor old skin to keep his shivering body warm, and the books and the parchments. What did he care for anything else? He said, I am done, so far as this world is concerned; I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown. In the meantime I only want a young soul, and an old sheepskin, and a book or two.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17