The book of 2 Timothy

At the writing of 2 Timothy, Timothy is still in Ephesus but Paul is in a different situation altogether. He has been arrested again (after writing 1 Timothy) and placed in Roman prison. This time however, he is without his parchments, companions, a rented house; and is inaccessible.

He is totally alone. Under Emperor Nero he is expecting that he will not even make the next big change of season. This is Paul’s last letter and nothing will be heard from his pen again. At least nothing new: we still have 2 Timothy with us and Paul speaks on!

His epistle is very personal. He mentions twenty-three individuals by name. Much like Paul’s tears when he left the Ephesian elders on the beach in Acts 20, you can almost hear the trembling, emotional crackle of an emotive voice speaking in this letter to Timothy: “Hold on”; “keep fighting the fight”; “stay the course”; “Jesus is coming”; “He is faithful”; “Don’t hold back” are some of his impassioned pleas.

2 Timothy is best read with the emotion and sobriety of a last-time meeting between you and your father, knowing you will not see the man again. Hear Paul, see his confidence and total assurance that we have not believed in vain, and then try to live so that one day you too can say: “I have finished the race and am waiting for my prize, because I did what I what supposed to do.”

The book of 1 Timothy

Sometimes your mind wonders to what the people of the Scriptures must have actually looked like. Here we have a letter to Timothy, a young guy who converted to Christianity while Paul was ministering in Lystra. What kind of young man was he? Paul was especially fond of him. He needed a lot of encouragement and spurring on. During Paul’s second missionary journey he took Timothy as his companion when he passed through Lystra again. Some time later he assigned Timothy to the church in Ephesus right into the deep end in the thick of ministry and leadership. Both 1 & 2 Timothy are sent to the young man while he is at Ephesus.

In 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus, we have Paul’s only letters to individuals. Remember at this stage of church history there is no formalised canon of Scripture to turn to for guidance. They were ironing out many issues as history moved on. Eyewitness apostles and strong voices in the faith were few and far between. Paul knows Ephesus like no other leader. His writing to Timothy shows this clearly. Timothy is to continue the fight against persistent false teachers who encourage a lot of arguing and very little godly living. He is to order the leadership and various other matters in the church. His letter is wholly on practical matters of church life, while sandwiched in between is Paul’s genuine encouragement and support for young Timothy.

This letter is a lesson on many things. We’ll find teaching on practical matters in the church but also for older members in the church working with younger believers who show a good conscience and sincere faith. It is worthy of more than a quick glance through.

The books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Paul, Silas and Timothy visited Thessalonica on Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul and Silas had just come out of prison in Philippi. The account of their visit to Thessalonica is in Acts 17 (you may want to re-read it). The city was situated on the Via Egnatia, the Roman highway to the East.

Acts tells us that the ministry in Thessalonica was particularly successful and many people believed in Jesus. Many Jews and Greeks were converted. But the other Jews ensured the removal of Paul and his two companions. They were also removed from Berea and moved on to Corinth passing through Athens. While in Athens, Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the church was progressing. Timothy’s return report to Paul at Corinth prompted the first letter of 1 Thessalonians.

Chapters 1-2 are Paul’s usual warm address. He is upbeat about what happened in Thessalonica. He tells them his feelings about his time there and what transpired, which was important to remind them of. Notice here that Paul is very relational. Modern Western culture is broadly characterised by ‘getting down to business’ and forgetting niceties. While that may be necessary for business it doesn’t fit with the Christian church. Stories matter. People’s feelings and lives matter. Part of his story in chapter 2 is Paul defending himself against apparent charges brought against him by his Jewish opponents. From Paul’s answers it seems they accused him of being a coward and fleeing; a fanatic; an opportunist; a flatterer; a lazy dictator; and a self-seeking personality.

In Chapter 4 – 5:11 he encourages godly living and answers a concern they had about their loved ones who had died. The last part of the letter is packed with short statements covering a variety of areas that needed a word or two.

This is a wonderfully warm letter encouraging his new converts in the face of contemporary problems.

2 Thessalonians must have been written soon after the first letter because it preceded Paul’s next visit, a small while later in Acts 20. We only know of Paul being with Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy in Corinth during this time, so we conclude this letter was written from there. Considering Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians it seems he had hoped his first letter would have been more effective in settling the questions about Jesus’ return and the problems of idleness in the group. Further, another letter subsequently came to the church falsely claiming to be from Paul (2:2) that caused more trouble. We assume that letter told the Thessalonians, amongst other things, that Christ had already come.

Paul’s letter is to the point and not as warm as his previous one. He encourages them in their standing against continued persecution. His teaching on what has to happen before the Lord Jesus returns should not be taken as a comprehensive statement on the subject, but rather an additional answer and pressing of what he had already told them about Jesus’s return. Paul finishes with a command to the lazy to get busy and burden no one. It ends with ‘in my own had’ to ensure another false letter could not do more damage.

Pic: Raphael, “Paul Preaching in Athens”