51. 2 Timothy: Perseverance in Difficult Days
Danger and the likelihood of imminent death were no strangers to Paul. As Paul’s associate Timothy saw this first hand, and from the very beginning. It would seem that Timothy came to faith through Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul’s first visit to Lystra, Timothy’s hometown, was accompanied by some most unusual events. Paul’s ministry begins with the healing of a lame man, which prompts the people of Lystra to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods (14:8-13). With great difficulty, they finally persuade the townspeople to cease worshipping them. Then, something just as amazing happens:
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. 21 After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch. 22 They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches they prayed and fasted, entrusting these new believers to the protection of the Lord in whom they had come to trust (Acts 14:19-23).415
Jewish unbelievers from Antioch and Iconium (where Paul had just visited) came to Lystra, won the crowds over, and proceeded to stone Paul and leave him for dead. Whether Paul actually died or not is the subject of debate, but it is certainly possible as we see from Paul’s remarks in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. Without attempting to embellish or even to draw attention to this amazing incident, Luke simply informs us that Paul got up and went back into the city. The next day Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe, but it was not long before Paul returned to Lystra, on his return to Antioch. Along the way Paul encouraged the new believers, reminding them that, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions” (Acts 14:22).
It was not until Paul’s second missionary journey that he took Timothy along with him (Acts 16:1-3). But Paul’s words to Timothy strongly suggest that Timothy was well aware of what had happened to Paul on his first visit to Lystra:
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, 11 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).
For many years, Timothy accompanied Paul and experienced danger with Paul first hand. I am not aware of anyone who knew Paul more intimately, nor served with him so faithfully.
After Paul left Timothy behind in Ephesus, he wrote him regarding conduct in the household of faith. This letter we know as 1 Timothy. But between the writing of this first letter and Paul’s subsequent letter to Timothy many things have changed, as we see from a reading of 2 Timothy. In 1Timothy, Paul instructed Timothy to remain on at Ephesus in order to deal with false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3); in 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy he is sending Tychicus to Ephesus and urges him to come to his side as soon as possible (2 Timothy 4:9, 12). When Paul wrote 1Timothy, he had been freed from his first Roman imprisonment and was carrying on his ministry (in Macedonia? – see 1 Timothy 1:3); as Paul writes 2 Timothy, he is once again in prison, and this time he is not nearly as optimistic about the outcome (2 Timothy 1:16; 2:9). Some have even suggested that Timothy may not have arrived before Paul was executed. Paul’s last words to Timothy sound very much like a farewell address (2 Timothy 4:6-8). One definitely gets the feeling that Paul is passing the torch of leadership to Timothy, and to those who will succeed him. In 1 Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy how he should conduct his ministry in Ephesus; in 2 Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy how he should conduct himself and his ministry in the last days, in Paul’s absence.
Things have definitely changed by the time Paul writes 2 Timothy. The future does not look good for Paul, and this great apostle knows that things will only get worse for Timothy as well. Unlike Paul’s first imprisonment, when the apostle was optimistic about his release (Philippians 1:19-26), Paul seems to know that the time of his departure is drawing near. Paul seems to sense that these are his last words. Therefore, Paul has a two-fold purpose for writing Timothy:
(1) To urge Timothy to come to him quickly.
(2) To encourage and exhort Timothy to stand firm in the difficult days that lie ahead.
Well-known texts are found in all four chapters of this powerful letter. It is without a doubt one of the most important New Testament letters. Let us listen prayerfully and carefully to what God has to say to us through Paul.
I understand the Book of 2 Timothy to fall into the following divisions:
Paul’s Challenge to Timothy
Instructions Regarding False Teachers
Following Paul’s Example
Paul’s Final Instructions for Timothy
In this lesson, we will briefly consider these five segments of the book, seeking to identify the major points of emphasis.
We will focus on the one unique element in this greeting, which is found in verse 1:
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, to further the promise of life in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:1, emphasis mine).
One of the things that distinguishes 2 Timothy from Paul’s first letter is the emphasis we find on the return of our Lord and the promise of eternal life.
But now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! (2 Timothy 1:10, emphasis mine)
May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:18, emphasis mine; see also 2:10, 12; 4:1, 8, 18).
Paul is an elderly man, a man who is in prison, facing the death penalty. His days are numbered, and he knows it. We should expect Paul to be thinking in terms of eternal life and immortality. No wonder he begins his letter with a reference to “life and immortality.” This was Paul’s hope, his comfort, and his assurance. One need not face imminent death to appreciate the blessing of eternal life. It should be our focus as well.
Paul’s letter to Timothy is filled with commands. This section alone contains seven.416 As I have indicated by the title to this section, these verses contain Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to persevere in the faith, and by so doing to fulfill his calling. In this passage Paul specifies several areas of application.
(1) Hold fast to sound doctrine, defending it against false teaching (1:13-14; 2:1).
(2) Pass this faith on to the next generation, to perpetuate the faith (2:2).
(3) Don’t be ashamed of the gospel, or of faithful men like Paul, but rather willingly accept his share of suffering for the sake of the gospel (1:8; 2:3).
(4) Devote yourself to your ministry, and in particular rekindle your spiritual gift (1:6; 2:3-7). Paul gives Timothy three illustrations of the kind of devotion that is required of him in 2:3-7. First, like a soldier, Timothy must not be distracted by worldly pursuits, but must devote himself to his mission. Second, like an athlete, Timothy must discipline himself to keep the rules of the race. Third, like a farmer, Timothy should expect to participate in the fruits of his labors. This third example appears to provide the means to fulfill the first.417
Paul’s call for Timothy’s continued faithfulness is not without godly incentives and motivations. First and foremost is Timothy’s personal faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ (1:5, 9-10). Then there is the presence and power of the Spirit (1:6-7). There is also the security of every saint, assuring him of eternal life, immortality, and participation in the kingdom of God (1:1, 10, 12; 2:11-12a). God is the One Who protects and preserves that which He has entrusted to us (1:12, 14).418 There is the example of godly men like Onesiphorus, who at great personal risk sought to minister to Paul in his imprisonment (1:16-18).
Finally, Paul encourages Timothy on the basis of his godly heritage:
3 I am thankful to God, whom I have served with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I remember you in my prayers as I do constantly night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I recall your sincere faith that was alive first in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I am sure is in you (2 Timothy 1:3-5, emphasis mine).
I have to admit I was puzzled by Paul’s reference to his clear conscience, which he likened to that of his ancestors. What was this all about? I recall Paul speaking of his “clear conscience,” as he did, for example, when he stood before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:1. But why this reference to his ancestors? What is the difference between “Paul’s ancestors” in 2 Timothy 1:3 and the “fathers” of unbelieving Jews who are mentioned in Acts 7:51-52; 28:24-28; Hebrews 3:8-10?
I believe that Paul is acknowledging his relationship with the faithful “fathers” of the past, those who trusted in God and obeyed His word. These “fathers” would be people like those named in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. These “fathers” paid for their faith and obedience by enduring suffering and affliction. These “ancestors” would include men like Moses and many others:
24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. . . . 35 . . . But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. 36 And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. 39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us (Hebrews 11:24-26, 35b-40).
In any one generation, the number of the faithful may not be that great, but Paul looks beyond his own generation for a moment and considers his suffering in the context of the history of the faithful, from the beginning of time until the present. Paul is a man who is about to die, a man who has been forsaken by many of his friends and associates (2 Timothy 4:5-18). In the midst of his adversity, Paul sees himself as a part of the community of the faithful and regards himself as being in good company. Paul stands in a long line of faithful men and women. This “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) now cheers him on, urging him to finish his race.
Timothy, too, stands in this same company of the faithful. Paul is finishing his race, and he is passing the baton on to Timothy, who must run his course to completion. In addition to the saints of the past, Timothy has had a long association with Paul, and before that Timothy was nurtured in the faith by his mother and grandmother.419 This godly heritage should inspire Timothy to complete his course.
It was not enough for Timothy to carry the baton and to finish his course. He, like Paul, must pass it on, so that the heritage of a faithful remnant is maintained until the coming of our Lord:
1 So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Just as Lois and Eunice passed the faith on to Timothy, so Timothy must pass his faith on to the next generation. As Paul reminded Timothy of the things he had learned (2:8), so Timothy must remind others (2:14). Timothy is to pass the torch by committing himself to men who have proven faithful, and instilling the truths of the faith in them. They, in turn, are to teach these truths to others.
In verses 8-13, Paul enumerates some of the elements of the doctrine which he had passed on to Timothy in the presence of many witnesses:
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David; such is my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship to the point of imprisonment as a criminal, but God’s message is not imprisoned! 10 So I endure all things for the sake of those chosen by God, that they too may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus and its eternal glory. 11 This saying is trustworthy:
If we died with him, we will also live with him.
12 If we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:8-13).
Here is a further installment420 in Paul’s declaration of the gospel for which he is in chains. Jesus is the Christ (2:8), the promised Messiah, Who was crushed for our sins (see Isaiah 52:13—53:12). He is the One Who was raised from the dead (2:8), which assures us of our resurrection and rewards (or punishment – 2:11-13). It was Christ that Paul preached, and it was for this preaching that he suffered imprisonment. He did so for those who were chosen for salvation, knowing that they will obtain salvation and eternal glory (2:9-10). The words of verses 11-13 are perhaps the words of a hymn, and they speak of this glory.
These verses are somewhat problematic to the reader, because they may appear to contradict other Scriptures. I am speaking particularly of the second half of verse 12, which reads, “If we deny him, he will also deny us.” Does this mean that a Christian can lose his or her salvation? Too many verses tell us that this cannot be the case.421 What, then, is this verse saying?422
I understand this poem or hymn to have two main parts, which should be divided in this way:
Part I: Reassurance for Saints:
If we died with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure, we will also reign with him (verses 11b-12a).
Part II: Warning for Unbelievers:
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself (verses 12b-13).
All believers have died with Christ, and they have also been raised to new life in Him (Romans 6:1-11). Thus, those who have died with Christ have the assurance that they will also live with Him. This assumes the perseverance of the saints, which is reinforced by verse 12a: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” Christians are those who have died and risen from the dead in Christ, and because they are Christians they will endure. Even in times of suffering this gives us the assurance that we will also reign with Him when He returns to establish His kingdom.423
The second half of the hymn turns to a word of warning for all those who are not true believers. If someone denies Him, our Lord will deny them (verse 12b, emphasis mine):
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels. 9 But the one who denies me before men will be denied before God’s angels” (Luke 12:8-9, emphasis mine).
The term “denies,” found in Luke 12:9, employs the same verb that Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:12b. The one who “denies” Christ is the one who does not believe.
In my opinion, verse 13 is where we are tempted to get confused. We read this verse in the following manner:
If we, as Christians, are not faithful to God (at some point in our lives),
God remains faithful to us, because He cannot deny Himself.
The term which is rendered “unfaithful” in 2:13 is found 8 times in the New Testament.424 The term is used to describe the disciples “unbelief” with reference to our Lord’s resurrection (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11, 41). In the other texts, excluding 2 Timothy 2:13, the term is used to depict the unbelief of the lost:
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16, emphasis mine).
Some were convinced by what he said, but others refused to believe (Acts 28:24, emphasis mine).
7 So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:7, emphasis mine).
The meaning in all cases is unbelief (whether in Christ as Savior, or in Christ’s resurrection); the term is never used of unfaithfulness, or of a lapse in faith (as we see, for example, in our Lord’s disciples). The last half of verse 12 and verse 13 refer to the same people – unbelievers.
I believe that the point of Paul’s words in verse 13 is clearly conveyed in another Pauline passage:
3 What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 Absolutely not! Let God be proven true, and all mankind shown up as liars, just as it is written: “so that you will be justified in your words and will prevail when you are judged” (Romans 3:3-4, emphasis mine).
In the context in Romans, Paul has just shown that the Jews failed to live up to the law that they professed to esteem and uphold (Romans 2:17-29). The question he raises is this: “If the Jews have refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, does this mean that God’s promises are null and void?” “Does Israel’s lack of faith undermine and nullify the faithfulness of God?” Paul’s answer is very clear. “No!” Israel’s unbelief does not, in any way, undermine God’s covenant promises, or His faithfulness to these promises. God will show Himself true, even if all men prove to be liars (which they are). This is precisely the point Paul is making in 2 Timothy 2:13. Men who deny the Savior will be denied by the Savior; they won’t get into heaven. Put differently, even though men don’t believe in Him, God will still remain faithful to Himself, and to His promises (and these promises include the threat of eternal torment, as well as His promises of blessing).
I believe that this way of interpreting this hymn is consistent with the overall message of 2 Timothy. On the one hand Paul encourages his “spiritual son” Timothy to endure in his (true) faith. On the other hand Paul warns of the condemnation of those false teachers who may very well be outside the faith (see, for example, 2 Timothy 2:23-25). One might not be certain whether such folks are saved or not, which explains why Paul would say,
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).
Let me make one last comment about the hymn Paul cites in 2:11-13. The essence of this hymn is to stress the outcome of one’s faith or unbelief. Those who are saved and who endure in their faith (as Paul has exhorted Timothy to do) are assured of eternal life and a place of honor and authority in His kingdom (2:11-12a). Unbelievers who deny the Savior are assured of rejection; they will have no part in the kingdom (2:12b-13). These two destinies take place after the resurrection of the dead, the very thing the false teachers seek to deny in one way or another (see 1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Timothy 2:18).
In the first part of this epistle, Paul has focused on Timothy, urging him to be faithful to his calling, following the teaching and the examples of those faithful who have gone before. Now, Paul turns to the false teachers, whom Timothy has been instructed and authorized to correct and silence (see 1 Timothy 1:3ff.). Paul continues to exhort Timothy to maintain sound doctrine and godly living, but now he does so by contrasting the doctrines and conduct of the faithful with the teaching and lifestyle of the false teachers. Timothy is to protect and practice the faith by dealing rightly with those who contradict sound teaching and conduct.
In verses 14-19 of chapter 2, Paul contrasts the sound doctrine Timothy is to proclaim with the false teaching of the deceivers:
14 Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before God not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen. 15 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. 16 But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, 17 and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group. 18 They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith. 19 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).
Timothy is to be a diligent student of God’s Word, interpreting it in a sound manner, and proclaiming it without dilution or distortion (2:15). He is to avoid “word wrangling,” which does not edify, but undermines men’s faith. Their teaching does not rest on the solid study of God’s word, but on myths and speculation, resulting in “empty chatter” (2:16, 23; see 1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7). This teaching departs from the truth, even to the point of functionally denying the future resurrection of men (2:18).
The second thing that characterizes (and betrays the identity of) false teachers is their conduct (see Matthew 7:15-20; Philippians 3:17-21; 2 Peter 2). That is why Paul concludes verse 19 with the statement, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.” Verses 20-26 contrast the ungodly lifestyle of the false teachers with the godly lifestyle of the faithful servant. I must confess that until now I have always understood verses 20-21 to refer to Christians – those who keep themselves pure, and those who don’t:425
20 Now in a great house 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 rather ignoble. 21 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).
I now see these verses differently. To begin with, the verse which precedes these verses states, “The Lord knows those who are his.” He then goes on to add, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.” Paul does not put forth a dual standard for Christians – the “high road” of purity and the “lower road” of impurity. I believe Paul is saying that the true believer must be characterized by purity in life, while the unbeliever will be evident by impurity. To give a biblical example, Pharaoh was a “common” vessel. Moses, on the other hand, was a clean vessel (clean, not perfect). God used Pharaoh to glorify Himself through his unbelief and rebellion, while He used Moses to glorify Himself through obedience.426 Moses was a vessel to honor; Pharaoh a vessel to dishonor.
In verses 22-26, Paul further clarifies what he means by being a vessel of honor. It means the avoidance of youthful passions and the pursuit of godliness (2:22). It means maintaining a pure heart and living in peace with others. This is in stark contrast with the false teachers who love to argue. The honorable vessel avoids senseless controversies because he knows where they lead – to fights (2:23). Instead, the Lord’s servant is to be characterized by a peaceable spirit, even when engaging those who hold and promote false doctrine:
23 But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed fights. 24 And the Lord’s slave must not be a fighter but kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth 26 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).
I find here a very different spirit. The faithful teacher is one who seeks to win converts; the word wrangler is one who seeks to win arguments. There are some people who just love the fight, or more accurately, they love to fight. Those who strive to win arguments often lose. How many times I have watched men “contend for the faith” in a way that makes me angry with them, even though I hold to the doctrines they seek to defend. If we truly believe that it is the Spirit of God and the Word of God that convinces, convicts, and converts, then we need to lay aside our combative ways.
13 Which of you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. 18 And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace (James 3:13-18).
In chapter 3, verses 1-9, Paul continues to play out the contrast between godly teachers (as Timothy is being challenged to be) and ungodly deceivers:
1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. 6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 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. 9 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).
Whereas Timothy was urged to gently teach and correct those who are in error, so that they might be convicted of their sins and converted, Paul describes the false teachers as preying upon the weak and vulnerable, taking advantage of their sins.
These verses supply us with a very important explanation. Up to this point the emphasis has been on false teachers. The question must arise, however, “Just why are false teachers so popular?” “Why is it that these folks can gather such a following?” Paul’s answer is simple and clear: The false teachers have a following because they market their message to the sensual whims and desires of their audience (compare 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). While some may be unwittingly deceived and led astray, many of their followers want to be led astray, because they are looking for some way to justify their sin. False teachers have given them the pious sounding excuses they want, teaching they are most willing to pay for! Paul informs us that this tendency will only increase as the last days approach.
I need to say something about the “weak” or “silly” (KJV) women in verses 6 and 7:
6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-7, emphasis mine).
I do not think that Paul is suggesting that women, in general, are more gullible and vulnerable than men. He certainly is not saying that women – as opposed to men – are burdened and made more vulnerable by their guilt.427 I do not believe that Paul is selectively picking on women. Rather, Paul is showing the cowardly and wicked character of false teachers. These folks weasel their way into homes by way of the back door. They appeal to the weaknesses and felt needs of women who are vulnerable.428 And in this way the entire home is corrupted.
The false teachers prey upon the weak and vulnerable. He now gives a specific example, which does not exclude all others. Just as Satan sought to bring about Adam’s fall by taking advantage of Eve’s weaknesses429 (she was utterly deceived, Paul says, not Adam – 1 Timothy 2:14), these cunning wolves prey upon the weakest victims they can find. This is not restricted to the unprincipled folks of Paul’s day; we see it today as well. We often read in the paper of those who prey on the elderly, bilking them out of their hard-earned money by all kinds of cunning scams. This is not an indictment on the elderly, but on those who would take unfair advantage of the vulnerable.
As I was thinking of Paul’s words about these teachers and the way they victimized weak women, I happened to be reading through the Gospel of Luke, where I came upon these words:
1 Sometime afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Cuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their own resources (Luke 8:1-3).
As I read these words I realized that, in one sense, the women the false teachers preyed upon and these women who ministered to our Lord are similar. Jesus loved these women, delivered them from their maladies, and forgave their sins. Jesus ministered to women (and men, too) in lowly circumstances and elevated them to a place of purity and honor. They loved Him for it, and gratefully followed Him. What a Savior! What a contrast to the false teachers, who take advantage of the weaknesses of their victims and use them for their own evil purposes. These men may creep in and be undetected for a time, but eventually (as was the case with Jannes and Jambres), their sin and foolishness will be evident to all.
In the early verses of chapter 3, Paul spoke of the unscrupulous false teachers. In verse 10, Paul praises Timothy for following him, and not the false teachers described above:
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, 11 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. 12 Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:10-12).
Following Paul’s example means following his lifestyle, pursuing the same goal, holding the same faith, being patient and loving. It means enduring in the midst of persecutions and tribulation. Here Paul refers to the persecutions he experienced on his first missionary journey, on his way to Lystra, Timothy’s home town. God delivered him through all his adversities. Paul’s life was not the exception, but the rule. All who desire to live a godly life will suffer persecution for their faith (compare 1 Peter 4:12-19).
The wicked false teachers will escape such persecution because they appease their audience and appeal to their lower natures. And so the false teachers will appear to prosper as they progress from bad to worse. They deceive others, while at the same time they deceive themselves (3:13). What a contrast Timothy’s life and ministry is to be! Timothy is to continue in the doctrine he has received. He is to remember not only what he was taught, but who taught him (this seems to include Paul, as well as his mother and grandmother). He was to be a man of the Scriptures. Rather than myths and genealogies, “word wrangling” and speculation, Timothy was to rely on the Scriptures as completely sufficient for his life and ministry:
14 You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, that are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
When it comes to things spiritual, the Scriptures are all that we need:
3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Paraphrasing the words of Professor Zane Hodges, from a seminary class in years gone by, “Nothing needs to be taught, for which the Scriptures do not provide the text; nothing needs reproving which the Scriptures do not reprove; nothing needs improving which the Scriptures do not seek to improve.” False teachers always place the emphasis on their own unique teachings, teachings which go beyond the written Word of God (see 1 Corinthians 4:6). True teachers never feel the need to go beyond the Bible.
And so Paul solemnly charges Timothy to make the proclamation of God’s Word his passion:
1 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 Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Timothy is to continue to faithfully proclaim the Word of God. He is to “preach the message, whether it is convenient or not” (4:2). What does this mean? I don’t think that it means that we preach, regardless of the readiness of our audience, or the appropriateness of the moment. Too many texts tell us that there is a time and a place, and a proper presentation of the truth:
5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone (Colossians 4:5-6).
I think that here Paul is telling Timothy that he is to be faithful in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, whether it is convenient for him or not. How many times do our children (for me, now my grandchildren) come and ask us to read a book to them in the middle of an exciting football game, or in the middle of my studies? How often do our children misbehave just at the time we least want to trouble ourselves to deal with their sin? Paul instructs Timothy to be disciplined enough to seize every opportunity to proclaim the Word of God.
There is a good reason for Paul’s sense of urgency:
3 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. 4 And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths. 5 You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:3-5).
Paul is well aware that his days are numbered. He is in prison and soon to be executed. Further, he is an old man. But Paul is not thinking of himself here; he is calling attention to the times in which he and Timothy are living. The days are growing more and more evil. Men are not eager to hear the truth. In fact, they seek out those who will teach them “truth” the way they want to hear it. Timothy needs to “make hay while the sun shines;” he needs to take advantage of every opportunity, because as time passes these opportunities will become fewer and fewer. There was no time to waste.
While Timothy has much work yet to do, Paul’s ministry is drawing to a close. That ministry has been a faithful and fruitful one, one which Timothy would do well to imitate:
6 For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. 7 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! 8 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).
Here is a sermon in and of itself. Paul knows that the time of his departure is near. His life has been a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2). He has the comfort of knowing that he has faithfully carried out his mission. His work lies behind; his reward awaits him. His Lord, the righteous judge, will reward him with “the crown of righteousness.” And this reward is not only awaiting Paul, but all of those who have fixed their affections on the Lord’s return.
In some ways we need to know what Paul writes here in order to rightly understand this letter. Paul summons Timothy to come to him from Ephesus as quickly as possible. Tychicus is on his way to relieve Timothy at Ephesus. Paul wants his spiritual “son” to be with him at this time. His presence will be particularly precious because others have forsaken Paul:
9 Make every effort to come to me soon. 10 For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica. Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry. 12 Now I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchment ones. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him in keeping with his deeds. 15 You be on guard against him too, because he vehemently opposed our words. 16 At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me—may they not be held accountable for it. 17 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! 18 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. 19 Greetings to Prisca and Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth. Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. 21 Make every effort to come before winter. Greetings to you from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you (2 Timothy 4:9-22).
Some of those who left Paul seem to have been sent; others just went. They seem to have realized that Paul’s death by execution was imminent, and they did not wish to be identified with him at this time, especially if the charge was insurrection. Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak and writing materials when he comes (4:13). It seems to me that as the day of their departure drew near, both Peter and Paul had a growing sense of the importance of the written word, and thus had a strong inclination to leave written instructions behind, for men to read after they were gone (see, for example, 2 Peter 1:12-15). Thus the urgent request that Timothy bring writing materials with him.
Paul warns Timothy about Alexander (4:14-15). He assures Timothy that while many have forsaken him, the Lord has faithfully stood by Him. So it was that he was delivered from his first imprisonment. Paul was certain that the Lord would deliver him from every evil deed and would bring him into His kingdom at the proper time (4:18). Giving his greetings to the saints, Paul urges Timothy to arrive in Rome before winter sets in. Time is short. And with this Paul commends Timothy to the Lord. Days, or perhaps weeks separate these words from the hour of his death (as tradition would have it) at the hand of Rome.
A survey of this kind does not permit extensive application, but allow me to close by highlighting several important areas to consider.
Paul challenges us to be faithful in the proclamation and the practice of the truth in our generation. Paul knew that in his days men were becoming increasingly hostile and resistant to the gospel and the truths of God’s Word. He knew that Timothy, as a Christian, would have to oppose the culture. How easy it would be to compromise the message, or to simply keep quiet. Timothy was to stand firm in his faith and practice.
Can we not see that our times are very much like those of Paul? In days gone by our laws protected us when we sought to practice or to proclaim our faith. Now, it would seem, the tables are being turned. Paul felt the same way about his own times. We need to faithfully hold to the truths of God’s Word, and to both proclaim and practice them.
Paul challenges us to pass the faith on to the next generation. Paul’s life was almost over. He was soon going to be with the Lord. The apostle is clearly passing the torch on to Timothy, and likewise he is urging Timothy to pass the torch on to others, who in turn will pass it on to others. Here is a most vital duty and privilege – to preserve the faith and to pass it on, intact, to others. Let us not fail to pass it on to others as Timothy did, and as others have done throughout church history.
Paul seeks to prepare us for the persecution that is coming, especially as the last days draw near. Timothy had seen his share of persecution in his travels with Paul. Nevertheless, Paul seems to sense that even more difficult times lie ahead for Timothy and others. He knows that he will suffer, and (perhaps as a result) others will suffer as well, if they hold fast to the faith. Paul tells us to “toughen up” as we prepare for the hard times ahead. I cannot help but see Paul’s words to Timothy as having a very prophetic message for saints who live in America today. We have known peace and prosperity as Christians, but we must acknowledge that we are the exception, and not the rule. Since suffering for the faith is the rule, we had better be prepared for hard times.
Paul challenges us to find the Scriptures absolutely accurate, authoritative, and sufficient for ministry to others (as well as to ourselves). When Paul first left the Ephesian elders on their own he commended them to God and to the word of His grace:
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 (Acts 20:32).
As Paul prepares to leave this earth and to leave Timothy behind, he once again commends the Word of God as sufficient for all our spiritual needs. Many today would affirm that they believe the Bible is God’s Word, and that it is inspired. A number would acknowledge that it is not only inspired, but inerrant. But all too few find it sufficient. It is, as Paul reminds us.
Finally, Paul warns us about the dangers of “word wrangling.” “Word wrangling” is not wrestling with the Scriptures, seeking to “rightly divide the word of truth.” It is a departure from the Word, by engaging in speculation and theoretical discussions which are not rooted in the Bible, which do not promote the gospel and God’s kingdom, and which do not promote godly living. It is, in Jesus’ words, all about “straining gnats while swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24). It is about unprofitable debates and arguments over trivialities, or even speculative myths. It is about winning arguments rather than winning lost sinners to Christ. It is about ego and self-indulgence, rather than about humble service and self-denial. Let us beware of “word wrangling.”
In the “Religion” section of yesterday’s Dallas Morning News430 I came across two feature articles, both of which illustrated “word wrangling.” The article quotes Annie Solomon as saying,
“If the main symbol had been bread or fish, maybe the emphasis wouldn’t have been placed on Christ’s death and there wouldn’t have been the need to blame someone for it.”
Elsewhere on this page we read,
“Last winter, Bible scholar Robert W. Funk called for new symbols to represent a new kind of movement. By spring, scholars at his Westar Institute were coming up with ideas. The Lord’s Supper would stay, but it would omit any mention of sacrifice. Consuming the blood and body of Jesus would probably be out. Instead, he envisioned a dinner, open to everybody, representing the kinship of all humans. Dr. Funk is the founder of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who use historical records and ancient texts in an attempt to separate what the human or historical Jesus actually did or said from what his followers later attributed to him for spiritual or political reasons.”
Here, these “word wranglers” are suggesting that we take two of the symbols of the Christian faith (and the terms which depict them) – a cross and the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and change their meaning. What a dreadful thought. Old, biblical, words, are invested with new (and very different) meanings.
I have found John Piper’s tape series, “Men of Whom the World Is Not Worthy,” most profitable. In his study of the life of J. Gresham Machen, Piper writes these powerful words pertaining to “word wrangling” (Piper does not use this expression, but his words seems to deal with exactly what Paul condemns as “word wrangling.”):
Lessons We Might Learn from Machen
Machen’s life and thought issue a call for all of us to be honest, open, clear, straightforward and guileless in our use of language. He challenges us, as does the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; Eph. 4:25; 1 Thess. 2:3-4) [to] say what we mean and mean what we say, and repudiate duplicity and trickery and shame and verbal manipulating and sidestepping and evasion. Machen alerts us to the dangers of the utilitarian uses of moral and religious language. For example, in Christianity Today, Nov. 9, 1992, (36/13) p. 21, Roy Beck quotes Gregory King, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation's largest homosexual advocacy group, who told the Washington Times in August, “I personally think that most lesbian and gay Americans support traditional family and American values,” which he defined as “tolerance, concern, support, and a sense of community.”
This is an example of how words with moral connotations have been co-opted by special interest groups to gain the moral high ground without moral content. They sound like values, but they are empty: “Tolerance” for what? All things? Which things? The standards are not defined. “Concern” for what? Expressed in what way? Redemptive opposition, or sympathetic endorsement? The standard is not defined. “Support” for what? For the behavior that is destructive and wrong? Or for the person who admits the behavior is wrong and is struggling valiantly to overcome it? The object is not defined. “Community” with what standards of unification? Common endorsements of behavior? Common vision of what is right and wrong? Common indifference of what is right and wrong? Again the standards are not defined.
Yet the opposite of each of these four family values (intolerance, unconcerned, oppressive, self-centered) all carry such negative connotations that it is hard in sound bites to show why the four “values” asserted by the homosexual community are inadequate and even may be wrong as they use them.
All you have is words driven by a utilitarian view of language where honesty and truth are not paramount. Machen shows us that this is not new and that it is destructive to the church and the cause of Christ.431
Paul’s words to Timothy not only inform us that the great apostle was prepared for his death, they give us comfort as we face the certain reality (unless the Lord returns) of our own death. Much more than in 1 Timothy, Paul dwells on the “blessed hope” of the believer. He assures us of our resurrection with Christ and of our blessed hope in Christ. This gives us courage and boldness in the face of opposition and death.
Paul’s last recorded words urge us to finish well the course that God has laid out for us. How sad it is to see people give in and collapse toward the end of their lives. Sometimes we label this “retirement.” For some, it is not so much a collapse as it is a “relax.” We think that we have somehow earned the right to retire, basking in comfort and self-indulgence, when we should, like Paul, be furthering the cause of the gospel. Let us not slack up as our departure draws near, but let us press on to the end of the race.
May God take Paul’s powerful farewell and challenge to Timothy and apply it to our hearts and lives as the day of His return draws near.
414 This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 103 in the From Creation to the Cross series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 17, 2002.
415 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
416 Imperatives are found in 1:8, 13, 14; 2:1, 2, 3, 8. In addition there are what I would call “virtual imperatives.” These are commands that are not expressed by the imperative mood. We can see one such command in 1:6 (“I remind you to rekindle God’s gift. . .”). Imperatives in the rest of 2 Timothy can be found in 2:14, 15, 16, 19, 22 (twice), 23; 3:1, 5, 14; 4:2 (five times), 5 (four times), 9, 11, 13, 15, 19, 21.
417 If Timothy lives from the fruit of his labors, he will not need to occupy his time “making a living.” This is especially interesting to me, because Paul is not encouraging Timothy to follow his own example of “working with his own hands to provide for himself and others” (e.g. Acts 20:34-35; 1 Corinthians 9:1-22; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). It was not that Paul did not have the right to be supported (1 Corinthians 9:1-12), but rather that he frequently opted not to make use of it. In Timothy’s case, however, this right should be exercised, so that he could devote himself entirely to his ministry (compare Acts 18:2-3).
418 The command in 1:14 is based upon the assurance in 1:12. I should note that there is a different reading in some Greek manuscripts, so that the KJV speaks of God keeping what we have committed (our lives, our eternal destiny) to Him. The study note in the NET Bible reads, “What has been entrusted to me (Grk ‘my entrustment,’ meaning either (1) ‘what I have entrusted to him’ [his life, destiny, etc.] or (2) ‘what he has entrusted to me’ [the truth of the gospel]). The parallel with v. 14 and use of similar words in the pastorals (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 2:2) argue for the latter sense.”
419 Since Paul refers to Timothy as his “genuine child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), it would appear that Timothy may have been converted on Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 14:5-23). How, then, can Timothy’s faith be linked to his mother and grandmother? I would be inclined to look upon Timothy’s mother and grandmother as Old Testament saints, who quickly embraced the glorious news of the gospel that the promised Messiah had come. In this way, they raised Timothy in the (Old Testament) faith, a faith that came to full bloom in a personal relationship with Christ at the time of Paul’s ministry in Lystra.
420 The first installment in this epistle came in 1:9-11.
421 See, for example, John 10:27-29; Romans 8:28-39.
422 My friend, Hampton Keathley IV, has proposed another possible solution, by appealing to the chiastic structure of this poem: http://www.bible.org/docs/nt/books/2ti/2tim2-12.htm
423 See also Romans 8:18-25.
424 Mark 15:11, 16; Luke 24:11, 41; Acts 28:24; Romans 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:13; 1 Peter 2:7.
425 As though these were “spiritual” and “carnal” saints.
426 See also Romans 9:20-24.
427 Unless he means that women are more sensitive to sin and its resulting guilt than men.
428 This should serve to caution those of us who seek to shape or structure the church according to the desires or expectations of men, particularly those who are lost. What we feel we need while still in our sins is not what we really need.
429 Part of this weakness may include the fact that only Adam heard the prohibition directly, while Eve heard it indirectly from Adam.
430 “At Cross Purposes,” “Are Christian Symbols Ripe for Change?” and “Examining the dark side of an icon,” by Christine Wicker. The Dallas Morning News, November 16, 2002. Page 3G.
431 John Piper, “J. Gresham Machen’s Response to Modernism,” Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, January 26, 1993. http://www.desiringgod.org/library/biographies/93machen.html
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)