At first sight, the reader may be confused, perhaps even overwhelmed, by the intensity of this letter and fail to see the underlying development of the argument.
The key to unlocking the dynamic of 2 Timothy is to understand the letter’s development as an exhortation to excel in the teaching ministry.
Paul affirms Timothy’s godliness and gifting (1:1-7).
Paul affirms the gospel as the essential message… (1:8-14)
…and gives different examples of poor and excellent service (1:15-18).
Paul then describes the character of the godly teacher (2:1-13).
He then describes the (challenging) ministry of the teacher (2:14-26).
Paul describes the ministry features of false teachers… (3:1-9)
…which he contrasts with his own ministry (3:10-13).
He commissions (his successor) Timothy with the charge to ‘preach the gospel’ (3:14-4:5).
He describes the very final part of his ministry… (4:6-8)
…and finishes with the remaining personal details (4:9-22).
Click on the link above for an audio version of 2 Timothy.
Listen to the Bible for Life podcasts on 2 Timothy, including the podcast of Nick reading 2 Timothy.
Read this letter through aloud in one sitting. Continue reading and re-reading the sections of this letter.
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the ‘meal course’ questions relating ‘2 Timothy’ to the 21st Century.
Suggested verses for meditation …
The three illustrations in 2:4-6.
The power of Scripture (3:14-17)
Paul’s charge (4:1-5)
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
Context: It is around 65CE. Paul is in Rome, chained in a dungeon awaiting his second hearing before the Roman court and fully expecting that he will be sentenced to death. After the two years under house arrest prior to his trial before Caesar (described in Acts 28:16-31), he was released and travelled with Titus and Timothy to evangelise Crete. Disturbed by the news of false teaching, Paul and Timothy travelled north into Macedonia leaving Titus to complete the Cretan mission. Paul then sent Timothy to Ephesus, but was himself arrested soon afterwards (quite possibly because Alexander betrayed him). He was then taken to Rome and imprisoned.
Paul’s letter: From this dungeon, Paul writes his last letter to Timothy in which he appoints him as his successor and instructs him about how to combat the false teachers and their influence in the region around Ephesus. Paul begins by affirming Timothy’s genuine faith and exhorting him to stand and suffer for the gospel (1:3-12). He exhorts Timothy to be a strong leader focused on the gospel ministry and to rise to the challenge of ministry by being disciplined, faithful and hard working in the conscious realisation of the call both to guard and teach the gospel in the face of opposition (2:1-13). Paul explains how to maintain a faithful teaching ministry in the face of those who oppose the truth of the gospel by propagating popular heresy (2:14-26). In 3:1-9, Paul describes a world that loves evil and choses deception. Paul then brings his argument to a crescendo by describing his own sufferings for the gospel (in contrast to the lives and ministries of the false teachers), affirming the authority of Scripture, and giving a final summary charge to ‘preach the word’ (3:10-4:5). The letter closes with details of Paul’s missionary team, and Paul’s faith in the face of his forthcoming death (4:6-22).
Exhortation: It is of immense importance that Paul’s last great exhortation to the church before his execution is addressed to those with responsibility for teaching. All Christian teachers must guard the gospel and preach the word! In the face of desertion (1:15), heretical teaching (2:17), false, powerless, compromising religion (3:5) and outright persecution (3:12), the Christian teacher is called to guard the gospel (1:14), and ‘preach the word’ (4:2), to ‘be prepared in season and out of season’; correcting, rebuking, and encouraging with great patience and careful instruction. This ministry will involve discipline, faithfulness, endurance and hard work, but the teacher should model their ministries on Paul, and the Lord himself who gives grace enabling us to be strong in him (2:1).
Question 1 -
Have you ever lost your temper with Jehovah’s Witnesses on your doorstep?
Question 2 -
What are the essential truths of the gospel (1:9-10, 2:8)?
Question 3 -
Something we hear people say is “You don’t need religion to be spiritual”. Is this true (1:7, 2:8)?
2 Timothy 1 - Commissioned to Teach
2 Timothy 2 - The Teaching Ministry
2 Timothy 3:1 - 4:8 The Charge to Preach the Gospel
2 Timothy - Reading with Comments
Situation: I take the view that after Paul’s release from the house arrest described at the end of Acts 28, Paul made a fourth missionary journey where, instead of going to Spain, he went south (with Titus and Timothy) and evangelised Crete. He then left Titus in Crete and travelled to Asia Minor (Western Turkey) where (from Miletus) he dispatched Timothy to Ephesus to tackle false teaching in the region of Asia Minor. Paul then went north to Troas. There Alexander betrayed him by making serious charges against him resulting in his arrest and transportation to Rome. From his prison cell in Rome, Paul writes this second and final letter to Timothy, commissioning him as leader of the Pauline mission, exhorting him to fight for orthodox doctrine in the face of heresy and the false teachers, and urging him to travel quickly to Rome before his impending final trial and execution.
Into this broad historical account can be added the following details:
Paul’s situation: Paul is in prison and in chains (1:8, 2:9). Having barely escaped with his life at the first trial (4:16), he fully expects to be convicted at the second hearing and then executed. It is 65CE, and the Neronian persecution of Roman Christians is fully underway. The Pauline mission is under threat from false teachers in Asia, and even one of Paul’s team, Demas, has deserted him. Paul’s only companion is Luke (4:11).
Timothy’s situation: Timothy has been sent to Ephesus by Paul with a letter (1 Timothy) authorising and commissioning him to tackle the false teaching there.
The letter of 2 Timothy is a personal letter. It is a ‘farewell discourse’, which follows the pattern of other ‘farewell discourses’ in Scripture (Joshua 23-24; David in 1 Chronicles 28-29; Jesus in John 14-16). ‘Farewell discourses’ include the author referring to his imminent death, exhortation to keep God’s commandments, and exhortation to remember what the author has taught. 2 Timothy also functions as a commissioning letter in which Paul entrusts the leadership of the Pauline mission to Timothy.
|1:1 - 2||The greeting.|
|1:3 - 4:5||The substance of the letter:|
|>||1:3 - 18||The call to commitment to the Lord, Paul and the gospel.|
|>||2:1 - 13||The call to discipline, faithfulness and endurance.|
|>||2:14 - 26||The teaching ministry in the face of opposition.|
|>||3:1 - 9||False teachers and heresy.|
|>||3:10 - 17||Paul’s ministry in contrast to the false teachers.|
|>||4:1 - 5||Paul’s charge to Timothy.|
|4:6 - 22||Paul’s context, plans, instructions and final greetings.|
The leading themes in 2 Timothy:
1 – Paul commissions Timothy to lead the Pauline mission after his imminent execution.
2 – The exhortation to faithful endurance because all genuine gospel ministry involves suffering.
3 – Timothy must guard the gospel, oppose the false teachers graciously but firmly and preach the word.
Question 1 -
Where is the gospel being undermined in 2016?
Question 2 -
Are you discipling anyone (2:2)?
Question 3 -
What do you most love about Scripture?
Question 4 -
Have you ever had a theological punch-up? What was it about?
Question 5 -
A man is invited to your church to preach. During his sermon he is openly critical about another pastor. What do you do (2:22-26)?
Question 6 -
What can you do to engage with Scripture more deeply and completely?
Verse by Verse
1:1 – 2 Paul’s introduction and greeting to Timothy
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
From the start, Paul quietly asserts his apostleship which the false teachers were actively undermining. ‘The promise of life that is in Christ Jesus’ is an abbreviation of the fuller gospel summary he will give in 1:9-10. This ‘eternal’ life has already begun (John 10:10), and Paul’s apostleship and proclamation are a leading part in the outworking of God’s salvation plan. Paul is facing imminent death, but the eternal life in Christ has already begun.
1:3 – 18 The call to commitment to the Lord, Paul and the gospel
The place of 2 Timothy 1:3-18 in the context of …
… the whole letter: In this first section, Paul builds on Timothy’s personal details in order to lay a foundation for his commissioning of Timothy as the leader of the Pauline mission, the main task of which will be to guard the gospel and teaching ministries from false teaching. V3-7 verify Timothy’s personal faithfulness to the gospel, and v8-12 state the gospel and exhort Timothy to be faithful to the Lord, to Paul (despite the embarrassment of his imprisonment) and to the gospel. V13-18 cite three contrasting examples of desertion (v15) and loyal faithfulness (v16-18).
1:3 – 7
3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
V3-7 – Those about to die are more conscious of their life in the perspective of their ancestors (whom they will shortly meet). This is the case with Paul who refers to both his own and Timothy’s. This paragraph speaks of the love and care that Paul has had for Timothy, but here the apostle is vulnerable before the apprentice. Alone in his dank prison cell, facing death, he longs for companionship with those he trusts (Timothy was a faithful partner; Alexander was not).
V3 – Paul faces charges that look set to lead to his execution, but he quietly asserts to Timothy that his conscience is completely clear of any wrong in the matter.
V4 – Tears is probably a reference to their last parting when Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus, both men fully aware of the challenges that lay before their ministry.
V5 – Behind this encouragement is the underlying commission of Timothy by Paul to take over the Pauline mission. Paul begins by rehearsing Timothy’s credentials in terms of the genuineness of his faith.
V6 gives an important insight into the apprentice’s exercise of Holy Habits. God gives the charism, but it is our responsibility to cultivate it through wise, appropriate and faithful spiritual exercises. Those apprentices who do will find a ministry is cultivated, because ‘the measure you use will be measured to you’ (Matt 7:2; Luke 6:38). Those who don’t practice will find little either happens or develops in their spiritual life. Those who invest the gifts of God will always find that the return is abundant (Matthew 25:29). The laying on of Paul’s hands at this point carries an additional dimension of Timothy being officially appointed by Paul as the next leader of the Pauline mission. If we ask what spiritual gift was given through the laying on of the apostle’s hands, the answer is probably the gift of teaching since most of the substance of this letter is about how the teaching ministry should be exercised.
V6-7 – The commissioning and the authority to lead the Pauline mission and specifically to correct and rebut the false teachers and ‘preach the word’ in the very fullest sense lies in the gift and power of the Spirit exercised and developed through Timothy’s careful and disciplined use of Holy Habits.
1:8 – 14
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
V8-14 – This paragraph is about the call to be unashamed of the Lord, Paul, and the gospel; to suffer for the gospel, and to guard the gospel with the help of the Spirit. To be called to be a minister of the gospel is a holy calling, and it is worth suffering for. The gospel is about grace from God, and specifically grace in and through Christ, and it leads to immortality. Christ will guard the gospel until his return, and the Holy Spirit will help Timothy to guard the gospel also.
V8 – The false teachers, especially those mentioned in the letter (Phylegus, Haremogenes, Hymenaeus, Philetus and Alexander), are making much of ‘the fall of Paul’. They shame him publicly in his prison cell and chains as the civil powers move to finally rid him from the empire. These men are working to take his followers (1:15, 2:18). The final phrase is crucial. It is through the power of God, the Holy Spirit (v7), that the follower of Christ is able to endure and triumph through and over suffering.
V9-10 is a carefully constructed statement of the gospel, originating in God before time and now expressed through the revealing and work of the Saviour in defeating death and bringing life and immortality to light.
V10 – Life and immortality only became a reality when death was defeated. In the face of his imminent death, Paul repeatedly affirms life.
V11 – Paul operated in all the leading gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12), but here he mentions the three which concern teaching, because at this final point it is the teaching ministry that is under threat. The title ‘herald’ is only used here, but it captures the missionary, apostolic nature of the evangelist which is essentially teaching unbelievers.
V12 – A complicated verse. First, suffering comes as a straightforward consequence of the call, appointment and commissioning to the fivefold ministry. Paul is not ashamed of suffering in prison (with a reputation for being a troublemaker), because of the gospel. He knows from long experience that Christ will vindicate him personally, and will vindicate the gospel ministry at his return.
V13 – With this short statement, which Paul will elaborate carefully in 2:2, Paul commissions Timothy as his successor in leading the Pauline mission after his death. The church is the community bounded by faith and characterised by love. Paul’s teaching is sound doctrine, and it defines the Christian faith.
V14 – It is Paul’s sound teaching – all that Timothy has heard from him – that is the good deposit that we must guard. The Holy Spirit who lives in us will himself help us to guard this ‘good deposit’.
1:15 – 18
15 You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, 17 but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— 18 may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.
V15-18 – Paul now cites the examples of three men, who in different ways have most likely been his co-workers at some time in the past. Since this letter is being written to Timothy in Ephesus, the capital city of the Roman province of Asia Minor, we should probably understand Phygelus and Hermogenes to have been swept up in a general move away from loyalty to Paul, driven most probably by a desire to be distant from one who was now understood to be a criminal: close association might lead to implication and charges of collaboration with a trouble-maker. But it is more likely that opponents of Paul used his arrest and trial, co-ordinated by Alexander (4:14-15), as their opportunity to fuel opposition to Paul and his gospel. Paul, who was profoundly conscious of his direct authorisation from Jesus himself, understood such action as a direct and public decision against his gospel. In contrast, Onesiphorus despised all concepts of shame, and repeatedly helped Paul. It is this example that Paul prizes to Timothy and gives (through this letter) to the Ephesian church as the example for them to emulate.
V16 – There is an important theme of ‘shame’ running through this first chapter. We should not be ashamed of the Lord, or his ‘criminal’ prisoner Paul (v8). Paul is emphatically not ashamed of the gospel (v12). And Onesiphorus’ behaviour was exemplary in that he was not ashamed of Paul while in captivity in prison.
V18 – Paul’s point is simple. Onesiphorus had mercy on Paul and so Paul quite naturally wants to show mercy to his friend in return. But Paul can’t because he’s in prison without any resources. So he prays (in writing) that the Lord will repay Onesiphorus for his kindness to Paul on the great day of judgement. Onesiphorus’ salvation was never in question (his entire household are key members of the Ephesian church – 4:19), so it is mistaken to see this as an intercessory prayer for the dead.
2:1 – 13 The call to dedication, faithfulness and endurance
2 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
V1-7 – The thrust and theme of this paragraph is about the attitude, strategy and approach that Timothy will need to have as he now steps up to take over from Paul the high responsibility of ‘guarding the gospel’. Paul gives three imperatives: ‘be strong in the grace… entrust to reliable men … endure hardship …’ and then gives three illustrative pictures which serve as riddles or perhaps parables to tease out the meaning. The final sentence is an assurance that the Lord himself will give a true perspective.
V1-3 – These three exhortations are each crucial for an effective gospel ministry. First, the Lord himself will give grace for it – and we stand in this grace (Rom 5:2); it is abundant, and it is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Second, we are not alone, nor should we minister alone; we ought to minister the gospel with others and in doing so, entrust this ministry to them. Third, this ministry will be tough. We are called to endure, and to carry on enduring.
V2 – This verse elaborates and enlarges 1:13. Here, Timothy is publicly commissioned to train reliable men as teachers of the gospel. The content of this gospel teaching is nothing secret or hidden, it is the simply the essential teaching that Paul has taught publicly many times. The cross references to Jesus’ trial are important (John 18:20).
V4 – The illustration of the soldier places the emphasis on self-discipline and a mind-set motivated by a primary devotion to the ‘commanding officer’, Christ, and second to seeing that the ‘business’ of Christ is fully carried out as a first priority.
V5 – The issue here is competing ‘according to the rules’, which could refer either to the race rules, or perhaps in that culture of the period to strict training before the competition. Again, the focus and application seems to be the need for self-discipline for effective ministry.
V6 – Again, the description of the farmer as ‘hard working’ points Timothy towards a self-disciplined and focused gospel ministry which will involve hard work.
Each of these pictures speaks of a disciplined approach towards the achievement of a goal. But, crucially, the motivation is first to ‘please’ Christ, and second there is the promise of the ‘reward’. Underlying these verses, and indeed the entire letter, is the message that the ministry of gospel teaching requires self-discipline and hard, committed, focused work. It requires endurance, because there will be opposition. Timothy’s immediate situation – the appointment of a new team at Ephesus, and a trip to Rome to stand with and endure hardship with Paul – would be immensely testing. Our calling will be different in circumstance, but no different in character. The cost will be great, but this letter strongly affirms that the reward (4:8) is overwhelmingly worth the cost.
2:8 – 13
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
V8-13 – This section follows, and builds on, the exhortation of v1-7 that Timothy commit himself to a self-disciplined and focused ministry of gospel teaching, fully cognisant of all the suffering he will thereby be called to endure. Paul gives a short summary of the gospel in v8 (and this may be a part of a larger creedal statement), focussing on Jesus as Messiah and raised from the dead. But Paul’s point is that this gospel message and ministry will of necessity mean that the leaders suffer. The model of new covenant ministry, perfectly demonstrated by Jesus and emulated also by Paul in his ministry and at this very time in his life, is that the power of God is perfectly demonstrated through weakness, endurance and suffering. Indeed, this is the evidence of genuine apostolic ministry. Death with Christ will bring future life with him, and faithful endurance with him now will mean reigning with him in the age to come.
V9 – The word criminal (v9) is that used to describe the worst sort, as those crucified beside Jesus, and now Paul facing this second trial and likely execution. It is not difficult to understand why some were distancing themselves from him (1:15, 4:16). “Endurance” is a determined attitude to keep ‘holding on’ despite everything that comes against you; it is the evidence of apostleship (2 Corinthians 6:4, 12:12), and it describes the most testing trials (Romans 5:3).
V10 brings suffering, gospel power and salvation together. Towner’s definition of salvation is most helpful here: “’Salvation’ in the New Testament can be presented, through the verb or noun, as either a past fact (e.g. Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:5,8), a present existence (e.g. Philippians 2:12), or a future hope (e.g., Romans 13:11). These aspects are woven into a holistic understanding of God’s gift of deliverance from the bondage to sin and the destruction of the physical, emotional, and social health traced to sin.” (NICNT, p505 – Towner’s work underlies much of the material in my brief commentary here, and is strongly recommended to the student of 2 Timothy). Paul is stating that suffering is an absolutely normal part of gospel ministry. The motivation is that God’s people reach salvation with the final result of eternal glory.
V11-13 – This set of four structured sayings continues to proceed from the imperative to ‘remember’ in v8. The reference to dying and living parallels Romans 6:8, and continues the focus on the cruciform character of Christian leadership. The second statement in v12 focuses on endurance, which is the behaviour called for in all Christians when facing suffering. Paul is drawing on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:28, that ‘when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ Once again, Paul’s focus is on enduring faithfulness in the face of suffering for the gospel. The third statement in v12b draws on Matthew 10:33 where Jesus states ‘But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.’ This statement refers to apostasy, and in the context of this letter we should understand that Paul has the defectors of 1:15 and 4:10,16 in view. Towner states: ‘The meaning is clear: disowning Christ, whether as desertion caused by fear of suffering for the faith or as apostasy, carried fearful eternal consequences’ (p512). V13 is difficult to understand (because it could be understood in two opposite ways), but it probably refers to God’s continued faithful love, care and protection for the Church because of his covenant promises to the Church, regardless of whatever defections or apostasy might take place within its leadership.
2:14 – 26 The teaching ministry in the face of opposition
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honourable use, some for dishonourable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
V14-26 – At this point Paul is now ready to instruct Timothy as to how he should relate to and deal with the specific challenge of the false teachers among whom he ministers in the believing community. Paul writes interrelating positive and negative imperatives and includes a specific reference to a leading heresy propagated by two leaders, built around a strong illustration about doctrinal orthodoxy. Paul’s first aim is that Timothy is fully aware of his responsibilities in this matter, because the issues are ultimately about salvation and judgement. Second, Timothy must expose the false teaching and publicly show why it is heresy. As the leading teacher at Ephesus, Timothy’s task is nothing less than the correction of those who are swerving from the truth. His task is more than initiating a theological punch-up; Timothy’s teaching must be authenticated by the very life he lives, and his interaction with even his opponents must be such as to cause them to consider (re-)embracing the truth.
V14 – The imperative to ‘keep reminding them’ carries forward the disciplined, faithful duty called for by Paul in the first part of this chapter, and sets the tone for an expected long task as Paul exposits this point through to v26. The following commands, both positive and negative, paint a picture of the teaching ministry marked by patient endurance and careful learning and discipline in study and life.
V15 is a positive command. We should ask what it means to properly handle the word of truth. First, the teacher must know ‘the word of truth’ well. He/she must understand it properly, in context and in the canon. The study of theology is vital alongside the study of Scripture, because what we believe directly determines and shapes how we live. There is also the issue of life and ministry, ‘for the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’ (1 Cor 4:20), and Jesus stated that the error of the Sadducees came because they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
V16 – Towner captures the thrust of this: “heretical nonsense threatens to bring the teaching of the church down to the level of base human thinking” (p523).
V17 – Through both the methods and the content of this low level ‘teaching’, death is spreading (and as v26 will ultimately argue, the devil himself is directly behind it). Instead of spiritual life – ‘if you continue in my word you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’ (John 8:32) – this teaching produces spreading death. Even involvement in such ‘discussions’ leads those engaged away from God and godly living. Specifically Paul has in view the false teachers at Ephesus and the damaging effect of their shallow and destructive teaching. Timothy must work to silence these teachers and end their heresy as a matter of priority.
V18 – Here, Paul names two false teachers and their heresy. Hymenaeus is almost certainly the person mentioned along with Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20. Both men will have been leaders known to Timothy, and the church at Ephesus. They have probably misunderstood, or deliberately reframed the Pauline teaching on the resurrection. The heresy is an extremely serious one: it seems to lead directly into a form of spiritual existence based on an over-realised eschatology in the here and now.
V19 – Paul’s point here is that the Lord is supreme over the Church, and has it and its growth completely under his control and supervision, so that even where heresy abounds, the foundation of truth is completely secure. In citing these two heretics and their heresy and illustrating the divine perspective through this image, Paul is telling Timothy and his Ephesian congregation to completely distance themselves from it.
V20-21 – The use of this image enforces precisely the point Paul has just made. The noble vessels are Timothy and his colleagues, the ignoble are the heretics. Timothy and the orthodox believers in and around Ephesus must separate themselves from these heretics and their false teaching. The ‘large house’ should be understood in terms of the net in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:47-50.
V22 – Paul now tells Timothy how he should address (and challenge) the false teachers. First, he must avoid ‘youthful desires’, which in context most probably refer to an impulsive desire to rush in and take action against the false teachers without proper prayer and thinking, or to do so ‘according to worldly wisdom and (without) God’s grace, … without either holiness or sincerity’ (2 Corinthians 1:12). Given the context and argument, Paul can hardly have had sexual lust in view. Nor should Timothy ‘man-up’ and return evil for evil, which is a frequent response by young leaders. No, Timothy’s behaviour to these heretics must of first priority be completely godly! Peaceful, entirely righteous, full of faith (an expectation that God will intervene to help the heretics repent – v25), and all coming from a pure (loving, kind) heart which genuinely seeks the best for the one deceived.
V23 – Paul’s point is spelled out even more specifically in this third imperative: Timothy must not do what his opponents are doing, getting caught up with foolish arguments that cause quarrels, setting brother against brother over secondary or even trivial issues and thereby bringing destruction in the body of Christ.
V24 – This is a defining statement for all church leaders. There can be no compromise on these characteristics. Those who serve the Church in leadership must have an established reputation for ‘kindness‘ (1 Corinthians 13:4), because kindness is the leading characteristic of God himself, the ‘ability to teach’ the truth clearly, and finally must display the ability to forgive and ‘not be resentful’, especially in the contexts of difficult, sometimes forceful and occasionally assertive theological debate.
V25-26 – ‘Gentleness’, another fruit of the Spirit, should be clearly present in the manner in which the Christian leader addresses those opposed to Paul’s teaching. Lastly, Paul steps back from these tight instructions and views the overall context which is a battle between truth and falsehood; Paul and Timothy over against the false teachers; and ultimately God against the devil over the souls of men and women. Timothy is God’s agent against the false teachers generally, and specifically Hymenaeus and Philetus and their followers.
3:1 – 4:8
The argument and development
A clear and logical progression runs through this section …
3:1 – 9 False teachers and heresy
3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
V1-9 – Having addressed the immediate heretical challenge that Timothy faces at Ephesus, as principally presented through the false teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus, and having specifically instructed Timothy how to behave towards false teachers as he seeks to correct them, Paul now steps back and in these verses views the overall challenge of false teachers to the wider church throughout future history. In view is both the actual situation that Timothy currently faces in Ephesus as he takes over Paul’s leadership of the movement, as well as the global menace of heretical teaching in the future.
V2-4 – The list is clearly general, because in the Greek it contains a whole number of similarly sounding ‘phonims’. At this point we parallel the final verses of Romans 1.
V5 – Paul’s emphasis that teaching must be matched with power is never far from his thinking. This was his challenge to the over-realised eschatologists of 1 Corinthians who despite their grandiose theological claims lacked the authentic power of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 4:20). Jesus makes a similar challenge to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29. But Paul’s imperative is severe and chilling, giving no truck for compromise. The final phrase is directed towards their false teaching. Sometimes the only way to help someone is to keep strict distance from them (1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Timothy 4:15, Acts 13:46, etc).
V6 may give some hint into the activities of Hymenaeus and Philetus, that they were playing on and gaining support from vulnerable and uneducated women.
V7 – Paul gets to the heart of their fault here as he focuses on truth (which he mentions twice), and its opposite, the depraved mind that always tries to learn but has no discernment and can never acknowledge the truth. We touch Paul in Romans 1:21-25 at this point. This is in direct contrast to Scripture which, in 3:16-17, Paul states has power to train in righteousness and build and equip women and men for every work and ministry of God.
V8 is severe and paints an extreme scenario that has become more serious than that described in 2:22-26 where the repentance of the false teachers was still a real possibility. The prophetic description of 3:1-9 views the long-term historical challenge where at points and places in history there will be those who have rejected truth so absolutely that they are now completely unable to recognise truth at all, like the religious people who when in dispute with the Son of God denounced him as evil (John 8:48).
V9 is an important encouragement to all apprentices who seek to form their lives according to John 8:31,32. False teaching cannot ultimately succeed because it is essentially foolish, and even if the heretical teachers have reached a point of being completely deceived by their own teaching, their foolishness will become more and more clear to everyone else. This is identical to the point John makes in Revelation 17:16: evil is at heart and in essence self-destructive, and it cannot ultimately succeed, even though at times and for periods false and deluded thinking will hold sway (as with Arianism, Russian and Chinese communism, Nazism, and the different forms of Unitarian faith present today).
3:10-13 Paul describes his own ministry in contrast to the false teachers
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Paul now deliberately contrasts the lives and ministries of the false teachers with his own life which has been cruciform from first to last: instead of exerting control, being undiscerning, having a depraved mind, foolish and swayed by evil desires, deceiving and being deceived, Paul’s life has been marked by persecutions, sufferings and endurance, by the deliverance of the Lord and by power (3:5). This is what happens when a man or woman obeys (Mark 8:34). Cruciformity is the evidence of Godliness, because God is cruciform. This is the strongest possible antithesis to the false teachers.
V13 – Paul will identify the source behind this heresy in v26 as the devil himself, but we should note here that the devil’s main strategy is deception, typified in the deception of Eve. No one knows they are deceived, because they are deceived!
3:14 – 17 The scriptures are the sole basis of all true godliness in life and ministry
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Against the ubiquitous evil of humanity (3:1-4) and in the face of widespread deception from the false, self-serving, deceived and evil false teachers (3:5-9), we immediately ask if there is any foundation of truth that we can build on? Paul’s answer is clear, emphatic and axiomatic: the scriptures! The scriptures are holy, they are wise, they teach about salvation through Jesus Christ, they are God-breathed, they are the imperative as the basis for all forms of teaching ministry, and they enable men and women to be equipped and effective in all godly ministry and life.
4:1 – 5 Paul’s charge to Timothy: preach the word!
4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
These sentences are so climactic that every labourer in the harvest should stand to attention when they are read. Paul’s charge is so serious, summarising not only this letter but all of his ministry imperatives, that one wonders how any church leader could ever give any other charge. This charge (v1-2) directly and specifically addresses the most serious issue of the propagation of the gospel throughout the world for all time and history. Jesus ‘came preaching’; the apostles focused solely on ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4); Paul ‘devoted himself exclusively to preaching’ (Acts 18:5), and here he commissions and charges Timothy and through Timothy ALL Christian leaders everywhere throughout history to ‘preach the word’. How can there be any misunderstanding? And yet our churches are marked by ignorance of Scripture and diets of spiritual milk rather than solid food.
V1 – It is an astonishing thing for anyone to call heaven and earth to witness a statement, but this is what Paul does openly. ‘His appearing’ is a reference to Jesus’ life and ministry; ‘his Kingdom’ is the leading substance of Jesus’ own preaching (Matthew 4:17 etc).
V2 – The conscious focus of every minister in the Kingdom is to: ‘preach the word’ and this is elaborated in three ways, ‘correct, rebuke and encourage’, which draw directly on 3:16: ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’.
V3-4 – This explanation that the word be preached is given by Paul because the apostates in Ephesus are in his view. Paul often sees heresy as originating from corrupted and mis-channelled desires. The corrupted desire of the body influences the thinking of the mind in order to justify the satisfaction of that desire. Richard Niebuhr’s comment on mainstream liberal theology is apt at this point: ‘a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement, through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.’
V5 – These are majestic imperatives, and all stewards in God’s house should meditate on them often. A person ‘keeps their head’ by reading and meditating on Scripture and making the teachings of the scriptures the guiding light for their lives and work (Romans 12:2). Endurance is the cruciform response to the hardships and tests of ministry. All apprentices are called to teach and propagate the gospel, not just those specifically gifted with this charism. A good, faithful and wise steward should be aware of all the leading responsibilities of governance in God’s family and ensure that he/she either discharges the main ones, or that others are discharging them.
4:6 – 8 Paul’s summary testimony
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
The “I” at the start of verse 6 contrasts with the “but you” at the beginning of verse 5 and emphasises the commission into which Paul is now plunging Timothy. Both phrases in v6 speak of Paul’s imminent death. Paul views his death positively, not at all in any atoning way, but as part of the ongoing journey and practice of sacrifice and suffering for the Church – and an example perhaps. The only danger is the very one this letter is addressing: the leadership vacuum that his death might cause to the movement.
In verse 7 he testifies that he has fully kept and discharged all his obligations to the faith, meaning that not only has he maintained his own belief and conviction to the end (how could he possibly do anything else after the forcefulness of his own conversion?), but he has fully discharged all his duties as an apostle in the propagation of the faith.
The crown of righteousness is the reward for the outstanding accomplishment at the games, but Paul combines this with the belief that we are still waiting for this to be fully granted at the end, the day of judgement (Galatians 5:5). There is a time for clear statement of truth. Paul really had discharged his duties well, and he is not wrong or at fault in being clear about this (Galatians 6:4) at the very point of commissioning his successor. His motivation here is not pride or boasting, but to inspire and challenge his successor and those following (note the inclusive word ‘all’) to aspire to the very highest level of faithfulness.
4:9 – 22 Paul’s context, plans, instructions and final greetings
4:9 – 13 Paul’s context
9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
These fascinating little sentences throw considerable colour and information into Paul’s context. The call for Timothy to visit immediately does not contradict with his (life-long) authorisation to head up the Pauline mission in Ephesus, since he would return to Ephesus within a few months. Apart from the discouragement from Demas’ desertion, the other references reflect a mature missionary situation with team members deployed across several regions. The reference to Mark is particularly cheering in the light of the difficult dispute with Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41, and it contrasts with Demas giving an example of the redemption of a ‘fallen’ worker. Tychicus seems to have had a specific ministry of ‘delivering’ Paul’s letters. The situation in v13 seems to describe Paul’s arrest and immediate transportation to face charges in Rome. Troas was known to have an association of metal workers.
4:14 – 18 Paul’s opposition and trial
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defence no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Although Alexander was a common name, and one often taken by Jews, and there are four people with this name in the New Testament, all coincidentally associated with Ephesus, it makes very good sense to understand this man to be the same as the Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20. Paul states that he did him ‘a great deal of harm’, but the next statement indicates that the damage was highly significant. It seems more than likely that Alexander took decisive action, quite possibly in direct response to his excommunication (1 Timothy 1:20) and betrayed Paul to the Roman civil authorities. Alexander is therefore Paul’s Judas. Just as Jesus forgave everyone from the cross, so Paul allows God to vindicate him and does not take aggressive action against Alexander.
V16-18 describe Paul’s first hearing, where he was isolated and without supporters. The promise of v18 should be meditated on because many, specifically the martyrs, are allowed to glorify God through martyrdom when attacked by evil. The lion is a reference to the Roman Empire (1 Peter 5:8-9).
4:19 – 22 Closing greeting
19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. 21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
These are personal greetings, whereas all the instructions in v9-12 concerned the deployment (or otherwise) of Paul’s missionary colleagues.
V19 – This second mention of Onesiphorus (1:16) begs questions as to what was happening in his household. Onesiphorus may possibly have died, but this is far from certain.
V22 – Paul’s very final phrase encapsulates everything, and echoes 2 Corinthians 13:13: we stand in the grace of Christ (Romans 5:2), which provides all we need to be strong in Christ (2 Tim 2:1), and, according to Peter, we grow in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 3:18) which is completely sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The overall message of 2 Timothy:
Paul’s final letter is a robust exhortation to his leading assistant, Timothy, that he must at all costs and of first priority guard the gospel and preach the word. The letter is written into the context of heresy and mass desertion; it identifies the leading features of the gospel, the godliness required in Christian teachers and the priorities of the teaching ministry.
The leading imperatives:
1:14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you.
4:1 Preach the word.
Guard the gospel
1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands…
1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…
1:13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
1:14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
Character of the teacher
1:2 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…
2:2 …and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
2:3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2:7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel…
The teaching ministry in the face of opposition
2:14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.
2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2:16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness…
2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
2:23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
False teachers, heresy and Paul
3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.
3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.
Paul’s charge to Timothy
4:1-2 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
4:5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
Question 1 -
Which approach and type of engagement with Scripture do you find most stimulating and helpful?
Question 2 -
How can we ‘guard the gospel’ (1:14)?
Question 3 -
A Christian was recently booed on Question Time for saying that the teaching of the Bible should be implemented in Britain. Should he have said this? Would you have said this?
Question 4 -
Many have left the churches in Europe in the past century. How do the instructions of 2 Timothy 4:1-5 apply to us?
Question 5 -
What are the issues over which Christians are quarrelling today (2:24)?
Question 6 -
What makes a great preacher?