Courageous for Christ
2 Timothy 1:11–18
Eighty percent of the people around the world today being persecuted for their faith are Christians. Many live under the constant threat of violence, torture, imprisonment, and death.1 Yet these believers continue to demonstrate faith and joy in serving Jesus,2 following in the courageous footsteps of the apostle Paul.
Paul was stoned in Lystra and left for dead, scourged five times (39 lashes each time) with a whip bearing a bone- or metal-tipped end, and beaten three times with rods. He was shipwrecked three times (left floating night and day on one occasion), and often imprisoned.
He knew weakness, pain, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness, and sleeplessness (2 Cor. 11:23–28). Yet three times in 2 Timothy 1:8–16, Paul declared he was not “ashamed” to serve the Lord and present the gospel (vv. 8, 12, 16); and he instructed Timothy not to be ashamed either. Paul then reviewed his own commitment and courage to serve Christ, even in the face of death.
Paul was committed to the gospel, to which he “was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (vv. 11–12).
Paul was called for three purposes: to be (1) a preacher (herald) and proclaim the gospel; (2) an apostle, which gave him the authority to plant churches, call elders and deacons, and oversee the work; and (3) a teacher to explain and clarify Scripture.
His bold preaching was why he suffered “these things,” meaning imprisonment and persecution. Yet he had confidence: “Nevertheless I am not ashamed.” He felt no sorrow, guilt, remorse, or regret. In fact, he remained positive because of three factors:
1. His personal knowledge of Christ. He knew Christ had removed his sin and shame.
2. His profound persuasion concerning Christ. Paul was convinced “that He is able to keep” what Paul committed to Him. He had unwavering trust in Christ.
3. His permanent protection in Christ. Paul knew Christ would physically guard, protect, and safeguard his salvation “until that Day,” when he would stand at the judgment seat of Christ to receive his reward.
Paul exhorted Timothy to be faithful: “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (v. 13).
Hold fast means to grasp tightly the same type of speech Paul had taught Timothy when communicating the gospel. The term pattern refers to an outline, similar to what an artist draws before painting an image. The word sound refers to healthy or wholesome speech, as opposed to crude talk.
In other words, Timothy was to speak scriptural truth and doctrine using God-honoring language, rather than the slang of the day. He was to imitate Paul, whom he had heard over and over while traveling with him, and follow Paul’s example.
Paul also told Timothy to follow the example of Christ Jesus, who spoke to men “in faith and love.” Those qualities would draw people to Timothy because people would know he truly cared for them. Timothy was to defend the gospel in the spirit of love while using words that would not compromise the doctrine of Christ.
The apostle added, “That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (v. 14). Paul admonished Timothy to make sure to “keep” or diligently guard the truth of God’s Word—something to be accomplished not through his own strength but, rather, “by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”
This instruction holds true for believers in every age. Everyone who is redeemed possesses the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the ability to stand fast in our faith and be good custodians of the gospel message committed to us for Christ. To encourage Timothy, Paul used himself as an example of someone who was faithful to the Lord in all situations.
Paul then turned to his ministry in Asia to discuss those who had abandoned him during his time of great need (v. 15). By Asia, Paul meant the area controlled by the Roman government: Ephesus, Colossae, Hierapolis, Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia—areas bordering the Aegean Sea.
Of the Christians there, Paul said, “You know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes” (v. 15). Timothy knew this area well and probably knew Phygellus and Hermogenes had deserted the apostle. Yet Paul mentioned them specifically. These men may have been drawn into heresy; but Paul did not say they turned from Christ but, rather, from him. Perhaps they were ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment. We’ll never know for certain because Scripture reveals nothing more concerning them.
Interestingly, Paul did not say a few abandoned him but, rather, “all those in Asia” after he had established churches throughout Asia Minor. Paul endured great opposition to his ministry and the gospel. The Jewish people tried to kill him, and Gnosticism was undermining his teaching. In addition, the Roman government was imprisoning Christians and executing many. Thus, many believers abandoned Paul in fear of their lives.
In contrast to Phygellus and Hermogenes, Paul elevated Onesiphorus. Onesiphorus was a Christian from Ephesus. His name means “benefit bringer” or “profit bearing,” and Paul felt the man lived up to the name:
The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. 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 (vv. 16–18).
Had Onesiphorus not helped Paul, the church probably never would have heard of him. The apostle recounted a beautiful story full of lessons in these three short verses.
The word household here refers to Onesiphorus’s family. Paul prayed for his household, suggesting he or perhaps his entire family had been experiencing persecution. Some believe Paul’s words indicate Onesiphorus might already have died because the apostle requested mercy for his household. But the text does not contain enough information to substantiate this theory.
The word refreshed means to “cool off” or recover from the effects of heat. It pictures a person about to faint and being reinvigorated by someone providing relief, like a cool breeze. Being refreshed involves much more than being supplied with food and water. Onesiphorus’s faithful presence and fellowship—probably provided at considerable risk to himself and his family—lifted Paul’s spirit and encouraged him a number of times.
Onesiphorus was not intimidated by threats of arrest. Nor was he ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment, even though others shrank back in fear, wanting nothing to do with the apostle (4:16). Paul testified that Onesiphorus “was not ashamed of my chain.” He courageously identified with Paul and ministered to him during this difficult time.
He also sought to be reunited with Paul: “When he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously” (1:17). The phrase very zealously pictures Onesiphorus’s persistent and courageous search for his friend regardless of the financial expense or threat to his own freedom. What a contrast to others, especially Phygellus and Hermogenes. The fact that Onesiphorus spent a lot of time trying to find Paul gives evidence that many of Paul’s followers had forsaken him after his arrest.
Paul reminded Timothy, “You know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus” (v. 18). The word ministered (Greek, diakonos) is the word for “deacon” and means to “serve,” indicating that while Paul was in Ephesus, Onesiphorus ministered to his needs.
Paul’s succinct description of Onesiphorus presents an encouraging portrait of a courageous man who gave his all to make Paul’s life in prison bearable. The apostle’s tribute to Christian courage should inspire us all to manifest a bold commitment to Christ and the gospel and to minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are today being mercilessly persecuted for their faith, knowing that our labor for the Lord will never be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
- CeCe Heil, “Startling Report Calls Christianity ‘By Far the Most Widely Persecuted’ Religion in the World and Warns Persecution of Christians Is Nearing ‘Genocide’ Levels,” 2019, ACLJ.org (tinyurl.com/ACLJ-persecution).
- “Christian persecution,” opendoorsusa.org (tinyurl.com/OpenDoorss).