Pastor John MacArthur (MacArthur Commentary Library [E-4 Group, CD, vol. 2], on 2 Tim. 2:2) tells about a state invitational track meet during his college years, when he represented his team as the second man in the mile relay. The first man ran a fast first leg, and John did well on the second. But soon after he passed the baton to the third man, one of their best runners, that runner stopped, walked onto the infield, and sat down.
At first the other team members thought that he had pulled a hamstring or twisted an ankle. MacArthur ran across the field and asked, “What happened?” “I don’t know,” he replied, “I just didn’t feel like running anymore.”
Understandably, his teammates, the coach, and everyone else from the college were quite upset. “How could you do that?” they asked. “Don’t you know you’re not just representing yourself, but your team and your school? Have you forgotten all the time the coach has invested in you and that your teammates have invested to get where we are? How could you, in one brief, selfish second, destroy all of that?”
MacArthur continues, “On an infinitely more important level, countless leaders in the church have simply dropped out of the Lord’s service, some with no better reason than the apathy of that collegiate runner.”
Timothy was not yet at the point of dropping out of the race. But because of his timid personality he hated conflict and criticism, which are an inescapable part of leadership. The hardship of standing for the truth in the face of many who were defecting was tempting him to draw back and not use his spiritual gifts to uphold and hand off the truth. Paul, who was awaiting execution in a prison cell in Rome, was handing Timothy the baton. In our text, he is not only telling Timothy to take the baton and carry it faithfully, but also to hand it off to others who will carry it faithfully and in turn hand it off to others after them. It is because of such faithful men down through history that we are here today.
As we saw last week, the main theme of 2:1-7 is being a fruitful Christian. Every true Christian wants to be fruitful in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. To be fruitful, there is a person that you must be: Strong in grace (2:1). There is a task that you must do: Entrust the truth to other faithful believers (2:2). There is a price that you must pay: Suffer hardship as a soldier, an athlete, and a hard-working farmer (2:3-7). The message of 2:2 is:
To be a fruitful Christian, you must entrust the truth to others who will entrust it to others also.
Before we examine this verse, let me point out that it is applicable on several levels. The primary application is to pastors and other church leaders. Our task is to hand off God’s truth to other faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. But the text also applies to every Christian in every relationship with other Christians. Christian husbands must hand off the truth that God teaches them to their wives. While the husband is responsible to shepherd his family, the communication is not just one way. Wives also must share with their husbands the truth that God teaches them. Parents are responsible to entrust the truth to their children. More mature believers must see their responsibility to impart biblical truth to younger believers. All of us who know Christ are responsible to share the gospel with those who are lost, so that they may be saved.
The idea is that if God has entrusted any truth from His Word to you, it is not to make you feel good and then keep it to yourself. He gives it to you so that you will pass it on to others. Keep in mind that verse 2 follows and is built on the truth of verse 1. To entrust God’s truth to others, you must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. With that as a foundation, verse 2 gives us three requirements if we want to be fruitful for the Lord:
Of course, we must impart to others more than mere content. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had imparted to them not only the gospel, but also his own life, because they had become very dear to him (1 Thess. 2:8). So our text assumes that the truth that we impart is clothed in a godly life of love for others. But the clear focus of 2 Timothy 2:2 is on the content of sound doctrine. Paul mentions what Timothy had heard Paul teach and he tells Timothy that he is to impart these truths so that other men may teach them to others also. There are two aspects to this:
This verse implies what our culture denies, that there is a definable body of spiritual truth that can be known and handed off faithfully to others. We live in a culture permeated with the view that spiritual truth is a matter of personal preference, much like your favorite flavor of ice cream. If something is true for you, that’s nice, but don’t be so arrogant as to imply that your “truth” is true for everyone else!
As it often happens, the prevailing worldview seeps into the evangelical church. Studies have shown that one-third of America’s baby boomers identify themselves as born-again Christians, but half of those say that religions other than Christianity are equally good and true. One third of “born-again” baby boomers believe in reincarnation and astrology (Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, Wade Clark Roof, as reported in “The Watchman Expositor,” Vol. 18, #1, 2001, p. 22).
In No Place for Truth [Eerdmans, 1993], David Wells shows how the evangelical church has largely abandoned doctrinal truth. He argues (p. 13) that “the central function of the pastor has changed from that of a truth broker to manager of the small enterprise we call churches.” Wells argues (pp. 102-103) that the New Testament contains the apostolic exposition of the truth about God and Christ and that to be a believer has always meant to believe what the apostles taught. He adds (p. 103),
This is why the apostles not only framed Christian faith in doctrinal terms but called for its preservation and protection in this form. There is no Christian faith in the absence of “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 1:9), “sound instruction” (1 Tim. 6:3), or the “pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13-14). It is this doctrine, or, more precisely, the truth it contains and expresses, that was “taught” by the apostles and “delivered” to the Church. It is this message that is our only ground for hope (Tit. 1:9) and salvation (1 Cor. 15:2; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Without it, we have neither the Father nor the Son (2 John 9). Indeed, Paul says that we can grow in Christ only if we stay within this doctrinal framework, for its truth provides the means of our growth (Col. 2:6). It is no wonder that Christians are urged not to depart from the apostolic teaching they received “in the beginning” ( John 2:7, 24, 26; 3:11) or from what they had heard (Heb. 2:1), for it is the “faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Nor should we be amazed to read of Paul’s admonition to Timothy that it is only by adhering to this “good teaching” that he will become a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 4:6). For all of these reasons, the apostles instructed believers to “guard” this faith (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 4:3; cf. Tit. 1:9; Gal. 1:9), defend it (Jude 3), “stand firm” in it, not to “drift” from it, to become “established” in it, and to transmit it intact to succeeding generations.
There is a noticeable emphasis on the themes of “sound doctrine,” teaching, and truth in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:3-5, 10; 3:2; 4:1, 6, 11, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:2, 3, 20. 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2, 14-16, 18, 23-26; 3:7-8, 10, 13, 15-17; 4:2-4, 15; Titus 1:1, 9-11, 14; 2:1, 3, 7, 10, 15; 3:9). As Paul handed the baton to Timothy and Titus, he wanted them to hold unswervingly to the truth, because it was under attack. As we saw in our recent study of 1 John, which was written about 25 years after Paul’s death, false teachers were promoting serious errors in this same church of Ephesus, where Timothy was when Paul wrote 2 Timothy to him.
David Wells points out (ibid., p. 140) that, “shorn of its theology, evangelicalism has become simply one more expression of the self movement, which also includes many constituencies that do not have the remotest interest in God but with whom evangelicals often make common cause in satisfying the self.” That statement was reinforced to me this week as I read a review of Joel Osteen’s best-seller, Your Best Life Now [Faith Words, 2004]. The author, Greg Gilbert, says that although the book is sprinkled with references to God and the Bible throughout, it is not Christian in any way. He concludes (in email newsletter from 9 Marks Ministries, October, 2006, Volume 3, Issue 8, at www.9marks.org),
The really frightening thing is that 5 million people have bought Your Best Life Now, and a good portion of those have probably walked away thinking they have read the Christian gospel. They think they understand the message of the Bible, and it is me. My success. My self-esteem. My house. My car. My promotion.
If that is what is passing for Christianity today, then the need for true gospel preachers is more than severe. Someone needs to tell these people—even if they are not inclined to hear; even if it’s over the heads of their own “pastors”—that the gospel is not about collaborating with God to make yourself successful. It is not about getting more stuff and being more prosperous. It is about God forgiving people for their sin through the death of his Son, bringing them to life from the spiritual dead, and conforming them to the image of Jesus Christ. Whether Joel Osteen preaches those truths in his church of thirty-thousand, I have no idea. But he certainly has not written about them.
So to obey Paul’s commandment in our text, we must begin by affirming the existence and importance of absolute truth in the spiritual realm, which is revealed to us in the Bible. Without that truth, we have nothing to hand off to anyone!
You can’t impart to others something that you’re fuzzy on. You must be clear about the truth to hand it off, and to be clear about the truth, you’ve got to engage in a lifetime of study and growth. We may legitimately envy Timothy’s unique place in history, because he heard Paul teach the Scriptures on numerous occasions. More than that, as they ate together or traveled together, Timothy could ask Paul any question about any subject in the Bible. But even though Timothy had such great advantages, Paul still had to exhort him (2 Tim. 2:15), “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” He still had to work hard at studying the Word!
What does Paul mean when he tells Timothy (2:2) that he had heard these things “in the presence of many witnesses”? The phrase is literally translated, “through many witnesses.” The idea is not that Timothy was taught by these witnesses, but rather that these witnesses could all affirm the truth that Paul taught. He taught the same thing wherever he went. There were witnesses in Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Rome, and all the other cities that Paul had ministered in, who could confirm the message that he proclaimed. It wasn’t secret, inner-circle “truth” as the Gnostics would later would claim to know. It was publicly proclaimed, and these witnesses also could confirm that Timothy’s doctrine squared away with Paul’s doctrine.
Paul’s uniform testimony to the truth teaches us that we can’t bow to the pressure to soften the truth in order to be popular. Pastors, like anyone else, want to be liked. And there is added pressure, because if people get offended by what you preach, they’ll go down the road to the next church and your congregation will dwindle. Since numbers represent success, many pastors become politicians, who dodge the hard aspects of the truth so as not to offend anyone. But as we’ll see in chapter 4, Paul specifically exhorts Timothy not to fall into playing to the crowd. He is to preach the Word, which requires reproving, rebuking, and exhorting (4:2).
While it is especially incumbent on pastors and elders to be able to exhort in sound doctrine (Tit. 1:9), this also applies to every believer. There are so many winds of false doctrine blowing in our day that if you do not study the truth God’s Word for yourself, you will surely be blown off course. To be fruitful as a Christian, the first requirement is to be clear on sound doctrine.
I’m not referring to overweight men, but to men who are faithful, available, and teachable. (I didn’t come up with this acronym myself; I got it years ago from Bill Yaeger, who was then pastor of First Baptist Church of Modesto, California.)
“Entrust” is the verb related to the noun that means a deposit (1:12, 14). It refers to entrusting your valuable treasure to a trusted friend to guard for you during your absence. Believers have entrusted their lives to Jesus Christ, being convinced that He is able to guard that deposit until the day of judgment (1:12). In turn, Christ has entrusted the precious treasure of the gospel with us, and we must guard it with our lives (1:14). We cannot compromise the truth of the gospel or we are unfaithful to guard the deposit. But not only are we to guard this deposit, also we are to hand it off or entrust it to FAT men:
“Faithful” implies that these men are believers, that they are loyal, and that they are reliable (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press, 1975], p. 158). We cannot always judge accurately in advance who will prove to be faithful. Paul was disappointed by Phygelus, Hermogenes (1:15), and Demas (4:10), plus probably many more. But if you want to be fruitful, look for younger believers who give evidence of being faithful and entrust the great truths of the faith to them.
This process of entrusting sound doctrine to others takes time. Some people, as sincere as they may be, are just too busy with other things. In some cases, their busyness is a matter of wrong priorities. They are simply not interested in growing in the things of God. They need to be challenged to seek first the kingdom of God. In other cases, they are at an inescapably busy time in life and they can only do so much until they get through that phase. But you can only work with those who can make the time to get together to study the Word with you.
Paul says that these men must be able to teach others also. No one is able to teach well unless he also is teachable. If Timothy had not been willing to receive teaching from Paul, he would not have been qualified to teach others also. A know-it-all or a stubborn, self-willed man who wants to argue incessantly will not be able to teach others, because people will resist his arrogance. Being teachable means being willing to change your views when you become convinced from Scripture that you were in error. It means being willing to learn from other godly men and not claiming to have the corner on the truth. And, of course, it means having a never-satisfied hunger to know God and understand His Word in deeper ways. We never “arrive” spiritually in this life.
So to be fruitful for Christ, you must be clear on sound doctrine. You must entrust the truth to those who are faithful, available, and teachable. Finally,
The task of reaching the world’s more than six billion souls for Christ seems impossible! I say it reverently, but God seemingly could have devised a more efficient method. Angels could have gone to every people group on earth with the clear message of the gospel much sooner than we bumbling humans have been able to do it! Yet He chose to work through us.
His plan is that of spiritual multiplication. There are four generations listed in our text: Paul, Timothy, faithful men, and the others that they teach also. If you teach someone and he bottles up the truth and doesn’t pass it on, the process stalls out there. You are involved in addition, not multiplication. But if those you teach will teach others who in turn teach others, you’re engaging in a ministry of multiplication. While it’s slow at the start, after a few years it can reach millions.
Suppose that two boys had a very rich father. He made them an offer: they could choose to receive either $100,000 per day for 31 days, or one penny the first day, doubled each day for 31 days. If one boy chose the $100,000 per day, at the end of 31 days he would have $3,100,000. But the boy who chose the penny doubled each day would come out with $2,147,483,648!
When it comes to spiritual multiplication, the process doesn’t happen quickly or without any failures. But the point stands, that to be fruitful, look for those that you can teach who will not just study for their own benefit. Rather, look for those who will be able to teach others also. It is a great joy to see, as we are seeing today at FCF (commissioning a young couple to go to a Muslim country) young people going out to spread God’s truth to those in places where there is very little gospel witness.
To apply this verse to your life, ask yourself two questions: First, who is my Paul? If you are a woman, who is my Pauline? In other words, to whom do you look as a spiritual mentor? A word of caution: Don’t sit around with your spiritual umbilical cord in hand, waiting for the opportune place to plug it in. When I was younger in the faith, I prayed about this and explored a few opportunities, but everything I tried fell flat. I couldn’t find anyone to be in the role of a Paul to me. Finally, I started reading the lives of the great men of God, such as George Muller, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and a host of others. They have served as my spiritual mentors. I look forward to meeting them and sitting down for long chats in heaven! But ask God first for a living model.
Second, who are my Timothy’s? I don’t know of a female variation of Timothy for the ladies, but Titus 2:4 commands the older women to train the younger women in the things of God. If you have been a believer for at least a year or two, you should be looking for someone younger in the faith that you can hand off God’s truth to. If you’re not doing that, I strongly encourage you to get involved in the lives of other believers, to help them grow and to grow yourself. Our Forums of Four are one such venue.
One further word of caution: Don’t opt for perfection or nothing. Sometimes we idealize the Paul-Timothy relationship to the point that because we can’t even come close to it (because of job or family commitments), we end up doing nothing at all. It’s not perfect to meet with some guys once a week for an hour or two, but it’s better than nothing. God can use it tremendously in the lives of younger believers. Ask Him to give you a few younger believers to entrust the truth to. Get together regularly, get into the Word, pray for one another, and share together in the things of God. He will use you to bear fruit for eternity in the lives of others.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation