Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

2 Timothy: St. Paul's Last Letter

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It is difficult to read this epistle with a full understanding of its background and purpose without being profoundly moved with compassion for its suffering author. The circumstances in which St. Paul composed his last letter to his dearest son in the faith, St. Timothy, and the details of his closing days that are so subtly revealed to us by its incidental remarks, are touching beyond description. Nay, if we were so favored as to be put in a position to behold the great Apostle as he dictated his thoughts—for he could not write them due to his chain and his failing vision—or to behold the young and hesitant evangelist as he read the words that must have stirred his soul to its very depths—we would doubtless be provoked to tears of sweet mourning. For this little epistle is heavy with emotion and suffused with brooding thoughts, while, at the same time, it exhibits a resplendent spirit of love, hope, and peace in God.

St. Paul wrote this epistle from prison; it was during his second captivity in Rome, which lies outside the bounds of the Acts, and which we learn about solely through notices in his epistles. The exact details of his arrest we do not know. But by the middle of the first century, the Christian population had grown to such an extent that it attracted the notice of the Roman authority, embodied in the hideous person of Nero, and the Christians were made the object of a general suspicion and hatred. Consequently, the most eminent leader of the proscribed "sect" could not expect but to be eventually informed against, arrested, tried unjustly, and executed.

St. Paul's second imprisonment was much more severe than the first. In the previous one, though fettered to a Roman guard, he was allowed to stay in his own lodgings and was even permitted to receive all who came to him and preach the kingdom of God.1 Now, he is considered a "malefactor",2 a technical term which implied a heavier chaining and harsher treatment. To visit such a prisoner was no longer safe; it was to visit someone whom the emperor and his minions detested and who was guilty of a capital offense. Merely to be kind to such a man was fraught with political and personal dangers. One by one his friends abandoned him.3 Demas forsook him "for love of the present world"; Crescens departed for Galatia; and Titus, whom we could never suppose yielded to such unworthy fears, departed for Dalamtia, perhaps at the command of St. Paul. Only the noble and faithful St. Luke stayed with him.4 One bright spot that shone in the gloomy remembrance of the Apostle's second imprisonment was the friendly visit of Onesiphorus.5 The tone of intense gratitude that breathes through the verses that refer to him shows us what relief of spirit his brotherly kindness brought to St. Paul in his hour of need.6

His cause finally came up for a first hearing before the Roman tribunal, and we have a brief account of it from his own pen: "At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear."7 Due to the intense peril of appearing in public as an acquaintance of the prisoner, he found no companion, no advocate, no patronus to speak on his behalf. But this might have been all the better for St. Paul; for he had a more powerful advocate, and more trustworthy intercessor to please his cause. The Lord Jesus "stood with him" and gave him all the strength he needed.

He says he was "delivered out of the lion's mouth", which probably indicates a temporary decision of not-yet-guilty and postponement of his trial until a future date. But he certainly did not expect a final acquittal; he knew his enemies would not rest until they secured his final condemnation. But we are not left to guess his feelings on his coming death; he expresses them in those strains of triumphant hope and joy that have been the support of many a martyr and saint. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day..."8 He saw before him the doom of an unrighteous Roman magistrate; but he saw still beyond that the good decision of a juster Judge, who would soon transform the chains of the criminal to the crown of the conqueror.9

Notwithstanding the grave situation the Apostle found himself in his habitual reserve in regard to personal matters leads him to devote the overwhelming majority of his letter to the duties imposed on St. Timothy by his evangelistic and episcopal offices. We saw from the first epistle addressed to him that St. Timothy possessed somewhat of a timid, yielding, retiring nature. He had to be continually reminded by his master of the charge committed to him10 and to avoid slipping into neglect of the spiritual gift granted to him.11 Now, the sadness of St. Timothy's heart and the tears for his imprisoned father,12 had hindered the activity of his work and plunged him into a despondent indolence. And so St. Paul opens the first chapter with an encouragement to his young disciple by reaffirming of the "faith" that was in him from the beginning, which was likewise a family virtue,13 and had been confirmed by the laying on of the Apostle's hands.14 He further reminds the disheartened bishop that the Christian spirit he received was one not of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind that is steadfast in storms.15 He exhorts St. Timothy to not be ashamed of the Gospel or its prisoner, but to courageously share in the suffering that is the privilege of those called to God's work.16

In the second chapter St. Paul brings forth three similes—that of the soldier, the athlete, and the laborer—to inspire St. Timothy to diligence in his calling.17 After citing a beautiful poem that was probably an early Christ hymn,18 he warns St. Timothy against the dangers of profane and idle babblers, who strove about uselessly to the subversion of their hearers.19 But there is still another error which St. Paul lays open to St. Timothy in the third chapter, not so much doctrinal as moral, which is the corruption and dissolution of the last days. He provides a searing catalogue of all the worst virtues that men will manifest in that time, and all the more faithfully must St. Timothy adhere to the faith which he learned from the Apostle and from the word of God.20 Considering these things, St. Paul continues in the fourth chapter with a solemn appeal to St. Timothy to preach the word, to observe sound doctrine, to "convince, rebuke, and exhort" his flock, and ultimately, to fulfill his ministry as an evangelist.21 The contents of this epistle—naturally so scattered and unarranged as would be expected from an urgent and personal message—may be more easily grasped by the five-point theme suggested by H.G. Bishop Youssef: be strong in Christ Jesus;22 endure hardships;23 commit to others what I have taught you;24 preach the word;25 fulfill your ministry.26

There is one last purpose to this letter. The Apostle longs to see his dear friend of earlier years—years that, despite his constant sufferings, were yet brightened by the company of so many friends and the prospect of so many new congregations to be gathered for Christ. But now that his son was setting and he was on the verge of being finally poured out upon God's sacred altar of sacrifice, he yearned to see St. Timothy once more: to be refreshed by the young man's constant devotion; to be cheered and comforted by his familiar voice; to have his hope renewed in the yet unextinguished life of the young servant; to perhaps pass on a few final words of instruction and admonition; and to see in that sincere evangelist the continuation of the pledge and care for the Church of Christ for which he had labored so abundantly, suffered for so incomparably, and prayed for so tearfully. It was this which made him write this second letter to St. Timothy, in which, after many words of advice and exhortation, he urges his friend with repeated eagerness to come, to come at once, to come before winter, to come before it is too late, and see him, and help him, and receive his blessing before he died.27

1 Acts 28:30,31
2 "Evil-doer."
3 2 Tim 1:15
4 2 Tim 4:10,11
5 2 Tim 1:16-18
6 Farrar, Life and Epistles of St. Paul
7 2 Tim 4:16,17
8 2 Tim 3:6-8
9 Conybeare & Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul
10 1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 4:1
11 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6. The humanity of Timothy's faltering, and the normal and natural weakness of his burdened heart, serve as such a consolation for the weary servant in God's church!
12 2 Tim 1:4
13 2 Tim 1:5
14 2 Tim 1:6
15 2 Tim 1:7
16 2 Tim 1:9-12
17 2 Tim 2:1-6
18 2 Tim 2:11-13
19 2 Tim 2:14-18;23-26
20 2 Tim 3:14-17
21 2 Tim 4:1-5
22 2 Tim 1:7; 2 Tim 2:1
23 2 Tim 1:8;2:3;3:10-12
24 2 Tim 2:2
25 2 Tim 4:2
26 2 Tim 4:5
27 Farrar, Life and Epistles of St. Paul

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