By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: II Timothy 4.9-22
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of Second Timothy in conjunction with this article.
Paul, the Person
For the last several weeks our elders have been suggesting article items and we have been examining portions of their suggestions. This week we will conclude our look at Second Timothy by considering the last verses of the chapter. We are doing such in order to take a deserved breather from our studies, but since we are in the document to Timothy, it seems proper to examine a side of Paul that we do not normally examine. We look to Paul, a Christian and an Apostle for inspiration, guidance, understanding of Scripture, and among other items, directions on how to live our Christian lives. But in so doing, sometimes we have elevated him to almost a superhero status – a man who faced challenges, but was able to overcome them because of being “inspired” and “empowered” from above. We can, if we do not remind ourselves, forget that he, too, was human and faced high and low points in his life. With this in mind, let us consider the last fourteen verses of Paul’s Second letter to Timothy and see what is revealed about Paul’s personal life.
Paul, or Saul as he is also known,1 described himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews.2 As such, he had a Jewish heritage and before becoming a disciple of the man from Nazareth, the Rabbi Jesus, Sha’ul, as he was called in Hebrew, studied the Holy Scriptures and was devoted to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Convicted by his knowledge of Scripture and with his dedication to Israel’s God, Paul believed it necessary that he work willingly against and dissuade (e.g. persecute) those who followed differently, namely those who were disciples of Jesus, and/or Christians.3
Following his conversion to discipleship, Paul interpreted the Holy Scriptures having a Messianic focus on the man from Nazareth. Paul still believed in YHWH – the God of Israel, but pursued God’s truth and holy living in a decidedly forgiving and merciful way. This is based in no small part on his claim that he believed himself to be highly forgiven, referring to himself as the “chief of sinners.”4
While Paul hailed from Tarsus,5 a coastland town north east of the Island of Cyprus and north west of Antioch, a town described as having an “intellectual environment,”6 Paul was trained by what some might term a great sage of First Century Israel, Gamaliel.7 It is important to note that when Paul claimed Gamaliel as his teacher, Paul claimed not only to have received training from just a fellow Jewish brother, but also to have received his training in Jerusalem.8 This is important to his statement because Paul was claiming zealousness toward God according to established Jewish heritage in a time when it appears that both Roman occupation and Hellenization were frowned upon by those opposing these items, deeming them a non-scriptural influence.
While Paul is an amazing man according to New Testament scriptures, and an apostle personally chosen as a delegate to the Gentiles,9 there are some things of which modern readers need to be aware. Sometimes, some Christians may neglect Paul’s roots, and consequently read Paul’s thoughts (as believers we believe his letters to be inspired by God) with little attention to Paul’s own spiritual training and longings, forgetting (in a sense) that Paul was a Jew, even if Hellenized (to some or a large degree). Paul saw and understood Jesus through Jewish eyes, not Greek, not Roman, not Gentile. In essence, Paul did not turn his back on what Christians call the Old Testament, Paul simply began to interpret those “Old Testament” scriptures as Messianic fulfillment through Jesus of Nazareth10 and rightly believed himself to be called to duty as an apostle to the Gentiles.11
Secondly, not all of the Jews in the New Testament Scriptures despised Paul, there were many who listened and believed.12 But there were those who were of Jewish background who seemed not only to see Paul as a traitor to God and the Scriptures, but believed him to be falsely worshipping the God of Israel. Because of this, the ancient people believing this about Paul pursued him in hopes to stop him and thereby stop his preaching and teaching. It seems these ancients considered Paul an affront to everything sacred.
For Christians, without Paul and his fellow laborer Luke, it seems there would only be twelve writings in the New Testament canon. These being the five writings of John (The Gospel of; First, Second, and Third John, and Revelation), the two writings of Peter, and singular works of Matthew, Mark, James, Jude, and the Hebrew letter. Additionally, Paul is one whom Christians esteem, admire and look to for courage and encouragement. Even with such a great contribution to the New Testament and to Christians, Paul seems (at best) caught in the tension of two cultures. He appears to be a man without a home, without a nation, almost without a religion. But, Paul is not without faith. Paul is simply caught in the tension of something far greater than he may have realized and, as such, confidants become life-saving grace in dark hours of need. With this in mind, the closing verses of Second Timothy really open Paul’s world to us and we can see him a bit differently.
No matter how many times one reads the Bible, the persons and people may seem so distant that it is difficult, at best, to see them as human. We grow up hearing “Bible stories” and the people of the Bible seem more like characters in a novel than actual people, so it can be difficult to see the people of the Bible as individuals. That is why when we see communications from Paul to others that involve personal information it helps us see the Bible people as real persons. Such is the situation here in these final verses of Second Timothy.
In these final verses we find at least three instances of Paul revealing that he felt hurt. Paul appears stunned and hurt that Demas turned from following Jesus.13 Paul openly admits that Alexander wronged him in a very personal way regarding Paul’s ministry.14 And it seems that Paul admits feeling deeply betrayed that he had to defend himself against Alexander without any help from other brothers and sisters.15 But while he reveals personal turmoil, he also finds joy.
Paul seems to feel blessed that Luke16 was with him and had not chosen the path that Demas followed.17 Paul mentions two individuals by name, Prisca and Aquila,18 and then includes a personal reference to the entire household of Onesiphorus and is seemingly sending all of them his warm greetings.19 And through out these last verses we find Paul asking Timothy for help with clothing, books and parchments,20 and earnestly wanting to see Timothy before winter,21 perhaps we can speculate that Paul knew that that winter would be his last.22 Yet, even when wanting Timothy’s help, Paul did not leave Timothy without personal help in Ephesus, because Paul sent Tychicus who seems to be a replacement for Timothy’s absence from Ephesus.
Paul was a man who once fought the disciples of Jesus but became a disciple himself. While he fiercely defended what has become known as Christianity, he was a man that revealed some ways in which he was personally hurt and betrayed. In many ways, it seems that we can see through Paul’s letters is the fulfillment of Jesus saying, “I will show him how great things [Paul] must suffer for my name’s sake.”23 Yet behind these lines of sacred writings, what is revealed to us is not just an apostle but also the human side of discipleship, and the sometimes high and personal costs of living faithfully for Jesus as Messiah. May the LORD help us to have strength and fortitude like that of Paul.
1. “Paul also known as Saul.” Acts 13.9, NASB.
2. “Paul a Hebrew of Hebrews.” Philippians 3.5, NASB.
3. “Disciples of Jesus, and/or Christians.” Acts 11.26, NASB.
4. “Paul described himself as the Chief of Sinners.” First Timothy 1.15, NASB.
5. “Paul hailed from Tarsus.” Acts 9.11, 21.39, 22.3, NASB.
6. “Tarsus an Intellectual Environment.” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Paul, July 24, 2009.
7. “Paul was taught by Gamaliel.” Acts 22.3, NASB.
8. “Paul was trained in Jerusalem.” Acts 21.31. One must read further back in the context to find at least one reference to the city (Jerusalem) in which Paul was at the time of his arrest, cf. Acts 21.15, 17, NASB.
9. “Paul an apostle to the Gentiles.” Acts 9.10-15, NASB.
10. “Old Testament has Messianic fulfillment through Jesus of Nazareth.” Romans 1.2-3, I Corinthians 15.3-4, NASB.
11. “Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles.” Romans 1.1, 11.13; Acts 9.15 cf. 9.11, NASB.
12. “Some of the New Testament Jews Believed.” Acts 13.13-43, Acts 17.1-4, and Acts 17.10-12, NASB represent three examples, Paul traveled to a synagogue (which at that time consisted of Jews, proselytes and other God-fearers who were of various nationalities) and then taught them from the Holy Scriptures, that being the Christian Old Testament.
13. “Demas turned from discipleship.” Second Timothy 4.10, NASB.
14. “Alexander made an accusation regarding Paul’s ministry.” Second Timothy 4.14-15, NASB.
15. “Paul was alone defending himself against Alexander.” Second Timothy 4.16, NASB.
16. “Paul felt blessed with Luke.” Second Timothy 4.11, NASB.
17. “The path Demas followed.” See Endnote Thirteen.
18. “Paul mentions individuals by name.” Second Timothy 4.19, NASB.
19. “Paul seems to be sending warm greetings.” Second Timothy 4.19, NASB.
20. “Paul asked Timothy for help.” Second Timothy 4.13, NASB.
21. “Paul wanted to see Timothy by winter.” Second Timothy 4.21, NASB.
22. “Speculation: that winter would be Paul’s last.” Second Timothy 4.6-8, NASB.
23. “Paul’s sufferings for Jesus’ name.” Acts 9.16, NASB.