Although there are two more letters from Paul to go through after this one, this was the last letter Paul ever wrote. And it’s a very poignant one, because it came at a time when Paul knew he was going to die. Unlike other times when he was in prison, and he was reasonably sure he would be set free (Philippians 1:23-26), he had no such hopes this time. Nero had started his persecution of the church, and it looked like Paul himself was going to be executed. And in fact, he was.
And so he wrote this letter to a young man he had mentored for many years. One purpose was to ask Timothy to visit him before he died. But it was also to encourage him not to be discouraged by all the persecution and trials that were going on, and to continue to be faithful in his love and service toward God.
From the very beginning of this letter you see this. Here was a man on death row for preaching the gospel. And in the very first line, he says,
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. (1)
The promise of life. In the face of death, Paul had the promise of life. Why? He tells us in verse 9-10 as he talks about how God displayed his own purpose and his grace toward us through Jesus Christ. And now through Jesus, he has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel.”
So many people fear death because they don’t know what lies beyond it. But Paul knew. He had seen heaven itself (II Corinthians 12:1-4). And he knew that there was life beyond the grave. That just as Christ was raised from the dead, so will we, and we will be clothed with immortality. And on that day, we will sing, “”Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)
It was because of this hope that he preached this gospel he had been entrusted with. And it was why, though he suffered for the gospel, he could say,
Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (12)
Paul knew his work and his suffering were not in vain. But he laid all these things in God’s hands, knowing that he would be rewarded someday.
Because of this assurance, and because he was certain that Timothy had the same faith, and the same Spirit dwelling within him, he told Timothy,
I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (6-7)
Perhaps Timothy was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by everything, by the problems he was facing in the Ephesian church, by his mentor facing his death. Perhaps he was tempted to just give up.
But Paul encouraged him, “Hey, God gave you the Holy Spirit in your life. And he is not a spirit of weakness or timidity. Rather, he is the Spirit that gives power, fills you with love, and the ability to be faithful to Christ in your work and your life.
Because of this, Paul charged Timothy,
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (8)
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (13-14)
In other words, keep on keeping on. And know that you don’t have to do it alone. I may soon leave you. But the Holy Spirit is living in you and he will help you.
How about you? Are you discouraged by the way this world is going? By how ungodly it is becoming? By the troubles that are coming into your life because of your faith in God?
Don’t lose heart. God has his purposes and they will not be thwarted. Satan tried to thwart them and thought he had done so at the cross, only to find out that it was his ultimate defeat.
Now we have the hope of life. More, we have God’s promise of life. So let us hold on to what we have been taught, and continue walking in faith, filled with the love of Christ, and sharing that love with all we meet.