Hold Fast the Word
2 Timothy 1:13-18
It was for holding fast and proclaiming the Gospel in an unashamed fashion which landed Paul in a Roman prison. Many had abandoned the aged apostle. Only one, Luke, was with him and only one other had sought him out, Onesiphorus. As Paul’s time on earth draws to a close he wants Timothy to hold fast and grasp certain things of great value: the everlasting Word of God and the enduring fellowship of faithful Christians.
Hold Fast Sound Words
Timothy must cling to the very inspired words which he has learned from Paul. These words are healthy and life giving, despite the fact that they could land you in prison. The word “pattern” was used to refer to the sketching of an artist, the architectural plans for a building, etc. The teachings of Paul would serve Timothy as an outline for his preaching and teaching. The commandment is not one which would allow him to take liberties in what he proclaims. In fact, he should exercise great care in tracing the outline and copying the pattern which came from the Holy Spirit guided apostle.
The manner of holding fast the Word is twofold. First, Timothy is to hold it fast “in faith.” This requires that he believes these words to be healthy and sound and inspired through the apostle Paul. Without genuine conviction in the Word as the Word of God, Timothy too will abandon Paul and the Truth when faced with persecution. Second, he was to cling to the Scriptures “in love.” This would involve his love for God who is the author, love for the apostle Paul who revealed the Truth, love for the Truth which would make him wise unto salvation, love for the lost souls to whom he would preach it, love for the brethren who would be edified by it, and also by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
Hold Fast What Has Been Entrusted to You
In 2 Timothy 6:20 Paul had previously given a similar command “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust” (1 Tim 6:20). It is interesting that Paul uses the Greek word phulaxon for “guard” which refers to the guards who were to keep a close watch on prisoners. However, it could also refer to the work of a shepherd or even watchmen on the walls of a city.
What is this “good thing” Timothy is to guard? The Greek term for “committed” was used in verse twelve to refer to Paul’s soul which he committed to God for safe keeping till Judgment Day. It means to deposit a treasure into the hands of another for them to guard. In this context, it was Paul who has committed the Word of God into the hands of Timothy for safekeeping.
How was Timothy to keep the Word safe? As he stood on guard duty over the Word, he would not be all alone. The Holy Spirit would be with him, in fact, He was dwelling in him. It was by the Holy Spirit that these Scriptures came to Timothy and it was by the supernatural aid of God that he will be able to keep them safe from perversion. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19). God has always wanted to be with us, just as any father would desire the company of his children. He has not abandoned us with just the Word to guard by our own feeble abilities. Through the centuries the presence of God the Holy Spirit as providentially helped men like Timothy to protect the Word from those who would destroy it.
Hold Fast Without Turning Away
Nothing is known of Phygellus and Hermogenes from any other passage than this verse. They were obviously known by Paul and Timothy. They were from Asia. This is the Roman province which would include most of what is now modern day Turkey. It is often referred to as “Asia Minor.” Ephesus was the leading city of Asia Minor. The main reason these two are mentioned is that they did not hold fast the word in faith and love. Instead, like men in Asia they have turned way from the apostle when he needed men to stand firm with him and support his efforts. Obviously, not every living soul in Asia had abandoned Paul. In fact, Timothy and Onesiphorus have not. Yet, a majority have forsaken him.
The same had happened to the Savior. When He was arrested, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matt 26:56).
Hold Fast Like Faithful Men
In contrast to Phygellus and Hermogenes and others of Asia, Onesiphorus did not forsake Paul. Just the opposite, he has gone to great lengths to help and support the imprisoned apostle. This man is singled out as an example of what others should have done for Paul. If a Christian will risk all for the messenger, he will most likely be faithful in holding fast to the message.
Ironically, the name Onesiphorus means “a bringer of help.” Just how did he bring help to Paul? First, he helped Paul by refreshing him on a frequent basis. In that cold, damp dungeon of the Maritime prison Paul was dependent on outside sources for daily needs and refreshments. Second, he was not ashamed of Paul’s chains. Perhaps, he saw him as a prisoner of the Lord, instead of a common criminal who stood in opposition to Roman society. At any rate, this Christian was not about to abandon Paul. Instead he was willing to go to Rome and find where Paul was being held. Next, he not only looked for Paul but sought him diligently until he found him. This is a man who was not going to give up until he was met with success. This would have been done at risk to his own life. He reminds Timothy that he had given Paul help while they were all working at Ephesus. It is one thing to help out once and twice with a particular need. Onesiphorus was willing to help out in a variety of ways time and again, in Ephesus or at Rome, while Paul was free to preach or chained up in a prison.
Paul beseeches the Lord to show mercy on him for his help not once but twice. First, he desires the Lord’s mercy on his household. A household could include the man of the house as well. In which case, Paul desires Onesiphorus to be blessed with his family at the present time. His family is mentioned because they would have through his actions been a directed and indirect help to Paul. Second, Paul prays that God will reward this faithful servant with mercy on the Day of Judgment. In the parable of the sheep and the goats the Lord blesses those on the right with eternal life: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matt 25:35-40).
Because Paul asked the Lord to grant mercy to Onesiphorus in the future and on his household in the present, some have concluded that Onesiphorus was dead. The Roman Catholic church has concluded that this is authority for them to instruct their followers to pray for the dead. Although it is possible that he was dead at the time of Paul’s writing, there is no absolute proof. To base a doctrine such as praying for the souls of the dead based on nothing more than the silence of God is a very haphazard application of the scriptures. Paul could have asked God’s blessings on the household of a man without him being dead (cf 1 Cor. 16:15). If Onesiphorus had left Rome and had not yet arrived at home at Ephesus, it would fit well with the statements made by Paul about him and he would still be very much alive. Furthermore, the Hebrew writer affirms, “and as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). According to the rest of the Word of God, salvation of a soul is determined by the mercy and grace he receives in life on behalf of his faithfulness till death (Rev. 2:10b). He is not saved based on the prayers and activities of others after he is dead.
– Daniel R. Vess