2 Timothy 1:13-18 Only in times of conflict and distress can a man’s faith be authenticated
13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
15 You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; 17 but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me— 18 the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.
Paul charges Timothy to keep the gospel message pure and unchanged even in the face of oppositions. The gospel of godliness is the treasure that will give eternal life to all who believe. However, being a preacher of the true gospel has subject him to persecutions, imprisonment and abandonment. Paul makes known his distress as all in Asia have deserted him. However, he finds comfort in Onesiphorus who is an unfailing fixture of God’s providence. Indeed, Onesiphorus’s faithfulness and kindness has made him a worthy recipient of divine glory on that day. Today’s devotion teaches: Only in times of conflict and distress can a man’s faith be authenticated.
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me.
Paul’s beckoning for Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel necessitates retaining the standard of sound words. Apparently, there is great opposition against the standard of sound words that has caused much suffering for Paul that perhaps leads to his imprisonments. And again Paul urges Timothy to guard… the treasure which has been entrusted.
What is the “standard of sound words” and the “treasure”? It is clear that it concerns the integrity of the gospel message. Should the standard of sound words be distorted, the gospel becomes ineffective, and the treasure of eternal life will be lost.
The gospel purposes to regenerate and empower man to walk on the path of godliness. But the world gravitates towards worldly and empty chatter… leading to further ungodliness (see 2:16). An unsound gospel is ineffective against the tide of worldliness and ungodliness. Elsewhere, Paul battles against Jewish traditions which falsely assure impenitent men of salvation through observance of the law.
The perennial threat to the gospel goes beyond the simplistic denial of Jesus as the Son of God. The world seeks co-existence with the gospel by maintaining that salvation comes from observance of religious rituals and knowledge, not by repentance. In asserting that “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness” (see 2:19b), Paul draws a redline against the gospel that needs no repentance.
Paul charges Timothy to preserve the spirit of sound words from being corrupted through distortion, dilution, deletion, and addition. And Timothy must depend on the indwelling Spirit who will keep him in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me.
There has been a mass desertion of close associates and leaders in Paul’s ministry of which Phygelus and Hermogenes are the most prominent and unexpected. Apparently, the hardship and the stigma associated with Paul’s ministry is not what they would expect. Although they are not numbered with Alexander the copper smith which did Paul much harm (see 4:14), they are not cast in a good light. For what is unequivocally heinous about them is their act of abandoning an apostle who for the gospel’s sake sits rotting in prison while awaiting a death sentence.
The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.
Paul’s words bare the deep emotional wounds that are inflicted by the unexpected desertions. But in the cold, dark prison cell forlorned, he finds the remnant of Christian decency in Onesiphorus. For he not only supported Paul in Ephesus but also in Rome. He repeatedly goes out of his way to help Paul to the extent of following him to Rome painstakingly seeking out his whereabouts. Here, Paul implicitly infers the spirit of the gospel as being faithful to another in need. When all have moved on in search of better prospects, Onesiphorus has chosen to remain with the apostle despite the stigma (was not ashamed of my chains). Paul deems it appropriate to call on God to reward Onesiphorus and his family for his godly kindness. Indeed, one should be faithful to a friend in need and even more so to a man who gives his life for the gospel.
The true gospel targets the sinful nature, the root of eternal destruction.
A large part of Paul’s ministry involves retaining the standard of sound words, which is the treasure of eternal life. Throughout the history of the church, the devil is seen distorting and diluting the gospel message in a bid to rob humanity of the treasure. He achieves his goal by insidiously preying on man’s tendency towards superficiality. Jesus said concerning the Jews,
“So that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” Mark 4:12
The Jews supposed that by their sacrifices and their rites of circumcision they may find divine favour and have their punishment removed. But God said their offerings have become a burden to Him (see Isaiah 1:11,14), and He has grown to abhor their prayers (see Isaiah 1:15). Instead, He calls them to:
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil. Isaiah 1:16
Indeed, God will only accept sacrifices of those who honour Him. And save those who order their ways aright.
“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright
I shall show the salvation of God.” Psalms 50:23
The Old Covenant has failed to provide a way of salvation for man, failing to destroy the power of sin and regenerate man’s heart towards righteousness. In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ was sent to die in order to destroy the power behind the sinful passions; the root of death. Paul said,
Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh. Romans 8:3.
Christ in the flesh, is susceptible to the passions of sin. The destruction of His body nullified the power of sin in the flesh (He condemned sin in the flesh). It is through Jesus’s sacrifice of his fleshly body (offering for sin), that the power of sin over Him is destroyed. And the new life of the spirit and of righteousness becomes a reality for all humanity.
The church, during Paul’s time has taken on the Jewish mentality supposing that by verbally acknowledging Christ’s sacrifice will forever remove all punishment. As a result, many had a form of godliness but devoid of power of the new life (see 2:5). They professed to have biblical knowledge but continued to be lovers of self and lovers of money (see 2:2), and such men, Paul advised Timothy to avoid.
The church today must retain the standard of sound words, which is the very gospel that Jesus and Paul preached. The devil works within the church by insinuating that the cross has taken away all punishment unconditionally when one recites the sinner’s prayer and be baptised in Jesus’s name. And divine grace has allowed impenitent men to get pass the gates of heaven. As result, many do not grow in Christ-likeness because they do not understand the workings of Christ’s sacrifice, which is to condemn sin (the power of sin) in the flesh. And many will miss out on eternal life. But as long as men keep their covenant with Christ to order their ways aright, He will save them from eternal destruction.
Only in times of conflict and distress can a man’s faith be authenticated.
Paul’s prayer to recompense Onesiphorus’s household speaks of God’s reward system. The reward is most likely a glorious resurrection. Onesiphorus’s reward is justified because he is the fruit of sound words; the true gospel. For he painstakingly sought out Paul and supported him despite inconveniences and the stigma associated with him. When all who are in Asia jumped ship thinking Paul is doomed, Onesiphorus remained because it is inhumane to abandon anyone in their time of dire need, let alone a man of God.
Indeed, a true believer will selflessly and sacrificially stay true to the gospel’s call. And preaching the gospel is about living the gospel. However, there are many in the church who will worship God and obey Him only when it’s convenient. And their true colours will become apparent in times of conflict and distress; when their personal ego and welfare are being threatened. A chinese idiom says: A long journey proves the stamina of a horse, the passage of time reveals a person’s heart (路遥知马力, 日久见人心). God sees and rewards those who have proven themselves through their journey of faith. It is true that only in times of conflict and distress can a man’s faith be authenticated.
1. Do you frequently get distracted by the desire for worldly things, supposing the cross has unconditionally removed all punishment from you? The death and resurrection of Christ destroys the power of sin in the flesh causing believers to come alive in righteousness. Believers must do their part in keeping their heart free from worldliness and body holy. And the grace of God actively strengthens believers to battle the sin of the flesh. Paul said,
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:12-14
Therefore, having this grace at hand, we are no longer slaves to sin. We possess divine power to reject sin’s allure and cast them into hell.
2. Do you have a tendency to bail out on those who appear to have no hope of turning around; those who are terminally ill, or those who are in serious debt? The fruit of the gospel is manifested through acts of mercy and faithfulness towards those in need. Are there anyone in your workplace or neighbourhood who seem to be weighed down by sickness, debt or family problems? Reach out to them with the gospel. If they have faith, they will respond by seeking God’s help. Do your part to support charity organisations that reach out to the marginalised and participate in their work.
Dear Lord, help me stand firm in the true gospel of Christ: that Jesus came to break the power of sin and to regenerate man’s heart towards godliness. And there is no salvation without continual repentance. Use me to bring comfort and hope to those who are abandoned by the community. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.