In looking at 2 Timothy, we’ll focus on the problems facing Paul in the closing period of his life. In so doing, we’ll learn that despite all, God remains in control and will never fail those who put their trust in Him. Paul penned this letter when he was a prisoner in Rome awaiting martyrdom. Timothy’s Timidness Though Paul did not doubt Timothy’s gift, he was fearful of Timothy’s timidness. Paul was a man of determination who feared God alone. Timothy did not share Paul’s confidence, so the older had to stir up the younger. There would be perilous days ahead when it would be tempting to hide. But even at the present, there were disciples who did not want to stand with Paul. They were ashamed of his chains – another way of saying that they were “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8 KJV).
Timothy had an impressive spiritual pedigree and his gift had been acknowledged by the presbytery. However, the real test would not be his gift but his endurance when Paul was no longer present to support him. Paul was entrusting much to the loyalty of his “dearly, beloved son” (1:2). Therefore, Timothy would be compelled to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2:3).
Snare Of The World
As true servants of Christ, the apostles were faithful both in tribulation and temptation. Thus Paul, who could have secured his release by a simple “gift” to Roman governor Felix, chose rather to preach the gospel of “righteousness, self-control and judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). Also, the Thessalonians would have given anything to hear the gospel. Paul could have named his price and lived thereafter in comfortable retirement. But, as he said to the elders of Ephesus, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel” (Acts 20:33).
Timothy must also be faithful in temptation and tribulation. And as to “the pleasure of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25), Paul warned Timothy to “flee also youthful lusts” (2:22). We know that besides sins of childhood and old age there are also “the sins of my youth” (Ps. 25:7). If we do not flee from these, we shall hate ourselves in later life. But whereas there was also the struggle against the flesh, of the many who had abandoned Paul, he recorded that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (4:10).
The older man therefore cautions the younger not to become entangled with the “affairs of this life” (2:4). This warning reveals that there are dangers in both business and pleasure. Whereas there are defectors drowning in pleasure, there are others lost in the wilderness of business, using their spiritual gifts for financial profit which is no profit to God, saints or sinners who need the gospel.
The reference to Demas reminds us that many who had benefited from Paul’s ministry were drifting away. Those of Asia did not want to know the apostle in his hour of trial. He who had shown the compassion of Christ to many, now found himself deprived of visitors, comfort or financial help. Asia’s neglect was particularly bitter considering that Paul had spent three and a half years in Ephesus. All this was now forgotten, except for one grateful convert, Onesiphorus, who in grace visited Paul in prison. Indeed Paul testified that “he sought me out … and found me” (1:17), in contrast to those who did not now want to know him. Thus at his first defense “all men forsook me” (4:16). However, Paul’s unfailing “Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (4:17). Thus he was confident that though he could not escape, Christ would preserve him from “every evil work” (4:18).
Though deserted by many, Paul confirmed that Luke was with him (4:11). Perhaps the beloved physician was ministering relief to Paul’s incurable “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). Yet he was not preoccupied with his own troubles but comments about “Trophimus … left at Miletus sick” (4:20). But despite the desertion of old friends, there is a lovely positive note as Timothy is instructed to bring Mark with him (4:11). Paul does not wish to die without being reconciled to his brethren. With this reference Paul admitted that Barnabas had succeeded magnificently in stabilizing the ministry of his home-loving nephew.
Defense Of The Gospel
As the first century grew older, the churches were distressed by many false teachers bold enough to withstand the apostles. These mid-century adversaries had challenged them openly for control of the churches. Their success was threatening to pollute the preaching of the true gospel of salvation. Indeed Paul likens these false teachers to the Egyptian magicians who defied Moses (3:8). He also warned Timothy against Alexander, the coppersmith, a persistent enemy of the truth (4:14). This rebellion continued against John as Diotrephes later was found “prating against us with malicious words” (3 Jn. 10).
Fearful of this, Paul exhorts Timothy to “remember that Jesus Christ … was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (2:8). The gospel must be preached at all costs, for God wills the salvation of all – that’s why Christ came into the world. Paul was not neglectful of this truth and was proclaiming it “in my bonds … in all the palace, and in all other places” (Phil. 1:13). He rejoiced in the fruitfulness of his testimony at Rome. As many can attest, prisons are fruitful plots for sowing gospel seed. And as Rome comprised many peoples, Paul stated that “all the Gentiles” had heard the gospel (4:17). Not only so, though death seemed certain, there had been a reprieve and he had not been thrown to the lions. Paul might be chained, “but the Word of God is not bound” (2:9).
The Distraction Of Profitless Disputes
In addition to the heresies of false teachers, Paul warns against the dangers of profitless questions which only engender strife among brethren. The Jews would harp about genealogies and the Gentiles would wrangle over definitions. Pilate himself had deployed rhetorical distraction when he had posed the philosophical question, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38). However, there would also be willful opponents who were set on perverting the truth. The apostle instructs Timothy to answer them in meekness and in hope that God would grant them repentance.
This has relevance today as we deal with those who teach lies in the Lord’s name. Indeed, Paul encourages us to believe that some of these are recoverable. So despite the impulse to denounce them to their face, we would do better to heed the charge that “the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle; apt to teach, patient” (2:24). It may just be that by the grace of God, some poor indoctrinated soul will be delivered from the snare of the Devil.
Holy Scriptures As Rule Of Faith
In his commendation of Timothy, Paul noted that from infancy his son in the faith had learned the Scriptures. While this reference was to the Old Testament, the principle of all-sufficiency remains intact. All that is necessary for salvation is in the Bible. For example, the rich man in hell was told that if his five brethren heeded “Moses and the prophets” they would not go to the same dreadful place “of torment” (Lk. 16:28-29). Also Paul said that the Scriptures will make the man of God “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (3:17). Those who add the traditions of men should ask themselves: “Is the New Testament inferior to the Old? Or “Who is the greater, Moses or Christ?” Whether salvation be from perdition or the power of sin, let us cleave to the Word of God and to the God of the Word! Let’s forget fast talk, fancy words and fanciful ideas! “If they speak not according to this Word … there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
Paul also affirms that the Word of God is inspired and, as such, contains nothing flippant or frivolous. It is altogether profitable and relevant in all generations. The doctrine of the apostles is not in need of updating nor adaptation to suit the passing fancies of an evil and adulterous generation. Paul knew that the time was near when the multitudes “will not endure sound doctrine” (4:3). Instead, they would give ear to the heresies of false teachers. Hence he charges Timothy to be faithful to sound doctrine, whatever the times or the circumstances.
The Unshakable Foundation
While deploring the changing times, Paul rejoiced in the divinely established foundation of faith and practice. So in chapter 2, he wrote of the immovable and immutable principles whereby those who love Christ can serve Him faithfully. God knows His own, and they, knowing Him, can keep themselves pure in the worst pollution. In apostate Israel there was faithful Elijah and 7000 men who had “not bowed the knee to Baal” (Rom. 11:4). Likewise, in corrupt Babylon a man like Daniel remained a “vessel unto honor, sanctified, and fit for the Master’s use” (2:21). Though the king put the vessels from God’s house into that of his own god, these vessels (faithful men and women) returned intact at exile’s end.
This truth also implies that in a time of revival, the wrecked corporate testimony can be recovered. Though God’s house lay in ruin, the remnant from Babylon were called to rebuild it and reinstate the priesthood and sacrifices. So today, there are those who have been rescued from the ruin of apostasy. This means that the Christian testimony today is no less valid than that of the first century ad. But lest we view doctrine as the only criterion, let us heed the word: “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2:19).
Paul dared to set himself forth as an example of this principle even in prison. He reviewed his faithfulness to his ministry whereby he was never ashamed of his Lord. Indeed as an apostle, Paul viewed himself as one sent by Christ to Rome and not as one carried there as a prisoner. So, all else failing, Timothy must “hold fast” to the doctrine and manner of life committed to his care (1:13-14).
Temporary Persecution And Eternal Reward
Paul also dealt with persecution. He did not seek it, but it pursued him from place to place (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Timothy knew what Paul referred to when he wrote of “persecutions I endured” (3:11). Yet Paul reminded him that suffering is the basis of reigning with Christ in the kingdom. Similarly, if we do not deny His Name before men, He will confess ours before His Father in Heaven (2:11-12).
Though many of us live in a tolerant society, we should not suppose that we are immune from persecution. For Paul also stated that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (3:12). There is more to tribulation than burning at the stake. However, suffering need not result in abandoning godliness as Paul also testified that “out of them all the Lord delivered me” (3:11). We will find ourselves the targets of scorn, criticism and discrimination. And satirists never tire of mocking those who attempt to remain chaste. Their jibes are meant not only to hurt but to destroy those who flee youthful lusts.
Having fulfilled his ministry, Paul was confident of his reward. Foreseeing his death, he anticipated his well-earned reward with joy. Caesar scorned him, but the King of kings will adorn Paul with the crown of righteousness in the day of His rewards (4:8). Nero’s wreath withered and the emperor himself died young by his own hand, but Paul is in glory with his Lord. Though the Roman Empire became an archaeological wreck, the kingdom of Christ is without end and the saints “shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).
By Tom Summerhill
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org