Guard the good deposit (2 Tim 1:12-18)

The story so far: Paul has reminded Timothy to follow his example and fan into flame his gift. He’s been given God’s power to carry out the mission. And he’s been given motivation for the mission: the grace of God who has defeated death on our behalf, and given us access to immortality.  And it’s of this message of grace that Paul (along with Timothy and us) has been called to be a herald, apostle, and teacher.

But this high calling has a downside:

2 Timothy 1:12a That is why I am suffering as I am.

As we saw a few weeks ago in Revelation 10-11, and last week in the life of Amos, this message doesn’t always make you popular – often, people don’t want to hear it. And so you’ll suffer for it. Paul, for his part, is in prison, chained as a common criminal.

2 Timothy 1:12b Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

But this shouldn’t shame us back into conformity with the world. It shouldn’t shut us up. Why? Because we have confidence that God is in control. Paul knows he’s able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

What is it that Paul has entrusted to God? We’re not entirely sure. The other times when Paul uses the word “guard” (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14) he’s talking about Timothy guarding something that’s been entrusted to him by God, but here it’s the other way around. Some suggestions are:

  • Paul’s ministry (the churches he’s planted and the mission to the Gentiles generally) which he’s entrusted back to God now he’s in prison?
  • The gospel message itself?
  • Paul’s own life

I think it’s possible – given the context of not being ashamed – that Paul’s referring to his own honour. He’s been shamed in the eyes of the world, but he’s entrusted his honour to God, knowing that ultimately he will be vindicated on that day when Christ returns. This is similar to what he says – about the shame of his first imprisonment – in Philippians:

Philippians 1:18-20 Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death

In Philippians, Paul alludes to Job’s confidence in God that he will be vindicated, and links it to “not being ashamed.” So for what it’s worth, I think that in 2 Timothy Paul is expressing the same idea: in the end, God will vindicate me – I’ll entrust my honour to him!

Paul then wants Timothy to do the same:

2 Timothy 1:13-14 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Follow Paul’s example (reMember my Model and iMitate it!). The word pattern is like a blueprint designed by an architect, an outline sketched by an artist, or a rough draft written by a novelist. Timothy has been given the blueprint, the sketch, the rough draft by Paul – now his task is to realise the blueprint, paint in the sketch, flesh out the draft in his own life.

Timothy is told to guard the deposit that was entrusted to him. What is the deposit being guarded in this case? If we look at the parallels between verses 13 and 14, it’s Paul’s pattern of teaching:

  • What is Timothy to do? v13 Hold to the pattern of sound teaching; v14 guard the good deposit.
  • How is Timothy to do it? v13 In the faith and love that are in Christ; v14 with the help of the indwelling Spirit.

But in the wider context of character formation (that we talked about last week) it’s not just keeping the content of the teaching, but the whole example (pattern) of how Paul lived.

“It means more than keeping intact Paul’s teaching. It means staying loyal to his way of life; it means specifically accepting the suffering that comes as a consequence of proclaiming the gospel faithfully, as Paul does.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, 1 & 2 Timothy, p.375.)

Paul then gives contrasting examples of what staying loyal to his example looks like – that of Onesiphorus – and what being disloyal looks like:

2 Timothy 1:15-18 You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

Many of Paul’s co-workers* had deserted him. (Implied exhortation: Timothy, don’t be like them.)

Onesiphorus didn’t. He searched hard to find him, which wouldn’t have been easy if Paul had been in a Roman dungeon! He often refreshed him, which is a hospitality word, probably meaning the daily visit to bring food and other supplies to a shackled prisoner. Onesiphorus wasn’t ashamed of Paul’s chains. And it may well be that Onesiphorus died as a result of his loyalty to Paul, since his prayer is for God to show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, as well as Onesiphorus himself on that day. (Implied exhortation: Timothy, be like Onesiphorus, even if it’s risky.)

To think about

What do you do when standing up for the gospel risks shame? Do you end up giving in and staying silent? Or do you bear the shame and entrust your reputation to God, knowing that eventually it’ll be shown that you were right?

Following on from the example of Onesiphorus: who are the examples in your life whom you are challenged to follow?


*Who were Phygelus and Hermogenes? They may have been those who were ashamed of Paul, perhaps in Ephesus. Or they may have been actual troublemakers – disaffected followers who became opponents. Paul doesn’t explicitly connect them with the false teachers mentioned elsewhere.

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