2 Timothy 1:12

Leonard Bernstein once conducted the New York Symphony in a rendition of Charles Ives’s “The Unanswered Question.” The director explained to his television audience the meaning of the composition: Six times the trumpet repeats a phrase representing the question, “Why am I here?” In each instance, the woodwinds respond with increasing confusion, reflecting man’s unsuccessful attempts to answer this question. For the seventh time, the trumpet repeats the question. There is no answer—only the soft background of the orchestra intended to represent the movement of the stars in space. The composer seems to be saying, “There is no answer to man’s question, ‘Why am I here?’”

A boldly confident man writing a letter in a Roman prison 21 centuries ago raises his hand in protest. With settled conviction, this man says, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (1 Tim. 1:12). “Why am I here?” was an answered question in Paul’s mind, and the answer was centered in Jesus of Nazareth. This affirmation in Paul’s letter to Timothy has brought meaning to the lives of untold millions of people.


“I know whom I have believed.” This passage may be translated, “I know Him whom I have been trusting.” The tense of the verb indicates a trust that began in the past and continues into the present. This is a picture of a constant, unwavering faith. How did Paul arrive at this kind of experience? How did he know? Imagine him reviewing his life as he paced his prison cell. He may have recalled Stephen’s sermon on the day of his martyrdom and the witness this man of God made for his Lord. He doubtless remembered vividly the light that shone on the Damascus road and the voice that spoke to him on that occasion. He lived again those years of preparation, preaching Christ in Damascus, retiring in Arabia, visiting with Peter and James in Jerusalem.

In memory he traveled again the Roman roads of the Mediterranean world, preaching the risen Christ to all who would listen. To the jailer in Thessalonica who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul had a quick answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” To the skeptical philosophers on Mars’ Hill in Athens, Paul preached what was to the audience the greatest scandal of all—the resurrected Lord. Then there was that dark night in Corinth where things were going badly. “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you . . .’” (Acts 18:9, 10). And there was another dark night following his arrest in Jerusalem, when His Lord stood by him again and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

No doubt Paul often relived his recent, stormy voyage on the prison ship to Italy. Could there have been a more heroic moment for Christianity than that perilous day when he announced to the sailors, “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul’” (Acts 27:23, 24).

Out of a storehouse of experiences such as these Paul brought forth this gem: “I know whom I have believed.” His life has been built around his relationship with Christ. There were no doubts, no quibbles, no uncertainties in his experience. He knew without question the Master to whom he had devoted his life.

He knew the presence of Christ in his own life—an experience he described 164 times as being “in Christ.” He knew Christ as a conscious, thinking, loving, communicating Being. If Christian theologians and biblical scholars would share Paul’s knowledge of Christ, Christianity might find the “renewal” for which it is seeking.


The second part of our text, as translated in the King James Version, says, “And [I] am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.” Some of you who read modern versions of the Bible may have noticed that this familiar passage is often translated in a different way. For example, the Phillips translation says, “And I am perfectly certain that the work he has committed to me is safe in his hands.” The New English Bible says, “And [I] am confident of his power to keep safe what he has put into my charge.” The meanings are opposite: “that which I have committed unto him” vs. “what he has put in my charge.” Why the difference?

It happens that one word of the passage in Greek makes it capable of two translations, either of which is grammatically correct. The question as to which meaning was intended by Paul can be determined only by the context. A similar expression is used in two other passages in Paul’s letters to Timothy: 1 Timothy 6:20 (“Guard what has been entrusted to your care”) and 2 Timothy 1:14 (“Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you”). Judging by these verses, it seems that modern-language translations are probably correct. It seems that Paul was, in effect, saying to Timothy, “Timothy, after you and I are both gone, Christ is able to guard that gospel that He has committed to us.”

There is a tremendous lesson here for us. We need to be persuaded that Christ is able to guard the gospel that He has committed to us. We must not be an anxious group, huddling around a flickering fire, trying to keep it from going out. The gospel is an unquenchable flame—it may flicker, but it cannot be extinguished. We are asked to guard this flame, but we are reminded that the One who lighted it in the first place will see that it continues to burn.


The third part of the text comprises three very significant words—“against [until] that day.” Look at the sweep of this text. The first part deals with the past: “I know whom I have believed.” The second part is in the present tense: “I am persuaded.” The final thrust of the text is toward the future: “against that day.” There is no place in Paul’s teaching for the type of “immediacy” that is unconcerned about the past and the future.

We who live in this age must not forget “that day.” If it was important to Paul, it should be doubly important to us. The message of the coming Christ is a vital part of the gospel. It is in harmony with the character of a God who will not allow suffering, hunger, and sin to go on forever. This great truth of the return of our Lord must not be used as an escape from the realities of life, but it is an authentic hope for the Christian.


In an age like ours, only a fool can face the future without concern. There is no guarantee against atomic war. There is no solution in sight for the world’s population problems. Pollution is not an imaginary problem. There is no obvious remedy for the world’s economic ills. Your dreams and mine may not come true. But we have a Lord who will finish what He started. His gospel will not fail.

This is the final answer to man’s eternal question.

This sermon by Norval F. Pease is excerpted from the book If I Had One Sermon to Preach, edited by Herbert E. Douglass. It has been used with permission and lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.