Dr. John Hartmann

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Paul and Timothy- a Father and a Son in the Gospel

July 3rd, 2011 · No Comments

A Wish for Mercy

Paul describes Timothy as his “beloved son” in the faith (2 Timothy 1:1; cf. 1 Timothy 1:1). In both letters written to Timothy the salutation contains a wish for “mercy” to be granted to Timothy (added to the standard salutary wish for grace and peace). God’s mercy has many dimensions. While it certainly includes the idea that we do not receive the punishment we deserve for our sins (cf. Psalm 103:8-12), another important aspect of God’s mercy is this: the Lord pities those who are suffering, and sends help and comfort when they call upon Him in their pain and distress. Paul had come to understand this dimension of God’s mercy in his apostolic labors, calling the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul wants Timothy to stand strong in the midst of the persecution and suffering he is encountering in his ministry (2 Timothy 1:8; 2:1-4; 3:10-12) and thus includes this wish for “mercy”, that his beloved son in the faith will be upheld by the comfort and the power of God.

The Father-Son relationship of Paul and Timothy

Paul a Spiritual Father to the Churches

Paul, by virtue of age and of the grace given to him in Christ Jesus, is Timothy’s spiritual father. But Paul actually carries this spirit and stature of a father in relation to all the saints and all the churches he has begotten in Christ through the gospel. He carries them in his bosom, as a father his children, and cannot rest until they are as they should be. Hence Paul labors for them continually in prayer, in much affliction and loneliness, in much fasting, laying down his life so that they might live and arrive at the goals God has set from them. This is the work of a true apostle: he is a gift to the church, a sent emissary of Jesus Christ who lays down his life so that the church might arrive at the goals God has set for His people. He suffers so that others may have joy; he hurts so that others who hurt may be comforted and healed; he has God’s long-range plans and goals in view, laboring in a transcendent faith to see them come to fruition. He executes his task with a fatherly heart and spirit toward those spiritual sons and daughters he has been appointed to serve.

Paul a Spiritual Father to Timothy, Timothy Trained to Share in the Work

Paul has a special father-son relationship with Timothy, his true son in the faith, for Timothy, by virtue of gift and calling has been appointed to labor together with Paul, and to carry on the work of Paul after his departure, which apparently was very soon (cf. 2 Timothy 4: 6-8). He has been called throughout the years to stand alongside Paul, to help and support him, to serve him in the gospel as a son with a father. In the process he has been trained to share the load and to participate in the work God has given Paul to do. Timothy functions at various times and places, and at various levels, as Paul’s apostolic delegate, as one who can truly represent Paul in the ongoing work that is going on in the churches.

Timothy’s Ever-Increasing Responsibility in the Work of the Gospel

Paul sends Timothy to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

Paul sends Timothy to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-8)

Paul sends Timothy to Philippi (Philippians 2:19-22)

Paul leaves Timothy at Ephesus to oversee the work there (1 Timothy 1:3-11; 3:14-15; cf Acts 20:17-35)

Serving God with Tears

Paul is mindful of Timothy’s tears. This accords with his own testimony before the Ephesian elders, that he, while among them for three years, had served the Lord “with all humility and with tears” (Acts 20:18-19). Tears signify brokenness before God and suffering in the cause of the gospel. This idea is foreign to the modern church culture in America: serving God with humility and tears borne of brokenness before God and suffering in the cause of the gospel. This is a picture of sincere overcoming faith and real piety. It is not only Paul’s testimony, but that of Jesus as well. Hebrews 2:10 shows us that He was perfected in His ministry as the Great High Priest over the house of God through the things that He suffered. Hebrews 5 shows that He learned obedience through that which He suffered, that He overcame through many trials. It seems clear that the process of overcoming was for Jesus, as it oft is for us, a very painful process. We quote: “In the days of His flesh He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7). May we do the same. Do not give in to sin, do not give in to unbelief. Draw near to God through this Great High Priest Who intercedes on your behalf, Who is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to the throne of grace through Him, that they might receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:22-25).

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