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6. Approved Workers of God (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

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Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen. Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately. But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group. They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith. However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.”

2 Timothy 2:14-19 (NET)

How can we become approved workers of God?

In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul calls believers co-workers with God. It is a tremendous privilege to participate in the work of building God’s kingdom on the earth by evangelizing the lost and discipling believers. However, soon after Paul calls us co-workers with God, he describes how one day there will be an inspection of our work. Some will be rewarded and some will experience loss of reward based on how they built (v. 12-15). First Corinthians 3:12-15 says,

If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

This inspection is called the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). In 2 Timothy 2:15, when it says, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately,” the Greek word for “proven,” or it can be translated “approved,” was used of a metalsmith testing a metal to determine its quality or worth.1 In the same way, our faithfulness with God’s Word will be tested, and some will be approved and some will not be. Some will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and others will hear, “Wicked and lazy servant” (Matt 25:23, 26 NIV). They were unfaithful “co-workers.” They put other things before God and his work and, therefore, experienced loss of reward at the judgment.

The primary tool that we work with is God’s Word. Because it is God’s sword, it can cause great good or great damage (cf. Eph 6:17, Heb 4:12). It can protect believers, defeat the enemy, and heal—like a scalpel being used for surgery. But it also can be twisted in such a way that it harms and pushes people away from God.

In 2 Timothy 2:14-19, Paul challenges Timothy to be an approved worker and not an unapproved one like Hymenaeus and Philetus—two false teachers in Ephesus. In this study, we will consider six qualities of an approved worker.

Big Question: What qualities of an approved worker can be discerned from 2 Timothy 2:14-19?

Approved Workers Continually Teach Fundamental Doctrines

Remind people of these things

2 Timothy 2:14a

Paul calls for Timothy to “Remind people of these things.” “These things” seem to refer to the essentials of the gospel mentioned in verse 8—Christ being raised from the dead and a descendant of David. Also in verses 11-13, Paul quoted an ancient hymn reminding Timothy of the importance of suffering for Christ. If we endure with him, we will reign with him, but if we deny him, we will receive God’s judgment (v. 11-13).

In ministry, there is often a temptation to be novel and fresh; however, there are some things God’s people need to hear again and again. We need to hear the essential doctrines of the gospel, Christ’s full humanity and deity, the Trinity, the atonement, and the importance of righteous living and spiritual disciplines. These are spiritual foundations that God’s co-workers must lay down again and again.

Consider the following verses: “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Phil 3:1). Paul said this in the context of reminding believers about the importance of rejoicing in the Lord and being aware of false teachers. Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:12-15, Peter reminds believers about the importance of assurance of salvation. He says,

Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things.

God’s co-workers must constantly remind believers of foundational truths. Why? Because it is so easy for the church and individual Christians to forget and lose them, and then build our foundation on something else. David Guzik said,

The church is constantly tempted to get its focus off of the message that really matters, and is tempted to become an entertainment center, a social service agency, a mutual admiration society, or any number of other things. But this temptation must be resisted, and the church should constantly remember these things.

Are you reminding others of essential doctrines? Are you being reminded?

Application Question: What essential doctrines do believers constantly need to be reminded of and what are more peripheral doctrines or issues? What are the dangers of building on nonessentials?

Approved Workers Have a Strong Awareness of God’s Presence

Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen.

2 Timothy 2:14

Paul adds, “solemnly charge them before the Lord.” “Charge” is a command in Greek, and it is reinforced by Paul’s emphasis on the presence of God.2 God would be present when Timothy warned the Ephesians, and God would be present to watch their response to the command. In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul similarly warns Timothy:

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.

If Timothy and the Ephesians were going to be faithful, they had to remember that God is always watching and that one day they would give an account to him. This is true of every approved worker. An approved worker is somebody who works with an eye towards pleasing his Master and has a healthy fear of his disapproval. Proverbs 9:10 says, “the beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” Having a reverence for God enables a person to live a wise life—a life that honors God. It affects their career, family, friendships, thoughts, and hobbies, as they always are keenly aware of God’s presence.

Paul believed it was necessary for the Ephesians to be continually aware of God’s presence if they were going to be approved workers, and this is true for us as well.

Application Question: How can we grow in awareness of God’s presence?

1. We must practice regular spiritual disciplines.

Regular spiritual disciplines like morning and evening devotions, daily prayer, and corporate worship help believers continually think about God, his Word, and his pleasure (cf. 1 Tim 4:7). Those who don’t regularly meet with God, tend to live for their pleasure or the pleasure of others rather than God’s.

Do you faithfully practice spiritual disciplines?

2. We must have regular accountability.

Timothy was called to warn the Ephesians in the presence of God, and later, Paul warns Timothy in the presence of God. We need people to continually challenge us and help us focus on our Master’s will, instead of our will or that of others’. Who regularly holds you accountable through exhortation and prayer?

An awareness of God’s presence is essential to being an approved worker. His approval should guide everything that we do.

Application Question: Why are we so prone to forget or ignore God’s presence? What disciplines help you maintain an awareness of God’s presence?

Approved Workers Avoid Quarrels

Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen.

2 Timothy 2:14

Timothy was to warn the Ephesians to not “wrangle over words”—literally this means “word battles.” When the Ephesians participated in these quarrels, it only led to ruin. The Greek word for “ruin” is “katastrophe,” from which we get the transliterated English word “catastrophe”.3 Word battles only lead to spiritual ruin.

Interpretation Question: What types of word battles is Paul referring to?

The context seems to refer to false teachers, as Paul soon warns them about Hymenaeus and Philetus who taught that the resurrection had past (v. 16, 17). Certainly, believers should avoid arguing with false teachers as they twist Scripture (cf. 1 Tim 6:4-5), but also, there is no value in quarreling with people in general—it typically only pushes people away from God. Shortly after this, Paul says to Timothy:

But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:23-26

Of course, there is a place for correcting people and trying to convince them of the truth. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jerusalem church in Acts 15 to resolve some disputes over doctrine. In addition, Paul often went to the synagogues to try to convince Jews and Greeks that Christ was the messiah (Acts 18:4-5). However, our manner in correcting or persuading others must be a spirit of kindness and gentleness. We must be gentle and not harsh because God changes hearts and not us. He is the one who opens eyes and leads people to the truth. A co-worker of God must wisely recognize his part and God’s. God takes our seeds and makes them grow; however, we must plant them in the right way. When we plant with gentleness and kindness, it draws people to God instead of pushing them away from him. It leads to spiritual growth instead of spiritual ruin. Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Approved workers minister with a gentle spirit instead of a contentious spirit.

Application Question: When dealing with antagonistic people with different views, how can we minister with kindness and gentleness? Why is kindness and gentleness so important for a co-worker of God?

Approved Workers Are Faithful Bible Teachers

Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

2 Timothy 2:15

In addition, approved workers teach “the message of truth accurately”—they are faithful Bible teachers. Those who don’t correctly teach the Word will be ashamed before God and others.

This does not just apply to pastors, but to every Christian. God has called each of us to teach his Word, as we make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). However, as mentioned previously, not all will be approved by God. Some will in fact be ashamed. Matthew 5:19 says,

So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Shame awaits those who wrongly interpret and teach God’s Word. That is why James says that not many should strive to be teachers because teachers will receive a stricter judgment (James 3:1). They will be judged strictly both by God and people.

Observation Question: What are characteristics of faithful Bible teachers?

1. Faithful Bible teachers are diligent.

“Make every effort” can also be translated “be diligent.” It “carries the idea of having zealous persistence to accomplish a particular objective.”4 It refers to how a faithful teacher of God’s Word gives maximum effort to studying, interpreting, and teaching God’s Word to others.

The reason many misinterpret or misapply God’s Word is simply laziness. They don’t do their best when it comes to studying God’s Word—leading to negative consequences in their life and the lives of others. Their teaching brings more harm than good.

2. Faithful Bible teachers have skills.

“Accurately,” also translated “correctly handles,” literally means “to cut a path or road in a straight direction, so that the traveler may go directly to his destination.”5 When we correctly teach God’s Word, we lead others to the right destination in the shortest time possible. This phrase was used of a craftsman, a farmer, a mason, or a construction worker.6 As with each of these jobs, certain skills are needed.

Application Question: What types of skills must a workman develop to effectively interpret Scripture?

There are many skills needed to properly interpret Scripture:

  • One needs “observation” skills.

We need to develop the ability to notice things in a text that help lead to proper interpretation. One of the main things we must notice are conjunctions such as: and, but, or, for, since, because, therefore, etc. These small words help us understand how words and phrases connect—leading us to a better understanding of the original author’s thought. No doubt, because of the importance of this skill, David prayed, “Open my eyes so I can truly see the marvelous things in your law!” (Ps 119:18). We must pray the same in order to develop this skill.

A good example of the need for observation skills is seen in Christ’s interaction with the Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the after-life or resurrection, and one time, they concocted a far-fetched scenario to prove that there was no resurrection. Christ simply responded: “You are wrong. Have you not read how Moses said God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” (Mk 12:26-27, paraphrase). Essentially, Christ said that the fact Moses used the present tense instead of the past tense proved the resurrection—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive. Had the Sadducees read? Yes! Had they observed? No! We must develop observation skills to correctly handle Scripture.

  • One needs interpretation skills.

We interpret Scripture by comparing Scripture with Scripture, including the surrounding context of a verse, the larger context of that specific Bible book, and finally the context of all of Scripture. If a person separates a verse from its context, one can make it mean almost anything; that’s essentially where most interpretation errors come from.

A good example of removing a verse from its context is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” This verse is often used by believers and nonbelievers alike to say that we can never judge someone by declaring that something is sin. However, even the surrounding context of the verse denies that, not to mention the rest of Scripture. In Matthew 7:5, Christ says to first take the plank out of our own eye, so we can see clearly to take the speck out of others. What Christ is condemning is unjust judging—not righteous judgment. We need to take the specks out of people’s eyes, but we must see clearly to do so. Faithful Bible teachers have good interpretation skills—they compare Scripture with Scripture.

  • One must develop application skills.

Application may be the most difficult skill to develop. Application answers the question, “So what?” Often sermons leave hearers saying to themselves, “Now, what should I do with what I just heard?” Similarly, most people read the Bible in the morning and get stuck with the question, “What should I do with this?”

To properly apply Scripture, one must ask further questions of the text such as: “What was the original context of the verse?” and then “In what ways is my situation like theirs?” Was the original context war, persecution, or famine? Then, maybe this applies to trials in our life. Was the original recipient Israel? Maybe, this applies to our relationship to the church. In addition, we should look at the people in the text and discern similarities. When considering the story of David and Goliath, maybe, the Philistines in the story could have applications for spiritual warfare. Maybe, the unbelieving Israelites could have applications to doubting believers or worldly believers. Goliath might have applications for any seemingly insurmountable trial. David might have applications to faithful Christians. Then we might need to ask the questions, “Which one am I most like?” and “How should I respond to be more like David?”

In addition, to properly develop applications, one must discern the audience to whom a text was originally written. Everything in the Bible was written for us, but not everything was written to us. If you take many of the teachings in the Old Testament law and apply them directly to the church—like practicing the Sabbath day, forbidding the eating of certain foods—you will not correctly handle the text. Paul said that we are no longer under the law (cf. Rom 6:14, Gal 3:25). Those laws were written specifically to Israel and must be interpreted in that context.

In general, the closer to the original context we are, the stronger and clearer the application. “Do not lie” very easily applies to our context—we all struggle with lying. However, “Do not eat food offered to idols” would be a little harder to apply in many contexts. In considering Old Covenant promises originally written to Israel, many might not have direct applications to us. Prosperity gospel teachers commonly abuse these promises by misapplying them to the church. Again, the closer the ancient context to our contemporary context, the stronger and clearer the application.

Only those who work hard and are skillful with God’s Word shall be approved. Pastor Steve Cole shared this about Jim Elliott:

When Jim Elliot, who was later martyred in the jungles of Ecuador, was a student at Wheaton College, he wrote in his diary, “My grades came through this week, and were, as expected, lower than last semester. However, I make no apologies, and admit I’ve let them drag a bit to study of the Bible, in which I seek the degree A.U.G., ‘approved unto God’” (Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], p. 43).7

We must be diligent in the Word as well, so we can be approved by God.

Application Question: What are some other important skills for understanding and applying Scripture?

Approved Workers Avoid False Teaching

But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group. They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith.

2 Timothy 2:16-18

Paul calls for Timothy to avoid “profane chatter”—referring to false teaching. The fact that Paul warns Timothy is very telling. Timothy, though a gifted teacher, was vulnerable to false teaching. We all are. There is a place for ministering to people stuck in false teaching. However, we must approach it like a doctor caring for someone with a contagious disease. We should only expose ourselves to false teaching enough to help the person, as we are vulnerable as well.

Observation Question: What are characteristics of false teaching as described in 2 Timothy 2:16-18?

1. False teaching is godless or worldly.

When Paul says avoid “profane” chatter (v. 16), it can also be translated “godless” or “worldly” chatter. One of the characteristics of false teaching is that it is void of God’s Word or misrepresents it. It either adds or takes away from it. It is typically full of worldly wisdom. Much of the teaching in the church today is just psychology, self-help, new-age philosophy, or some form of legalism. This is why we must test everything with God’s Word.

2. False teaching leads to ungodliness.

Because false teaching is void of God and his Word, it only leads people “further and further into ungodliness” (v. 16). It has no power to restrain the sinful nature (cf. Col 2:23); therefore, it ultimately leads people into worse and worse sin. It is no surprise that many false teachers succumb to stealing money from the church, cheating on their spouses, or abusing their power. Their teaching has no power to produce godliness—only error.

3. False teaching spreads quickly.

Paul says it will spread like “gangrene” or cancer (v. 17). In the same way that cancer quickly spreads, as it attacks and destroys healthy cells, so does false teaching. This implies that false teaching is often popular. It is popular because it appeals to our sinful natures and therefore is easy to accept. It is for this reason members must constantly be warned of false teaching and of false teachers as Paul does with Hymenaeus and Philetus. It is not unloving to boldly name names. It is often the most loving thing one can do to protect believers from a life-threatening disease.

4. False teaching always has an element of truth to it.

Paul describes how Hymenaeus and Philetus taught that the resurrection had passed (v. 17-18). This seemed to be a pretty common error in the early church. Many were influenced by Greek philosophy which taught that the body was bad and the spirit was good. Therefore, a resurrected body didn’t make sense to many in that day. They probably taught that there was only a spiritual resurrection, as believers died with Christ and rose with him (Rom 6:1-11). This was overthrowing the faith of some because it, by necessity, also attacked the reality of Christ’s resurrection. If our bodies won’t be raised, neither was Christ’s raised. Paul condemned this teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14:

Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.

One of the things we must notice is that there was an element of truth with this teaching. Our spiritual resurrection has indeed passed. We died with Christ and rose from the dead with him (cf. Eph 2:1-6, Rom 6:1-11); however, there will also be a physical resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:35-58). This is what often makes false teaching so hard to discern—there are always verses that seem to support it. The problem is that it is truth out of balance or only partial truth. Satan told Eve that she would be like God if she ate of the tree. Was that true? Yes, to some extent. Eve became aware of both good and evil, just as God was. However, Satan meant to defame God’s character, as he was trying to deceive Eve. It’s been the same throughout history. For example, many cults teach that Christ is human but not God, or God and not human. There is always an element of truth with false teaching which makes us more susceptible to it. We must be aware of this danger.

5. False teaching ultimately destroys people’s faith.

Paul said that the teaching was “undermining some people’s faith” or had “destroyed the faith of some” as in the NIV (v. 18). This is Satan’s ultimate desire through all false teaching. He ultimately wants to turn people away from the faith all together. Even small deviances in doctrine are meant to lead to greater doctrinal error—eventually leading the person away from Christ. To again use the error of the prosperity gospel, it commonly leads professing believers away from God. For example, a person believes that they are never supposed to be sick or poor; however, they pray and pray and yet God doesn’t heal their family member or meet some other request. Therefore, they get mad at God, feel like he can’t be trusted, and ultimately fall away from him. Satan’s desire is to completely destroy the faith of believers through doctrinal error.

Application Question: In what ways do we see “truth out of balance” with many contemporary false teachings today?

Approved Workers Bear the Marks of True Salvation

However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.”

2 Timothy 2:19

Finally, after sharing how some fell away from the faith because of false teaching (v. 18), Paul says, “God’s solid foundation remains standing”—meaning that the true church (cf. 1 Tim 3:15) will ultimately stand against false teaching and not fall away.

A seal in those days was both a sign of ownership and protection. People wouldn’t dare break a Roman seal because it could be punished with death. Each true believer has two seals as described in 2 Timothy 2:19.

Observation Question: What are the two seals and what do they refer to?

(1) “The Lord knows those who are his” seems to refer to election (cf. Eph 1:4, Rom 8:29). With Jeremiah, God said that before he was born, God “knew” him and set him apart as a prophet (Jer 1:5). Similarly, before time, God chose those who would follow him. They are his, and he knows them in an intimate manner. He puts them in his hand, and they shall never be snatched out (John 10:28-30). (2) However, the second seal, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil” refers to sanctification. The same God who elects to salvation, perfects his believers. In Philippians 1:6, Paul said, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

These inscriptions probably allude to the story of Moses and the sons of Korah in Numbers 16. The sons of Korah and 250 Israelites thought they had the right to lead as much as Moses did and therefore incited a rebellion. Moses replied, “the man whom the Lord chooses will be holy (v. 6). He then set a test declaring that the following day, the Lord would draw near those who would lead. The next day God selected Moses and called for the rest of the camp to separate from the sons of Korah and the 250 Israelites. Then, the ground opened up and swallowed the rebels.

In the same way, God selected those who are saved, and he protects them from truly falling away from him. The proof that they are his is that they turn away both from sin and from those who rebel against God. Therefore, anyone who claims to follow Christ and still lives a lifestyle of sin should question the reality of their faith. In addition, those who follow cults and others false teachers should also question their faith. Christ said that my sheep know my voice and they will not follow the voice of another (John 10). In the last days, Christ will say to many professing believers, “I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt 7:23). They lacked the dual seal of God.

Election and sanctification are the inscriptions on approved workers. Are you an approved worker? Are you daily fighting against sin to be holy? Are you turning away from those who would lead you away from God? On the day of Christ’s coming, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:23).

Application Question: How can a person have assurance of salvation? What are other indicators of true salvation (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11, Matt 5:3-10, 1 John ff.)?

Conclusion

Steve Cole gives a fitting illustration of an approved worker of God:

A young man once studied violin under a world-renowned master. When his first big recital came, the crowd cheered after each number, but the young performer seemed dissatisfied. Even after the final number, despite the applause, the musician seemed unhappy. As he took his bows, he was watching an elderly man in the balcony. Finally, the elderly one smiled and nodded in approval. Immediately, the young man beamed with joy. He was not looking for the approval of the crowd. He was waiting for the approval of his master.

Christians should be living for God’s approval. We will be approved unto Him as we use the Bible to grow in godliness. Are you growing as a craftsman who uses God’s Word of truth accurately and skillfully to grow in godliness? The misuse of the Bible will lead you to ruin. The proper use will lead you to godliness.8

What are qualities of approved workers of God?

  1. Approved Workers Continually Teach Fundamental Doctrines
  2. Approved Workers Have a Strong Awareness of God’s Presence
  3. Approved Workers Avoid Quarrels
  4. Approved Workers Are Faithful Bible Teachers
  5. Approved Workers Avoid False Teaching
  6. Approved Workers Bear the Marks of True Salvation

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 247). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 70). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 72). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 72–74). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Accessed 11/5/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-12-using-bible-properly-2-timothy-214-19

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 75). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Accessed 11/5/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-12-using-bible-properly-2-timothy-214-19

8 Accessed 11/5/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-12-using-bible-properly-2-timothy-214-19

Related Topics: Christian Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

7. Becoming a Person God Can Greatly Use (2 Timothy 2:20-26)

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Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use. So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:20-26 (NET)

How can we be greatly used by God?

In 2 Timothy 2:20-26, Paul uses the illustration of a master with a great household. In this household, there are many vessels both for special purposes and common ones; there are also servants (v. 24). However, not all vessels and servants have the same usefulness. In 2 Timothy 2:21, Paul says, “So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” There are various aspects to our usefulness including God’s sovereign choice; Romans 9:20-21 describes how God is the potter and he makes one vessel for special purposes and another for common purposes, simply out of his sovereign choice—based on no merit of the person. But in this text, the opportunity to be used or not used is based on our actions. We can all be used by God; however, the extent is up to us.

When we look at Scripture, we see many vessels that God used for special purposes: We have the likes of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, David, Mary, the disciples, and Paul. Yes, God divinely chose them for a special ministry, but they also made decisions that enabled them to be special vessels.

What are qualities of the people God uses greatly? Paul challenges Timothy, and us, to be someone God can use for special or noble purposes. In this text, we will learn five qualities of people greatly used by God.

Big Question: What are qualities of someone that God can use greatly, as discerned from 2 Timothy 2:20-26?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Separate from Ungodly Relationships

Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use. So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.

2 Timothy 2:20-21

Interpretation Question: What is this large house? Who are the various articles/vessels?

The metaphor of the large house clearly refers to God’s church, as it is called God’s building and the temple of God in other places (1 Cor 3:9, 16). However, who the various articles are is more difficult to discern.

1. Some believe that the vessels for special or honorable purposes refer to true teachers and the vessels for common or dishonorable purposes refer to false teachers. (John Stott takes this view).1

In the context, Paul has been challenging Timothy to be an approved worker who correctly handles the truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and not an unapproved one like the two false teachers—Hymenaeus and Philetus (v. 17-18). Therefore, many believe the vessels represent true teachers and false teachers.

2. Some believe that the vessels for special or honorable purposes and the vessels for common or dishonorable purposes refer to true believers—distinguished between the faithful and the unfaithful. (John MacArthur takes this view).2

Those who make this argument point to the preceding verses in 2 Timothy 2:18-19 where Paul says:

They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith. However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.”

Here in this context Paul refers to the faith of some being ruined by the message of the false teachers. However, even though some fell away, true believers—the solid foundation sealed with inscription—stand firm. The true church does not fall away; in fact, they flee wickedness including all false teaching. Therefore, the vessels in the house would be all true believers, but they would have varying usefulness based on the character of their lives.

3. Some believe that the vessels for special or honorable purposes refer to true believers and the vessels for common or dishonorable purposes refer to false believers including false teachers. (William MacDonald takes this view).3

Those who take this view refer to 3:1-9 in the following chapter (cf. 2:17-18). Paul warns Timothy that in the last days, Christendom will be especially godless. They will be lovers of themselves, money, and pleasure instead of lovers of God. They will be boastful, proud, and abusive. They will have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (3:5)—meaning they practice the outward forms of Christianity but aren’t really saved. Timothy should have nothing to do with these professing believers (3:5). He should particularly stay away from the false teachers among them that tend to focus their ministry on trapping gullible women and leading them astray (3:6-9). Timothy and other believers should cleanse themselves from these dishonorable vessels in God’s house.

Since the primary context is about false teachers (2:17, 3:6), their message (2:16-17), and those who follow them who are kept from true faith (2:19, 3:5-9), the third view seems to be the strongest, as it’s the most inclusive.

Observation Question: How can one become a special vessel—one that is useful and prepared for every good work (v. 21)?

Paul says, “So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use.” The NIV translates it, “those who cleanse themselves from the latter.” The NASB says, “if anyone cleanses himself from these things.” Since “the latter” and “these things” refer to the vessels of “ignoble” or dishonorable use, it probably refers to ungodly people (cf. 2:17-18), instead of their ungodly behavior as interpreted by the NET. The word “cleanse” means “to clean out thoroughly, to completely purge.”4 Our relationships affect how much God can use us. If our relationships are primarily with “professing believers” who compromise with the world, love sin, and/or are caught in false doctrine, it will hinder our usefulness. I heard it said that where we will be in the next ten years is largely affected by the people we associate with and the books we read. Certainly, this aligns with Scripture. Proverbs 13:20 says he who “The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Partnering with those who live compromised lives always negatively affects us. It affects our character and usefulness to God.

Again, this is not referring to relationships with unbelievers—though it has applications for such relationships. We are called to witness to the world and be salt and light to them, but we must never be in yoking relationships that pull us away from God. These yoking relationships include intimate friendships, dating, marriage, business partnerships, and even the types of entertainment we watch, listen to, and read (cf. 2 Cor 6:14). As mentioned, Paul is referring to vessels in the house of God—the church. We must avoid intimate relationships with professing believers who live compromised lives.

No doubt, when God called Abraham to leave his father’s household and go to Canaan (Gen 12:1), part of the reason was because of their compromise, as his family members were idolaters (Josh 24:2). Abraham had to leave his family to be used. In Genesis 11, we see that he didn’t leave his family—he brought his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot. On their way to Canaan, they stopped in Haran and stayed there (Gen 11:31)—delaying the promise. Scholars believe they stayed there around fifteen years.5 When Abraham’s father died, Abraham resumed his travel to Canaan. Then, eventually, he separated from Lot in Genesis 13. He needed to separate from ungodly relationships to be fully used by God, and so must we. When we do, God prepares us to be vessels suitable for every good work. These good works are not limited to serving in church but in various arenas, including family, friendships, business, government, and even with nations. Sadly, many Christians are like Abraham in his infant faith; relationships keep them back from full obedience to God, full blessing, and full usefulness.

Are any relationships keeping you back from being greatly used by God?

Application Question: Why is it so important to separate from dishonorable vessels? What makes this separation so hard to do? What should the process of separation look like (cf. Matt 18:15-17, 2 Cor 5:9-13)?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Flee Evil Passions

But keep away from youthful passions

2 Timothy 2:22a

Interpretation Question: What are the youthful passions that Timothy was commanded to flee?

The word “keep away,” also translated “flee,” comes from the Greek word “phuego,” from which we get the English word “fugitive”. It is in the present tense, meaning that we must ‘continually flee’ so that we won’t get caught in these sins.6 The passions of youth refer to evil desires that are especially prominent in adolescence or young adulthood. Paul does not tell us what they are, and therefore, we are left to discern them. Several passions come to mind both from the context and experience. What are the evil passions of youth?

1. Being argumentative is a youthful passion we must flee.

In verse 23, he calls for Timothy to avoid foolish and stupid arguments that lead to quarrels. He then tells Timothy that the Lord’s servant doesn’t quarrel (v. 24). Arguing and fighting over doctrine or ministry methods is very common for a young believer who is growing in their knowledge of Scripture. They are right to be passionate about truth, but the manner that they demonstrate their passion can often be harmful. It’s common to find them fighting over doctrines like Arminianism and Calvinism, the use of spiritual gifts, male and female roles in the church, etc. There is nothing wrong with discussing doctrine with the hope of coming to the truth; in fact, that is good. However, we must be careful of a contentious spirit that wants to prove oneself right at all cost, even if it means fighting. We must flee the tendency to be argumentative. It ruins the faith of the hearers (v. 14) and hinders our own usefulness (v. 21).

Are you argumentative? Do you always have to win arguments?

2. Being impatient is a youthful passion we must flee.

Youth are known for their impatience. They want everything now and have problems waiting. This lack of patience often leads them into various sins: They can’t wait for a godly spouse, so they compromise in their dating. They can’t wait for God to show them their next steps or open doors, so they get mad at God. They can’t wait for others to change, and therefore they complain, argue, and stay in a state of frustration.

Impatience is a characteristic of youth, but patience is a characteristic of the aged. If we are going to be used greatly by God, we must flee impatience and learn how to wait on God and others. Every person God used greatly had to wait: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and even Paul.

3. Selfish ambition is a youthful passion we must flee.

The young are commonly focused on making themselves great. From a young age, we had to be first in line and the first chosen for our sports. We had to be the cutest, the smartest, and the most successful. This often transitions into our spiritual life as well; Christ’s young disciples often argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Sadly, this is all too common among ministers today—leading to competitiveness and worldliness. Selfish ambition also leads to insecurity, jealousy, and even depression when our ambitions are unfulfilled. It leads to pride if we become successful.

Christ said that if we want to be first, we must be last and the servant of all (Mk 9:35). If we are going to be greatly used by God, we must flee selfish ambition. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul says: “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”

Spiritual immaturity manifests itself in trying to make our name great; while spiritual maturity manifests itself in trying to make God’s name great and edify others. Are you fleeing selfish ambition?

4. Lust is a youthful passion we must flee.

In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says: “Flee sexual immorality! ‘Every sin a person commits is outside of the body’—but the immoral person sins against his own body.” Obviously, sexual immorality is an especially dangerous sin, as it is a sin against our own bodies. It causes emotional scars, spiritual bondage, and at times physical disease. This is something that all believers must avoid because of its consequences. It is especially hard to break free from, and it hinders our usefulness. If God is going to greatly use us, we must flee from the evil passion of lust.

Many of these passions decrease with age, but they never totally leave us. Therefore, we must constantly flee from them. We must flee being argumentative, impatient, selfish, and lustful. As we flee these, and other sinful desires, God can use us in a greater way; we become vessels for special purposes.

Are you fleeing sinful passions?

Application Question: Which of these passions are the greatest battle for you? What are some general principles to help us flee and stay free from sinful passions?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Character

But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace,

2 Timothy 2:22

The word “pursue” can also be translated “to run after” or even “to persecute.” When one persecutes another, it means that he keeps attacking that person. In the same way, no matter how many times we fall, we must keep getting up and pursuing godly character. Proverbs 24:16 says, “Although a righteous person may fall seven times, he gets up again.”

Observation Question: What aspects of godly character must a person pursue, as mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:22?

1. We must pursue righteousness.

Righteousness refers to right behavior in conformity with God’s Word. It includes various deeds that both honor God and others like giving, sharing the gospel, ministering to the hurting, teaching God’s Word, etc. It also includes right thinking which ultimately leads to right action. If we are going to be used by God, we must pursue righteousness.

2. We must pursue faith.

Faith refers both to being faithful and to trusting God. We must become people who are dependable—our yes must mean yes, and our no must mean no. Those who are faithful with little can be trusted with much. God will give them more responsibility. However, we must also constantly pursue greater faith in God. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please God. We must believe his Word and trust his promises to both please him and accomplish his works. Steve Cole recounts a challenging story about a professor from Princeton who taught Donald Barnhouse. He shares,

Many years ago, there was a learned Hebrew professor at Princeton Seminary named Robert Dick Wilson. He could read, as I remember, more than 30 Semitic languages! One time about twelve years after Donald Grey Barnhouse had graduated, he went back to the seminary to preach to the students. Dr. Wilson sat down near the front. After the message, he went forward and shook Barnhouse’s hand. He said, “When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.”

Barnhouse asked him to explain and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of His people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him.” He went on to tell Barnhouse that he could see that he had a great God and that God would bless his ministry (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell, 1967], pp. 132-133).7

What about you? Are you a big-godder or a little-godder? We must pursue faith in order to be used by God.

3. We must pursue love.

Love is the Greek word “agape”—referring to God’s love. This is not a love hindered by the limits of our emotions. It is a decisive love—an act of the will. This is how we can love those who are unlovable and those who hurt us. It is a love based on our choice to obey God. We should daily pursue loving God and loving others more. This includes practicing loving actions like listening, serving, and caring for others.

4. We must pursue peace.

As much as depends on us, we must seek to live at peace with others (Rom 12:18). This means humbling ourselves, confessing our failures, and forgiving. Unforgiveness is a tremendous stronghold that hinders our ability to be used by God. Christ says if we don’t forgive others, God cannot forgive us (Matt 6:15) and also that if we don’t forgive from the heart, God will hand us over to torturers—referring to God’s discipline (Matt 18:21-35, cf. 1 Cor 5:5).

Are you pursuing peace or holding grudges? If we are going to be greatly used by God, we must pursue godly character.

Application Question: Which godly character trait is the most difficult one for you to develop and why?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Relationships

But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:22

Paul says we should pursue godly character “in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (v. 22). “The term pure comes from the same root word as ‘cleanses’ in verse 21 and takes us back to where Paul’s line of thought began—to the truth that a clean vessel is a useful one.”8 Those with pure hearts aren’t perfect, but they faithfully pursue a right relationship with God.

Certainly, we see this reality throughout Scripture: Moses had Joshua; David had Jonathan and Nathan; Elijah had Elisha; Hezekiah had Isaiah; Daniel had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Christ had the twelve disciples and within them he had Peter, James, and John; Paul had Barnabas and Timothy. In order to be greatly used by God, we must surround ourselves with godly people. Again, Proverbs 13:20 says, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend.”

We can’t become godly on our own; we need to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who are fighting to be pure as well. They pray for us, hold us accountable, encourage us, and even help train us. Elisha received an impartation from Elijah. Timothy received a gift through the laying on of Paul’s hands (2 Tim 1:6). Similarly, walking with godly brothers and sisters, especially those more mature than us, will help us grow and further equip us for service.

Sadly, many Christians can’t be greatly used by God because they are isolationists; they walk on their own and fail on their own, with no one to help them get up. We must partner with others by getting involved in small groups, ministries, and mentoring and accountability relationships. If we are going to be used greatly by God, we must pursue relationships with godly people.

Application Question: How should we pursue relationships with godly people? What steps should we take? How have you grown spiritually and in usefulness through relationships with other mature believers?

To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Become Servants

But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:23-26

In continuing the household metaphor, Paul refers to the “Lord’s slave,” also translated the “Lord’s servant” (v. 24). The Greek word for “servant” is “doulos”; it can be translated “bond slave.” Paul often called himself a slave or servant of Christ (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1). Bond slaves had no will of their own and were totally under the command of their master.9

The type of person God uses is a servant. He is totally committed to serving God and others. It’s interesting to consider that many of the people God used greatly, he called while they were serving. David and Moses were caring for sheep. Gideon was threshing grain. Many of the disciples were fishing or working other jobs. When God looks for a person to use, he finds somebody who serves. Selfish people focus on serving their own needs and not that of God or others and therefore can’t be used.

Observation Question: What characteristics of a servant does Paul mention in 2 Timothy 2:23-26?

1. Servants know their Master.

The “Lord’s servant” is possessive (v. 24); God owns this person—he faithfully submits to the Lord. One of the reasons people don’t serve is that God really isn’t their master. They live for their own pleasure or somebody else’s instead of God’s. Servants know their master.

2. Servants are kind.

The word “kind” can also be translated “mild” or “gentle” (v. 24). A great example of this is Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, when he says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). In the same way a mother cares for her child—providing food, emotional support, and training—the Lord’s servant must do the same for others.

Are you serving others like a mother—thinking about them, reaching out to them, and bearing their pain? God cares for us that way, and he uses those who care for others in a like manner.

3. Servants must teach.

Paul said the Lord’s servant must be “an apt teacher” (v. 24). Therefore, the primary tool of the Lord’s servant is God’s Word. He uses it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others to look like Christ (2 Tim 3:16-17). Are you serving others by teaching them Scripture?

4. Servants must not be resentful.

The word “patient” actually means “to bear evil without resentment” (v. 24).10 Servants are often unappreciated and sometimes even treated harshly. In those moments, the Lord’s servant must not return evil for evil or hold grudges. He must bear people’s unkindness in a patient manner. Again, he does this because his life is not primarily about himself, but serving God and others.

5. Servants must be gentle to others.

The word “gentle” can be translated “meek.” It was used of a wild horse that had been tamed. It doesn’t refer to weakness but carries the sense of ‘power under control.’ Instead of responding with pride or anger when offended, the Lord’s servant responds with humility and courtesy. Christ called himself meek and lowly (Matt 11:29). The person God uses serves others with gentleness instead of harshness, just like Christ.

6. Servants must hope in God.

Again in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Paul says:

And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.

In the NIV, 2 Timothy 2:25 is translated this way, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” Paul gives us a picture of the spiritual war that the Lord’s servant is engaged in. He describes a person, probably a believer, who is taken captive by Satan to do his will. He is trapped and drugged. “Come to their senses” literally means “to become sober” or to “come to one’s senses again.”11 Satan drugs people through worldliness, lust, fear, self-pity, the desire of money, false teaching, etc., in order to keep them from knowing God and fulfilling his will. There are many believers who are ensnared and caught in the strongholds of Satan. The Lord’s servant reaches out to them in hope—hope that God will set them free.

Because of this servant’s hope in God, he doesn’t fight or argue (v. 23-24). He doesn’t believe that he changes hearts; he knows that only God can do that. His hope in God causes him to minister through God’s Word. His hope leads him to minister through the body of Christ, since God works through his people. He also relies strongly on prayer, as he believes that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (James 5:16). His hope in God drives him to the Lord’s resources. Secular ministers hope in the world and therefore rely on secular resources. To them, God’s resources are not enough.

Is your service founded on a hope in God?

When God looks for a person to use, he seeks a servant. They know their Master; they are kind; they teach God’s Word; they are not resentful; they are gentle, and they hope in God—not themselves or this world.

Application Question: What are other important qualities of a servant? How is God calling you to grow in servanthood?

Conclusion

How can we be greatly used by God?

  1. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Separate from Ungodly Relationships
  2. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Flee Evil Passions
  3. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Character
  4. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Pursue Godly Relationships
  5. To Be Greatly Used by God, We Must Become Servants

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 72). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 86–87). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2120). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 87). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Getz, Gene (1996-01-15). Men of Character: Abraham: Holding Fast to the Will of God (Kindle Locations 410-413). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 90). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Accessed 11/12/16 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-13-person-god-uses-2-timothy-220-22

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 94). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 248). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

10 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 77–78). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

11 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 79–80). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life

8. The Church in the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

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But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth. But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres.

2 Timothy 3:1-9 (NET)

What are characteristics of the church in the last days?

In 2 Timothy, one of the major themes is suffering for Christ. Paul is in prison for his faith awaiting a death sentence, and he calls Timothy to suffer with him as a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3). Christians are being persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. However, in this passage, Paul is not talking about suffering from without but suffering from within. Some of our greatest sufferings, as Christians, often come from people within God’s church.

Paul says, “But understand this,” or it can be translated, “But realize this” (NASB). There are some things we must realize about the church, and if we don’t, we may become disillusioned or even fall away. Sadly, many have fallen away because they didn’t recognize the state or condition of the times.

In describing the state of the church in the last days, Paul says it will be “difficult” times. This word can be translated “terrible, “perilous,” or “violent.” It was used one other time in the New Testament to describe the two demoniacs in the region of the Gadarenes; they were so violent that nobody could pass by them (Matt 8:28). This may imply that these terrible times will be inspired by demons.1

The word “times” is not the Greek word “chronos”, referring to chronological time, but “kairos”, referring to seasons. There will be seasons of heightened peril in the church and other times of relative peace.2

However, the scary thing about the last days is that it not only refers to the time right before Christ’s return, but it also applies to the very age Timothy ministered in. This is clear as Paul warns Timothy to “So avoid people like these” (v. 5). The present tense of this phrase means that the difficult times had already begun. In fact, on God’s eschatological timeline, the ‘last days’ began when Christ came to the earth. Hebrews 1:1-2 says,

After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world.

Why is Paul informing Timothy about the last days? It is because Timothy needed to understand the nature of them so he wouldn’t get discouraged and fall away. Similarly, in warning the disciples about coming persecutions, Christ said, “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away” (John 16:1). When you know something difficult is coming, it is easier to persevere and be faithful when it happens. We need to understand this reality as well. Difficulties are already around us and ahead of us. What are characteristics of the church in the last days?

Big Question: What characteristics of the church in the last days can be discerned from 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and how should we respond to this reality?

In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Believers

For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.

2 Timothy 3:2-5

Observation Question: What are characteristics of the people in the last days?

As we continue to read Paul’s words, we find that the terrible times will not be bad because of difficult events but because of evil people. This is what will make these last days so terrible. There will be many in the church who profess Christianity but look nothing like their Lord and Savior. In verse 5, Paul says that they had an “outward appearance of religion” but “repudiated its power.” This means that they had the outer trappings of Christianity—they went to church, sang hymns, gave their tithes, went on mission trips—but lived ungodly lives that proved they had never experienced Christ’s saving power.

This is exactly what Christ warned the disciples of in the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. Christ said the kingdom of heaven is tares and wheat (v. 36-43), and good and bad fish (v. 47-50)—essentially true and false believers. He also describes the kingdom as yeast hidden in flour, which spreads throughout the lump (v. 33). Yeast typically refers to false doctrine (Matt 16:11-12) or sin (1 Cor 5:6); therefore, Christ described how evil would spread and saturate the church at various stages of history. The current state of the kingdom is a mixture of good and evil. It is scary!

This reality often leads to disillusionment and apostasy—Satan’s very intent in planting tares, bad fish, and leaven. No doubt, this is the reason that Paul warned Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul gives nineteen negative characteristics of many professing believers during these difficult times:

  1. People will be lovers of themselves: This comes first because it is the dominant characteristic of the last days—leading to further sins. Satan tempted Eve to be like God in the garden. He called her to seek self-fulfillment instead of loving God and others first. From that point, that became the prominent motivation in humanity. Life is about us and our satisfaction. Religion simply becomes another addition to seek fulfillment. People ask, “Can Christianity help us be happy? Can it help our children not lie and steal? In that case, we should go to church!”
  2. In fact, much of the teaching in churches these days focuses on self-love. It has essentially become the greatest commandment. They say, “You can’t love God or others unless you love yourself first!” However, there is never a command in the Bible to love ourselves. The Bible assumes that we already do—it is a result of our sin nature. When Scripture says to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 12:31), it is simply recognizing that we already love ourselves way too much. Scripture continually calls us to humble ourselves (James 4:10), deny ourselves, take up our cross (Matt 16:24), and seek the interests of others over ourselves (Phil 2:3). However, since self has replaced God, it leads to many other sins.
  3. Lovers of money: Since the love of self is dominant, the love of money naturally follows. By pursuing money, we cater to all our desires. In fact, many will use religion to make money. First Timothy 6:5 says that many will think that “godliness is a way of making a profit.”
  4. Boastful: Those who love themselves will continually brag about themselves, their money, their education, their achievements, and even their faith. They will boast about their giving, their strong devotion, and even their “spiritual” experiences. The church will be full of braggarts.
  5. Arrogant: Pride is the internal motivation that leads people to brag. People will think higher of themselves than they should. They will have false pride about their race, their social class, their economic standing, and even their doctrine.
  6. Blasphemers: This word can be translated “abusive.” They will blaspheme others and God. When life is about self and people don’t get their way, they become angry and aggressive towards God and others. This abuse will be directed towards people of different ethnicities, social or economic standings, denominational affiliations, and even their own families. The church will be abusive instead of loving.
  7. Disobedient to their parents: Love of self naturally leads to disobeying parents in order to fulfill one’s desires. Disobedience to parents will ultimately lead to disobeying all authorities—teachers, work superiors, government, and God.
  8. Ungrateful: If something interrupts one’s pursuit of self-gratification, then he or she will complain and become angry. Instead of being worshipers, the church will be a group of ungrateful people that complain about anything that makes them uncomfortable—the worship music, the seating, the preaching, the children’s ministry, the church leadership, the national government, the education system, sports, and so on. Like Israel in the wilderness, they will be grumblers who are constantly disciplined by God (1 Cor 10:10).
  9. Unholy: Love of self leads people to not respect or fear God. Without a reverence for God, they will be led into all types of sins. Their thought life, conversations, entertainment, and actions will be unholy.
  10. Unloving: “Unloving” can also be translated “without natural affection” or “without family affection.” Parents will neglect their children, as they pursue money and self-fulfillment. Sometimes they will abort their children in order to cater to self. Children will hate their parents in response. There will be a lack of “natural affection” in the church. It will be shameful to hear stories about how believers neglect their children, spouses, and elderly parents—especially when church leaders do it!
  11. Irreconcilable: They won’t forgive others nor seek forgiveness from others. They are so prideful that they won’t humble themselves to seek reconciliation.
  12. Slanderers: This expression is from the word “diabolos” which can be translated “accuser” or “devil.” People will slander others with their words and slander God. The church will be full of gossip and back-biting. When self is on the throne, it naturally leads to pulling down others to exalt oneself.
  13. Without self-control: People will lack power to discipline themselves. They will be controlled by their delights and passions—overeating, oversleeping, video games, social media, shopping, drugs, cigarettes, pornography, etc. The church will be full of addicts of one thing or another. Satisfying self leads to uncontrollable urges.
  14. Savage: This can be translated “brutal,” “fierce,” or “untamed.” People will be like wild animals seeking to tear one another apart in order to gain or protect their desires.
  15. Opposed to what is good: They will love what should be hated, and hate what should be loved. Ungodly entertainment, ideologies, and endeavors, they will love. But the things of God—his Word, preaching, worship, serving, and righteousness—they will hate.
  16. Treacherous: They won’t keep their promises. The only commitment they will keep is their pursuit of happiness. Divorce, church splits, and church hopping will be common place.
  17. Reckless: People will do whatever they want without consideration of others. All that matters is self and self-expression. They will say things like, “I just had to be true to myself!”, as if that justifies any number of evils.
  18. Conceited: People will be full of their own exaggerated self-importance blinding them to others’ opinions and ultimately God’s Word. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
  19. Loving pleasure rather than loving God: Because they love pleasure instead of God, churches will be full of entertainment instead of true worship. Church services will be about pleasing people instead of pleasing God. People will plan worship primarily with the thought of getting and keeping people and their money instead of truly worshiping God.
  20. Maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power: Also, translated “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (NIV). Again, there will be form but no power to change lives.

MacDonald said this about these people:

Outwardly these people seem religious. They make a profession of Christianity, but their actions speak louder than their words. By their ungodly behavior, they show that they are living a lie. There is no evidence of the power of God in their lives. While there might have been reformation, there never was regeneration. Weymouth translates: “They will keep up a make-believe of piety and yet exclude its power.” Likewise Moffatt: “Though they keep up a form of religion, they will have nothing to do with it as a force.” Phillips puts it: “They will maintain a façade of ‘religion’ but their conduct will deny its validity.” They want to be religious and to have their sins at the same time (cf. Rev. 3:14–22). Hiebert warns: “It is the fearful portrayal of an apostate Christendom, a new paganism masquerading under the name of Christianity.”3

Certainly, we’ve seen some of the worst examples of this throughout history: In the name of Christianity, people have slaughtered Jews, Muslims, and one another! The believers in the letter of James were fighting, oppressing, and murdering one another (James 4:1-2, 5:1-6). The Corinthians were taking one another to court (1 Cor 6:1-6). Terrible times indeed!

Observation Question: How should we respond to these people in the church?

Paul says to Timothy, “So avoid people like these” (v 5). This means that there should be a complete healthy separation from individuals who profess Christ but live lives that deny that reality. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.

We must separate from believers who practice lifestyles like this. Yes, we must first lovingly challenge them to repent—even multiple times (Matt 18:15-17). But if they continue in rebellious lifestyles, we must separate. We separate in order to protect ourselves from corrupt habits (1 Cor 15:33), but we also do it so that they can be shamed and hopefully repent. Second Thessalonians 3:14-15 says,

But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Application Question: Which characteristic that Paul shared stood out to you most and why? Why is it important to understand the common reality of false believers in churches? How should we respond to this reality? How have you experienced this?

In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Teachers

For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth. But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres.

2 Timothy 3:6-9

Paul next describes many of the teachers in these churches and ministries. When he says, they “insinuate themselves into households” in the Greek, it is actually “the households” with a definite article (v. 6). This means these homes were obviously well-known. He probably was referring to the house churches where people gathered for worship.4 These were typically the homes of wealthy church members (cf. Col 4:15, Rom 16:5, Acts 16:40).

Observation Question: What are characteristics of these false teachers (2 Timothy 3:6-9)?

1. False teachers are deceptive.

Paul says they “insinuate” their way into homes, or it can be translated “creep” or “worm” (v. 6). These teachers are crafty like the serpent in the garden. Often, they are great communicators and very charismatic; however, their intentions are not godly.

Be careful of the deceptive influence of false teachers. There is a reason that crowds often follow them.

2. False teachers seek to “gain control” over people.

“Captivate weak women” can also be translated “gain control over gullible women” (NIV). Be careful when you see too much power given to a spiritual leader. These teachers often gain control over people’s money, marriages, and future. As seen in cults, spiritual abuse is common.

Remember Jesus said he came to serve and not be served. Servant leadership should be the model in our churches (Matt 20:25-28). Be careful of abusive ministries and ministers.

3. False teachers often focus their attacks on women.

This mirrors Satan’s initial temptation of Eve, and God’s prophecy of Satan’s continued enmity with women (Gen 3:15). Often the majority of cult members are women. Many times, these women are abused mentally, spiritually, and physically.

4. False teachers prey on people’s problems promising quick solutions.

Paul says these women “are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions (v. 6). The false teachers prey on these women’s vulnerabilities—promising healing, restoration of their family, financial prosperity, etc. In an attempt to heal their hurts and meet their felt-needs, these women are led into captivity.

5. False teachers prey on those who are always searching for new truth.

Paul describes these victims as “Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (v. 7). Often, you’ll find cult followers jumping from one perceived truth to another. They have tried this and that. They have a desire to know the truth but have not fully accepted the message of the Bible. Therefore, they are vulnerable to teachers that say they have found “new revelation.”

6. False teachers oppose the truth and instigate rebellion against God and godly leaders.

In verse 8, Paul says, “And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth.” The names Jannes and Jambres are never mentioned in the Old Testament. However, according to tradition, these were the sorcerers who opposed Moses when he went to Pharaoh’s court. They went with Israel to Mt. Sinai and instigated the rebellion of worshiping the golden calves. John MacArthur shares,

Jewish tradition holds that they pretended to convert to Judaism in order to subvert Moses’ divine assignment to liberate Israel from Egypt, that they led in making and worshiping the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, and that they were slaughtered by the Levites along with the other idolaters (See Ex. 32). That possibility is consistent with Paul’s warning about false leaders who corrupt the church from within. Just as those two men opposed Moses in his teaching and leading ancient Israel, so these men in Ephesus also opposed the truth of the gospel.5

In the same way, false teachers often accuse and oppose godly teachers and try to create rebellion in churches and ministries.

7. False teachers often perform false and lying miracles.

This is implied by the fact that Paul refers to the two sorcerers that mimicked the miracles Moses performed. They turned their staffs into serpents, turned water into blood, and brought forth frogs. But when it came to the miracle of the gnats and the subsequent miracles, the magicians failed to imitate them (Ex. 8:16–19). Similarly, false teachers often deceive through lying miracles that fall woefully short of God’s glory. Consider the following verses,

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time.

Matthew 24:24-25

The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

Jesus and Paul both said signs and wonders would follow false teachers in the last days. They perform these miracles to “deceive.” Even now, we have all kinds of phenomena happening in the church with no biblical support: stigmata (people experiencing marks of the crucifixion), statues and paintings with tears of blood, floating gold dust during services, people gaining gold teeth, people barking like dogs and roaring like lions, etc.

If we reject Scripture as our rule and standard of faith and practice (2 Tim 3:17), then we can accept anything and be led astray. This is what many have done in the church. They accept things that have no affirmation in Scripture, and therefore make themselves and those they teach vulnerable to deception.

8. False teachers are unregenerate and therefore have unregenerate thinking.

Paul says these men “have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth” (v. 8). MacArthur gives telling insight about the word “disqualified”—also translated “rejected”:

Adokimos (Rejected) was used of metals that did not pass the test of purity and were discarded. The word also was used of counterfeits of various sorts. The fact that the men were rejected as regards the faith makes clear that Paul was speaking of individuals within the church who claimed to be Christians but were not.

As with those in the church who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof, these false teachers are not born again. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are either deceived about their salvation or are intentionally deceiving others for their own gain.

Since they are not born again, they cannot truly understand Scripture. Paul said the natural man cannot understand the things of God for they are foolishness to him (1 Cor 2:14). Therefore, these false teachers can only pervert true doctrine. They deny the inerrancy of Scripture; they deny the creation of the world through God’s spoken word; they deny the deity of Christ; they deny a literal resurrection and the miracles of Scripture. They accept and teach revelation outside of Scripture—denying Scripture’s sufficiency. They are men and women of depraved thinking.

9. False teachers will eventually be exposed.

Paul says, “But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres” (v. 9).

They can only hide their hypocrisy for a while because false teaching provides no power to live a holy life; therefore, they will eventually be exposed. It is very common to, at some point, hear how these teachers embezzled money, had multiple affairs, committed spiritual abuse, etc. Like Jannes and Jambres, their inability to produce the true works of God—a holy life, lasting freedom for their followers, etc.—eventually becomes clear to everyone.

In Matthew 7:16-17, Christ said, “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Paul’s comments about them not getting “very far” probably refer to their false teaching and not just the false teachers. Their error doesn’t get very far. John Stott said,

Error may spread and be popular for a time. But it ‘will not get very far’. In the end it is bound to be exposed, and the truth is sure to be vindicated. This is a clear lesson of church history. Numerous heresies have arisen, and some have seemed likely to triumph. But today they are largely of antiquarian interest. God has preserved his truth in the church.6

In these last days, false teachers and false teaching will be common. We must be aware of this.

Application Question: What experience/exposure do you have with cults, false teachers, and false teachings? What are some of the common dangers you have noticed?

Applications

As we consider the characteristics of the church in the last days, there are many applications we can make.

1. We must examine our salvation.

Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test! Christ said in the last days many will say to him, “Lord, Lord” but he will respond, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23). That type of false faith will be increasingly common in the church, as we get closer to Christ’s coming. It will be religion without relationship, form without power, a shell without life. We must test ourselves to see if we are saved.

How do we know if we’re born again? Certainly, we must ask ourselves discerning questions such as: Are we demonstrating new life and new spiritual affections? Do we love God? Do we love his people? Do we love his Word? Are we obeying him? Are we decreasing in sin and growing in righteousness? Has our profession changed our life or is it just a profession? If our profession hasn’t changed our life, then maybe we just have the form of faith without its saving power in our lives.

The book of 1 John is a book of many tests of salvation (cf. 1 John 5:13). First John 3:9-10 says,

Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.

A true believer will fail and fall into sin, but he will not practice a lifestyle of unrepentant sin; the general direction of his life is very different from the world. A true believer practices righteousness and loves God’s people.

Do you bear the marks of true salvation?

2. We must make sure that Christ is still our first love.

The root problem of the end-time church is self-love. They love themselves more than God, which results in many other sins—love of money, love of pleasure, lack of family love, pride, abusiveness, etc. This can happen to us as well if we don’t love God first. In Revelation 2:4-5, Christ rebuked the church of Ephesus for this sin. He said,

But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—that is, if you do not repent.

Christ promised them judgment if they didn’t repent for their lack of love for God. No doubt, this lack of love was causing other sins in their lives, as it does with ours. If we’ve lost it, we must repent and turn back to God. We must put him first as an act of love and obedience. As we love God first, we will love others and grow in righteousness.

Is Christ still your first love? If not, what is taking first place in your life?

3. We must test everything through Scripture—miracles, teaching, etc.

Like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, we must test everything through Scripture to see if it’s of God: Is the Bible being preached or is Scripture simply a launching point for worldly anecdotes? Are my experiences biblical or just something that feels good? The Word of God equips the man of God for “every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If it doesn’t pass the biblical test, it should be discarded. If we hold onto Scripture, we’ll be kept from the waves of false doctrine and lying miracles in the church.

4. We must understand our call to persevere in, to love, and to minister to the church.

Many have given up on the church because they have experienced hurt, betrayal, and abuse during these terrible times. However, Christ said the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church (Matt 16:18)—Satan’s works will not ultimately prevail against her. Also, Christ loved the church and gave his life for her—knowing her imperfections (Eph 5:25-27). We must love her as well and be faithful to her, even when she is unfaithful. In this season, there are tares, bad fish, and leaven within her, but God will ultimately purify and restore her. And in this season, we are part of that restoration. We must persevere in, love, and minister to the church, even as our Lord does.

Do you still love her? Are you faithfully ministering to her? Or are you disillusioned and fed-up with her?

Application Question: What other applications can we take from the reality that terrible seasons will plague the end-time church? How will you apply these truths to your life?

Conclusion

What are characteristics of the church in the last days?

  1. In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Believers
  2. In the Last Days, the Church Will Be Full of False Teachers

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

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1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 249). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 106). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2120). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

4 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 225). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 119). Chicago: Moody Press.

6 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 91). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), False Teachers, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

9. Standing Firm in Difficult Times (2 Timothy 3:10-15a)

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You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all. Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves. You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, …

2 Timothy 3:10-15a (NET)

How can we stand firm in difficult times?

In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warned Timothy of the difficult (also translated “terrible”) times that would happen throughout church history. People would be lovers of themselves, lovers of pleasure instead of God; they would be abusive, unforgiving, and having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. There would be many false teachers that would lead people astray. Just as Paul warned Timothy, Christ warned his disciples as well. Satan would plant tares among the wheat and yeast in the flour (Matt 13)—the church would be full of false believers and false doctrine.

Because of this reality, many have become angry at God, bitter at the church, and some have fallen away from Christ all together. These are very important realities to be aware of in order to protect ourselves and persevere. How can we stand in these times?

Paul says to Timothy, “You, however,” or “But, you” (v. 10) and he calls him to “continue” in what he had learned (v. 14). Timothy was to be different from those with an empty religion. He was called to “continue” being faithful, even while others went from “bad to worse” (v. 13). In this text, we will see four principles about standing firm in difficult times—not only do these apply to difficult seasons in the church but ultimately bad times in our lives.

Big Question: What principles can we discern about standing firm in terrible times from 2 Timothy 3:10-15?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Remember the Faithful

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all.

2 Timothy 3:10-11

After sharing with Timothy about the ungodly people and the false teachers in the church (v. 1-9), Paul encourages Timothy with his example. He says, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life …” It can also be translated “you ‘know’ all about my teaching, way of life…,” as in the NIV. Though there were dark times and evil people in the church, Paul was faithful and his faithfulness was meant to encourage Timothy. Similarly, when Elijah was depressed and no longer wanted to live, he cried out to God, “I’m the only one left!” However, God reminded him that he had preserved a remnant that would not bow down to Baal (1 Kings 19), and God has done the same today. Satan often tempts us to feel alone and hopeless, but we are not, because God has faithfully preserved his saints, even in these dark times. We need to recognize this to stand firm.

First Peter 5:8-9 says,

Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering.

We should resist and stand firm against Satan’s attacks because we have a family of believers around the world enduring suffering as well. Though many in the church possess only a form of Christianity but no reality in their lives (2 Tim 3:5), there are many who follow God faithfully. And if we are going to stand in terrible times, we must remember them.

In Hebrews 12:1, the author says something similar to persecuted Hebrew Christians: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us.”

The “therefore” points back to chapter 11 where the author describes many heroes of the faith—Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others. He essentially says that remembering these witnesses helps us get rid of sin and run with “endurance” the race before us. “Endurance” means “to bear up under a heavy weight.” When we feel like giving up during terrible times in the church or life in general, we must remember godly examples. We must remember how God allowed Joseph to suffer betrayal from his family, slavery, and prison before God exalted him to second in command over Egypt. We must remember how God allowed Job to suffer various tragedies, but how God’s ultimate purpose was to bless him.

We need to remember the faithful if we are going to persevere during hard times. Hebrews 12:1 explicitly reminds us of the importance of reading the accounts of the Old Testament. These are not just stories for children; they are for us. They help us get rid of sin and persevere in difficult times.

But, also, it reminds us to look at the faithful around us. We must watch them—how they maintain their integrity and faith during hard times. Their example will help us to stand. Like Timothy, we need to intimately “know” other faithful believers so we can draw strength from them.

Who are you watching to draw strength from in times of difficulty? Often in times of difficulty, we tend to focus on the storms of unfortunate circumstances or difficult people, which only further discourage us. However, we need to focus both on God’s faithfulness and his faithful ones so we can persevere.

Application Question: Why is it so important to remember the example of the faithful when going through difficult times? Who are the faithful around you that you can watch during the storms of life?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Follow the Faithful

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all... You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you

2 Timothy 3:10-11, 14

Not only must we remember the faithful to stand in difficult seasons, we must follow and imitate them. Kenneth Wuest says the word “followed” in verse 10 means “to follow a person so closely that you are always by the person’s side, conforming your life to the person.”1 It was literally used of “following a person as he goes somewhere and of walking in his footsteps.”2 Timothy wasn’t just aware of Paul’s example, he had been imitating it for decades.3 In addition, other teachers imparted into Timothy’s life—enabling him to stand. This is clear from verse 14, as he calls Timothy to continue in what he had learned because he knew “who” he learned it from. “Who” is plural meaning that Timothy owed a great deal to many teachers who imparted into him (v. 14).

This is true for us as well. If we are going to stand in terrible times, we need to follow the godly examples of the faithful. In Philippians 3:17, Paul said: “Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example.” In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he said: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” We must keep our eyes on godly people and imitate them if we are going to stand in difficult times.

Often Satan uses the same technique of holding up an example, as he seeks to corrupt the world and the church. But instead of godly examples, he parades and promotes ungodly examples in the media. If you look at those who get the most attention in our cultures, it’s usually ungodly TV stars and actors, musicians and athletes—with no morality or conscience—or TV preachers who focus on money and prosperity but don’t preach the Word. They are paraded and promoted to affect the culture in a negative manner—leading others into similar pathways.

If we are going to stand in difficult times, we must walk closely with the faithful and follow their footsteps as Timothy did Paul’s. Proverbs 13:20 says, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise.” We must allow them to invest in our lives through their examples and their teaching.

Observation Question: What are characteristics of the faithful as demonstrated through Paul’s characteristics?

1. The faithful live transparent lives.

Again, Paul said to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching and my way of life…” (v. 10). As mentioned, it can also be translated to “know” Paul’s teaching, way of life, etc. (NIV). The implication is that Paul lived a life of transparency and invited others to watch. This wasn’t because Paul was perfect; he wasn’t. He said, “The things I wouldn’t do, I do, and the things I would do, I don’t do. Who can save me from this body of death?” (Rom 7, paraphrase). He wasn’t perfect, but he was pursuing perfection, and we need examples like that.

One of the results of sin is the loss of transparency. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first response was to hide from one another and from God. However, the more that we come to know Christ—the more we begin to live in the light and walk in the light with others. First John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We are far from perfect, but we follow a perfect God who can use even our imperfections to encourage others who are similarly imperfect. While an ungodly example practices hypocrisy and puts on a charade to appear holy, a godly example lives a transparent life, which includes both his successes and failures. Christ said this, “‘I have spoken publicly to the world’.… I have said nothing in secret” (John 18:20).

Are you living a transparent life or practicing a secret life?

2. The faithful teach God’s Word.

Paul points out that Timothy knew his “teaching” (v. 10). One of Paul’s goals was to teach “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). He didn’t avoid difficult texts, soften their tone, or change them to not offend the church or the culture. He preached the Word of God whether it was popular or unpopular. Paul soon warns Timothy of how many in the last days, instead of preaching the whole counsel of God, will ‘itch people’s ears’—trying to make them feel good (2 Tim 4:3 ESV).

This faithful teaching doesn’t only refer to public teaching but also private teaching. These godly models challenge us with God’s Word when we’re in sin. They encourage us with it when we are down, and they affirm us with it when we are doing right. We must follow these kinds of people; we must become these kinds of people.

Are you studying God’s Word so as to teach it to others?

3. faithful practice what they preach.

Paul said Timothy knows his “way of life” (v. 10). There are many who are orthodox in their doctrine but unorthodox with their life—they don’t practice what they preach. This visible hypocrisy only serves to push people away from God. Timothy was keenly aware of how Paul used his time, his recreation, his work life, his devotion, his prayer life, and his ministry. All of that was open before Timothy and all of it matched Paul’s teaching. We must model these types of people to stand in terrible times.

Are you practicing what you preach?

4. The faithful focus on knowing God and pleasing him.

Paul said Timothy knew his “purpose” (v. 10). In Philippians 3:8 Paul said that he ‘counted everything a loss’ to know Christ (paraphrase). That was his primary goal in life. Even his ministry was driven by this unflinching goal of knowing Christ and pleasing him by completing the mission the Lord gave him. Philippians 3:12-14 says,

Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The faithful are not driven by money or the applause of men, but only knowing and pleasing God. Is your goal to know Christ and please him?

5. The faithful bear the fruits of the Spirit.

Paul then names several fruits of the Spirit that were prominent in his life (v. 10): faith, patience, love, and endurance. These were divine characteristics that were born out of his relationship with God (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

  • Faith probably refers to faithfulness before God—he was faithful to the tasks God had set before him. It also may refer to faith—a growing trust in God.
  • Patience probably focuses on how he responded to difficult people. He was patient and forbearing with them.
  • Love refers to an increasing love for God and love for others. It is amazing to consider that right after Paul’s conversion this love was radically demonstrated in his love for Christ and Christians—whom he previously persecuted. He also loved Gentiles who conservative Jews, like himself, typically hated. He also exalted women which Jewish teachers wouldn’t normally teach and in fact held in disregard. Timothy witnessed this love, and we should see very clear characteristics of this love in us and those we follow.
  • Endurance means to “bear up under” something difficult. His ministry opened the door for criticism, mocking, poverty, and many other hardships, including imprisonment; however, Paul endured them all.

Paul was a man of character worth modeling. We must model those who are clearly filled with the Spirit and demonstrating it through their lives. Are the fruits of the Spirit evident in our own lives?

6. The faithful willingly accept suffering for Christ.

In verse 11, Paul adds various sufferings he endured of which Timothy was aware: “persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all.” He mentions three specific sufferings in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra:

  • In Antioch, Paul was thrown out of the city for preaching the gospel (Acts 13:50).
  • In Iconium, Paul was almost executed by stoning (Acts 14:5).
  • In Lystra, Paul was actually stoned and left for dead, but God miraculously healed him (Acts 14:19). Through all these, God delivered him.

It must be noted that in those specific cases, it wasn’t God’s will to keep him from those persecutions. Instead, God gave him grace to endure them, and it’s often similar for us. There are many things that God keeps us from. As in the story of Job, there are many ways that Satan desires to attack us, but God says, “No!” and sets the limits. He says to the tempter, “You can only go this far.” God knows what we can bear and what we can’t. He also knows what trials we need to experience to know and glorify him more. Trials are part of the Lord’s sanctifying process in our lives, and we must humbly accept them (cf. Rom 5:3-4). Those who are godly examples typically have been through various trials that God used to build them up and help them to know Christ more.

Paul willingly accepted these trials without being angry at God or others. How do you respond when you go through trials? Do they draw you closer to God or away from him?

If we are going to stand in terrible times, we must not only remember the faithful, we must walk close beside them in order to imitate them. We must step in the same steps that they did, as we follow the Lord.

Application Question: Which characteristics of the faithful stood out to you most and why? What godly examples have made the most impact on your life? In what ways have you followed their steps?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Expect Persecution

Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves.

2 Timothy 3:12-13

Interpretation Question: What types of sufferings will godly believers experience?

Paul not only shares his experience of persecutions, but warns Timothy that everyone living a godly life will experience them (v. 12). These persecutions come from outside the church as seen through Paul’s experiences in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, but they also come from inside the church. This is implied by Paul’s reference to evil-doers and impostors going from bad to worse, immediately after mentioning his persecutions (v. 13). People in the church attacked Paul. In fact, 2 Corinthians is essentially a defense of his apostleship to a church he founded. Similarly, Christ was criticized (and killed) by the religious establishment of his day, and we’ll experience this in the contemporary church as well. There will always be people in the church without true faith who oppose the truth (2 Tim 3:5-9).

Not only will there be persecution from without and from within, but also spiritual warfare. We must remember that Job’s trials were attacks from Satan which came simply because he was righteous (Job 1:8-9, 2:3-4). He suffered financial loss, family loss, and physical suffering, which were all demonic in origin. Let us consider Paul’s words again, “all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (v. 12).

Interpretation Question: Why will believers be persecuted and what causes this animosity?

In short, John 3:19-20 says:

Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.

MacDonald explains it this way:

The reason for this persecution is simple. A godly life exposes the wickedness of others. People do not like to be thus exposed. Instead of repenting of their ungodliness and turning to Christ, they seek to destroy the one who has shown them up for what they really are. It is totally irrational behavior, of course, but that is characteristic of fallen man.4

Calvin adds: “they who wish to be exempt from persecutions must necessarily renounce Christ.”5

Timothy needed to hear this, and we need to hear it as well: If we are going to stand in this evil age, we should expect persecution. It is coming, and it will only get worse, as we get closer to Christ’s return (cf. Matt 24). This doesn’t mean that we will be beaten, stoned, and crucified. It may be as simple as being thought strange or hated for our belief system (cf. 1 Peter 4:3-4). We must expect it, so we won’t become disillusioned and fall away (cf. Matt 13:20-21).

Application Question: In what ways is Christian persecution growing in the world and why is it growing?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Continue in God’s Word

You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings…

2 Timothy 3:14-15a

Paul calls Timothy to “continue” in what he had “learned” and become confident about, because he knew “who” taught him (v. 14). The word “continue” can also be translated “abide.”6 Timothy needed to make his home in Scripture to stand firm. As mentioned, “who” is plural; it probably refers not only to Paul (v. 14) but also to Timothy’s mother and grandmother who are mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:5. They were believers who taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures from infancy (v. 15). “Holy writings” can literally be translated “The sacred letters.” This might suggest that Timothy learned the Hebrew alphabet through studying the Old Testament.7

As a side application, this is important for Christian parents to consider. The word for “infancy” literally refers to a “newborn child.”8 Parents should read the Bible to their children from birth. They may not be able to fully grasp it yet, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hear it. Right after birth, parents should begin to saturate their infants with Scripture. Throughout early childhood, children are like sponges. It is then that they can most easily pick up languages and memorize things; it often becomes harder as they get older. Therefore, Christian parents should saturate those early years with reading God’s Word to them and helping them memorize it. When they are fed God’s Word as children, it will be easier for them to continue in it as they get older. Just like learning a language, it won’t be foreign to them. The Word will be their native tongue.

With that said, Timothy needed to continue in what he had learned from infancy if he was going to stand firm in terrible times, and this is true for us as well. God’s primary way to make us holy, encourage us when we are down, and protect us is through God’s Word. It both makes us wise for salvation and trains us for every good work (2 Tim 3:15-17).

After Paul warned the Ephesian elders of these difficult times and how many of them would fall away into cults and become false teachers, he said this in Acts 20:32: “And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” It was the Word of God’s grace that would make them strong during those difficult times.

The Psalmist said, “In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Christ said, “Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Apart from daily continuing in God’s Word, we won’t be able to stand in terrible times. Evil character will replace godly character; we’ll slip further and further away from the truth, and take others with us.

Application Question: How can we continue in God’s Word?

  1. We must believe it. Paul said Timothy had become convinced of it (v. 14). Many don’t believe it. They don’t believe in creationism. They don’t believe what the Bible teaches about practicing abstinence before marriage. They don’t believe what the Bible says about homosexuality. They don’t believe Scripture is inerrant, as it proclaims (John 17:17, Ps 19:7). We must be convinced as Paul and Timothy were.
  2. We must read it daily.
  3. We must meditate on it throughout the day (Ps 1:2-3).
  4. We must memorize it, so we can recall it when tempted or discouraged (Ps 119:11).
  5. We must obey it, even when we don’t feel like it (John 14:15).
  6. We must teach it, so we can better hide it in our hearts and also protect others (Matt 28:19-20).

Apart from continuing in God’s Word, we won’t stand in difficult times. Our house will be built on the sand of the world, and it will be destroyed when the storm comes (Matt 7:24-27). Are you building on the rock of God’s Word? Any other foundation won’t last.

Application Question: What are some major threats to Christians continuing in God’s Word? What disciplines have you found helpful in studying the Bible?

Conclusion

How can we stand firm in difficult times, especially those within the church (cf. 2 Tim 3:1-9)?

  1. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Remember the Faithful
  2. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Follow the Faithful
  3. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Expect Persecution
  4. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Continue in God’s Word

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – 2 Timothy: The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible

2 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 93). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 125). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2122). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

5 Accessed 11/26/2016, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-16-spiritual-faithfulness-2-timothy-310-15

6 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 3:13–15). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 252). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

8 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Vol. 2, p. 48). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

10. Why to Abide in God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

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You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NET)

Why should we abide in God’s Word?

In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warns Timothy about the last days. The church would be full of those who love themselves and love pleasure more than God. They would be unforgiving, abusive, lacking natural love—having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof (v. 1-5). Essentially, the church would be full of professing believers who are not truly saved. In addition, it would be full of false teachers who take advantage of the flock (v. 6-9). These realities will cause many to become disillusioned with the church and, ultimately, turn away from God.

However, instead of being like those who profess but are not truly following God, Timothy was called to continue to imitate Paul—a man who was faithful during these dark times (v. 10, 14). He also was to continue in what he had learned in Scripture (v. 14-15). The word “continue” can also be translated “abide.”1 If Timothy would make his home in Scripture, he would be able to stand in these terrible times. After calling Timothy to continue in what he learned, he gives him reasons to continue in the Word (v. 15-17).

In Timothy’s time, many were falling away from God’s Word. Earlier, Paul described how some teachers were denying the resurrection (2 Tim 2:17-18). Maybe, like many liberal believers today, they were teaching that Scripture could not be trusted or that it referred to some type of spiritual resurrection and that no physical resurrection awaited believers. Paul denied that possibility in 1 Corinthians 15:14, as he said, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.”

These types of attacks were not new to early believers: in fact, Satan began these attacks in the Garden of Eden. He said to Eve, “Did God really say…?” Satan knew if he could get her to doubt God’s Word, he could get her to disobey it. Therefore, these attacks have continued throughout history and are very alive today. Many attack God’s Word by saying that it is full of errors and cannot be trusted. Some say it cannot be properly interpreted. Others say that since it’s an ancient manuscript it cannot be relied on for contemporary issues like human sexuality, marriage, parenting, science, or government. Through such lies, Satan hinders or overthrows the faith of many.

However, in the midst of the difficult times and various attacks on Scripture, Paul gave reasons why Timothy should continue in God’s Word. Second Timothy 3:14-17 tells us why we should continue to abide in God’s Word and not cast it off, like many back then and many now.

Big Question: According to 2 Timothy 3:14-17, why should believers abide in God’s Word?

God’s Word Makes People Wise for Salvation

You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Interpretation Question: In what ways does the Bible make people wise for salvation?

1. Scripture teaches our need for salvation.

Man was originally made in the image of God (Gen 1:27)—to be righteous just like God. However, man continually fails at this. Romans 3:23 says, “For all fall short of the glory of God.” This means we fail to be like God in our actions, thoughts, and emotions. Scripture not only commands our actions but our heart. The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. The reality is that we have never loved God with all our heart and mind, and we often, if not always, fail to love others as ourselves. Man continually falls short of God’s glory—both in action and heart.

This failure has tragic consequences: Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our God is righteous and just, and the just punishment for sin is eternal judgment. This is the state of all mankind—under the wrath of God (John 3:36) and therefore in need of salvation.

2. Scripture teaches God’s plan of salvation.

After the sin of the first humans—Adam and Eve—God initiated a plan to save man. When Adam and Eve sinned, instead of immediately killing them, God clothed them with animal skin—implying that he killed an animal (Gen 3:21). From the beginning, we see the doctrine of substitution. Someone else could take man’s just punishment for sin. We saw that with the death of the first animal, and then, later God explicitly institutes animal sacrifice. For the nation of Israel, a perfect lamb would be sacrificed once a year on the Day of Atonement; the lamb took the death that ever person in Israel deserved for their sins. However, this lamb was only a picture of the perfect Lamb that would one day come and take away the sins of the world.

In the Gospels, John the Baptist sees Jesus Christ—God’s Son, who took on flesh—and says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Christ lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live, and he died on the cross for our sins. Then he rose from the dead—proving that God accepted his sacrifice for the sins of the world (Rom 4:25).

In order for a person to be saved, he must put his faith in Christ (2 Tim 4:15). John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Scripture teaches the plan of salvation so that all can come to Christ and be saved. One day Christ is coming again, and those who have rejected him shall be judged eternally in a real place called hell, and those who have followed him, shall dwell eternally with him (John 3:18).

Why should we continue in Scripture? We should abide in it because it teaches the way of salvation—no other book does. How can we neglect or despise it?

Are you abiding in it?

Application Question: Share your conversion experience. How did the Word of God make you wise for salvation?

God’s Word Is Inspired

You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you… Every scripture is inspired by God

2 Timothy 3:14, 16

Secondly, Timothy should continue in God’s Word because it is inspired by God. “Inspired” can also be translated “God-breathed” (v. 16 NIV). It means that every word of the Bible literally comes out of God’s mouth.

When Paul said “scripture,” he refers both to the Old Testament and the New Testament books that were already complete (cf. 1 Tim 5:18, 2 Peter 3:15-16). At that point, the only NT books not completed were 2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude, and John’s writings.2 However, we are correct to now apply it to the completed Canon.

Interpretation Question: How did inspiration work in referring to the writing of Scripture?

The Bible obviously has two authors—both man and God. When Paul says, “continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you” (v. 14), there is some controversy over whether the “who” is plural or singular. The earliest, and therefore, best manuscripts translate it as plural; “who” would then refer to Paul, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and possibly others. However, the majority of manuscripts translate it as a singular, referring to Paul. If the singular is correct, as many commentators believe (because of internal evidence, cf. 1:13-14, 2:2, 3:10)3, Paul would be referring to his apostolic authority as a reason Timothy should be convinced of the Scripture’s reliability.4 The apostles were especially called to give God’s revelation (cf. John 14:26, 16:12-13). Either way (plural or singular) would include the apostle Paul. He was a divinely chosen, apostolic author, as were the prophets, other apostles and their associates. These divinely chosen authors, like Paul, convinced Timothy of the reliability of Scripture. In addition, when the Canon was recognized by the church, apostolic or prophetic authorship and/or acknowledgment was one of the primary considerations. It helped convince them of which books were part of Scripture (cf. v. 14).

Secondly, when Paul says all Scripture is “God-breathed” or “inspired by God,” he is referring to God’s authorship. In fact, God actually began writing the Bible himself; he wrote the Ten Commandments with his own hand. We see this in Exodus 31:18: “He gave Moses two tablets of testimony when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, tablets of stone written by the finger of God.”

But not only did he write the Ten Commandments, 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that every word of Scripture is “inspired by God”—even though it was written by human authors as well. Wayne Grudem provides insight:

All the words in the Bible are God’s words. Therefore, to disbelieve or disobey them is to disbelieve or disobey God himself. Oftentimes, passages in the Old Testament are introduced with the phrase, “Thus says the LORD” (see Ex. 4:22; Josh. 24:2; 1 Sam. 10:18; Isa. 10:24; also Deut. 18:18 – 20; Jer. 1:9). This phrase, understood to be like the command of a king, indicated that what followed was to be obeyed without challenge or question. Even the words in the Old Testament not attributed as direct quotes from God are considered to be God’s words… The New Testament also affirms that its words are the very words of God. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to all of Paul’s letters as one part of the “Scriptures.” This means that Peter, and the early church, considered Paul’s writings to be in the same category as the Old Testament writings. Therefore, they considered Paul’s writings to be the very words of God. In addition, Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:18, writes that “the Scripture says” two things: “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” and “The laborer deserves his wages.” The first quote regarding an ox comes from the Old Testament; it is found in Deuteronomy 25:4. The second comes from the New Testament; it is found in Luke 10:7. Paul, without any hesitation, quotes from both the Old and New Testaments, calling them both “Scripture.” Therefore, again, the words of the New Testament are considered to be the very words of God. That is why Paul could write, “the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).5

Interpretation Question: How can it be possible that Scripture has two authors—both God and man? What was the process?

Peter gives us a hint in 2 Peter 1:20-21:

Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Peter says the prophecies of Scripture did not come about by a prophet’s imagination or human impulse, but men were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be carried along by the Holy Spirit?

In Acts 27:15, the writer, Luke, uses the same phrase to describe a ship being carried by a storm. Look at what he says: “When the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.”

In the same way the ship was “driven” by the storm, so the authors of the Bible were “carried” by the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture. The Holy Spirit drove them along in the writing of the content and also kept them from error. The writers were there; they were thinking and writing, but they were being moved by the Spirit.

In John 16:12-13, Christ said:

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.

God sent the Holy Spirit to inspire and bring to remembrance all the words that Jesus said. The Holy Spirit would not only bring things to remembrance, but he would teach the writers of Scripture further revelation. This is how the New Testament and the Old Testament were written: the Holy Spirit moved upon men to write the actual words of God. Timothy was to continue in God’s Word because it is inspired by God. We should also continue in it.

Application Question: What does the inspiration of Scripture mean? Why is the inspiration of Scripture so important?

God’s Word Is Inerrant and thus Reliable

Every scripture is inspired by God…

2 Timothy 3:16a

The primary implication of Paul reminding Timothy of those who taught him God’s Word and how God is the ultimate author of Scripture is to emphasize the Scripture’s reliability or inerrancy.

What does “inerrancy” mean? “Inerrancy” has many definitions: Wayne Grudem said, “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.”6 Millard Erickson said it this way: “Inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings.”7 Warren Wiersbe adds:

Whatever the Bible says about itself, man, God, life, death, history, science, and every other subject is true. This does not mean that every statement in the Bible is true, because the Bible records the lies of men and of Satan. But the record is true.8

Inerrancy simply means that the Bible is true and without error in the original manuscripts, and for that reason, we can trust its copies.

Why should we believe in its inerrancy? What are some evidences for the inerrancy of Scripture?

1. Evidence for the inerrancy of Scripture is the character of God.

God cannot lie. Titus1:2 says, “in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began.”

Paul encourages Titus with the fact that God cannot tell a lie. That’s why we can trust the Scripture and everything said in it. Numbers 23:19 says: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it happen?”

In fact, Christ called himself “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth because there is nothing false in him. Everything he says and does is true because he is God and that is his consistent, faithful, and unchanging character.

Another proof of the truthfulness of God, and therefore the truthfulness of Scripture, is seen in how God instructs Israel to test prophets. Deuteronomy 18:21–22 says,

Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord?’— whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.”

The way God tells Israel to test prophets also teaches the truthfulness of God. If a prophet made an error in his prophecy, he wasn’t speaking for God because God cannot make errors. He knows all things and cannot lie or be tempted (cf. James 1:13). Since the Bible is literally God’s Word, it cannot have errors.

2. Evidence for the inerrancy of Scripture is what the Bible teaches about itself—that every word is true, not just the ideas, concepts, or general themes of Scripture.

This is important because some liberal theologians teach against this: they would say that the ideas of the Bible are true but not necessarily every detail or event, such as Jonah being swallowed by a big fish or the virgin birth of Jesus, and also that it is not always accurate when it comes to topics like science or history.

However, this teaching contradicts what the Bible says about itself. Look at what Christ taught in Matthew 4:4: “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus said that man lives on “every word” that comes from the mouth of God, not SOME words or SOME events. Similarly, the Psalmist said this about Scripture:

The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life.

Psalm 19:7b

Your instructions are totally reliable; all your just regulations endure.

Psalm 119:160

The Lord’s words are absolutely reliable. They are as untainted as silver purified in a furnace on the ground, where it is thoroughly refined.

Psalm 12:6

Scripture teaches that every part of it is true, not just some parts or the main ideas of Scripture.

3. Evidence of inerrancy is the perseverance of Scripture.

Jesus said this, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place” (Matt 5:18).

This is important because some liberal theologians say that the Scriptures we have today are not the same as the original writings. Essentially, they are saying that God did not preserve his Word. However, Jesus declared that even the smallest letter, the least stroke of a pen will not disappear from the Law until all is accomplished. We can believe that the Word of God is inerrant because God has preserved it.

The historical reliability of the Bible supports the perseverance of Scripture. Historians use two standards in order to evaluate the textual reliability of ancient literature:

  • The time interval between the original and the earliest copy
  • The amount of manuscripts available

When you consider the Bible’s textual reliability against other ancient literature, it far surpasses them all. For example, the most reliable ancient book, outside of the Bible, according to textual criticism is the Iliad. It was written in 900 BC, and there are 643 remaining copies from around 400 BC. This makes a time gap of 500 years. The New Testament was written from 40-100 AD. The earliest existing copy is from 125 AD, which is only a 25 year time gap, and there are over 24,000 copies.9 “The Bible, compared with other ancient writings, has more manuscript evidence than any 10 pieces of classical literature combined.”10

Josh McDowell, in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, gives further evidence of the preservation of God’s Word by quoting John Lea, the author of The Greatest Book in the World, as John considered the Bible in comparison with Shakespeare’s writings:

“In an article in the North American Review, a writer made some interesting comparisons between the writings of Shakespeare and the Scriptures, which show that much greater care must have been bestowed upon the biblical manuscripts than upon other writings, even when there was so much more opportunity of preserving the correct text by means of printed copies than when all the copies had to be made by hand. He said:

“‘It seems strange that the text of Shakespeare, which has been in existence less than two hundred and eight years, should be far more uncertain and corrupt than that of the New Testament, now over eighteen centuries old, during nearly fifteen of which it existed only in manuscript. ... With perhaps a dozen or twenty exceptions, the text of every verse in the New Testament may be said to be so far settled by general consent of scholars, that any dispute as to its readings must relate rather to the interpretation of the words than to any doubts respecting the words themselves. But in every one of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays there are probably a hundred readings still in dispute, a large portion of which materially affects the meaning of the passages in which they occur.’”11

God has miraculously preserved his Word, and therefore we can trust it.

4. Evidence of inerrancy is that Scripture uses Scripture in such a way that supports its inerrancy.

In the Bible, at times an entire argument rests on a single word (e.g., John 10:34–35 and “God” in Psalm 82:6), the tense of a verb (e.g., the present tense in Matt 22:32), and the difference between a singular and a plural noun (e.g., “seed” in Gal 3:16).

For example, in Matthew 22:30–32, the entire argument rests on a single word. The Sadducees were the liberal theologians of Christ’s day; they did not believe in miracles, the resurrection, or even an afterlife. So one day, they tested Christ on his belief in the resurrection. They concocted a scenario where a woman’s husband dies and then she marries his brother. The brother dies and she marries another brother. He dies and she marries another and so on until the seventh died. Then she eventually died. “Basically, they argued that the idea of resurrection posed insuperable difficulties, hence it was not reasonable, therefore it was not true.”12 After presenting this scenario, the Sadducees asked Christ, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” Consider how Christ responded in Matthew 22:30–32:

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!

Here, Christ’s argument rests on the tense of the word “am.” Essentially, Christ says, “Didn’t you notice that ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ was written in the present tense?” Christ was saying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive, and therefore, would one-day be resurrected. This confronted their lack of belief in the afterlife and the resurrection, as well as their lack of understanding the literal inspiration of Scripture. Every word has been chosen by God, even down to the tense.

We also see this in how Paul handled the words of Scripture. In Galatians 3:16, Paul says: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, ‘and to the descendants,’ referring to many, but ‘and to your descendant,’ referring to one, who is Christ.”

When looking at the promise of Abraham, Paul argues that the promise was not just to Israel specifically, but that it was to Christ and therefore, everybody in Christ. He says in Genesis the promise was to Abraham’s “descendant,” singular, and not “descendants,” plural. Here the argument rests on the word “descendant” being singular.

The Bible is inspired and inerrant even down to the tense and plurality of the words. Every word is inspired by God, and not just the ideas. This gives credence to the importance of studying and meditating on each word of the Bible since we believe God chose every one of them for a purpose. This is one of the reasons many Bible students study the original languages of Scripture. They do this because they are convinced of the validity of each word. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).

Questions About Inerrancy?

1. Some might ask, “How can the Bible be without error if mere humans wrote it? I know God made it but so did man, and man is fallible.”

This is true, and because of this reality, the Bible must be clearly recognized as a miracle. Man is sinful and prone to error; however, God is perfect and cannot err. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors in such a way that they were kept from error in the writing of Scripture.

2. One might ask, “If we do not have the original manuscripts, isn’t the argument of inerrancy in the original manuscripts a moot argument?”

When we look at the way that the apostles and the early church handled the copies of Scripture, we see their belief in the reliability of the copies.

In the early church, the copies of the originals were passed around from church to church, and yet, the copies were always still considered authoritative. We see this in several ways:

  • When Paul spoke about the Scripture being God-inspired in 2 Timothy 3:16, he was using copies, not the originals. The early church was using copies, just as we are now. The original texts were copied and passed from church to church. Yet, they still believed they were inspired and, therefore, authoritative.
  • We also see how the early church believed the copies were authoritative by looking at the Old Testament quotations used in the New Testament. The majority of the OT quotes in the NT were from the Septuagint, which was the Greek version of the Old Testament.13 Even though the original verses were in Hebrew, the writers of the NT still considered the copies, the translated verses, authoritative and without error. We even see Jesus quote the Septuagint in his rendering of Isaiah 29:13 in Mark 7:6–7:

Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:’This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’

Again, this is a quote from a copy, but it was still inspired by God. The apostles primarily used Greek translated verses of the OT in the quotes placed in the New Testament. If Jesus and the apostles used copies, then, similarly, we can trust the copies we have.

Here is a contemporary argument: If I apply for a job, the company will most likely take a photocopy of my driver’s license and keep it for their records. They know the copy is not perfect. It may have a smudge here or there, but in general, the copy is considered accurate and acceptable.

This is how the early church handled the copies of Scripture and so do we. God has preserved his words, and it is still authoritative. In fact, when we compare the thousands of copies of Scripture, they are 95 to 99 percent the same.14 The copies of the OT and NT manuscripts contain no significant variances. The errors are typically copyist errors such as an undotted “i,” an uncrossed “t,” or an occasional scribal addition, but nothing that affects any doctrine in the Bible. By comparing the thousands of manuscripts, we can with great certainty discern what the original said. God has preserved his Word.

Any errors are in our understanding of the text, the copy of the manuscript itself, or the translation. But the Bible cannot have error because God is without error. If we cannot trust the Bible on one thing, then the whole Bible comes into question.

Application

What does all this mean for us?

1. The inerrancy of Scripture means we can trust the Word of God.

We should not doubt even spectacular stories in the Scripture, such as Jonah being swallowed by a big fish, Moses parting the Red Sea, or the earth being destroyed by a flood. God cannot tell a lie, and therefore, you can trust his Word.

It also means you can trust his word for salvation. You can trust his word on how to raise your children or run a God-honoring business. The Scripture holds the very words of God and is trustworthy.

2. The inerrancy of Scripture should guide how we meditate on the Word of God.

It is good to, at times, meditate on single words, noting every detail down to their tenses and their pluralities, because each word was chosen by God. They are God-inspired and every aspect of them has meaning for us.

With the Sadducees, Jesus asked, “Have you not read?” Sure, they had read, but they really didn’t study and meditate on each word as given. Many times, we miss a great deal in our study of the Bible because we forget that every word was chosen by God and that man shall live ‘by every word’ (Matt 4:4). This type of study will greatly enrich our devotional time.

Application Question: Why is the inerrancy of Scripture such an important doctrine? In what ways is it being attacked in Christendom?

God’s Word Is Profitable

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Observation Question: In what ways is every Scripture useful or profitable?

Another reason Timothy, and ourselves, should continue to abide in God’s Word is because all Scripture is “useful,” also translated “profitable.” This includes all aspects of Scripture including the genealogies and obscure passages. We must study them with this understanding—that they’re profitable!

In what ways is Scripture profitable? Paul gives four ways:

1. All Scripture is profitable for teaching or doctrine.

One of the things that makes Christianity unique among religions is that it is full of doctrine. It has the doctrine of God, the doctrine of humanity, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the end times. This is because what we believe affects how we walk, and therefore, God informs us about himself and many other important doctrines to guide our day-to-day actions and lives.

Timothy needed to continue in the doctrines of the Word of God, and not the new doctrines that the false teachers professed or that were popular in secular culture. This is also true for us.

2. All Scripture is profitable for reproof or rebuking.

If teaching or doctrine shows us what is right, rebuking shows us what is wrong. Scripture rebukes us when we are wrong in thought or action. It exposes error.

3. All Scripture is profitable for correcting.

Doctrine shows us what is right; rebuke shows us what is wrong; and correction shows us how to make things right. The word “correcting” “refers to the restoration of something to its original and proper condition. In secular Greek literature it was used of setting upright an object that had fallen down and of helping a person back on his feet after stumbling.”15 After Scripture exposes our sin, it then shows us how to correct it by getting right with God and others.

For example, Ephesians 4:28 says, “The one who steals must steal no longer, rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.” This is rebuke and then correction.

4. All Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness.

Scripture instructs us on how to live a godly life. It provides God’s wisdom for marriages, parenting, work, decision-making, etc. If it is righteous, Scripture trains us in it; we just have to take advantage of it.

Ultimately, the Word of God is profitable for all these things (teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness) “that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (v. 17). If we are going to be used by God, we must be equipped—made strong for the task—through the Word of God. It gives us wisdom and empowerment for God’s tasks. Apart from God’s Word, we’ll be unequipped—like walking into a desert without water.

Warren Wiersbe said, “The better we know the Word, the better we are able to live and work for God.”16 William Barclay adds:

“…Here is the essential conclusion. The study of the Scriptures must never be selfish; it must never be simply for the good of a man’s own soul. … He must study the Scriptures to make himself useful to God and useful to his fellow men. He must study, not simply and solely to save his own soul, but that he may make himself such that God will use him to help to save the souls and comfort the lives of others...”17

If we don’t abide in God’s Word, we’ll be unequipped. Are you allowing God to equip you for all righteousness? This is why we eagerly listen to God’s Word in Sunday service and in small groups. This is why we daily study it. We do this so God can train and equip us for righteousness. God can’t use someone greatly who neglects his Word.

Are you abiding?

Application Question: If the Word of God is so profitable, why do so many Christians struggle with reading/studying it? What are some helpful disciplines to aid a person with daily Bible study?

Conclusion

From the beginning, Satan tried to attack God’s Word. He said to Eve, “Did God really say?” In the same way, Scripture is always being attacked today, as people are tempted to doubt it or turn away from it. However, God’s Word is trustworthy and necessary.

Why should we continue to abide in it?

  1. God’s Word Makes People Wise for Salvation
  2. God’s Word Is Inspired
  3. God’s Word Is Inerrant and thus Reliable
  4. God’s Word Is Profitable

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 3:13–15). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

2 Accessed 12/3/16 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-17-why-you-need-bible-2-timothy-316-17

3 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 99). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

4 Calvin, J. (1998). 1, 2 Timothy and Titus (p. 154). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Wayne A. Grudem; Elliot Grudem. Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2009), Kindle Edition.

6 Wayne A. Grudem, W. A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 90.

7 Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology (2nd ed). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 246.

8 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 252–253). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

9 McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1: 001 (p. 43). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.  

10 McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1: 001 (p. 19). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

11 McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1: 001 (p. 19-20). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

12 MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1287.

13 Gleason Archer and Gregory C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2005), Kindle edition.

14 Josh Mcdowell. New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), Kindle edition.

15 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 159). Chicago: Moody Press.

16 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 253). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

17 Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – 2 Timothy: The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible.

Related Topics: Christian Life

11. Performing the Ministry of Preaching (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

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I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction. For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths. You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NET)

How should we perform the ministry of preaching?

One of the major themes of 2 Timothy has been faithfulness with God’s Word. There are over thirty-six references to God’s Word or an aspect of it in the book.1 In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul said, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” In 2 Timothy 1:13 he said, “Hold to the standard of sound words.” In 2 Timothy 2:2, he said, “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well. Second Timothy 2:15 (NIV) talks about correctly handling the “Word of truth.” Second Timothy 2:24 describes how the Lord’s servant must be an “apt teacher.” And in 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul said, “Every scripture is inspired by God.” As Paul is soon to be executed, his primary focus was to exhort Timothy to be faithful with God’s Word, and this should be our goal, both for ourselves and those we disciple.

Here Paul calls for Timothy to preach God’s Word “whether it is convenient or not,” other versions say, “in season and out of season” (v. 2). It is easy to look at this passage and think it applies only to pastors; however, it doesn’t. God has called each of us to teach God’s Word. In the Great Commission, we are called to make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything that Christ commanded (Matt 28:19-20). We are all called to preach and teach Scripture. The only difference is the forum and the pay; some will teach from pulpits to large crowds and others will teach to individuals and small groups; some will be paid and others won’t. Either way, we are all called to preach and teach God’s Word.

This passage answers the question, “How should we preach God’s Word? How can we faithfully discharge the ministry of proclamation?” This is important to consider as we select churches to join in the future. We should ask: “Do these churches faithfully proclaim God’s Word?” But it’s also important for our teaching ministry, whether that be in public or private.

In this text, we’ll consider six principles about performing the ministry of preaching.

Big Question: According to 2 Timothy 4:1-5, how should we perform the ministry of preaching?

Preaching Should Be Performed in View of Christ’s Return, Judgment, and Kingdom

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

2 Timothy 4:1

When Paul says, “before God and Christ Jesus,” he uses ancient courtroom terminology. Typically, court documents of the time would say something like, “In the presence of honorable judge ‘so and so.’”2 God and Christ would be watching Timothy to see if he faithfully discharged his duties, and this is true for each of us. God is watching and one day he will judge us based on our faithfulness. Did we faithfully study and interpret his Word? Did we share it with others? Faithful workmen will be approved by God (2 Tim 2:15).

The term “appearing” was used of a Roman Emperor’s visit to a province or a town. Before he came, everybody would labor to put everything in perfect order.3 It should be the same for us with Christ. At Christ’s coming, he will inspect our works, and we should labor to be prepared for this inspection (cf. 2 Cor 5:10). Those who have been faithful will be rewarded and those who are unfaithful will experience loss of reward (1 Cor 3:10-15). Rewards seems to have specific reference to both ruling and serving in Christ’s coming kingdom. In the Parable of the Minas, the faithful stewards are given cities to rule over (Lk 19:17, 19).

As we live for Christ, it is prudent to minister with an eye towards our Lord’s coming—his future judgment and his kingdom. Are we being faithful stewards of all God has given us? Are we prepared for his coming? It is interesting to consider that at the time of 2 Timothy’s writing, Paul had been preaching for over thirty years and his earliest letters, like 1 and 2 Thessalonians, mention Christ’s second coming. Over thirty years later, Paul still believed in Christ’s second coming and was anxiously waiting for it.4 Are you?

Those who are no longer motivated by Christ’s coming and his kingdom will not be faithful when he comes. Luke 12:45-46 describes a servant that says to himself that the master delays his return home. He then begins to eat and drink, get drunk, and beat the other servants. The master comes when this servant isn’t expecting and cuts him in two. When we lose an urgency for Christ’s coming, wasteful living, discord with others, and various sins await us. We’ll also be unfaithful with God’s Word.

Are you living in view of Christ’s coming, his judgment, and his kingdom?

Application Question: How can we keep a watchful eye towards Christ’s coming, his judgment, and his kingdom so that we can be motivated by them?

Preaching Should Be Performed as a Herald of the King

Preach the message…

2 Timothy 4:2a

The term “preach” actually means to “preach like a herald.”5 In ancient times, kings had official messengers called heralds. They would go into cities and towns to proclaim the king’s coming or present official laws and decrees of the king. The herald spoke with the king’s authority. He didn’t have the ability to negotiate or change the decrees. He just proclaimed it in a loud, clear voice for all to hear, and that is true of faithful preachers. They should speak as the very oracles of God—his mouth piece (1 Pet 4:11).

They are not allowed to manipulate the message, change it, or simply preach what they want. They must say what God says. Sadly, many preachers no longer do that today. The sermon starts with a verse and everybody leans in to hear what it means; then the preacher launches into stories about his dog, his wife, his kids, and everything else other than God’s Word. Many preachers simply preach themselves instead of God’s Word. Paul said this about his preaching ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:5: “For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” No doubt, this was, in part, a swipe at those who proclaimed themselves—their religious thoughts and spiritual experiences. Paul did not preach himself. In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul said, “For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” We must resolve to do the same. We are heralds of the King, and therefore, we must speak his Words to others.

Steve Cole shares a very relevant story about Karl Barth that applies to preaching only God’s Word:

Although I disagree with much of Karl Barth’s theology, I admire him for a story told of him. During the 1930’s, he was preaching on John 3:16. Even though many in his German audience professed to be Christians, they were going along with the persecution of the Jews. Barth made the point that Jesus was a Jew, that He had died for all the world, and that the Jews were part of that world. Thus anyone who loves Christ would not participate in the widespread ill treatment of the Jews.

Many in his congregation walked out in disgust before he finished the sermon. One wrote a scathing letter denouncing him. Barth’s reply was a single sentence: “It was in the text.”6

That is exactly how we must handle God’s Word as well. We must preach the text and nothing but the text. Personally, I believe Paul’s exhortation to “preach the message,” or “preach the Word,” should encourage pastors to focus on a specific type of preaching called expository preaching. Expository preaching is simply preaching verse by verse through the Bible while explaining its meaning in the ancient context and applying it to the contemporary context. This type of preaching is important because it makes the preacher preach every verse of Scripture and not simply favorite doctrines or favorite texts. It doesn’t allow the preacher to skip unpopular texts like ones on divorce, election, homosexuality, or church discipline.

But again, this exhortation doesn’t just apply to pastors but to all believers. We must faithfully herald God’s Word—all of God’s Word—to all who will listen, but especially to those God has made us accountable for—friends, family, church members, etc. (cf. Ez 3:17-19).

Are you recognizing your responsibility as a herald—the very mouthpiece of God (v. 1 Pet 4:11)?

Application Question: What is expository preaching and why is it so important? What is your experience with this style of preaching? How should believers view other types of preaching?

Preaching Should Be Performed with Readiness and Urgency

Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.

2 Timothy 4:2b

The phrase “be ready” has the sense of both readiness and urgency. In order to be ready, we must study God’s Word and be prepared to share it at all times—when it is popular and when it’s not popular, when it’s expected and not expected, when it’s convenient and inconvenient. First Peter 3:15 says, “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.” Many can’t faithfully preach or share God’s Word simply because they’re not ready—they haven’t studied and prepared. Warren Wiersbe adds,

Timothy should be diligent and alert to use every opportunity to preach the Word, when it is favorable and even when it is not favorable. It is easy to make excuses when we ought to be making opportunities. Paul himself always found an opportunity to share the Word, whether it was in the temple courts, on a stormy sea, or even in prison. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecc. 11:4). Stop making excuses and get to work!7

As mentioned, “be ready” also has the connotation of urgency. It can actually be translated “Be urgent in season.” “It could be used of a soldier who is ready to go into battle on a moment’s notice or of a guard who keeps continually alert for any threat of infiltration or attack by the enemy.”8

This urgency comes from the fact that we recognize that it’s the King’s message, and it is one of life and death, judgment and reward. Those who don’t know Christ need to be saved from a real, eternal hell. Those who know Christ must be delivered from the bondage of sin and Satan which makes them useless for the kingdom. Those who are discouraged need to be encouraged so they can begin to walk in God’s call. There must be an urgency in the message because it is God’s message, and it’s important.

Sadly, many have lost this urgency—both to share the message and in how they share it. Richard Baxter said this:

Whatever you do,’… ‘let the people see that you are in good earnest … You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted.’9

Are you studying so you can be ready when opportunities arise? Are you seizing opportunities or simply waiting for them? Do you have a sense of urgency to share God’s Word? Faithful preachers must be ready and urgent—prepared in season and out of season—when it’s convenient and when it’s not.

Application Question: How can we keep or develop our readiness and urgency to preach God’s Word?

Preaching Should Be Performed Practically

…reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.

2 Timothy 4:2b

Paul calls for Timothy to use God’s Word to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and instruction—essentially Timothy needed to be practical. He needed to use the Word of God to meet people right where they were—in various situations.

Reprove, rebuke, and exhort represent three different ministry skills. “Reprove” can be translated “correct” or “convince.” It refers to using God’s Word intellectually. It “is a legal term that means to present your case in such a manner as to convince your opponent of his wrong.”10 Sometimes people doubt God or are confused about some doctrine and need to be convinced. We must use the Word of God to convince people’s minds and sure up their faith. If “reprove” is intellectual, “rebuke” is moral. We must use the Word of God to show people where they are wrong and their need to repent. When we rebuke, we speak to one’s conscience. If “reprove” is intellectual and “rebuke” is moral, then “exhort” is emotional. It can be translated “encourage” or “admonish.” Sometimes people are worn down and discouraged—they want to give up on God or the church—and they need to be encouraged or challenged through the Word of God. Faithful preachers must use God’s Word practically to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. They must speak to the mind, to the conscience, and to one’s heart.

In addition, these skills are not just useful in ministering to others; they must be used in ministering to ourselves, for we all need reproof, rebuke, and exhortation, at different times. In 1 Samuel 30:6, it says that David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (KJV). We must do the same.

Is your ministry of the Word practical—meeting people where they are? Some people teach, but aren’t sensitive to the needs of people (or the desires of the Holy Spirit) and therefore aren’t relevant or practical. It has been said that the preacher must frighten the comfortable and encourage the frightened.

In all this, the preacher must demonstrate “complete patience” and “instruction.” “Complete patience” is needed because people who are stuck in sin often take time to get free. Those who doubt often need time to develop their faith. A minister will often need to repeat the same principles from Scripture, as they care for those who are struggling. Ministering the Word of God is very much like farming. We plough the ground, sow the seed, and water, but God makes it grow. We must patiently wait on God and people.

“Instruction” can also be translated “careful instruction” or “with all teaching.” Reprove, rebuke, and exhort are all done in the context of teaching. God has given many doctrines in Scripture—the doctrine of salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, Christ, the church, etc. All these doctrines must be used as we minister practically to others. For example, the one caught in sin or discouragement not only needs to be rebuked or challenged but possibly taught about the need for the body of Christ—the church. God uses the church to encourage and strengthen believers to be holy. The person who does not confess his sins or weakness to others in the body will lack much of God’s grace and healing. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Therefore, the preacher must teach about the church to help a struggling person walk in God’s fullness and freedom. In order for the preacher’s ministry to be practical, it must be wholly doctrinal; orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy—right doctrine to right practice.

Are you teaching God’s word practically to others? Are you meeting them where they are with reproof, rebuke, and exhortation—along with complete patience and instruction?

Application Question: In ministering to others, how can we discern their needs—whether that be reproof, rebuke, or exhortation? Why is doctrine so important to practical living? What are some practical steps for a believer to grow in doctrine?

Preaching Should Be Performed Faithfully in Light of the Widespread Lack of Biblical Preaching

For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

Paul gives Timothy a powerful reason to preach the Word: the fact that many have rejected it and others no longer teach it. The time will come (and it has been here a long time) when people will not be able to stand sound doctrine—literally, healthy doctrine. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul described how in the last days the church will be full of professing believers who are not really saved. They will have an outward appearance of religion but deny the power thereof (v. 5). Because much of the church will be unregenerate, they will bear the fruit of the unredeemed including rejecting God’s Word.

Romans 8:7 says, “because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.” First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural mind is hostile towards God and his Word. An unbeliever cannot understand it and thinks it is foolishness because he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. This will be true of a large segment of the church, as they are not truly born again. They will reject healthy doctrine—truths such as the creation of the earth by God’s Word, marriage between a man and a woman, male and female roles, the inerrancy of God’s Word, holiness, etc.

Instead, they will heap up teachers who will teach them new things—giving them what they want instead of what they need. The NIV translates this, “they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (v. 3). These people in the church will turn from the truth to myths or fables (v. 4). This was true with ancient Israel. Jeremiah said, “The prophets prophesy lies. The priests exercise power by their own authority. And my people love to have it this way. But they will not be able to help you when the time of judgment comes!” (Jer 5:31). Certainly, this is happening today as well. We see it in many ways: radical feminists reject a God that is the Father; believers accept, embrace, and promote sexual immorality and homosexuality; prosperity gospel preachers teach that it is God’s will for all to be rich and healthy, and so on. The unredeemed church heaps up unredeemed preachers and unredeemed preaching to their demise.

Because this will be so common in the church, faithful preachers and preaching will be hard to find. As Amos described with Israel, there will be a famine of God’s Word in the land (Amos 8:11). He said, “People will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north around to the east. They will wander about looking for a revelation from the Lord, but they will not find any” (Amos 8:12). Therefore, faithful preaching is needed even more, and Timothy was to be a prophetic voice to a spiritually anemic community. It is the same for us.

Are you willing to faithfully proclaim God’s Word when so many reject it?

As a side application, this text also reminds us of our need to crave and desire sound doctrine. It is easy to fall into the crowd of those who enjoy having their ears ‘itched’. We still have a sin nature that dislikes being convicted of sin and challenged to do what is right. Often listening to biblical preaching is like taking our medicine; it doesn’t always taste good, and sometimes it is hard to enjoy. At those times, we must faithfully endure it as a discipline. As we faithfully endure it, God changes our lives, and we become more spiritually healthy.

Are you willing to faithfully teach healthy doctrine—knowing that many, if not most, will reject it? Are you faithfully cultivating a desire for God’s Word or are you succumbing to your sin nature that makes you apathetic and even antagonistic to God’s Word?

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced the ‘itching of the ears’ and the ‘turning aside to myths’ in the church? How do you respond to biblical preaching? Do you enjoy it or struggle with it?

Preaching Should Be Performed with Perseverance

You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

Observation Question: In 2 Timothy 4:5, what four commands does Paul give Timothy and what do they mean?

In light of the difficulties in the church, Timothy was called to be different. Paul says, “You, however.” Timothy must persevere in preaching God’s Word despite the antagonism in the church. This perseverance is detailed in four commands that Paul gives. Timothy must:

1. Be self-controlled in all things

“Be self-controlled” can also be translated “keep your head” or “be sober.” It means to be free of intoxicants.11 When everybody else was spiritually intoxicated with false doctrine and sin, Timothy must keep his head. His mind must be saturated with God’s Word and balanced by it. Soberness also has the connotation of being aware and disciplined. Serving in a church saturated with false doctrines and false believers would bring many pains, and Timothy needed to be aware and ready for them. If he was not sober, he would be taken off guard by the criticisms and attacks. He might lose his spiritual equilibrium and be swallowed up in discouragement, pessimism, or anger. He needed to keep his head at all times. We also need to be sober.

2. Endure hardship

“Endure hardship” literally means “to suffer evil.”12 Preaching the truth in a time when people reject it and turn to fables will bring various hardships. Timothy needed to faithfully endure them all. Earlier, Paul called Timothy to endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3). We must do the same. Faithfully preaching God’s Word will bring many victories but also many hardships.

3. Do an evangelist’s work

In the context, doing the work of an evangelist seems to refer not only to evangelizing the world but specifically the church, as many simply have a profession but no true faith (cf. 2 Tim 3:5). Christ warned of this reality. In the kingdom, there would be wheat and tares (Matt 13), good fish and bad fish (Matt 13), and sheep and goats (Matt 25). These members must continually be challenged to examine their faith and to make their calling and election sure (2 Cor 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10).

4. Fulfill your ministry

The word “fulfill” means “to bring to completion.”13 Paul wanted Timothy to one day be able to say, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith,” even as Paul does later in the chapter (2 Tim 4:7). There would be many things that would make Timothy want to quit—fear, persecution, loneliness, a lack of appreciation, criticism, depression, exhaustion, etc. However, Timothy needed to persevere till the completion of his ministry, and we must do the same.

Kent Hughes shares the story of how Pastor Alistair Begg has taken verse 5 as an anchor verse in his ministry. He shares,

Late one afternoon Alistair Begg was meeting with a number of pastors, including myself. He wistfully quoted this very verse, then said, “I increasingly find that verse to be the anchor point for all of my days. I wake up on a Monday, and say, ‘well, what will I do now?’ Then I say, ‘Well, I think I’ll try to keep my head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of my ministry.’ And when I am lifted up by a little encouragement, which sometimes comes, I say to myself, ‘Well, what shall I do?’ The answer is keep your head, endure hardship, and so on.”

He paused, then went on, “And when the waves beat on me and I feel just like running away to the hills somewhere, what should I do? ‘Well, Alistair, just keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of your ministry.’ ”

Then he concluded, “So, that’s a word in season for us to take away and think of.”14

If we are going to perform the ministry of preaching, we must persevere in it. There will be many times when we think about quitting. However, we must persevere by being self-controlled (especially mentally), enduring hardship, evangelizing, and completing our work.

As we consider this, it should remind us of our specific need to encourage our pastors and ministry leaders. In the US, statistics say over 1700 pastors leave the ministry every month because of burn-out, discouragement, moral failure, and other causes.15 We must build up our pastors by praying for them, encouraging them, and serving them in various ways. They are in strategic positions that Satan constantly attacks. They and their families need our constant support. Galatians 6:6 says, “Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it.”

How is God calling you to encourage and support your pastors and ministry leaders?

Application Question: Why is it so hard to persevere, specifically, in the ministry of preaching? What are some practical ways to support and encourage our preachers and teachers?

Conclusion

How should we perform the ministry of preaching?

  1. Preaching Should Be Performed in View of Christ’s Return, Judgment, and Kingdom
  2. Preaching Should Be Performed as a Herald of the King
  3. Preaching Should Be Performed with Readiness and Urgency
  4. Preaching Should Be Performed Practically
  5. Preaching Should Be Performed Faithfully in Light of the Widespread Lack of Biblical Preaching
  6. Preaching Should Be Performed with Perseverance

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 4:2). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 167). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 169). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 4:1). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 253–254). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

6 Accessed 12/17/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-19-preaching-and-hearing-god%E2%80%99s-word-2-timothy-41-5

7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 254). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 174–175). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 107). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

10 Accessed 12/10/16, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-19-preaching-and-hearing-god%E2%80%99s-word-2-timothy-41-5

11 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 182). Chicago: Moody Press.

12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 183). Chicago: Moody Press.

13 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 185). Chicago: Moody Press.

14 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 248). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

15 Accessed 12/10/16, from http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

12. The Successful Christian Life (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

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For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NET)

How can we have a successful Christian life? In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, we see some of Paul’s very last words. In them he says, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” Though he is in prison, awaiting his execution, he has no regrets. He faithfully completed the race that God set before him.

Anybody can start something, but very few can finish. When we look at the narratives of Scripture, many began well but didn’t finish well. Noah was a righteous man who saved himself and his family from the flood; however, the last we hear of him, he was drunk, naked, and being mocked by his son. Moses was supposed to enter the promised land; he had victoriously led Israel out of Egypt. But, he too doesn’t finish as he would have desired. He dies in the wilderness with the unfaithful Israelites.

It is not hard to become a Christian—we are called to believe and follow Christ. But it is hard to faithfully follow him to the end. It is hard to have a successful Christian life. Therefore, because of Paul’s success, he must be studied and modeled. In verse 6, Paul looks at his past with no regrets. In verse 7, he considers his present, and in verse 8, he considers his glorious future. From his Damascus conversion to his second Roman imprisonment and ultimate death, Paul faithfully finished the course before him. He shares this with Timothy to inspire him, and us, to do the same. As we consider Paul’s triumphant words at the end of his life, we learn seven principles about having a successful Christian life.

Big Question: What principles can we learn from 2 Timothy 4:6-8 about having a successful Christian life and finishing well?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Disciple Others

For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.

2 Timothy 4:6

Observation Question: What does the “For” refer to in 2 Timothy 4:6, and what does it tell us about Paul’s death?

The word “For” points back to 2 Timothy 4:1-5, where Paul calls Timothy to preach the Word. He gives him several reasons to do this: First, Timothy was accountable to God and Christ who were watching and would one day judge him (v. 1). Secondly, Timothy should preach because there was an absence of biblical preaching in the church. Congregations didn’t want sound teaching and, therefore, heaped up teachers who itched their ears (v. 3-4). Finally, as seen in this passage, Timothy should preach the Word because Paul was about to depart. He was already being ‘poured out as an drink offering’ and was about to pass from the scene. Timothy needed to continue Paul’s faithful ministry of teaching God’s Word to the lost and the church.

This is true of every successful Christian life and successful ministry. The successful Christian life is a life of reproducing—making disciples for the kingdom. Often in business, ministry, or nationally, when there is a great leader, the business, ministry, or nation thrives. However, when that leader moves on, commonly that entity ceases to thrive. Success is not short-term; it is long term. Part of true success is preparing an entity to thrive long after the leader has moved on. Good leaders do this and so do spiritually successful Christians.

Christ’s ministry only lasted three years, but when he passed away, his twelve disciples continued his ministry and turned the world upside down. God called Moses to prepare Joshua, and Elijah to prepare Elisha. Paul prepared Timothy. Who are you preparing? Christ calls for every Christian to go and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). In a sense, ultimate success is seen after a person passes away by the spiritual legacy left behind.

All Christians must do this: Parents must invest in raising godly children (Eph 6:4). Women must train other women (Titus 2:3-4), and men must train other men (2 Tim 2:2).

In 1 John 2:12-14, John speaks to spiritual children, young men, and fathers. These are stages of the Christian life—the pathway all of us should follow. Each person should progress to the mother or father stage where they are reproducing in their own image—passing down doctrines and helping people become more Christ-like. Like Paul, they are saying, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Sadly, most never make it to the mother or father stage. They stay stunted in childhood where they constantly need to be corrected, fed, and cleaned, instead of serving others. In Hebrews 5:12, the author said to the Jewish Christians that they should have been teachers by now, but they needed to be retaught the fundamental doctrines. Sadly, that’s the state of most in the church. They are not ready to lead and teach; they remain in a state of relearning what they have lost.

To have a successful Christian life, we must disciple others. Who are you investing in? Who will continue your ministry after you depart?

Application Question: Who is your Paul—the person or persons who invest the most in your spiritual life? Who is your Timothy—the person or persons God has called you to train?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Live Sacrificially

For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.

2 Timothy 4:6

The drink offering was the final stage of an offering to the Lord. In Numbers 15:1-10, the Jews were commanded to first give a burnt offering, then a grain offering, and finally a drink offering to the Lord.1 Paul viewed his life as a continual sacrifice. In Romans 12:2, he commanded the Romans to offer themselves as living sacrifices unto God. For Paul, his death was the last stage of a life of sacrifice for the Lord and others. In fact, “time” in verse 6, does not refer to chronological time (chronos) but to seasons or epochs (kairos).2 Paul may have lived for months after he writes these words. In fact, he asks for Timothy to bring him a jacket and books, while he waited (v. 9-22). Whereas in Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, he expected to be released (Phil 1:19, 25), in his last imprisonment, possibly through Spirit-given wisdom, he knew this was the final stage of his sacrifice. In fact, some think the pouring out like a drink offering was symbolic of the type of death Paul would suffer. Because he was a Roman citizen, he couldn’t be crucified. He would have his head chopped off, as tradition says occurred.3 Paul literally would be poured out as a sacrifice before the Lord.

The successful Christian life is a life of sacrifice; Christ said any one who came after him must take up his cross (Luke 14:27). The cross marks the life of a successful Christian in various ways.

Application Question: How can we live a life of sacrifice?

1. To live a life of sacrifice, we must live a life of worship.

In the Old Testament, sacrifice was one of the ways people worshiped God. By comparing his life with OT offerings, Paul implied that his life (and his death) were a continual worship to the Lord. It must be the same for us. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Our eating, drinking, and everything else must be done for the glory of God.

We do this by giving God thanks in everything and seeking to honor him through it. When Job suffered by losing his wealth and family members, he cried out, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” (Job 1:21). Sadly, many only worship God when times are good, but when times are bad, they get mad at God or turn their backs on him. A sacrificial life is a life of worship, at all times and in all things.

Is your life a worship offering to the Lord?

2. To live a life of sacrifice, we must willingly pay the cost.

In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul said:

But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ,

When Paul mentioned assets and liabilities, he used accounting terminology. In following God, everything that he previously considered an asset, he now considered a liability to know Christ more. No doubt, Paul lost family and friends, his esteemed career as a top Pharisee, and health, as he was often beaten and left hungry. However, everything he lost was worth it to know Christ. He was willing to pay the cost.

Part of the theology of the OT sacrifices was that people had to always give their best—their best lamb or crop. God wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t the best. In Malachi 1, God rebukes the Israelites because they brought him the blind and lame instead of their best. Many Christians do the same—there is no cost to their devotion. If it means getting up early to read the Word, go to church, or serve the church, they want nothing of it. There is no cost. They give God their scraps; work, family, friends, and hobbies get much better than God. And no doubt, their offerings are often rejected. God rejected Cain’s offering because he gave only some of his crop. He received Abel’s because he gave the fat-portions of his sacrifice—the best part (Gen 4).

The successful Christian life is marked by sacrificial worship. How is God calling you to sacrifice to serve him and others?

Application Question: What are some common costs to following Christ? Are there any ways you feel God is calling you to give him your best and not your scraps?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Properly View Death and Eternity

For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.

2 Timothy 4:6

One cannot live a successful Christian life without a proper view of death and eternity. This is important because how you view the end affects how you live daily. If a person has no heavenly hope, they will undoubtedly live for this world. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:32: “…If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” He essentially says, “If there is no resurrection, let’s live for pleasure here on earth.” Our view of death and eternity affects how we live today, whether we realize it or not. If heaven and eternity are not better than this current existence, we’ll live for now, instead of for the future.

We can discern Paul’s view of death and eternity from the word “depart” in verse 6. It literally means “uploosing.”4 It is a very vivid word picture that says something about how we should view death and eternity.

Interpretation Question: What images does the Greek word for “depart” invoke? What does this say about how we should view eternity?

  1. Depart was used of unloosing a ship. For Paul, life was like being anchored to the shore, but death was like sailing into a great adventure. If we enjoy this present life, how much more will we enjoy eternity?
  2. Depart was used of taking up one’s tent. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul compares the body to a tent and the eternal body to a permanent abode. In this present life, we dwell in frail bodies that age and encounter sickness and infirmity. But in eternity, our glorified bodies will never get sick, age, or die. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul compares the present body to a seed and the eternal body to a tree. That’s the difference in the glory between the present and eternal body. Death means the reception of our eternal home.
  3. Depart was used of unyoking cattle. For Paul, life was sweat and labor for God. But death meant rest. Revelation 14:13 says, “Write this: ‘Blessed are the dead, those who die in the Lord from this moment on!’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so they can rest from their hard work, because their deeds will follow them.’” Eternity will be heavenly rest. This doesn’t mean that we won’t work, because we will—we will use our gifts to rule with and serve the Lord. However, that work will be eternal joy and rest.
  4. Depart was used of setting a prisoner free. Though Paul was about to be executed in prison, he didn’t see it as punishment but a release into eternity. Here on earth, he was a prisoner, but in eternity, he would be free. On earth, he was hindered from full fellowship with God and others and also from holiness, but in eternity, he was free to truly worship and know God, to know others, and to walk without sin. To die was to be released.
  5. Depart was used of a solution to a problem. For Paul, this present life was a problem. He struggled with the effects of sin—his own and others. But to die was the solution. It meant to be set free from sin and to be like God.

Paul used the same word in Philippians 1:23, when facing the possibility of death or continuing to live during his first imprisonment. He said, “I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” This is the problem with many Christians, which keeps them from living a successful Christian life: to them eternity and heaven is not far better than the present life. Therefore, they live for wealth, promotion, and earthly security, and give up spiritual opportunities. Some in seeking to gain the world, ultimately forfeit their souls. Others, instead of being great in the kingdom of God, will be least in the kingdom (Matt 5:19)—they will lose all opportunity for spiritual reward. If eternity is not far better for them, they will never be able to say like Paul “living is Christ and dying is gain” (Phil 1:21)—it is better by far.

Kent Hughes said this about departing to be with Christ:

Those who have departed to be with Christ are far better off. Though you have lived seventy-five years, it is better to be with Christ. Though you are the richest man in town, life in Heaven with Christ is far better. Though you are brilliant, it is far better. If you have lived only five years, it is better to be above with Christ. Though you have the greatest gifts for ministry, it is far better. The “far better” dominated Paul’s thoughts, as it should ours. Here was a man who looked imminent death in the face and saw the stars.5

Is departing far better? If not, one won’t live a successful Christian life. Instead of dying triumphantly like Paul, a person will die with many regrets: they should have evangelized, served God more, discipled others, gone on missions, trained their family, etc. At death, they will be full of regrets. How do you view death and eternity? Your view of the end always affects how you live today.

Application Question: Which word picture of death and eternity stood out most to you and why?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Constantly Battle

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!

2 Timothy 4:7a

Paul saw the Christian life as a spiritual struggle; he said he had “competed well,” or it can also be translated “fought the good fight.” The Greek word for “fight” is related to the Greek noun “agon.” It’s the source of our English word “agonizing” and “agony.” The word was commonly used for athletic contests like wrestling or a race.6 They involved great effort and energy. When Paul looked at his Christian life, he saw a continual war that he had engaged in since the day of his salvation.

Interpretation Question: What are aspects of the spiritual war that all Christians are engaged in?

1. This spiritual war includes fighting against our flesh.

First Peter 2:11 says, “to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul.” Believers are in a constant fight against their lust, anger, pride, and even spiritual apathy. They have to fight to read God’s Word and pray because their flesh doesn’t desire the things of God. They have to fight against their desire to sin, as their unredeemed nature loves it. In Galatians 5, Paul said that our flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, so that we don’t do what we want (v. 17-18). In Romans 7, Paul said that the things that he wanted to do, he didn’t, and the things that he wouldn’t do, he did. This is the battle of every successful Christian. Success doesn’t mean that they wholly conquer these sins, though they will gain a measure of victory. It means that even when they fall, they won’t stay down. They keep fighting. Proverbs 24:16 says the righteous fall down seven times and get back up. That was Paul’s life; over the course of it, he didn’t give in and quit. He continued to fight against his flesh in order to be holy. And this is what successful Christians do, they continue to fight; whereas, worldly Christians don’t fight—they are led by their flesh and enjoy it.

Are you fighting against your flesh or being led by it?

2. This spiritual war includes fighting against the world.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The world is a system run by the devil that seeks to press everybody into the same mold. It teaches us what is beautiful, successful, acceptable, and moral. It is a system apart from God and meant to draw people further away from him and his will. The believer fights to transform his thinking about what is beautiful, successful, acceptable, and moral. The successful Christian is always testing his thoughts, what he reads, watches, and listens to against Scripture in order to not look like the world, but like God.

Are you fighting against the world and its system or being conformed to it?

3. This spiritual war includes fighting against demons and principalities.

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” The evil one and his demons seek to tempt, distract, persecute, and destroy Christians. They do this primarily through utilizing our flesh and the world. Job lost his family, fortune, wealth, health, and peace, and it was all rooted in spiritual warfare. This was the same fight Paul was engaged in. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, he said, “so that we may not be exploited by Satan (for we are not ignorant of his schemes).” Paul was keenly aware of his enemy, and we must be as well, lest he outwit us.

Are you aware of the enemy’s schemes? Do you know he has assigned demons to destroy you? Are you fighting by putting on God’s armor—a righteous life—and walking in his power through an abiding relationship with him (Eph 6:11-12)? James 4:7 says, “So submit to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When Paul looked at his life, he saw a continual fight. He fought against his flesh, the world, and Satan. William Hendriksen shares this about Paul’s fight:

It had been a fight against Satan; against the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness in the heaven lies; against Jewish and pagan vice and violence; against Judaism among the Galatians; against fanaticism among the Thessalonians; against contention, fornication, and litigation among the Corinthians; against incipient Gnosticism among the Ephesians and Colossians; against fightings without and fears within; and last but not least, against the law of sin and death operating within his own heart.7

This is a noble fight that we must engage in until we go to heaven or Christ returns. On the cross, the war was won, but the battles must be fought until the end. At the end of your life, will you be able to say, “I have fought and struggled for Christ and his kingdom!”

Application Question: In what way(s) do you feel especially engaged in this war or attacked from it?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Endure to the End

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!

2 Timothy 4:7

Paul said he had “finished the race.” Obviously, this race wasn’t a sprint but a marathon. For Paul, it took over thirty years to run it—from the time of his Damascus conversion to his death in Rome. The word “race” can also be translated “race course.”8 Paul had a specific path to run. On the day that Christ saved Paul, the Lord told him about some of the obstacles he would face. He would experience many persecutions while reaching the Gentiles for Christ (Acts 9).

All of us have our own race. Hebrews 12:1 says, “run with endurance the race set out for us.” Some have windy races; some have straight ones; some have hilly races with great highs and lows in life. Some have short races and others have long races: the apostle John lived to an old age while the other apostles died earlier than him. Whatever our race, we must endure it to the end and not quit. We all know Christians that were at one-time faithful to God, but now have turned away, quit following him, or are at least temporarily living in rebellion. How can we faithfully finish the race?

Application Question: How can we faithfully win the race according to Hebrews 12:1-3?

Hebrews 12:1-3 provides some secrets about faithfully finishing our race. It says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.

1. To faithfully finish our race, we must take encouragement from other godly saints.

By using “Therefore”, the author of Hebrews points the Jewish Christians, who were being tempted to give up on the faith and return to Judaism, to Chapter 11, where Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and other heroes of the faith are referenced. By looking at their brief biographies, the Jewish Christians would gain hope to continue. Likewise, we must drink deeply from the stories of biblical heroes so that we can faithfully run our race. However, we must not only look at biblical heroes, but faithful Christians around us (cf. Phil 3:17). Their examples will help us run our race to the end.

2. To faithfully finish our race, we must get rid of all hindrances.

The author of Hebrews says, “we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (v. 1). “Every weight” is separated and distinguished from “sin”—meaning that they’re two different things. “Every weight” could be things that are not bad in themselves and even good things that keep us from being faithful to our Lord. It could include entertainment, career, hobbies, and relationships that instead of helping us grow, slow us down or distract us. We must be brutal with getting rid of all hindrances, including sin that easily entangles us.

3. To faithfully finish our race, we must focus on Christ.

The author of Hebrews calls for the Jewish Christians to fix their eyes on Jesus so that they would not grow weary and lose heart (v. 2-3). Often in my race, I feel like quitting. Sometimes I wonder how I will make it to the end and complete the ministry God has given me. Ministry is hard and very discouraging at times. When I feel that way, I often notice that I have taken my eyes off Christ and that I’m focusing on the storms of ministry instead of the One who called me to it—Jesus. That is the primary secret to persevering in our varied races. We must remember that Christ chose our race—he is the pioneer (or author) of our faith, and he is the perfecter of our faith—he will help us endure to the end. We must focus on him, lest we lose heart.

Have you lost heart? Do you feel like giving up? Put your eyes back on your Savior by worshiping and spending time with him—he will carry you through.

Application Question: Have you experienced times where you felt like giving up on the faith or the ministry God called you to? How do you keep your spiritual equilibrium so you can continue the race?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Faithfully Steward God’s Word

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!

2 Timothy 4:7

Interpretation Question: What does the fact that Paul “kept the faith” mean?

At the end of Paul’s life, he saw himself as a faithful steward of the faith. In the original Greek, there is an article before “faith,” just as there is in the English. This indicates that “faith” is probably not referring to “trust in God” but the doctrines of “the faith.” The phrase “have kept” is one word in the Greek; it means “watching over, heeding, or preserving.”9 This was one of Paul’s primary focuses, as seen throughout his writings. Consider the following passages:

One should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2

Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

2 Timothy 1:14

O Timothy, protect what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and absurdities of so-called “knowledge.”

1 Timothy 6:20

Paul did just that; his letters are full of correcting false doctrine. His narrative shows him passing the Word of God on to others who would then guard it. He was a faithful steward of God’s Word, and we must be as well.

Application Question: How can believers keep the faith that has been entrusted to them?

1. Believers keep the faith by treasuring it.

Job 23:12 says, “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my allotted portion.” The reason most Christians don’t read, study, or teach the Word of God is simply because they don’t treasure it. They treasure other things over the Word of God—entertainment, social media, education, work, friends, etc. If we are going to guard something, we must first treasure it.

John MacArthur shares a powerful story which demonstrates our need to treasure God’s Word:

A beautiful and touching story is told of a young French girl who had been born blind. After she learned to read by touch, a friend gave her a Braille copy of Mark’s gospel. She read it so much that her fingers became calloused and insensitive. In an effort to regain her feeling, she cut the skin from the ends of her fingers. Tragically, however, her callouses were replaced by permanent and even more insensitive scars. She sobbingly gave the book a good-bye kiss, saying, “Farewell, farewell, sweet word of my heavenly Father.” In doing so, she discovered that her lips were even more sensitive than her fingers had been, and she spent the rest of her life reading her great treasure with her lips. Would that every Christian had such an appetite for the Word of God!10

Do you treasure God’s Word?

2. Believers keep the faith by believing it.

This should go without saying, but many Christians don’t believe the Word (cf. John 3:32-33). They don’t believe what it says about creation, gender-roles, abortion, homosexuality, or a host of other topics. If we don’t believe the Word, then we can’t guard it.

3. Believers keep the faith by obeying it.

As mentioned, the word “kept” can mean to heed or obey. If we don’t obey the Word, we push people away from what we profess. We scatter instead of gathering people to Christ (Lk 11:23). Are you obeying God’s Word?

4. Believers keep the faith by studying it.

If we don’t know what it teaches, it cannot be guarded. In the KJV, 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved…” God approves those who study and meditate on his Word. He blesses them and makes them like trees which bear fruit in season and prosper in everything (Psalm 1:2-3).

Do you faithfully study God’s Word?

5. Believers keep the faith by passing it on to others.

Second Timothy 2:2 says, “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” In this passage, we see four generations of Christians: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others. The faith is always just one generation away from being lost. If we don’t teach it to others, then we are not guarding the faith; in fact, we contribute to it being lost.

Are you passing God’s Word on to others?

6. Believers keep the faith by contending for it against false teaching.

Jude 1:3 says, “Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Satan has attacked and twisted God’s Word since the beginning in the Garden of Eden, and he still seeks to do so. He denies the inerrancy of Scripture—teaching others that it is full of errors and not to be trusted. He teaches that faith alone cannot save someone—they need baptism, giving, or other good works.

Believers guard the truth by confronting the lies of Satan and delivering others from them. Paul declared that anyone who proclaimed another gospel was accursed (Gal 1:8). He did not compromise like so many today who guard nothing, as they declare tolerance or unity—opening the door for the enemy.

Are you keeping the Word of God? In order to have a successful Christian life, we must faithfully steward God’s Word and pass it on, untainted, to the next generation.

Application Question: In which way do you feel God is challenging you most to keep the faith?

To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Seek God’s Approval

Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:8

Interpretation Question: What is Paul referring to when he says he will receive “the crown of righteousness”?

Paul anticipates being rewarded by God with a crown of righteousness. There is some controversy over this crown because grammatically, it can be taken as genitive of source—meaning that the crown is received as a reward for Paul’s righteousness—or as a genitive of apposition—meaning that righteousness itself is the crown that Paul would receive.11 Both are linguistically correct. In the first interpretation, only some believers will receive this crown—those who have lived especially righteous lives. In the second view, everyone will receive this crown since the crown is righteousness. When we were saved, Christ gave us his righteousness, and when we get to heaven, he will crown us with complete righteousness. We will no longer struggle with sin.

What are supports for these two views?

1. In support of the first view, proponents argue that the word used for “crown” is not a royal crown but a victor’s crown (stephanos). It was a wreath given to victors of athletic contests or battles.12 Not everybody received this crown—only the winners did. In addition, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 to “but only one receives the prize? So run to win.”—referring to an imperishable crown. It seems that this imperishable crown was something earned. This doesn’t seem to fit with the view that everybody receives this crown because of Christ’s completed work, with no effort of our own.

Throughout Scripture the reality of rewards is constantly emphasized. In Matthew 6:19, Christ called his disciples to store up riches in heaven and not on earth. Earlier in chapter 6, he warns them not to do righteous deeds like giving, praying, and fasting with the wrong motives because they would lose their rewards. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about how on the day of Christ’s judgment every believer’s works will be judged—some will receive reward and others loss of reward. In fact, in Matthew 5:19, Christ says those who obey God’s laws and teach others will be called great in the kingdom of heaven; while those who disobey God’s laws and teach others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Reward is the culmination of the righteous life; it is God’s approval on a believer’s life where God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Whether the crown of righteousness is a reward for a righteous life or not, Scripture teaches that believers will be rewarded for their good works and others will experience loss of reward. Salvation is a free gift, but rewards will be given to believers based on how they live—the crown of righteousness may be one of those rewards.

2. In support of the second view, proponents argue that because Paul says that “all who have set their affection on his appearing” will receive this crown, it seems to refer to all believers, for they all long for Christ’s appearing. In opposition with this view, it could be argued that not all believers will long for Christ’s appearing in the same way, if at all. Since Scripture calls some Christians worldly, as Paul did with the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:1), and also says that some will experience loss of reward—getting into heaven as though escaping through fire (1 Cor 3:15)—it seems clear that those who live worldly lives will not long for Christ’s coming, as they should. Because they are not walking with God, they may even fear it, even as disobedient children fear the return of their parents.

Either way, Paul, no doubt, took comfort from the fact that though he would be condemned by the evil dignitaries in Rome, he would be rightly judged by Christ. The “day” of Christ’s righteous judgment was a constant focus of Paul’s. In 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, he said:

So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

This ultimate judgment of the Lord should always be on our mind. “Will my actions please God? Will my thoughts and words honor my Lord?” No doubt, since Paul’s heart desire was to please God and be honored by him, God’s Spirit miraculously affirmed that reality in Paul’s heart. As he awaited execution, he knew God would ultimately reward him. Let us live lives that God will ultimately reward—lives where we’ll hear, “Well done, well done, my good and faithful servant!” And like the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4, we will cast our crowns and rewards before the Lord, for all our honors are a result of his saving and sanctifying grace (v. 10).

Application Question: Which view do you lean towards and why? Do spiritual rewards motivate you? Why or why not?

Conclusion

How can we have a successful Christian life? Paul’s triumphant declaration at the end of his life gives us principles about how to finish our individual races well.

  1. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Disciple Others
  2. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Live Sacrificially
  3. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Properly View Death and Eternity
  4. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Constantly Battle
  5. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Endure to the End
  6. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Faithfully Steward God’s Word
  7. To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Seek God’s Approval

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 188). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 189). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 188). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2125). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

5 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 251). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 191). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 New Testament Commentary: Expositions of the Pastoral Epistles [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965

8 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (pp. 252–253). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

9 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 196). Chicago: Moody Press.

10 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 196). Chicago: Moody Press.

11 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 199). Chicago: Moody Press.

12 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 198). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life

13. Facing Winter Seasons (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

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Make every effort to come to me soon. For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica. Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry. Now I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him in keeping with his deeds. You be on guard against him too, because he vehemently opposed our words. At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me—may they not be held accountable for it. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear. And so I was delivered from the lion’s mouth! The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever! Amen. Greetings to Prisca and Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth. Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Greetings to you from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

2 Timothy 4:9-22 (NET)

How should we face winter seasons—times of hardship and difficulty? In this text, Paul was in a Roman prison awaiting an imminent death sentence. He calls for Timothy to do his best to come before winter. Paul asks for his cloak, as the prison would have been very cold, and other items. But more importantly, he wanted to see Timothy before he died.

We all experience winter seasons—times of difficulty, and eventually death—even as Paul did. Second Timothy 4:9-22 is Paul’s last written words before he was beheaded. In these final words, we learn six principles about faithfully facing our winter seasons—our times of trial.

Big Question: What can we learn from 2 Timothy 4:9-22 about facing winter seasons—various trials in life including death?

When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Seek the Help of Godly Saints

Make every effort to come to me soon. For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica. Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry. Now I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus…Greetings to Prisca and Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth. Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Greetings to you from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters.

2 Timothy 4:9-12, 19-21

Throughout Paul’s letters and the book of Acts, there are at least 100 different names listed as a part of Paul’s circle of friends and co-workers.1 Paul was no lone ranger; he knew he couldn’t complete the task the Lord gave him alone. This was especially true as he faced his final hours. He asks Timothy to come before winter, as travel would have been difficult at that time, if not impossible. He asks for him to bring a cloak and books (v. 21). He also asked for him to bring Mark (v. 11). In his final hours, he sought the help of his beloved friends.

This was similar to Christ’s final hours. Before Christ went to the cross, he approached his inner circle of Peter, James, and John—asking if they would pray with him for an hour. In the same way, when facing various trials, we must seek the help of brothers and sisters. This may include asking for prayer, counsel, or practical things like money.

Sadly, many are not prepared for the winters of life simply because they have not developed relationships with the Body of Christ and/or are not willing to ask for help. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:21, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’” Yet, many do this, and consequently, impoverish themselves. Instead of seeking help, individuals and families often try to brave the winters on their own—without God’s provisions through the body of Christ.

Solomon said this about the importance of friends and their support:

Two people are better than one, because they can reap more benefit from their labor. For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm, but how can one person keep warm by himself? Although an assailant may overpower one person, two can withstand him. Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Essentially, the wise king said that it’s incredulous to try to walk this life alone—there are too many unforeseen trials. What will one do when he falls and is all alone? What will one do if he lacks the resources to stay warm? What will one do if attacked by others? When Paul faced his winter season, he had Luke beside him, and he also sent for Timothy and Mark.

Who is your Luke, Timothy, and Mark? Who are those that you call upon in times of trouble? Who do you seek for prayer and counsel? James 5:16 commands us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed. If we are going to be prepared for the winter, we must surround ourselves with godly brothers and sisters, and be willing to humbly ask them for help.

Application Question: Why is it so hard for many to ask for help in times of hardship? Who do you ask for help in times of trouble?

When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Continue Ministering to Others

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry. Now I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus

2 Timothy 4:11-12

When Paul requests Mark, the reason he gave was that Mark would be of great help to him in ministry (v. 12). This is surprising for several reasons: First, Paul and Barnabas had once fought over Mark, as Paul didn’t want to take him on their second missionary journey (Acts 15). Mark had left them during the first journey, and therefore, Paul didn’t want to take the risk. However, now, Mark is helpful to him. This reminds us that no matter how many times we fall or fail, God can still use us and others. Mark not only returned to the ministry but also wrote the Gospel of Mark. It seems he became an intimate disciple of not only Paul and Barnabas, but also Peter. In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter calls him his son. Previously, Peter also abandoned his mentor, Christ, in his most difficult hour. No doubt, Peter could relate well with and empathize with Mark. He also saw Mark’s great potential, even as Christ saw Peter’s.

But secondly, this request stands out simply because Paul is focused on “ministry” only months before his death. If there was ever a time to focus on himself, certainly, it was in this hour, as he awaited his execution. It’s normal to be self-consumed when we go through winter seasons. We say, either to others or just to ourselves, “This is a time where I just need to focus on me. This is a time where I need to be selfish!” However, that is not how Paul was, and it certainly wasn’t how Christ was. Philippians 2:3-5 says:

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

We must have the mindset of Christ by considering others above ourselves, even as Paul did. In his winter season, Paul did not become self-consumed, he continued doing ministry. In fact, when he had his preliminary hearing, Paul’s focus was still on preaching the gospel. In verse 17, he said, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear...” At his hearing, he boldly declared the gospel to all the Gentiles listening, including the magistrates and possibly Nero.

In our winter seasons, we must continue to minister to others, and at times, even increase it. Now, this is not denying that we need seasons of rest and recovery. But our rest and recovery is so that we can minister again, and more effectively. Sometimes, ministry is the exact thing a person needs, when going through a hard time. Consider these promises: Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says, “…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Isaiah 58:6-12 promises tremendous blessings to those who minister to others:

No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the Lord’s splendor will be your rear guard. Then you will call out, and the Lord will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully. You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday. The Lord will continually lead you; he will feed you even in parched regions. He will give you renewed strength, and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water. Your perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations. You will be called, ‘The one who repairs broken walls, the one who makes the streets inhabitable again.’

For those who spend themselves in ministering, God promises direction, healing, righteousness, protection, answered prayer, provision, and an even more effective ministry. This passage describes Paul. He was a repairer of broken walls and one who makes streets inhabitable again.

When we serve others, God pours grace all over our lives. He makes even our winters a season of harvest. Are you ministering to others, even when things are difficult? Often by becoming self-consumed, we make our winter seasons colder. Sometimes we isolate ourselves and replay our problems over and over—making them bigger in our minds and causing greater discouragement and depression. Often, ministering to others is exactly what we need, even if all we can offer is prayer. In Paul’s first imprisonment, the gospel advanced, as the Roman guards and Caesar’s household heard the good news through him (Phil 1:12-13, 4:22). The same thing happened in his second imprisonment, as he continued his ministry.

Like Paul, are you ministering to others in your winter seasons? Or have you become self-consumed?

Application Question: Why is it so important to serve others when going through difficult seasons? What are some of the benefits and how have you experienced them?

When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Abide in God’s Word

When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchments.

2 Timothy 4:13

Interpretation Question: What were the cloak, scrolls, and parchments?

Paul not only asked Timothy to come to Rome but also for him to bring a cloak, scrolls, and parchments. Since these items were expensive and it would be strange for Paul to leave them of his own volition, many believe Paul was arrested in Troas. The cloak was “‘an outer garment of heavy material, circular in shape with a hole in the middle for the head.’”2 It was often used not only as a jacket but also as a blanket. We don’t know for sure what the scrolls and parchments were. Many believe the parchments were Old Testament manuscripts and the scrolls were possibly the Gospels.3 Even while Paul was waiting to die, he wanted to continue studying God’s Word. Charles Spurgeon used this passage to rebuke pastors who preached but neglected study. He said this of Paul:

He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!4

In fact, Paul was probably meditating on Scripture when he wrote this final section of 2 Timothy. Some scholars have noted how verses 16-18 are similar to Psalm 22—the very Psalm Christ quoted while on the cross (Matt 27:46). Lock, a commentator, notes how there are nine verbal similarities between the texts.5 Consider Kent Hughes’ comments:

There is something else remarkable here, in that Paul’s reference to the lion’s mouth is substantial evidence that as he faced death on this occasion he was meditating on Psalm 22, the same Psalm that occupied Jesus at his death. The text here resounds with allusions to Psalm 22: 1) Verse 16, “everyone deserted me,” alludes to Psalm 22:1, “why have you forsaken me?” 2) Verse 16, “no one came to my support,” references Psalm 22:11, “there is no one to help.” 3) Verse 17, “I was delivered from the lion’s mouth,” alludes to Psalm 22:21, “Rescue me from the mouth of the lions.” 4) Verse 17, “and all the Gentiles might hear it,” is similar to Psalm 22:27, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.” 5) Verse 18, “and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom,” echoes Psalm 22:28, “dominion belongs to the Lord.” The old apostle was filled with the Word so that he was like a lion—confident and regal.6

To the very end, Paul was seeking to be like his Lord. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul shared how he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, have fellowship with his suffering, die like him and be resurrected like him. Like Christ, Paul probably meditated on and quoted Psalm 22 before his death.

Similarly, when we encounter winter seasons, we must sink our roots deep into God’s Word. Instead of allowing complaints and curses to come from our mouths, Scripture must flow from them. Charles Spurgeon said that the believer must meditate on the Word of God so much that his blood becomes ‘Bibline’. If someone were to cut him, Scripture should flow out. We see this in Christ’s words on the cross when he cries out words from Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:1) and “Into your hand I entrust my life” (Psalm 31:5). Paul seems to do the same.

Meditating on God’s Word brings tremendous benefits, especially when we are struggling. Psalm 19:7-8 says,

The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.

The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The Lord’s commands are pure and give insight for life.

Meditating on Scripture refreshes us, gives us wisdom, makes us joyful, and gives us guidance. When we don’t meditate on God’s Word, we find ourselves burnt out, lost, angry, and short-sighted. When Job was in his winter season, he also drank deeply from Scripture. He said that he loved God’s Word more than his daily bread (Job 23:12).

Are you meditating on Scripture during your winter seasons? Are you being like Paul, Christ, and Job?

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s grace in winter seasons by living in God’s Word? In what ways have you experienced lack by not meditating on it?

When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Offer Grace to Those Who Fail Us

For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica… Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him in keeping with his deeds. You be on guard against him too, because he vehemently opposed our words. At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me—may they not be held accountable for it.

2 Timothy 4:10, 14-16

Observation Question: What people harmed or disappointed Paul while he was on trial in Rome?

During Paul’s winter season, many failed him. Demas, who previously was a faithful co-worker (Philemon 24, Col 4:14), deserted Paul, because he loved this present world (v. 10). Associating with Paul could have led to his imprisonment and death; therefore, Demas chose worldly comfort and security instead of the cross of Christ. We don’t know if he turned fully away from Christ, although it’s possible. First John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This is an assurance of salvation text, as 1 John was written to provide tests of salvation (1 John 5:13).

We don’t know for sure who Alexander the metalworker was. Some have speculated that it might have been a maker of idols who lost business, as people converted to Christ (cf. Acts 19:23-41). But he was possibly the same Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20. Paul talked about how Alexander had shipwrecked his faith by not holding on to sound doctrine and not keeping a clean conscience. If this was the same man, he was probably a former elder in the Ephesian church who became a false teacher (cf. Acts 20:29-30).

How did Alexander harm Paul? When Paul says, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm,” it can also be translated “Alexander the coppersmith charged me with much evil” (v. 14).7 This expression may refer to an actual courtroom setting and legal charges. In Roman courts, there were two hearings: the first was where the charges were established, and the second was where the verdict was handed down.8 In the preliminary hearing, Alexander probably heaped up false charges against Paul—calling him an insurrectionist and an enemy of Nero (just like the Pharisees did with Christ). Alexander also strongly opposed the gospel—possibly declaring that it was antagonistic to Judaism and the pluralistic religions of Rome, where Nero was a god amongst many gods. Paul’s response to Alexander’s crime was, “The Lord will repay him in keeping with his deeds” (v.14). Some versions say, “May the Lord repay” (Young’s Literal) or “Lord reward him” (KJV). However, these are poor translations. Paul did not call a curse down on him but simply stated a fact: God will ultimately bring justice.

Not only was Paul hurt by Demas and Alexander—both probably previous co-workers—but he was also hurt by the Roman Christians who failed to support him at his hearing. No one defended him by declaring that the charges were untrue. Luke and Tychicus probably had not reached Rome yet. Many believers had migrated from Rome because of the widespread persecution, and those that remained were intimidated by the potential consequences of associating with Paul. Similar to Christ’s trial, false witnesses lied about Paul, and his friends were nowhere to be found.

When facing winters of the soul, we must be aware that many might fail us as well. Sometimes our closest friends will walk out on us. Others won’t reach out, maybe, because they’re afraid and don’t know what to say. At times, people might hurt us by talking behind our back or to our face. However, the failures manifest, we can be sure that they will, at times, happen. People are frail and prone to sin, just as we are.

Application Question: How should we respond when others hurt us, as modeled by Paul?

  1. When hurt by others, we must let God fight our battles. Again, when Paul recounts Alexander’s damaging actions, he merely states, “The Lord will repay him,” (v. 14). Similarly, Romans 12:19 says, “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” We must trust God to fight our battles—we shouldn’t try to take revenge or get even. Judgment is coming, and God will do what is just.
  2. When hurt by others, we must bless them. At the Roman Christians’ failure, Paul simply said, “May they not be held accountable for it” (v. 16). He blessed them—asking God to forgive them, even as Christ did when others failed him (Lk 23:34). Scripture calls us to do the same. Romans 12:20-21 says, “‘Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We must overcome evil with good by entrusting our battle to the Lord and blessing those who curse us. If we instead respond with evil, we do so to our own peril. God will also be just, when he considers our response to wrongs against us. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and don’t sin” (NKJV). We can be righteously angry over sins committed against us and others and allow that righteous anger to lead us into sin. One such sin is unforgiveness. Christ said if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matt 6:15). Also, he taught that God would hand us over to torturers for withholding forgiveness—referring to God’s discipline (Matt 18:35, cf. 1 Cor 5:5). When referring to sin, in general, David said if we cherish iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us (Ps 66:18). Responding in a wrong or vengeful way to others’ failures may hurt them, but it often hurts us more.

Sadly, many leave winter seasons with emotional baggage and strongholds—bitterness, unforgiveness, and even addictions—therefore, missing God’s best. However, if we respond correctly to the failure of others like Paul and Jesus, God will bless us. He will use our winter seasons to mature us and give us a greater ministry (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-7, Rom 5:3-5, James 1:2-4).

Are you blessing those who failed you? Or are you withholding forgiveness—bringing God’s discipline upon your life?

Application Question: How have you experienced the failure of others during a winter season? How did you respond? How can we extend grace when others have extended evil to us?

When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Trust in God’s Faithfulness

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear. And so I was delivered from the lion’s mouth! The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever! Amen.

2 Timothy 4:17-19

Though everyone had forsaken Paul (v. 16), Christ stood beside him and strengthened him to preach the gospel to all at his hearing (v. 17). In fact, Paul declared that Christ would continue to deliver him (v. 19). Paul trusted Christ. This was the same Christ who blinded Paul on his way to Damascus and called him to be an apostle (Acts 9); the same Christ who trained him for three years while in Arabia (Gal 1:17); the same Christ who comforted him while he was in Corinth saying that the Lord had many people in that city (Acts 18:9).

We don’t know how Christ appeared to him. Was it a vision, a voice, or his actual presence? We don’t know, but when Paul was forsaken by others, Christ stood beside him, strengthened him, and delivered him from the lion’s mouth.

‘Deliverance from the lion’s mouth’ was a common figure of speech for deliverance from danger (cf. Ps. 22:21, 35:17). However, it also could have referred, specifically, to being delivered from Nero or Satan (cf. 1 Pet 5:8). Either way, Christ was faithful to Paul.

Interpretation Question: What did Paul mean when he said the Lord would deliver him from every evil attack and bring him safely to heaven (v. 18)?

Obviously, Paul did not mean that Christ would deliver him from execution. In 2 Timothy 4:6, Paul said that the time of his departure was near and that he was already being poured out like a drink offering. Most likely, Paul was referring to God delivering him from falling into sin by denying Christ and his Word to avoid execution. For the Christian, there is something worse than death and that is denying Christ (cf. Matt 10:33).

In Philippians 1:19-21, Paul used similar language when talking about God delivering him from his first Roman imprisonment. He said,

for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

What was his deliverance? It was being unashamed and having courage to exalt Christ in his body, through life or death. Sometimes it is God’s will to deliver us from trials, but most times, it is God’s will to deliver us through them. Paul could trust God with both—whether delivered from or through. By God’s grace, Paul would be faithful to Christ in his trial and be taken safely to heaven.

Sadly, many essentially deny Christ in their trial. Instead of trusting him, they become angry at him—essentially declaring that he is unjust, unloving, and unwise. Or, like Demas, they turn away from God to trust in the things of this world instead. By distancing themselves from God (and other believers), they make their trial worse and reject much of God’s grace. Instead of being strengthened like Paul, they are weakened by their own neglect of the Lord.

If we are going to faithfully face our winter seasons, we must trust in the Lord—whether it’s his will to take away the trial or take us through. Either way, his will is always good. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.” We may not understand everything, but we must trust that God does, and that he is working all things for our good (Rom 8:28). He has good plans for his children. Do you trust him?

Application Question: What should we do when we lack trust—when we doubt God’s plan and his goodness? How do we increase our faith in God?

  1. We develop our trust in God by studying Scripture. Romans 10:17 says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. As mentioned previously, we must saturate ourselves in God’s Word during trials in order to build our faith and trust God more. Apart from Scripture study, our faith will be weak.
  2. We develop our trust in God by prayer. One man who doubted Christ said, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, paraphrase). At one time, the disciples, similarly, exclaimed, “Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5). When we lack faith, we must ask for it; we must cry out for more grace. Scripture says that those who continue to ask, seek, and knock will receive (Matt 7:7-8).
  3. We develop our trust in God by remembering times when he was especially faithful to us. When Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry land, God commanded them to take twelve stones from the riverbed so they would always remember (Josh 4:5). Similarly, after God provided manna from heaven for Israel to eat, he made them place a jar of it in the Ark of the Covenant to help them remember (Ex 16:33). Likewise, the Patriarchs would often build altars and name them, or the land around them, in order to remember God’s grace (cf. Gen 33:20). Since we’re terribly prone to forget God’s past graces, we must take efforts to remember them. We can do this by writing them down in our journals or making other memorials and visiting them when doubting.

To face our winters, we must trust God and not deny him by turning to sin. His will is good whether it is to protect us from the trial, remove it, or go through it.

Application Question: Why is it important to trust God in winter seasons? How do you strengthen your faith when it’s weak?

When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Live in Prayer

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

2 Timothy 4:22

Finally, as Paul faces his winter, he closes his letter with a benediction, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (v. 22). The word “your” is singular and “you” is plural.9 Thus the NIV translates it “you all.” He prays for Jesus to be with Timothy and asks for grace upon the Ephesian church. Every one of Paul’s benedictions include the word “grace.” Grace was a central word in Paul’s theology. Believers are both saved by God’s grace and daily sanctified by it. Therefore, like Paul, we must always cry out for grace in prayer, not only for ourselves but also for others.

Prayer must be the atmosphere believers live in, especially when in trials. Consider what Paul says to the Philippians, a church that was being persecuted from outside and had disputes from within (cf. Phil 1:28-29, 4:2-3):

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

By choosing not to worry in our difficult seasons, but instead, praying, giving thanks, and presenting our requests to God in every situation, God will provide peace and guard our hearts. Peace and protection of our hearts is directly linked to our prayer life. Lack of prayer leads to worry, doubt, and various sins, especially when going through trials.

Are you living in prayer? Are you praying in every situation—the good, the bad times, and the dull? Prayer is the doorway for grace both to endure and excel in our trials.

Application Question: How would you rate your prayer life 1-10? What are some disciplines that help with praying consistently? How have you experienced special grace during winter seasons through prayer—both yours and that of others?

Conclusion

How can we faithfully face our winter seasons—times of hardship?

  1. When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Seek the Help of Godly Saints
  2. When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Continue Ministering to Others
  3. When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Abide in God’s Word
  4. When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Offer Grace to Those Who Fail Us
  5. When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Trust in God’s Faithfulness
  6. When Facing Winter Seasons, We Must Live in Prayer

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 257–258). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 120). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3 Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – 2 Timothy: The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible.

4 Spurgeons Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 11:386.

5 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 123). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

6 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 269). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

7 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2127). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 211). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 271). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Appendix 1: Study Group Tips

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Leading a small group using the Bible Teacher’s Guide can be done in various ways. One format for leading a small group is the “study group” model, where each member prepares and shares in the teaching. This appendix will cover tips for facilitating a weekly study group.

  1. Each week the members of the study group will read through a select chapter of the guide, answer the reflection questions (see Appendix 2), and come prepared to share in the group.
  2. Prior to each meeting, a different member can be selected to lead the group and share Question 1 of the reflection questions, which is to give a short summary of the chapter read. This section of the gathering could last from five to fifteen minutes. This way, each member can develop their gift of teaching. It also will make them study harder during the week. Or, each week the same person could share the summary.
  3. After the summary has been given, the leader for that week will facilitate discussions through the rest of the reflection questions and also ask select review questions from the chapter.
  4. After discussion, the group will share prayer requests and pray for one another.

The strength of the study group is the fact that the members will be required to prepare their responses before the meeting, which will allow for easier discussion. In addition, each member will be given the opportunity to teach, which will further equip their ministry skills. The study group model has distinct advantages.

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

Appendix 2: Reflection Questions

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Writing is one of the best ways to learn. In class, we take notes and write papers, and all these methods are used to help us learn and retain the material. The same is true with the Word of God. Obviously, all the authors of Scripture were writers. This helped them better learn the Scriptures and also enabled them to more effectively teach it. In studying God’s Word with the Bible Teacher’s Guide, take time to write so you can similarly grow both in your learning and teaching.

  1. How would you summarize the main points of the text/chapter? Write a brief summary.
  2. What stood out to you most in the reading? Did any of the contents trigger any memories or experiences? If so, please share them.
  3. What follow–up questions did you have about the reading? What parts did you not fully agree with?
  4. What applications did you take from the reading, and how do you plan to implement them into your life?
  5. Write several commitment statements: As a result of my time studying God’s Word, I will . . .
  6. What are some practical ways to pray as a result of studying the text? Spend some time ministering to the Lord through prayer.

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

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