Text: 2 Timothy 1:8-18
If we’re honest, we all know what it feels like to be afraid to share the gospel. Slightly embarrassed. Slightly ashamed. Awkward and afraid we won’t know what to say. Why do we struggle with this? When you dig deep enough, many of these moments are linked to our own pride. We care more about what people think of us than we should. Love of self and the fear of man go hand-in-hand.
But this can also be a redemptive moment. It’s times like these that God helps us see the things that we treasure in our hearts that we shouldn’t, areas of misplaced identity and misdirected worship. The Holy Spirit reveals those things to us – not to condemn us, but to lead us to repentance, and to find mercy and grace in Jesus, and to grow in the boldness and courage of the Holy Spirit.
Paul, languishing in a Roman prison, reaches out to encourage young Timothy not to become weary, and not to be ashamed of the gospel. He does this in three simple encouragements:
1. “Timothy, don’t be ashamed.” (vv. 8-10)
Fear and shame go hand in hand – shame of the gospel is caused by the fear of man, to regard man and his opinions higher that God and His commands, to long for man’s acceptance more than God’s mercy, to value the praise of men over the love of God.
So Paul identifies two areas:
-Don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. In other words, don’t be ashamed of the gospel message Jesus gave to us – His life, death, burial, and resurrection. Yes, people will think we are crazy believing a man died on the cross for the sins of his people. And they’ll think us even more out of our minds to believe He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. But Timothy, don’t be ashamed of the gospel.
-And second, Paul challenged Timothy not to be ashamed of Paul’s own suffering. Some in the church feared that when Paul is killed, it would spark a new era of persecution, so they distanced themselves from him. Others in the church probably feared that Paul’s death could also mean an end to the Christian church. Paul knows this is affecting the church. So he reminds Timothy not to be ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment. Even when Paul dies, it won’t mean the end of the gospel.
Paul is saying, “Timothy, don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Don’t be ashamed of my suffering. Be ready to endure your own fair share of suffering, knowing that you already have all the grace you need in the Lord Jesus.”
2. “I, Paul, am not ashamed.” (vv. 11-14)
And here’s why Paul is not ashamed. Here’s what guards his heart against cowardice and fear: Paul’s faith is not in a thing, but in a person. And it’s not a person who he’s just heard about or is an acquaintance. He knows the one He believes in. “For I know whom I have believed”. There is no doubt. Jesus is my Lord. Jesus is the One I live for, and Jesus is the One I will count it an honor to die for. And then Paul adds…
I am convinced that he [Jesus Christ] is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me (1:12b).
Just as Paul and Timothy and every other Christian is called to guard the gospel, God has promised to guard us. To become a Christian does not mean we simply “make a decision for Christ”. There’s nothing good in me to decide to be saved. Being a Christian also does not mean that I decide to add Jesus to my list of self-help strategies to help me be a better person.
To follow Jesus means that He has opened my eyes to the truth. By His grace, I see. And by His mercy, I believe. And following Jesus means I surrender my life – totally and completely – to Him. Not halfway. Not part-time. But all of me, for all time. He is the owner of my life. He is the captain of my ship. He is the center of my universe. He is the object of my worship, adoration and affection. Everything I am and everything I have belongs to Him.
And the gospel is not just a message to debate, but it’s good news to celebrate, to rejoice in, and a source of grateful. That way, when we do share the gospel, we will do so in “faith” (trusting that God will save people), and in “love” (with genuine care and compassion for those we evangelize).
3. “Onesiphorus was not ashamed.” (vv. 15-18)
Guards in a Roman prison would often not provide the basic necessities of life for the prisoner, like fresh food, a change of clothing, or medical treatment. It meant that the prisoner was completely dependent on friends and family for his survival while in prison. That’s what made it all the more heartbreaking that Paul was deserted by so many of his friends.
And when Paul says “all who are in Asia” he likely means a specific group of Christians from Asia who are currently in Rome. These Christians in Rome refused to come to Paul’s assistance at his trial, and have refused to help support him while he is in prison, or even associate with him in his suffering. And two men in particular are named: Phygelus and Hermogenes. They were likely the leaders – maybe even pastors – of this group of Asian Christians in Rome. So Paul calls out two men by name as the bad example for Timothy not to follow.
But rather than dwelling on the bad examples, Paul quickly pivots and highlights a good example. His name is Onesiphorus, not mentioned in any other letter of the NT. All we know of him is right here.
-We know that he was a courageous man. Risking his own life and reputation, he visited Paul in prison, bringing him food and encouraging him in godly fellowship.
-We know that he is a diligent man. When Rome had political prisoners, which is what Paul was likely thought to be, it wasn’t public knowledge where they were kept. Onesiphorus had to look for him, and he found him.
-And we know he was a faithful man. His support of Paul didn’t start in Rome. Paul points back to this brother’s support in Ephesus as well. And now, here in Rome where the stakes are higher, Onesiphorus didn’t say “I’ve done enough for Paul.” He was a faithful friend to the end.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
The gospel is power all by itself – power to save, and power to strengthen us to share the gospel with boldness and courage.
May God continue to grow us to be that kind of people, full of the Spirit, who love others more than ourselves, who treasure Christ more than our reputations, and whose undying passion is to make Christ known to as many as we can.