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2 Timothy

Hold Fast To Sound Doctrine

2 Timothy 1:13-18
13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. 15 This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. 16 The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; 17 but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. 18 The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.

Teaching Comments:

Consider the stated theme of this week’s lesson. Paul admonishes Timothy, and us, that he/we should guard the truth of Scripture against the attacks of those opposed to God and the Church. I ask you then,

HOW can you do this IF you do not know sound doctrine as taught in the Bible?

This section sets forth a prime theme of this letter, as well as the first letter to Timothy. Unlike many of Paul’s letters, this particular section looks to Paul’s contemporaries as his “proof” or examples. Even so, the underlying thought of both of Paul’s letters to Timothy is that Timothy should use the apostle as his example (1 Tim 1:16). It may be difficult for your class to focus on other people who are merely “names.” To the extent you fell comfortable, you might look for modern examples – Billy Graham is a well known example of one who supports the Gospel and holds fast to truth. 

The first two verses are the most important of this section. Paul tells Timothy to “hold fast the pattern of sound words.”  Paul gives Timothy a similar charge in 1 Tim 6:20: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” 

The verb translated here as “hold fast” properly means to continue holding or preserving. Other translations of the verb include “hold on” (NLT), “retain” (NASB), and “keep” (NIV). They all carry the force of “guard” as found in 1 Tim 6:20. Timothy has been “committed” a special trust and is to preserve this deposit at all costs. 

This deposit is the “pattern of sound words” given to Timothy by Paul (“which you have heard from me”). This “good thing which was committed to you” by Paul was committed to all in the power of the Holy Spirit. God has given this pattern to Timothy and Paul and US!

The “pattern of sound words” is what we call the Bible. To Timothy the “sound words” are described as being the message preached by Paul, the Gospel. Since Paul’s preaching rests on the foundation of the Old Testament, we can interpret this as a direction to guard the entire Bible! It is mere speculation as to whether or not Timothy and/or Paul would have been familiar with the other New Testament writings available at this time. It is probable that all of the New Testament exists at the time of 2 Timothy except for Hebrews, the writings of John and, perhaps, Jude. Virtually all translations use a phrase that is very similar:

. . . standard of sound words (NASB)

. . . standard of sound teaching (NIV)

. . . pattern of true teaching (NCV)

. . . example of correct teaching (CEV)

We often lose sight of how sacred the Gospel message and the Bible truly are. After all, we call it the “Holy” Bible. It is God’s sacred Word. In this day of multiple translations and the ability to buy multiple copies, it is relatively easy for the believer to unintentionally devalue the Scriptures. This, combined with the attacks on our beliefs, makes the idea of guarding and preserving God’s Word a concept far from the mind of the average Christian.

However, the Bible represents the heart and soul of Christianity. It is from hearing God’s Word that a sinner comes to know God, to know and understand Jesus, and finds salvation. The Bible is the watershed of the modern Church. Strong, vibrant churches along with strong, vibrant Christians hold a high view of Scripture. They believe all Scripture is truly the inspired Word of God (3:16). Weak Christians, weak churches, weak denominations hold a low view of the Bible and water down the doctrinal teachings of Scripture.

Our task, like Timothy’s, is to guard the Scriptures (“treasure” NASB; “deposit” NIV) against attacks from false teachers and to defend the Gospel message. Since all Scripture comes from God, it cannot be destroyed.

Psalm 119:89 (NKJV)
89 Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.

Nonetheless, God has chosen to use us, the foolish things of the world (1 Cor 1:27) to defend and preserve His message. We are to be proactive in this defense, “ever ready” as Peter states it, to defend the truth of the Gospel.

1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

Jude 3 (NKJV)
3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

2 Timothy 2:23-25 (NKJV)
23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,

2 Timothy 4:3-5 (NKJV)
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

While this task may seem daunting, we, like Timothy, are able to keep and preserve the Bible “by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” Paul tells us two important points in these few words. First, it is truly God who will keep and guard the Gospel.  We must draw upon God Himself to accomplish our portion of this task.  Second, Paul assures us of God’s power being present because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. If we will submit to God, He is already present with us all the time ready to help us in our times of trial.

God’s Word does not change, but false teachers will seek to distort its meaning in the minds of mankind in order to divert people from understanding and following the teaching of Scripture. The word “sound” here and in 2:13 means healthy or wholesome. In the Gospels, the Greek root describes the healing of the sick by Jesus. The false teachers attempt to take what is good for us and turn it bitter. They have humankind drinking sour milk instead of fresh, wholesome milk. The false teachers need healing!

This brings us full circle back to my original question. How can you, or someone from your class, defend the Gospel if they do not understand the doctrines of Scripture. Admittedly, most Christians should be able to defend the basics of Christianity – the meaning of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. However, can they defend other important doctrines? 

For example, Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus was the “first born,” not part of the eternal Godhead. Or, how about the fact that the Mormons and Christian Scientist teach that Scripture means the Bible plus some other writing. What is wrong with these doctrines? Obviously, the list is endless but the point is simple. To be able to defend the FAITH, one must know the doctrines of the faith. This requires constant reading, meditation, and study of God’s Word.

What a person believes is crucial and critical to their testimony and ability to defend Jesus. Defending the is the overriding theme of this letter. There is no neutral position when it comes to Christ. If a person is not for Jesus, then according to Scriptures, he is against Him.

Paul will later state that he had held fast to the truth (4:7). Timothy is to follow this example. Timothy’s belief is founded “in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” The Work and Person of Jesus forms the foundation for Timothy’s faith, for Paul’s faith, and for our faith. Jesus is the “pattern of sound words” Paul has taught Timothy.

Paul then reminds Timothy that

a)     his spiritual son “knows” these things already

b)     "all of Asia" has turned away from the disciple

c)     Phygellus and Hermogenes are two of those who have turned away (v15)

Timothy has been with Paul through at least the last two missionary journeys.  Timothy would have witnessed first hand the large number of Asians who had come to know Christ. Paul’s language here must mean that many have turned away from Jesus, a spiritual movement away from the church.  While in general, “all” literally means “all,” it can mean “all of a certain type.” Here the type must mean that a large group of Asians became heretics. For Paul, “Asia” would equal the Roman providence encompassing the western parts of Asia Minor, now Western Turkey. Its capital was Ephesus. Obviously not all of Asia defected. There are still churches in Ephesus and other parts of Asia minor when John writes Revelation some 30 years later (Rev 2, 3).

Perhaps, Paul means that none of those from Asia who were in Rome stood by him in prison (cf. 4:16). The only version I found that actually translates the verse with this meaning is the NLT.

The verb translated “turned away” means to turn away from an allegiance to any one or to defect. Elsewhere in Scripture it is used of doctrinal defections (4:4; Titus 1:14).

Timothy obviously knows and understands Paul’s reference to Phygellus and Hermogenes. Unfortunately, we know nothing about them except that they turned away from Paul. Presumably, this came as a surprise to the apostle and Timothy. As Scripture tells us, only God knows the heart (1 Sam 16:7). While Jesus teaches that we can know unbelievers by the fruit they produce (Matt 7:17-20), it often takes some time for us to come to recognize this false fruit. There are unbelievers in the church, tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30).

There may be an analogy of this verse and thought to Onesiphorus (vv16-18).  Those verses speak of the personal help afford the apostle by Onesiphorus.  It is possible that “falling away” is on a personal level, meaning that Phygellus and Hermogenes did not help Paul in Rome.

The lesson book makes the point that Paul has acted in accordance with rebuking these two individuals publicly (1 Tim 5:19, 20). While this is certainly a valuable point, please be careful about how you teach it.  The application of a public rebuke is one to be handled gingerly, with kid gloves. Moreover, the first part of this doctrine is as important as the public rebuke. It must be given only on the testimony of two or three witnesses! Such a rebuke is truly the function of the church, not of one or two individuals.

1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NKJV)
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. 20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

Having provided Timothy with an example of those not defending the faith, Paul takes three verses to provide a positive example, Onesiphorus. It is speculation as to why Onesiphorus came to Rome seeking Paul. What we do know is that Onesiphorus:

a)     "often refreshed" Paul (v16)

b)     "was not ashamed of [Paul’s] chain" (v16)

c)     "sought [Paul] out very zealously" (v17)

d)     "found" Paul (v17)

e)     made an effort to go to Rome to accomplish all of this (v17)

f)       and had previously “ministered to [Paul] at Ephesus” (v18)

The reference to Paul’s chain is one of the indications of Paul’s imprisonment. Paul is overjoyed at the ministry of Onesiphorus. Paul was “was in prison and you [Onesiphorus] came to me” (Matt 25:37). Just as Paul earlier urged Timothy not to be ashamed of Paul (1:8), here Onesiphorus is a living example for Timothy.  You might compare Christ’s words at Matt 5:7:

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

Further, note the pattern:

Readiness to suffer for the cause of Christ, as much as the actual suffering, is the mark of a Christian!

V17 is the only place in this letter where Rome is named as the city of Paul’s imprisonment.

As straightforward as these verses seem to be, they have created differences of opinion among commentators. Paul commences this section with a request that the “Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus” (v16). On its face, this verse is a prayer that Jesus will show the same mercy to Onesiphorus’ house as Onesiphorus has shown Paul. In v18, the apostle asks that Onesiphorus receive “mercy from the Lord in that Day.” 

"That Day" in Scripture is the judgment day at the return of Jesus. For believers, this will be at the Bema Judgment Seat where our works are tried (1 Cor 3:12-15). Because the initial request is mercy for Onesiphorus’ household and the request for Onesiphorus is mercy after the Rapture, commentators conclude that Onesiphorus has died, or, perhaps, had been arrested for assisting Paul and was in prison himself.  However, it is more reasonable to assume that Paul is so overwhelmed by the mercy shown him by Onesiphorus that Paul desires the Lord richly reward this disciple into eternity so the reward for his efforts become everlasting.  A true "Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23). The prayer for Onesiphorus’ family is because he has been away from them for a long period. Onesiphorus has been in Rome with Paul rather than home with his loved ones. Just as the families of our deployed military members need much prayer, so did Onesiphorus’ family.

Onesiphorus is a true example for all of us.




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