by Rev. Julian Duckworth
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are often grouped together as the Pastoral Epistles, written, as is generally believed, by Paul to individuals about religious beliefs and standards of behaviour to be kept personally and within the Christian church community.
This letter is traditionally seen to be the last letter written by Paul. This is because the writer, presumably Paul, speaks of being in captivity and also being at the end of his life awaiting the crown of righteousness. Of the three pastoral letters, it is this one which seems the most likely to have been written by someone else, perhaps on Paul’s behalf, as a kind of secretarial scribe. One reason for this is the greater organisation of the church community and hierarchy than it would have been in Paul’s time.
The letter is addressed to Timothy (as is 1 Timothy) and the overall theme is endurance, as a Christian, as a good soldier, as one who shares with others in trial and persecution.
In saluting Timothy, he mentions his grandmother and mother as having the unfeigned (real and genuine) faith which Timothy also has. In the opening, one verse speaks about the difference between fear and love (a profound theme in 1 John), “For God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power, and love, and a sound mind. Do not then be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner.” (1:7-8)
Paul often equates actual imprisonment (which he endured several times before his death) with an imprisonment in faith to Jesus Christ which is to be accepted, committed to and understood.
Chapters 2 deals with being a good soldier and workman of Jesus Christ, bringing out the various qualities which these require. “You therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2:2) “Study, to show yourself approved of God, a workman who needs not be ashamed.” (2:15). There are many other such exhortations.
Chapter 3 opens with the certainty of perilous times ahead, and it lists almost twenty characteristics of people who will work against God. (3:2-7) This is then compared to the qualities of those who are faithful to God (3:10-11), reminding people that they have grown up with the holy scriptures (the Old Testament) with its instruction and use for teaching, correction and guidance. (3:14-17)
Chapter 4 is a definite farewell and charge in which Paul urges continual endurance in all things, and writes descriptive words, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but go after their own lusts, having itching ears and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and be turned to fables.” (4:3-4)
Paul then speaks about himself and his readiness to depart this life, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord shall give me at that day and not only to me but to all them too who love his presence.” (4:6-8) While this sounds boastful, it is more likely to come from a deep confidence and commitment to belong to God.
The overall spiritual idea for us in this letter is the inevitability of trial, temptation and opposition in spiritual life, coming not so much from circumstances and other people as from our own resistance, wilfulness and egotism there within ourselves.
These three Pastoral Epistles of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus all emphasise the place of goodness in our spiritual lives. They echo Jesus’ words about fruitfulness, “I have chosen you that you bear much fruit and that your fruit shall endure” (John 15:16) and “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:16)