“But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
These words are familiar to us as the words of the chorus of a popular hymn as well as a verse of Scripture: 2 Tim. 1:12. But what do you think of when you hear them? What’s the “that” that God is able to keep? It might not be what you think. Or put another way, what comes to your mind may not be what was in Paul’s mind when he wrote them. Let me explain.
As with any other verse in the Bible, in order to understand what’s being said we must investigate and understand the context. When writing this passage Paul was in prison on death row in Rome. He knew that his days were numbered. In this letter he is passing on the baton to Timothy. His heart is torn by the fact that many of the people he had led to Christ in Asia (Ephesus and surrounding areas) had turned against him. He’s encouraging Timothy that now more than ever he must hold on to the truths of the gospel handed to him by Paul.
It’s in this context that we find the words quoted above. Paul was convinced that God was able to keep the “deposit” of the gospel ministry committed to him even amidst widespread apostasy. Even on death row, with all Asia turned against him, Paul was confident that God would keep the gospel light burning and even preserve the fruits of Paul’s gospel labors in the hearts of many, even though all Asia had turned against him personally.
It’s very interesting to me that the phrase which the KJV translates as “he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him” is translated thus by the ESV: “I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me”–not “what I’ve committed to him” but “what he’s committed to me.” Apparently, the Greek would allow either translation, and in light of the context I think the ESV rendering might be preferable.
So the “that” which God is able to keep could well be referring, not to my soul or my personal salvation (though we know that is true also), but to “the gospel” in the sense of the gospel ministry.
Food for thought. 🙂