Commentary on 2 Tim 1:1-3, 6-12
For the remaining four days of this week we will be reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, one of the so-called “Pastoral Letters”. (The First Letter of Timothy is read during Weeks 23 and 24 in Cycle I of the First Readings.)
There are questions about the letter’s real authorship but it is presented as a letter from the apostle Paul to one of his most faithful assistants and companions, Timothy, who came from the Roman province of Galatia in what is part of Turkey today. In the opening of today’s letter Paul refers to Timothy as “my dear child, whom I love”. There was, indeed, a large age gap between them.
Paul calls himself an ‘apostle’, one specially commissioned by Christ, putting him on the same level as the Twelve who accompanied Jesus in his public life. And his mission is for “the promise of life in Christ Jesus”. As an apostle he is being sent out to preach and explain that the Good News of that unending life with God is available to all those who open themselves to it.
There then follows a prayer of thanksgiving as Paul remembers and prays for his companion, Timothy.
The main part of the letter now begins, starting with exhortations to Timothy. Paul begins by urging Timothy to “stir into flame” the gift of the Spirit which had been given to him when Paul laid his hands on him. The gift of the Spirit can lie dormant in us unless we exercise it regularly and make it an active element in our lives. It is something we are all in constant danger of doing. Probably few of us effectively use the special gifts that God has given each one of us for service and benefit of others.
And that Spirit, Paul emphasises, is not a “cowardly” one. On the contrary, it makes us strong, loving and wise. We need strength and courage, coupled with wisdom, if we are to be effective in sharing the Gospel with others. It is possible that a certain lack of confidence in him by Paul was a problem for Timothy. This may have arisen because of Timothy’s relative youth. What the Spirit gives is “power and love and self-control”. That power is an inner strength and not the kind of power that dominates others. The love is the great desire to work for the well-being of others, especially to bring them to become aware of and to respond to the love of God that comes to them through Jesus Christ. Self-control is not the suppression of desires but rather a passion to do what is good and right.
And, for that reason, Paul tells Timothy neither to be ashamed of the witness he is called to give nor of his companion Paul, who is now languishing in prison for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, he is to expect some measure of hardship in preaching the Gospel. That is something we all need to be prepared for. The threat of death hangs over every Christian who proclaims the Gospel but Jesus has brought us life and immortality, which no one can take away.
At the same time, Paul says, we have this huge gift of having been called to a life of holiness. We have not merited this in any way; it is pure gift. It is part of God’s plan from the very beginning but now made visible through the life of Jesus, the Word of God among us. “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4)
It is in the service of this Gospel that Paul was called as preacher, apostle and teacher and it is precisely because of this service that he now suffers imprisonment. Clearly he is not ashamed of this and has no regrets. “I am not ashamed,” he says and adds the lovely, much-quoted saying, “I know him in whom I have believed”. This is his total confidence in his Lord. It is a person-to-person friendship which nothing can shake. Paul is sure that his Lord will protect him to the very end.
Would that we had that confidence in Jesus that Paul had! Would that we were ready to suffer any hardship so that the Gospel might be heard and accepted by more of those around us! As G K Chesterton said, “Christianity has not failed; it has not even been tried.”