There is a great and felt difference between the first and second epistles to Timothy. The former contemplates the assembly in its pristine order, with everything regulated by the divine word; the latter deals with the path of the faithful in a time of confusion and departure from the truth. There are two verses which express this difference. In the first, the Apostle writes of the "house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3: 15) ; whereas in the second, he has to speak of some "Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure," etc. (2 Tim. 2: 18, 19.)
This was now the consolation that, if confusion reigned in the house of God, if vessels to dishonour had become mingled with the vessels to honour, the foundation, laid of God Himself, was immovable. Still it must have been an unspeakable sorrow to the Apostle to behold the outward decay and corruption of Christianity, the almost open departure of the Church from the holy ground on which he, by the grace of God, had been enabled to plant it. In truth it was an exhibition of what has been seen in every age and in every dispensation; namely, the failure of that which had been entrusted to the responsible hands of men. For if Christ, on the one hand, builds the Church, and builds that, as He surely does, which is imperishable and indestructible, He, on the other hand, permits His servants to build also; and many of these as surely build up upon the foundation wood, hay, stubble (1 Cor. 3), and thereby the outward form and presentation of the house of God are corrupted. This, as we have said, had already taken place in the days of the Apostle; and in this epistle he not only expresses the feelings of his own heart with respect to this sorrowful state of things, but he is also led to give such directions as avail for the guidance and conduct of exercised souls in the midst of the prevalent disorders.
The first two verses contain the address and the greeting. "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." In other epistles he presented himself as a "servant" (Rom. 1: 1; Phil. 1: 1; Titus 1: 1) ; but here he views himself in his apostolic character, as one sent and commissioned by the Lord Himself, and, as such, having authority which no unfaithfulness on the part of others could nullify. He might be, as indeed he was, forsaken, if not refused, by many; but the authority entrusted to him survived. It is the same now as to gift. Wherever this is found, the privilege and responsibility to use it abide, even though it may not be acknowledged by the saints. The Head of the Church who bestows it counts upon, and holds the person on whom it is bestowed responsible for, its faithful employment. (Compare Matt. 25: 14-30.)
He was, moreover, Apostle by the will of God. This, and nothing less than this, was the ground and source of his office. Called by the Lord Himself, he was called by the will of God; and this certainty in his soul was the secret of his courage and devotedness in the Lord's service. (Compare Joshua 1: 9.) And if by the will of God, it was "according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus." The truth may be departed from, and the testimony be consequently surrendered, but the life which is in Christ Jesus -- eternal life -- is indestructible, as it is also outside of and above all question of failure or corruption.
The Apostle therefore takes this ground in this inspired communication to Timothy; for grievous as it must have been to him to see the light of the golden candlestick (Rev. 1) dimmed if not extinguished, the thought of the immutable character of life, secured in Christ Jesus by the unchangeable promise of God, could not fail to minister powerful consolation to his soul. It is well to keep these two things distinct. As to life and salvation, every believer will be kept through faith by the power of God (see 1 Peter 1: 3-5) ; but the place of testimony, whether corporately or individually, may be, and often is, forfeited through unfaithfulness, or through succumbing to the influences of this present evil age.
"To Timothy, my dearly beloved son," etc., more exactly, "[my] beloved child." In the first epistle, Paul names him, "[my] true child in the faith" (J.N.D. Trans.), thus pointing him out as one that walked in his own footsteps in regard to the truth; here it is the expression of his own heart for the one who, as a son with his father, had served with Paul in the gospel. In truth, the heart of the Apostle clung to Timothy at such a moment of sorrow; and his pouring out his heart in this way became the basis of the appeals and exhortations he was about to address to his beloved child. This is divine in its method, for it is ever God's way to reveal the depth of His affections for the saints before giving to them words of guidance or admonition. (See 1 Cor. 1, and Col. 3: 12-17.)
"Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." It has often been noticed that, when writing to assemblies, the Apostle, in his salutation, says grace and peace, but in the epistles to individuals, he says mercy.* The reason is that as individuals we need mercy, because of our weakness and infirmities every step of the road (see Heb. 4: 14-16) ; whereas the Church is regarded as on the perfect ground of redemption before God, without any consideration of weakness or even failure. It is, as another has written, the perfect grace of God by Christ, the perfect peace of man, and that with God; it was this which he (the Apostle) brought in the gospel and in his heart. These are the true conditions of God's relationship with man, and that of man with God, by the gospel - the ground on which Christianity places man. The grace, as well as the truth, came by, and was perfectly expressed in, Jesus Christ. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" -- this is pure and sovereign grace. And the first announcement the Lord made to His assembled disciples, on the evening of the first day of the week, was, "Peace be unto you." In this salutation therefore we find the revelation of the heart of God, and the effect of the finished work of Christ, together with the provision of mercy, secured by the present ministration of Christ on high, for the pathway through this scene while awaiting His return.
Verses 4, 5. First, in thanking God, the Apostle makes the remarkable statement, "Whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience." He had said the same thing in effect when standing before the sanhedrin (Acts 23: 1; see also 24: 16) ; and it is necessary to seize the true import of these words. That his forefathers had been godly persons is manifest, as also that they had been distinguished by a conscientious observance of the law, walking according to the light they had received, being governed by the Word as far as they comprehended it. And this, as we understand, is what Paul here affirms of himself, that while he was in Judaism he maintained a good conscience, did not permit himself any known violations of the law, being even then, as "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3: 6). But this has nothing to say as to the state of his heart when a Jew; only he insists that he preserved, until of course the light flashed into his soul when on his way to Damascus, an upright conscientious course; and also that this characterized his service after his conversion as an apostle. He ever pressed this point as of the utmost importance (see 1 Tim. 1: 5, 19; 3: 9; 4: 2; Titus 1: 15; Heb. 13: 18); and we would do well to remember it, for nothing more exposes the Lord's servant, and Christians indeed generally, to the darts of Satan than a bad conscience. It is to lack the breastplate of righteousness, without which our most vital parts are laid bare to his weapons.
The subject of the Apostle's thanksgiving is, "that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day." It is a striking way to put it, one that would not ordinarily be adopted by saints, because perhaps we are less mindful than he was, that we are entirely indebted to the grace of God for power to remember anyone incessantly in prayer. Paul therefore gives thanks that he had been able to bear up Timothy before the Lord -- a sure sign, too, it may be added, inasmuch as he penned these words under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that Timothy needed his prayers, and thus that Paul was in communion as to him with the mind of God.
Then follow expressions which reveal the Apostle's fervent affection for his beloved child in the faith; "Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy." v. 4. Recalling Timothy's affection inflames his own; and while expressing it, consolation is doubtless ministered to his own heart. The occasion of Timothy's tears is not revealed; but it was probably at the time of some separation, bidding him farewell, it may be, when leaving him in captivity, as he departed to his own service. Whenever it might have been, it plainly shows that the affection of Paul was fully reciprocated, and that it was no common tie that knit together the hearts of these two servants of the Lord. It was the recollection of this parting, combined with his own ardent love, that led him to desire to see Timothy that he might be filled with joy; for to him the Apostle could unburden his heart, and be refreshed in the enjoyment of Timothy's love and fellowship. Many a servant, in times of declension, has thus learned the sweetness and encouragement of real heart fellowship concerning the work of the Lord.
Then, putting Timothy in this respect in a similar position to his own in relation to his ancestors, he adds, "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 in thee also." v. 5. The position is similar, but it is not, as in Paul's case, a good conscience, but "unfeigned faith"; for Timothy had no Jewish ancestry, for his father was a Greek. And hence, though his mother was a Jewess, he was unclean according to the Jewish law. He is thus traced back only to the commencement of the Christian faith in his family, which dated from his grandmother.
It is a beautiful picture, drawn for our instruction; for we learn from this same epistle that Timothy from a child had known (and who can doubt, through the teaching of these pious women, or at least his mother?) the Holy Scriptures. Both the grandmother and mother, as well as Timothy, had embraced the Christian faith; and the Apostle seems to regard this fact as proving the greater reality of "the faith" in Timothy's soul, and as laying him, as will afterward be seen, under all the more solemn obligation of faithfulness to the Lord in this loose and corrupt epoch of the Church. The reflection cannot but be evoked from the mind of every reader, that it is a priceless blessing to have godly parents, and such godly parents as seek to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The judgment seat of Christ alone will reveal how much Timothy was indebted, in the grace of God, to the instructions of his mother Eunice. May such parents ever abound in the Church of God!
*The epistle to Titus may possibly be an exception, as the reading in 2 Timothy 1: 4 is uncertain. Philemon might also seem to be, only it must be remembered that "the church in thy house" is included.