Second Timothy is the last correspondence we have from the apostle Paul. It was written to Timothy around 66 ad. Roman persecution of Christians had already started. Emperor Nero had blamed the Christians for the great fire in 64, and used it as an excuse to throw many of them to the beasts in the arena. It is recorded that Nero even used Christians as human torches to light sporting events in the imperial gardens. At this time, Paul was in prison awaiting his death sentence (2 Tim. 4:6-7). From a dungeon in Rome, Paul penned his last letter to Timothy, his “beloved son” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2; Phil. 2:19-22).
Timothy had been brought to the Lord through Paul’s ministry about 20 years before, most likely when he was a teenager. Since then, a spiritual father-son relationship had developed between Paul and Timothy. Paul taught Timothy the great doctrines of the faith. Timothy accompanied Paul on missionary journeys. Timothy didn’t depart in the face of hardship and persecution. He didn’t give up when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea from 58-60 (Acts 23-26). He didn’t run home when Paul was sent as a prisoner to Rome. He stayed close to his spiritual father while Paul remained under arrest in Rome from 61-63 (Acts 27-28).
It is almost certain that Paul was released from his first imprisonment and that he continued his missionary travels from 63-65. Timothy went along as one of Paul’s faithful co-workers. Some time before his re-arrest by Roman authorities, Timothy was delegated by the apostle to remain at Ephesus to help pastor the church there. Second Timothy 1:4 may refer to the tearful parting between Paul and Timothy at this time. Paul moved on in his travels, and as a faithful father wrote his first letter to Timothy with instructions and encouragement. He continued to boldly proclaim the Good News, that Jesus (not Caesar) was Lord, wherever he went throughout the Empire. Of course it wasn’t long before Paul was again arrested and sent back to Rome. Chained as a criminal, he was placed in the dungeon to await his trial (2 Tim. 1:16; 2:9). In that cold and lonely cell Paul longed to see faithful Timothy again before he died (2 Tim. 1:4; 4:9). We do not know whether Timothy made it to Rome before Paul was martyred. Reliable tradition indicates that soon after Paul wrote 2 Timothy he was beheaded for his faith in Jesus Christ.
During those last days in prison Paul reflected on the rough road ahead for the young Church. Not only was there going to be more physical persecution from without, but there would also be spiritual declension from within (2 Tim. 3). Already many had turned away from the full message that Paul preached (2 Tim. 1:15). With this prophetic insight, Paul wrote his last letter to Timothy encouraging him to remain steadfast in the faith. In spite of the impending persecution and heresy, Timothy was told to “preach the Word” and “fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Paul was concerned that the pure and complete gospel of Jesus Christ be carried on by faithful Christians like Timothy without its being changed or watered down (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:1-2). In order to drive home the point of Timothy’s crucial responsibility, Paul gave his son several models to follow. These models of the faithful Christian are found in 2 Timothy 2.
Before proceeding to the models, let’s look at the valuable and practical lesson of the father-son relationship between Paul and Timothy. Growing Christians need “Pauls” and “Timothys.” Paul-Timothy relationships are helpful and Biblical. Is there a Paul in your life? If not, find a more mature Christian who would be willing to counsel, teach and consistently pray for you (2 Tim. 1:3).
Do you have one or two younger “Timothys” whom you are bringing along in the faith? God has given you the unique privilege of being a spiritual father (or mother) to that younger Christian in your school, neighborhood or church.
In 2 Timothy 2:3-6 we find three models for the growing Christian to follow: the soldier, the athlete and the farmer. Each of these models shows us a particular aspect of the life of the faithful Christian that we are to follow. God did not put these models haphazardly into His Word just to add some color! Each model is there to show us something that God expects to see in the Christian’s life.
The key in the model of the soldier is sacrifice (2:3-4). This is not an American soldier who “joins the army to see the world,” but rather the Roman soldier who sacrificed all to please his Emperor. The good soldier sacrificed the easy life, the secure life and the independent life. Paul certainly measured up to this model throughout his life of sacrificial service for the Lord. Now soldier Timothy was encouraged to do the same. And God expects to see some sacrifice in the life of every Christian.
He has not just given us this model to admire, but to follow. A life of ease, security and independence is not the life of a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The faithful Christian must be willing to sacrifice some of his time. Large bank accounts and worldly careers may bring earthly security, but they are not the marks of soldiers in the Lord’s army. A good soldier does not “do his own thing,” but instead sacrifices his independence and submits to his Commanding Officer. Are we soldiers who are willing to sacrifice?
The particular athlete in view here is the Greek marathon runner (2:5) A life of discipline was required as this athlete trained for the Greek games (the forerunner of today’s Olympic Games). Hours and hours of running and a disciplined lifestyle were demanded if the athlete was to compete successfully. The serious athlete today knows what disciplined training is all about. The application is obvious. We must be disciplined in our Christian life. Training rules may include getting up early each day to read God’s Word and pray. Memorizing Scripture and sharing our faith with non-Christians also involves healthy discipline. Many of us are “out of shape” because we are not disciplined in our training.
The athlete must not only be disciplined in training but also disciplined in running. He must compete according to the rules of the race as well as train according to a training regimen. Imagine a Greek runner entering the crowd-filled stadium to complete the last lap of the long marathon run. As he comes to the final turn he is still 25 yards behind the lead runner. He realizes he can’t overtake him, so he cuts across the field to cross the finish line first. But no prize! The wreath must go to the disciplined runner.
How true this is in the Christian life. What good is my Christian testimony on campus if I cheat on exams? What kind of Christian am I if I conveniently “forget” to pay my debts, or keep the money when I’ve been mistakenly undercharged? What good is my disciplined life of memorizing Scripture, if I am not disciplined in the way I actually run the race? God expects me to be like the athlete who wins the prize – disciplined in training and running!
Another model that Paul gives to Timothy is that of the hard-working farmer (2:6). The key idea in the model of the farmer is labor. The life of the farmer in Paul’s day (and still today) is characterized by hard work. The labor of the farmer is especially significant because it is always done with patience directed toward the harvest. The hard work of preparing the ground, planting the seed, cultivating and watering the tender plants takes patience. There are no instant results in farming. And the aim of all this patient labor is the harvest. That’s what farming’s all about. What lessons for us!
The Lord expects us to work hard in our service for Him even though there may not be “overnight success.” The labor of the Christian in God’s field is sometimes discouraging. Super patience is needed at times to sow the seed of God’s Word and to cultivate the babes in Christ. But the harvest makes it all worthwhile. What a joy for the hard-working Christian to see the Word he has planted take root and finally result in a strong fruit-producing Christian. That is what it means for the Christian to “receive his share of the crops.” And the reward does not end on earth!
Paul gives other models to Timothy in the second chapter. Can you find them all? They are included in God’s Word as patterns for all Christians to follow. We must confess that most of the time we are like peace-time soldiers, weekend athletes and backyard farmers. God is looking for soldiers who sacrifice, athletes who are disciplined, and farmers who labor.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org