1 Timothy: In his _First Pastoral Epistle to Timothy, Paul writes him this benediction: “Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Timothy 1.2).
God’s mercy is the fountain from which God’s grace flows—that is the logical order in salvation. Paul’s reversal of this order should prompt us to consider what lesson he is teaching Timothy (and ourselves) in this benediction. God shows mercy to those whom he wills to show mercy (Romans 9.15-18). In showing them mercy God bestows grace, his undeserved favour. The recipients of this saving grace consequently learn that God has shown them mercy; and that, because of this mercy shown to them, they have peace with God.
“In a great house,” says the apostle, likening the local church to a mansion, or palatial villa, “there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour” (1 Timothy 2.20). He urges young pastor Timothy to be “a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (v.21), by:
- purging himself of all unlawful affairs (vv.4-5);
- avoiding entanglement in strife in the church “about words to no profit…subverting of the hearers” (v.14);
- shunning “profane and vain babblings” that only “increase unto more ungodliness” (v.16)—namely false doctrines that “overthrow the faith of some” (such as in Paul’s example, that “the resurrection is past already”) (vv.17-18);
- departing from iniquity (v.19).
Purge yourself from all these, Paul urges the younger pastor. Be as self-disciplined in godliness as warriors and athletes are in their life-regimes (vv.4-5). And be more so, indeed, because your Master is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s something more that young pastor Timothy should also keep away from1: “Flee also youthful lusts” (v.22a). And instead of “all these” that he should put off, the apostle outlines what he should put on, or pursue as a vessel for honourable use by his Master: “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (v.22b). Spend the most time with the the most obviously sanctified—fellowship with them in their worship and prayer, when they call on the Lord—let their pure hearts be your example, and follow them in their righteousness, their faith, their charity, and their peace.
2 Timothy: In his second epistle to pastor Timothy, Paul gives him the same benediction: “To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Timothy 1.2). Following the same pattern, the reversed order “grace, mercy, and peace” teaching the same lesson: upon those whom God bestows grace, he also gives them to know that they have his mercy, and thus they will know they have peace with God through their Lord Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, these good words of Paul are from God. God had put his grace, mercy, and peace into Paul’s soul; and Paul’s benedictions to his Christian readers (whether his first intended, or those later who read) should teach us what God has already conferred upon us.
It is with God’s grace, mercy, and peace in his heart that Paul goes on to mention how he constantly finds himself remembering Timothy’s own “unfeigned faith” in the gospel of salvation, which gospel was believed by his mother Eunice before him, and by his grandmother Lois before her—Timothy’s covenant family line. But how does Paul know what they have in their hearts? Not by special revelation, but by the spiritual fruit manifest in this family: God’s grace, mercy, and peace lived out in their lives. It was seeing this fruit in Timothy that persuaded Paul that this same faith was in him too (v.6). For faith in Christ is evidently unfeigned if such fruit has come from it.
Paul had written his epistle from far away in prison (v.8), and he longed for that real Christian fellowship which he knew he could partake of in Timothy’s house: “[I, Paul] Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears [for me], that I may be filled with joy” (v.5).
Grace, mercy, and peace can be shared and mutually built up in Christian fellowship.
Paul knew that this persecution, however damaging it was physically, was not catastrophic, either to his own soul or to the church. He had God’s peace, and that confidence which comes from it: he knew that the Lord Jesus Christ is on the throne of the universe, building his church, working all things together for the good of those who love God, turning all things to the furtherance of the gospel, so that his kingdom would never be destroyed (Ephesians 1.15-23; Romans 8:28; Philippians 1.12; Daniel 2.44).
Therefore, Paul would comfort Timothy with a good word about God’s grace, mercy, and peace, in order to encourage him even from prison to manifest the same evangelical courage that he himself had: “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God… Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (v.6-8,13-14).
Titus: Paul’s benediction to another pastor, Titus, was similar to what he had to say to pastor Timothy: “To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 1.4). The personal faith “of God’s elect” (v.1) that these two men had in common was evidence that they both had grace, mercy, and peace from God—and that Paul himself had been the bearer of the very gospel to them that they now believed (and so he was, as it were, their father in the faith).
Paul had left Titus behind in Crete to continue his own missionary activity there. Titus was now commissioned to establish the peace of God in Crete by ordaining elders over the churches in every city of the island. Paul outlined the godly characteristics that should be found in such men, qualifying them to be elders of the churches (v.5-9). He was less brief in his explaining how the churches needed, in their elders, men who could stand fast in their defense of the Christian faith, capable exhorting and convincing Cretan “gainsayers” of pure Bible truth, as well as avoiding “Jewish fables” and “commandments of men” not found in Scripture (vv.9-16).
Paul’s Epistle to Titus is all about peace in the church and living peacably in the world. He describes how Titus should preach practical and spiritual Christian living to the congregations under his charge (2.1): how the women of the church should live (2.2-5), how the young men should be “sober minded” and follow their pastor’s own exemplary life (2.6-8), and how those Christians who are bond-servants2 should serve their masters in such a way “that they [the servants] may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (2.9-10).
The apostle goes on to instruct Titus to preach that all Christians should live in subjection to the civil rulers (3.1), and how they should conduct themselves to their non-Christian neighbours: “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (3.2). And again, in the churches, they should “avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law” (3.9), and they should maintain peace and truth in their dealing with heretics: admonish them twice, and if they do not stop their promoting un-Biblical, un-Christian doctrines and practices in the church, finally “reject” them from the congregation.
Philemon: When Paul wrote to Philemon, a “fellowlabourer” with a church in his house (Philemon 1.1-2), his opening benediction to him was: “Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.3).
Was Philemon a pastor over a congregation or, merely, a responsible Christian father over his household? His household was his church, to be sure, but there may have been other members who also joined with them. “Our beloved Apphia,” whose name was written next to Philemon’s, was most likely his wife. Paul next greets “Archippus our fellowsoldier” (v.2) (perhaps he was their son?), greeting him as a fellow with both Philemon and Paul himself; so, perhaps he was another elder in the congregation, who, unless Paul was speaking metaphorically, had a background in military service.
That Paul here consequently identifies himself as a “fellowsoldier” makes us wonder whether Paul and Archippus been together on an evangelistic campaign for Christ, and had suffered persecution together. But whether they had indeed been in one unit, or in separate localities, in their evangelism, they had been “striving together for the faith of the gospel” because theirs was the same gospel and “like precious faith” in the same Saviour (see Philippians 1.27-30; 1 Peter 1.7).
Philemon has been traditionally grouped as a Pastoral Epistle with those of Timothy and Titus. But here in his opening benediction, Paul does not speak of “grace, mercy and peace” as he does with Timothy and Titus—he does not mention mercy. However, this short epistle in its entirety is Paul’s irenic appeal to Philemon, begging him to show mercy and accept back his runaway slave, Onesimus, with love and peace—“Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved” (v.16).
We have no information about how Philemon had acquired Onesimus as a slave, or when, or how long Onesimus had been on the run. But at some point he had been captured and placed in the same prison as where Paul was being held at that time (vv.1,9-10).
The Roman empire was making itself “great” through wars, roads, commerce, and forced labour. The Roman authorities had recaptured and incarcerated Onesimus, the runaway slave. That’s all we know. But enslavement in all its forms is against both the law and the gospel, as elsewhere Paul himself and Moses point out (see 1 Timothy 1.8-11; Exodus 21.16).
Therefore, as Paul does not rebuke Philemon for owning slaves, we deduce that by this time he did not own any, having repented of the practice (and, if he had any at that time, he would have released them). And, therefore, we deduce that Onesimus had been on the run from Philemon (and from the Roman authorities) for some time before his old master had become a Christian, and before a church of Christ had been established in his house.
Now in prison with Paul, in God’s merciful and gracious providence toward him, Onesimus had heard the gospel of our Saviour. Then, God opened his heart, so that he gave proper attention to what Paul had to say to him, and he had become a believer (compare Acts 16.14). And Paul always rejoiced so much whenever God used him to bring a person to Christ, that he took his converts to heart as though they were his own spiritual children (Philemon 1.10,12; 1 Timothy 1.2; compare 3 John 1.4).
Paul begs Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a fellow-Christian to live in his house—not now as his property, as a slave, or on a lower level in Christian society (for there are no such levels), but as a true equal in Christ—a “brother beloved:” “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable3 to thee and to me: Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?” (Philemon 1.10-16).
Both Philemon’s wealth and previous slave-ownership was unprofitable to his soul. But now Onesimus, as a freeman and “brother beloved,” would be profitable to the sanctification of Philemon.
As the apostle says elsewhere: put off, or mortify these deeds of the flesh (Romans 6.11-13; 8.5-8; Ephesians 4.22; Colossians 3.5). ↩︎
The New Testament Greek word translated here as “servant” is δοῦλος (doulos), meaning a slave (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, word #1401). ↩︎
Onesimus’s name means profitable (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, word #3682). ↩︎