Introduction. Read 2Tim1v13to18.
In these few verses at the end of chapter one Paul gives a recipe for constancy, an example of inconstancy and an instance of commendable constancy.
(1) A recipe for constancy.
Paul recommends three ways of maintaining a high level of Christian service:
(a) Adopting a pattern of sound teaching.
The Greek word translated pattern in the NIV was used of the preliminary sketch an architect made for a new development. It wasn't a detailed drawing but it illustrated the main features of the proposed project.
In the same way a novelist might sketch out the plot of a book before writing it up in detail.
As a Geography teacher I never started preparing my lessons until I had worked out my syllabus for the year. The syllabus was crucial. It provided the framework within which I and the other members of my department taught. It ensured the basics were covered. The syllabus allowed for the gradual development of the subject - progressing from simple to more difficult concepts. It was not the same as the detailed lesson plans. These might differ from teacher to teacher - but the syllabus was common to all.
Paul told Timothy to follow the same syllabus as himself; to adopt his structured approach to presenting Christianity.
Today Christian teachers could use the New Testament, and Paul's epistles in particular, to work out a syllabus to ensure that Christian basics are taught. C.S Lewis provides a guide in his book, 'Mere Christianity'. Even more help is provided by the Alpha Course or Christianity Explored. It seems to me that refresher courses in the essential aspects of Christianity should take place periodically in all churches. In my own church this is never done. I, myself, have never done it - preferring to draw lessons as I work through book after book of the Bible. This is a sound method but it ought to be accompanied from time to time by the more structured approach used in the Alpha Course.
(b) Retain faith in, and love for, Jesus.
Faith in, and love for, Jesus go together. You can't have one without the other. Submission in faith to Jesus will necessarily be accompanied by obedience to him.
There are some things we can do to maintain our faith in, and love for, Jesus:
Solomon gives the best advice in Proverbs3v3and4: Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man.
(c) Guard the precious things God has entrusted to us.
Many precious things can be lost to human folly. Alcoholics lose family, friends, their job, a business, health and self-respect. They are impoverished by their addiction.
We need to ask what Paul was thinking of when he warned Timothy: To guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in you. v14.
(2) Examples of inconstancy.
Sadly Paul informs Timothy: You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
I can't believe that all Christians in the churches of the Roman province of Asia (modern Turkey) deserted Paul. It is possible a church attended by Asian Christians existed in Rome of which Phygelus and Hermogenes were leaders. We need to ask why they might have deserted Paul. There are three possible reasons:
(a) Paul's ministry ended in failure. He was no longer the dynamic, itinerant evangelist founding one church after another in the Eastern Mediterranean. Instead he was hidden away in some obscure prison to such good effect that Onesiphorus, his visitor from Ephesus, found it difficult to find him.
Few people like to be associated with failure. We see this in professional football. How the fans howl when their side is not performing well. It is not uncommon to see fans of a losing side trooping out before the game is over. What fickleness!
We see the same tendency in politics. A leader that fails to deliver electoral success is soon gone.
Sadly this carnal spirit also infects the church. People flock to hear a "successful pastor. He is made much of and gets the invitations to speak at special services. The minister of a small church - one that in all probability is getting smaller - is virtually forgotten about.
(3) Over disagreements on doctrine. Paul took a hard line against the legalistic Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. He was uncompromising that salvation was all of grace and not of works lest any man should boast. Paul taught that keeping the Jewish law was never going to make a man righteous in God's eyes. It is possible that church leaders Phygelus and Hermogenes were more accommodating to the legalists from Jerusalem.
Many Christians are sidelined over doctrinal differences. What is even worse some churches will not have to preach a man who quotes from the NIV instead of the AV or uses illustrations in his sermons.
The advice of the great Baptist preacher, C.S. Spurgeon is totally ignored. He pointed out how foolish it would be to give up eating a fish because it contained a few bones. The thing to do is to spit out the bones and enjoy the rest of the fish. There are too many Christians who throw out the fish with the bones and as a consequence miss much that edifies.
(c) It was dangerous to identify with Paul. The Jews were the ones primarily responsible for drawing the attention of the Roman authorities to Paul. They accused him of stirring up trouble, inciting riots and disturbing the peace. The apostle was awaiting trial and likely execution. People who associated with Paul ran the risk of being arrested as well.
Christians can be very concerned for their welfare. I know some who won't visit the sick in hospital for fear of picking up a virus. There are others who refuse to set foot in a home for the demented because it makes them feel so bad. A spell of inclement weather deters the fainted hearted from attending church.
There are many parts of the world where it is definitely not safe to be a professing Christian. Those who believe in Jesus risk losing home, livelihood and life itself. Yet this does not discourage them from standing firm in the Faith.
(3) Blessed through constancy.
Onesiphorus demonstrated faithfulness and by doing so blessed Paul in 4 ways:
(a) He was not deterred by difficulty. Onesiphorus had to search Paul out. There were many prisons in Rome and it seems as if most Christians in that great city hadn't bothered to find out which one held Paul.
There is no doubt that the more effort a person makes to be with us the more we mean to them. I hate driving on Britain's motorways - especially the M25. However, such is my devotion to my brother Paul and his wife, that I travel on the M11 and M25 to visit them in Hastings. I wouldn't do it for many people! My friend Dorothy Haylock sometimes reminds me of the visit I paid her in West Suffolk Hospital on an absolutely filthy winter's night. She saw my willingness to venture out as evidence of my regard for her. I shall never forget my uncle Stephen travelling from London to my home church in Suffolk to take part in the baptismal service of my brother and myself. He sang a lovely solo and was absolutely delighted that two of his nephews were making a profession of faith. He had great affection for his nephews.
(b) He was not ashamed of Paul's chains. Onesiphorus was not embarrassed or uncomfortable at Paul's humiliation. Today there are lots of Christians in chains - restricted by illness - especially those cruel progressive ones: Alzheimers and Parkinsons. This shouldn't affect our relationship to the sufferer. We should still show care and respect. My father suffered from Parkinson's disease. He attended the church of which he had been pastor during the final years of his illness. I am pleased to say his people show him affection and respect to the end.
(c) His visits were refreshing, uplifting and cheering. Onesiphorus' company did Paul the world of good. There is absolutely no doubt that a cheerful, sunny visitor can do a great deal to raise the morale of the sick, handicapped and shut in.
(d) He had a history of helpfulness. When Paul was establishing the church at Ephesus Onesiphorus helped the apostle in a great number of different ways. If a job needed doing Onesiphorus was always on hand to do it.
Such people are invaluable to any church. My brother Paul is one such - willing to do almost anything to help the church he attends for the sake of Jesus Christ. When I attended Pioneer Camp as a worker we had one or two elderly supporters who could be relied on to assist in an emergency. I can remember one stormy Sunday evening when the wild wind threatened to blow down the canvas Tom Havers and a friend turned up to hammer in the stakes and tent pegs and tighten the guy ropes - making everything secure. We held our evening service to the accompaniment of shuddering canvas and the reassuring sound of Tom Haver's sledge hammer - bang, bang, bang. At the end of the service with everything secure a strange almost supernatural calm took possession of the boys and girls as they gathered for their evening cocoa.
Paul prayed for Onesiphorus and his family.
In some ways Paul offers a rather strange prayer for Onesiphorus. He doesn't pray that at Christ's return Onesiphorus will get his reward. This is what Paul expects for himself. He wrote later in this epistle: Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2Tim4v8. Instead, Paul prays that Timothy will find mercy from the Lord on that day!
Onesiporus was the best of Christians. If ever anyone deserved a reward he did. So here is a clear reminder that however faithful and true we are, at the end of the day, we still have to rely on Christ's mercy. Even the best of us need Jesus the Great Judge to show us mercy for all our failings, inconsistencies and shortcomings.