PAUL REVISITS THE CHURCHES

Free again

Although the result of his trial was in doubt for so long, Paul remained hopeful that he would be released. He told the Philippians that he expected to visit them soon (Phil 1:25,27; 2:24), and earlier he had told Philemon of his plans to visit Colossae (Philem 22). Almost certainly he was released at the end of his two years imprisonment. What happened after his release is not certain, but from details in the letters he wrote to Timothy and Titus, we can work out at least some of his movements.

Helping Timothy and Titus

One place that Paul visited after leaving Rome was the island of Crete. It seems that among those who accompanied him on this trip were two co-workers from former years, Timothy and Titus. Paul found that the churches of Crete were in confusion, mainly because of false teachers. He stayed for a while to help correct the difficulties, but when he had to move on to other places he left Titus behind to carry on the work and establish proper leadership in the churches (Titus 1:5,10-11).

When Paul came to Ephesus he found further problems of false teaching. He had once warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would create confusion in the church (Acts 20:29-30), and now that had happened. Self-appointed ‘experts’ were ruining the church with unprofitable teaching based on ancient myths, legends, laws and genealogies (1 Tim 1:4-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5). Some of the teaching was so harmful that Paul believed the only way to deal with the unrepentant offenders was to put them out of the church (1 Tim 1:19-20).

After some time Paul departed from Ephesus to go to Macedonia, but he left Timothy behind to give further help to the church (1 Tim 1:3). In Macedonia Paul no doubt fulfilled his wish of revisiting the Philippian church (cf. Phil 2:24; 4:1). But he was concerned for the two men he had left behind in Crete and Ephesus, and decided to write them each a letter. The two letters, Titus and 1 Timothy, are similar in many ways, though 1 Timothy is much longer and more personal.

In both letters Paul encourages his two fellow workers to be confident in carrying out the task entrusted to them (1 Tim 1:3,18; 4:6,11-12; Titus 1:5; 2:15), to establish some order and leadership in the churches (1 Tim 2:1,8; 3:1-13; 5:17; Titus 1:6-9; 2:2-8), to instruct people in Christian truth (1 Tim 3:14-

15; 4:13-14; 6:20; Titus 2:1; 3:8) and not to waste time arguing about senseless issues (1 Tim 4:7; 6:20;

Titus 3:9).

 

Imprisoned again

Some time after writing to Timothy and Titus, Paul left Macedonia. His exact route is unknown, but among the places he visited were Corinth in the south of Greece and Miletus on the west coast of Asia Minor (2 Tim 4:20). He also visited Troas to the north. The fact that he left behind some of his valued possessions at Troas suggests he may have been arrested there and forced to leave in a hurry (2 Tim 4:13). Wherever he was arrested, he was taken to Rome once more, and from prison wrote his final letter, 2 Timothy (2 Tim 1:8; 2:9).

When the authorities in Rome laid charges against Paul, some of his friends deserted him. But the God who always stood by him rescued him from violence and enabled him to proclaim the gospel to the Roman officials (2 Tim 4:16-17). Nevertheless, he did not have the optimism of his first imprisonment. Instead of looking forward to release, he expected only execution (2 Tim 4:6-8).

Knowing that time was running out, Paul wrote to Timothy to give him further encouragement and make a number of urgent requests. The church in Ephesus was still troubled by false teachers, and Paul wanted Timothy to stand firm in teaching the Christian truth (2 Tim 1:6-8,14; 2:3,15; 3:14-17; 4:2,5). At the same time he was to avoid time-wasting arguments with people whose chief aim was to make trouble (2 Tim 2:14,16,23; 3:5).

Two people who would no doubt be of help to Timothy in his difficult task were Aquila and Priscilla, who were now back in Ephesus after their second period of residence in Rome (2 Tim 4:19; cf. Acts 18:2,18-19,24-26; Rom 16:3). The family of Onesiphorus, who had given Paul valuable help in Rome, were also now back in Ephesus and likewise would be a help to Timothy (2 Tim 1:16-18; 4:19).

Martyrdom in Rome

Several urgent requests that Paul sent to Timothy indicate the distress of his final imprisonment. As he sat in his unhealthy cell, he was beginning to feel cold and he missed his books (2 Tim 4:13,21). He was also lonely. Demas, who had been with him faithfully during his first imprisonment, had now left him (2 Tim 4:10; cf. Col 4:14). Others had gone to various places in the service of God (2 Tim 4:10,12). Some of the local Roman Christians visited him (2 Tim 4:21), but only Luke could stay with him for any length of time (2 Tim 4:11).

The two people Paul most wanted with him in his closing days were Timothy and Mark, the two who, as young men, had set out with him on his early missionary journeys. Mark was most likely working in Colossae, not far from Ephesus, so Timothy would have had no difficulty going to fetch him (2 Tim 4:9,11; cf. Col 4:10). Whether they reached Rome in time is not certain. The apostle to the Gentiles, who throughout his life had never been far from death at the hands of the Jews, was finally beheaded by imperial Rome (about AD 62).

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