A Father’s Letter to His Son

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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One day a father asked his son: “Anthony, do you think I’m a bad father?” His son replied: “My name is Luke.”

Evidently, that man was a bad father. But the Apostle Paul had been a good father to a man named Timothy, whom he called “my own son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). That means Paul had led him to Christ, so he was his spiritual son. But Paul must have loved him as much as he would a natural son, for he began his second epistle to him by writing:

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which
is in Christ Jesus,
“To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:1,2).

Timothy was obviously as “dearly” beloved of Paul as any son could ever be.

But why would Paul identify himself as an apostle of Christ? The Lord already had 12 apostles “by the will of God.” Why would He need a baker’s dozen?

The answer has to do with that “promise of life” Paul mentions. We know he had eternal life in mind, for he used the words “promise” and “life” in writing to Titus, saying:

“Paul…an apostle…in hope of eternal life, which God…promised before the world began…” (Titus 1:1,2).

Before the world began, God promised us eternal life because He planned to create a people through whom He could rule His kingdom in heaven in the ages to come. Those people would be known as the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), and if you’re a member of His Body, God plans to use you to “judge angels” in that kingdom (1 Cor. 6:3). And the Lord made Paul an apostle to raise up people like you and me to become members of Christ’s Body.

But that’s not why the twelve were made apostles. The Lord told them they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28) in the kingdom of God on earth (cf. Luke 22:29,30). We know God didn’t promise eternal life to the twelve tribes of Israel until after the world began because Matthew 25:34 calls God’s earthly kingdom “the kingdom prepared…from the foundation of the world.”

But God made Paul an apostle to raise up people “which He had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23). And the more you learn about the difference in his apostleship, the more the New Testament will begin to make sense to you.

Matters of Life and Death

But it’s precious to hear Paul talking about eternal life to open this epistle because he was in prison when he wrote it (cf. 2:9), and he knew this was the last letter he’d write before being executed by Nero (cf. 4:6). And when a man knows his life is about to end, he starts to think about eternal life. If he doesn’t know if he has eternal life, it begins to haunt him. But Paul knew he had it, and it was comforting him as he waited for Nero’s ax to fall.

The thought of dying will also make a man think about his children and what he wants to tell them before he dies. Paul didn’t have any children, so he decided to write and tell his son in the faith some things—eternally important things that God included in Scripture for our sake, for we are Paul’s spiritual children as well. We were all led to the Lord by Paul’s gospel, and that makes him our spiritual father (1 Cor.
4:15). So when we read 2 Timothy, we’re reading our spiritual father’s last will and testament. When a man is about to die, he also tells his children he loves them, as we saw Paul do. And, like any father who loves his son, Paul only wanted the best for him. That’s why he extended “grace, mercy, and peace” to him. Those are the best things in life!

Grace is something Paul extends to all members of the Body to open every one of his epistles, primarily to remind us that we are saved by grace. Salvation is “by grace…the gift of God: Not of works…” (Eph. 2:8,9). You can’t earn a gift by working for it, for then it wouldn’t be a gift (Rom. 4:5). All you can do is receive it.

And if you try to earn salvation, you will never have the “peace” Paul also extends to us in the introduction of his epistles because you can never be sure you’ve done enough good works to pay for your salvation. But you can be sure Christ did enough to pay for it when He died for you, so receiving salvation by grace (Rom. 5:17) is the only way to be sure you are at peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

But when Paul wrote letters to pastors like Timothy, he added “mercy” to his greeting of grace and peace (1 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4). And he meant the kind of mercy God gave Paul himself to help him remain single, a mercy that comes in handy during distressful times of persecution (1 Cor. 7:25,26). At such times, a man with a wife and family has to care for them, while a single pastor can care for his congregation (vv. 32,33). But to remain single, a man needs God’s mercy to overcome his libido, so Paul extended that mercy to pastors when writing them.

Pastors also need the kind of mercy Paul prayed God would give “the house of Onesiphorus” after he died (2 Tim. 1:16). When a man dies, his household needs financial mercy because their breadwinner is gone. Pastors often need that kind of mercy as well because God’s people can’t always afford to pay them as much as they’d like to.

Reflections and Prayers

When a man knows he is about to die, he also starts to look back on his life, as Paul did when he went on to tell Timothy,

“I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3).

When a dying man looks back on his life, he can thank God for his life if he spent it serving God as Paul did.

But how could Paul say he served God with a “pure conscience” when he started out serving Him from his forefathers as an unsaved Jew who executed Christians (Acts 22:4)? The answer is that he thought that that’s how God wanted him to serve Him because he thought Jesus wasn’t Israel’s Christ, and that God wanted people dead if they said He was (cf. John 16:2). You see, a pure conscience is only good if it’s enlightened by God’s “pure” Word (Psa. 119:140)!

As Paul looked back at his life, he also thanked God for his remembrance of Timothy. And whenever he remembered him, verse 3 says he prayed for him. We know Timothy needed those prayers, for Paul went on to tell him he was

“Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:4).

Timothy needed prayer because something was troubling him to the point of tears.

Now if I were Paul and about to be executed in prison, I’d be “mindful” of my own tears, and I’d be greatly desiring Timothy to come to dry them to comfort me. But Paul had Timothy’s tears on his mind. That tells you he desired to see him so he could dry Timothy’s tears. Evidently, Paul knew that the best way to comfort yourself when you need comforting is to find others who need comforting and comfort them.

Now don’t get me wrong. It would have brought Paul the “joy” he talks about in verse 4 if he could have seen Timothy and let his son comfort him. But Paul says he would be “filled” with joy if he could comfort Timothy. So if you want to be filled with joy when you’re troubled, stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about others. It’s one of the secrets of a happy life.

The Fount of Timothy’s Faith

The other thing Paul thanked God for was something he remembered about Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5, where he says he thanked God,

“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 that in thee also.”

“Unfeigned faith” means genuine faith, and not pretend (cf. Luke 20:20). Many Bible teachers think Lois and Eunice gave Timothy his unfeigned faith by leading him to the Lord as a child while raising him in the Old Testament Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). They point out that Timothy was already a “disciple” when Paul arrived in his area (Acts 16:1-3), and that he must have been a disciple for some time, for it takes a while to earn the good reputation that Acts 16:2 says he had among the brethren.

But the only faith Lois and Eunice could have instilled in Timothy was the faith of God’s earthly kingdom program because that’s the only kind of faith they knew. The faith of God’s heavenly program began with Paul. So if Lois and Eunice led Timothy to Christ, that would make him a kingdom saint, and very little in
Paul’s letters to Timothy would make sense if he wasn’t a member of the Body of Christ instead.

So it’s important to remember that Acts 16:1-3 wasn’t Paul’s first visit to Timothy’s area in Lystra and Derbe. Six years earlier, he had “preached the gospel” there and “taught many” as he went about “confirming the souls of the disciples” (Acts 14:7,21,22). That’s when Timothy became Paul’s son in the faith and was taught the soul-confirming fundamentals of the grace message. So Timothy was not a kingdom saint, and nothing but confusion can come from thinking he was.

Now that doesn’t mean Lois and Eunice did a bad job teaching Timothy the Scriptures. Sometimes it just takes someone who’s not a family member to get through to people, especially young people.

That’s a good reason to have your children in Sunday school and church in addition to the training in God’s Word you give them at home.

It also doesn’t mean that all the time Lois and Eunice spent teaching Timothy the Word was
in vain. They had Timothy so primed and ready to get saved, leading that young man to Christ was a piece of cake for Paul!

Stirred, Not Shaken

As we read on in 2 Timothy 1, we come to the first thing this apostle who was about to die wanted to tell his son in the faith. Verse 6 says,

“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.”

Here it helps to remember that in those days, all believers had what the Bible calls “spiritual gifts.” Paul told the Corinthians,

Now concerning spiritual gifts…there are diversities of gifts…given to every man…to one is given by the Spirit…gifts of healing…to another…tongues…” (1 Cor. 12:1,4,7-10).

As you can see, those gifts were called spiritual gifts because they were given by the Holy Spirit.

But by the time Paul wrote this epistle, those gifts had begun to fade away. We know that because Paul once had the gift of healing (Acts 14:8-10), but later in this epistle, he said he had to leave a coworker behind “sick” (4:20). And whatever gift Timothy had, it too must have begun to fade, or Paul wouldn’t be telling him to stir it up. So what was his gift?

Whatever it was, I think it was helping him with the tears Paul mentioned earlier. And since the apostle went on to tell him not to “fear” (2 Tim. 1:7), I think those were tears of fear—fear that he himself would soon end up on death row.

Timothy seemed to be a fearful man. We know he feared the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:10)—and they were saved! The thought of being locked up with unsaved hardened criminals probably had him shaking with fear. So as his gift faded, Paul encouraged him to stir it up to help him deal with his fear of imprisonment and execution as he went about serving Christ.

So what kind of spiritual gift helped men with fear? I believe it was the gift of apostleship (Eph. 4:8,11) because Paul had that same gift, and when his gift began to fade, he told the Ephesians to pray that he might be bold (Eph. 6:18,19), and boldness is the opposite of fear. So Timothy’s gift of apostleship had always helped him overcome his fear.

But men had to choose to use their gifts. Paul knew Timothy had not been using his (1 Tim. 4:14) because he told the Corinthians not to frighten him at a time when the gifts hadn’t yet begun to fade (1 Cor. 16:10). And now that the gifts were fading away, Timothy was going to have to work extra hard not to neglect his. He was going to have to stir it up!

Here I should add that neither Timothy nor Paul ever stopped being apostles. They just lost their miraculous gift of apostleship, just as they lost their gifts of healing and all the other gifts apostles had. Remember, there were miraculous gifts of “teachers” and “evangelists” back then as well (Eph. 4:11), and those gifts also faded away. But that didn’t mean those men couldn’t continue to teach and “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). In the same way, Paul was “the apostle of the Gentiles” as long as he lived (Rom. 11:13), and still is in Scripture.

So how does one stir up a fading spiritual gift? Well, let’s see how God stirred men up in the past. Ezra 1:1,2 says,

“…the Lord stirred up…Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation…saying… The Lord…hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem.”

Somehow, God stirred a Gentile king to build the Jews a temple. But how?

Just Add Scripture and Stir

When Cyrus became king, I believe the Jews showed him the prophecy in Isaiah 44:28 that predicted he’d build the temple:

“Cyrus…shall perform all My pleasure: even saying to…the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

Isaiah wrote that over a hundred years before Cyrus was born. Seeing that prophecy, Cyrus no doubt figured that any God who knew his name a hundred years prior to his birth must be the one true God, and he’d better do what He said!

That’s how God stirred Cyrus. And that’s also how Paul expected Timothy to stir his gift—by using God’s Word! At least, that’s what Peter seems to verify when he wrote,

I stir up your pure minds… That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets…” (2 Pet. 3:1,2).

Do you think Timothy’s boldness might be stirred by rereading Bible stories like the one about David and Goliath that Lois and Eunice taught him out of the prophetic Scriptures? Sure! And so can yours.

If you’re thinking, “I know that story, and I’m still not bold,” then look what Peter also wrote about getting stirred up:

“I will…put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them…I…stir you up by putting you in remembrance” (2 Pet. 1:12,13).

Peter says they already knew the things he was telling them to stir them, but he was telling them those things anyway! You may already know the story of David and Goliath, but when was the last time you read it? If you read it again—and again and again and again—maybe it will stir up some of David’s boldness in you.

You may also already know a lot of the things you read in the Searchlight. But we’re going to keep writing them because we know that’s how God stirs His people to serve Him, by hearing these things over and over. And we’ll be praying for you as you keep reading them.

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